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Over the Coals :: Drag Icon Heklina Gets Roasted

by Jim Provenzano

Heklina
Heklina  (Source:José A. Guzman-Colon)

As one of the most accomplished drag queens in San Francisco, or anywhere, with decades of shows, benefits, tours and a successful nightclub to call home, Heklina should be given awards for so many accomplishments. But true to playfully bitchy drag form, instead of a toast she'll get a roast at the Castro Theatre on February 17.

With Jackie Beat as MC, Ana Matronic, Jinkx Monsoon, Peaches Christ, Julie Brown, Sister Roma and other guests will take to the stage to dish their colleague of many years.

The event promises to be crass, outrageous and not for the 'easily triggered.' "It's a good thing she has a thick skin, because it's going to get crispy when these queens roast this hog!" wrote Peaches Christ in promo materials.

One would think that bringing dozens of drag talents to San Francisco would inspire queens to retract their claws in homage to Heklina. But the fun nature of bitchy camp is a standard of drag performers.

Ahead of the Castro Theatre show, Heklina tossed some lighthearted dish toward her upcoming roasters, including MC Jackie Beat, whom she called, "simply evil."

Having recently returned from a vacation in Puerto Vallarta, Heklina (in real life the Iceland-born Stefan Grygelko) revealed how much behind-the-scenes work is involved in producing all the shows at Oasis, the successful nightclub co-owned with three others, including drag star and musical theatre writer-composer D'Arcy Drollinger, and Geoff Benjamin and Jason Beebout.

"It's a lot work, being focused and booking shows, taking care of visiting performers," said Grygelko. "It's a lot more work now, running Oasis; it's more than just my Saturday night show (Mother)."

Considering Heklina has cohosted many shows with the guest-roasters, what sort of insults can we expect from performers who should, dare we say, be more grateful?

"They're probably gonna say I'm old," he chuckled, "that I'm fat, that I have AIDS and I'm ugly. People are so sensitive these days, but I really think these queens will go for the jugular. We're considering posting a slide that says, 'If you're easily offended or triggered by anything, this is not the event for you.'"

Heklina joked that any offended patrons should send complaints to the Letters column of the Bay Area Reporter.

Of course, any longtime fan of Mother, its antecedent, Trannyshack (at The Stud and DNA Lounge) and more than two decades of scandalous drag shows, should not be surprised by politically incorrect jokes. With a star-studded history of presenting acts known for projectile fluids, robots dissecting each other set to Bjork songs, a few naughty words tossed Heklina's way should be expected.

Offered a chance to get the jump on the insult volley, Heklina offered some gossip. "Jackie Beat started a GoFundMe campaign to get a hip replacement. She also started a fundraiser to get her stomach stapled, but she's already cheating on her diet."

"Julie Brown is hard to roast, because she's super sweet. I would say that she's an old has-been, but you could say that for anyone onstage that night."

As for Peaches Christ, a frequent collaborator and cohost at drag show productions and events, Heklina said, "We're so much alike, just men in dresses who put on shows. I'll probably make some horse references."

Other Heklina volleys include dishing Sister Roma, "for not updating her look in twenty years; I mean, she's just a nun."

Ana Matronic?

"I could make fun of her getting famous for not doing anything. You've never heard her voice on any Scissor Sisters album. What does she do?"

Alaska Thunderfuck?

"More horse jokes."


Roast & Toast

Historic TV roasts, like those hosted in the 1970s by Dean Martin, may be a lost form of entertainment, but Heklina hopes for some classy insults.

"People are even more ready for it. The more recent Comedy Central roasts were nasty: I mean, evil."

Heklina mentioned a friend who attended a taping of the Pamela Anderson roast where actress Bea Arthur left because the comics were being so mean. "It had gone so far off from the original Friar's Roast, which was in good humor."

So, how does Heklina navigate the waters of onstage insults versus attacks?

"When you're insulting somebody, you have to be self-deprecating, too; make fun of yourself," Heklina explained. "I'll say I'm old and fat, then segue into the next queen's intro and call her old and fat. If you're just some gorgeous queen up there, ripping on others, it's not funny. You have to have a sense of humor about yourself. You have to have that to go onstage."

We discussed some performers' limitations (not the upcoming roast talents) off the record (see how nice Heklina is?) while comparing drag comedy performance styles.



Politics remains a touchy topic for any performer.

"People are very sensitive now, and they can't recognize satire anymore. It's almost like you have to tell them, 'This is a joke!' because they look for reasons to be offended now."

Mentioning an offhand Trump joke that was misunderstood at Oasis, Heklina recalls having to explain it. "People are going through terrible things; families are being deported, so it's understandable that people don't appreciate a joke."

But as the target of the upcoming roast, Heklina seems to encourage jokes with bite.

"I love to be offended, and I love humor that shocks, like Joan Rivers. I could not believe how vicious she could be sometimes. But she was funny!"

Heklina explained why taboo jokes can entertain and enlighten audiences. "If you take that taboo topic, you poke at it and expose it: That takes the power out of it. But you have to be very careful."

On the topic of old age jokes, Heklina admitted to still enjoying performing in shows, but he's begun to appreciate different aspects.

"As I get older, I'm starting to enjoy the behind the scenes elements of shows, hanging out with friends and getting stuff together. I don't miss the actual act of getting into drag. My legs hurt from getting strangled by pantyhose."


The Roast of Heklina, Saturday February 17, 8pm. $30-$50. ($100 VIP reception 6:30pm), with MC Jackie Beat. $30-$100. Also on sale one-night only; commemorative "Burn the Witch" T-shirts designed by Blackmast. 429 Castro St.

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