Drag queens dispenselaughter & truth
by David-Elijah Nahmod
On March 29, the beautiful Castro Theatre takes a brief break from screening films and becomes a comedy club. On that night, a Who's Who of drag stardom will take to the stage and perform a series of stand-up routines. There will no doubt be much laughter. There may even be a few sharp observations about real life.
"I'll be sharing stories about growing up as a gay kid in a working-class neighborhood in the Bronx," said Coco Peru, a seasoned stage and film performer.
Things were tough at times, but everyone laughed through their tears. "My parents were older, there was a lot of trauma," Peru recalled. "But they knew how to tell stories, which were always funny. These were mixed with the pain of being bullied every day. Movies and TV were my escape."
Peru, who says he doesn't pretend to be anything other than a man in a dress, tipped his hat to one of his comedy inspirations. "I grew up in the 1970s. I loved Bea Arthur on Maude. I studied her comic timing, and was obsessed with her voice."
Peru's path to the stage came about in an unexpected way. He came out in the early 90s, when the AIDS crisis was still at its worst. Wanting to help, he went to a few ACT UP meetings. "I wanted to get involved in the gay community," he said. "But there was a lot of internal fighting at ACT UP, so I couldn't do it. It was hard enough to see people dying as a young gay guy. I thought everyone was going to be supportive. But I still had the desire to be an activist."
He could tell stories. "Storytelling is the best way to change hearts and minds," he said. "All my stories are autobiographical. I'm embracing what I was taught to hate about myself."
Drag Race contestant Bianca Del Rio also speaks from her own life. "My definition of comedy is truth," she said. "So the aesthetic is more about observations than joke-telling. There are so many funny things in everyday life that everyone can relate to. I just choose to say them on stage."
Of course, it wouldn't be a drag show if there weren't a little bitchiness. "I love insults," said Del Rio. "I am a drag queen!"
Sasha Soprano, a San Francisco native, is another of the performers whose art imitates life. She said she grew up in the Castro, and that she doesn't have a coming-out story.
"Sasha is a creation of what I grew up around, which was wealth," she said. "Sasha is basically this character who makes fun of wealth and privilege. I've seen it first-hand growing up. Watching families fight, divorces, political messages, and so much more crap that comes from money. Sasha is basically a Paris Hilton who likes to make fun of herself."
The jokes can hit pretty close to home. "My real-life experiences are my script," Sasha said. "I have a tendency to tell people about my family, and people think I'm making it up! I come from a very eccentric family. Imagine people with too much time on their hands, as well as money. That combination makes for some crazy stories!"
Some of the others who'll grace the Castro Theatre stage that night are the legendary superstars Lady Bunny, Peaches Christ and Heklina. Fasten your seat belts!