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Film is a drag: Peaches Christ and Showgirls

INTERVIEW. Infamous San Francisco drag queen Peaches Christ (aka Joshua Grannell) brings her hilarious and notorious interpretation of cult classic "Showgirls" to Südblock on Feb 14. Don't miss the love!

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Photo by Jose Guzman Colon

Among all the Berlinale madness, San Francisco drag superstar Peaches Christ brings her hit production of Showgirls to Südblock on February 14.

Rising to local notoriety in San Francisco with the combination cult film-drag show series Midnight Mass, Joshua Grannell, aka Peaches Christ, first corralled his two loves – transgressive cinema and drag – to the delight of Bay Area freaks in 1998. Every summer since then, he, as Peaches Christ, has curated and performed in a variety of cult classics. The one film that keeps returning every year? Paul Verhoeven’s infamous Showgirls (1995). He’s gone international of late, writing and directing his first feature film All About Evil (2010) and frequently taking the Peaches show on the road. But just like back in San Francisco, Showgirls keeps coming up. Peaches brings her love for the film here on Valentine’s Day at Südblock.

Of course, Berlin has its own Peaches… do you know her?

Years and years ago, before she was so famous and such a huge star, I was brought to Switzerland to show my short films. Some electronic music artists from New Orleans, Quintron and Miss Pussycat, came to my show, and we fell in love with each other, and then I opened for them at a festival, and they kept saying, “Oh my god, we have to introduce you to our friend Peaches.” This was like 10 years ago. So, a few years later, no, many years later, I make a movie, she becomes superstar Peaches, you know, and we went on tour with All About Evil around the country, and even in other countries. And it’s All About Evil with the Peaches Christ experience, you know, in 4D, you come and you see the show. At the same time, that she launched her own version of an Andrew Lloyd Weber musical… called Peaches Christ Superstar. How could she not call it that, you know? But what it did was create problems with ticketing, people bought tickets to her show thinking it was me, people bought tickets to my show thinking it was her… What a PR nightmare. So when it finally came to San Francisco, she made sure that I got comped tickets, and made a big deal onstage about me being there. I was there out of drag, and she brought me backstage… I just love her.

You’re bringing your drag version of Showgirls to Berlin – notoriously one of the worst films of all time. Why now?

Showgirls came out in 1995, it’s celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. The movie itself is a celebration of, I think, extremes. Everything in that film is so outrageous, and beautiful, and colourful, and opulent… I mean the film itself to me is drag. It just happens to be performed by two women. Gina Gershon and Elizabeth Berkley are giving drag performances. And it very much speaks to a certain sensibility that is camp, that is transgressive, that is “midnight movie”, where people call it the worst movie, things like that. And I actually say, you know what, I call it the best movie ever made. Believe it or not, I’m not being cheeky. Our audiences [back in San Francisco] genuinely love Showgirls. There’s not sort of this ironic twist. We’re not hate-watching that film, the way that people go see The Room.

Showgirls is a very American film. Are there fans of it here in Europe?

There certainly are in London. I’ve done events in other places where the humour, the things that we love about it don’t necessarily translate. But in London, they showed up, they were so drunk, they reminded me of early Midnight Mass… the celebration of trash culture, and being extreme, and really going for it. Like, they loved the lap dances, the local performers completely got it – I didn’t have to explain anything, you know? In San Francisco I feel like we’ve cultivated audiences and taught them: “Here’s where you scream at a Peaches show. Here’s where you go crazy.” They really got it right away.

Are you expecting the same from German audiences?

No. With Berlin I’ve been talking to Pansy [performer and promoter] some about it, and it seems like even she’s not totally sure how it’s going to go. So we’ll see. But I’m a little bit comforted because we specifically chose to do it at the same time as the Berlinale. Because I have a foot in the drag world, obviously, and I also have a foot in the film world. There will be a lot of film programmers and filmmakers who are friends or acquaintances of mine from around the world in town, so the nice thing is, the audience will be peppered with non-locals, you know, who might need a break from the film festival and want to just come and laugh.

Drag seems to be exploding right now, here in Berlin as well as everywhere else. How has drag for you changed over the years? RuPaul’s Drag Race has kind of put it into a new national consciousness.

As a kid, when I discovered Divine, and John Waters, it totally changed my life. That was where I was like, “Wow, that is a man playing Ricki Lake’s mother.” For me, drag has always been infused with my love of cinema, and specifically very transgressive, punk rock, offensive performances. But if you go to Dallas, Texas, it’s about being beautiful, and celebrating female. Which I love, I totally adore it. So Ru comes along, and Ru is sort of able to be an umbrella for all these things. RuPaul is gorgeous, she is glamourous, she wears the Bob Mackie gowns. But she’s also a former hooker who was, you know, a Blaxploitation queen. It’s amazing. She’s this beacon, in a way. And now you have the show, a slick product, getting out into the world, in combination with the internet. You’ve got kids who are able to just completely… not only be exposed to it, but then, learn how to do the makeup. Because there’s a frickin’ million makeup tutorials. So drag has exploded.

What do you think that’s done for drag in general?

A lot of people will say to me, “What do you think about drag becoming mainstream?” And I’m like, “Ahem, I don’t think it’s mainstream.” American Idol is mainstream. These are diehard cult fans, you know, who are connecting with their transgressive, underground nature. It’s that thing where it’s still alternative, it’s just reaching a lot more people, if that makes sense. And I think there will be a backlash at some point.

That people will stop doing drag…

That’s just the way it is, right? That’s how pop culture goes.

Do people still react to the transgressive element in a negative way? Have you ever offended?

You know just in general, being a drag queen who’s named after Jesus, it’s a sort of level of offensiveness that never leaves me, and it’s certainly shut doors over the years. I had a Hollywood manager who wanted to represent me, from a big company, tell me, “I could get you on TV, I could do these things for you, but we’re changing your stage name, like that’s the first thing we need to do.” And I said, “You know, I can’t do that, because my whole thing has been built on celebrating the taboo.” I did a big interview on the BBC, and when we got to Belfast the woman that was hosting our show came out and said, “I’m horribly sorry, but the interview you did has caused quite an outrage. And the government has charged you with blasphemy and lewdness. And the show may not happen tonight.” And the resolution was that a government official had to come and monitor the show. The show was very early, very dumb humour, it’s barebacking, and dildos, and poppers… So when we got a standing ovation at the end of it, and the standing ovation didn’t stop, I knew what the people in the audience were hungry for: freedom. You know? Freedom to be offensive.

Pansy & Peaches Christ: Showgirls, Sat, Feb 14, 22:00 | Südblock, Admiralstraße 1-2, Kreuzberg, U-Bhf Kottbusser Tor