S.F. Drag King Competition: Local Drag Kings Talk About Being the Other Gender-Bending Performers
By SUSIE NEILSON
Dr. Fudgie Frottage. Phot by Larry Utley
"The main thing about San Francisco drag is that nobody gets up and does a straight lip sync. That just doesn't fly."
This statement issued from of Dr. Fudgie Frottage, who has emceed San Francisco's annual female-to-male drag king competition since 1996. During her reign it's become the largest in the world, attracting talent from as far away as Paris. This Saturday marks the 18th anniversary of the contest, and there's no question it will be a raunchy, rollicking good time. Kings are less concerned with glamour than queens, and they're arguably funnier. And any of these ladies will tell you: they push cultural boundaries just as hard as the guys do.
Yet even after a rush of victories for the queer, gender-bending and questioning this summer with the repeal of Prop. 8 and DOMA, those cultural boundaries still have a long way to be pushed. Similarly, drag kings have a long way to go before they attain the visibility of their queenly counterparts. Why can't the drag kings come out of the cultural woodwork? We posed this question, among others, to the experts before they take the stage this Saturday.
"Dr. Fudgie Frottage"
Musician, emcee, producer
As the emcee, what do you look for in your performers?
Most of these girls are professional performers, some are burlesque dancers. We're artists. We bring ourselves onto the stage, and we perform to inspire others.
What's your performance history?
I've always been a musician. I used to play guitar in a girl punk rock band in the 1980s. I started doing drag around '95, '96 -- a weekly strip act at Trannyshack. I would produce the show and get people to emcee. But then they wouldn't show up, and I'd devolve into the emcee position... that's actually how I got my start.
What's different about drag kings?
You hear more about drag queens because it's older. DRAG stands for "dressed as girl." It goes all the way back to Shakespearan times. Back then girls weren't allowed to be on the stage, so you'd get a lot of male actors dressed up in women's clothing.
The first formal "drag king" in San Francisco was Lee Crow, who did an Elvis impersonation -- Elvis Herselvis. Which makes sense, you know? After all, Elvis was the King. Then you get guys like Mo B. Dick. And now this huge drag show. There's always been a really flamboyant culture around drag queens, but with a drag king, the most flamboyant you could ever get is a pompadour. But with drag kings, the performance is different, the appeal is different. Drag kings can be very, very funny -- and look funny.
Hamlet Gramm. Photo by Larry Utley
"Hamlet Gramm and the Wham Bam Thank you Ma'ams"
Tell us about being a Drag King.
There are two types of performers at the drag king show. One is performers, one who identify with a different genre. And then the ones who identify [as male]. They're usually more soulful. I'm definitely in the first half. I'm just a performer. If I had to be a guy, I just picked as goofy as I could possibly get, and I just ran with it.
Describe your act.
It's Hamlet Gramm with the Wham Bam Thank You Ma'ams. The backups change, but the performances are generally from the late '70s and early '80s. They're just a train wreck. I had a bunch of friends -- a bunch of dykes -- do it with me, and it's not easy to get them choreographed. There are a lot of weird mistakes that happen, which adds to our show. This [Saturday] -- I don't want to speak to soon, but we're doing it on roller skates.
What's been your proudest moment as a drag king?
Probably winning the 15th show. It was really awesome when I finally got to perform at Trannyshack. Then when we actually did Trannyshack, it wasn't so awesome [laughs]. The audience was mostly gay men wondering why there's a bunch of girls dressed like men, 'cause they're there for the queens. But it taught me [that] when the audience isn't really there, you still just have to give it your all.
What do drag kings have that drag queens lack?
That question should be switched the other way around! Nothing. Drag queens, they fricking rule. At least the queens in this city, they're serious performers. And a lot of the performances are charity fundraisers. At some point I used drag queens in my performance, and the performance raised up a notch. So I'm putting faux kings in this one. A faux king is basically a male who dresses up as a drag king. I don't want to talk drag kings down, but performance-wise, we could learn a lot.
What's unique, then?
There's still a freshness to it, because the history isn't as long. There aren't a lot of examples, there's sort of a uniqueness to the characters that arise. Last year there was a judge that came in named Mo B. Dick, from New York, and the character is very defined, it's very well done, and you believe it. Since then I've seen characters that emulate the style but at the time [Dick] came out, in the '90s, [he] was very fresh.