IN CONVERSATION WITH... PEACHES CHRIST

Words Hugo Harris Photography David Ayllon

For those of you who may not have heard of Peaches Christ I will ask you to close your laptop. Shut off your phone and social media devices and go for some deep soul searching for she is a pioneer in bouffant and an arched eyebrow. She has helped pave the way for both the world of Drag and cult film. Working with the likes of Natasha Lyonne, Elvira, Coco Peru, John Waters and so many more. She is a fascinating tour de force of talent and creativity and Alright Darling have been lucky enough to sit down with the genius of Macabre Drag to discuss the past, present and future of all things Peaches Christ.

 

Hugo: Hello Peaches, first off how are you!?

Peaches: I'm doing really well. I'm a little anxious because I leave town tomorrow to go to L.A and then I'll be going on the Mother-Ship to Mexico cruise with Heklina. So it will be this thing where I'm like oh my God I'm off the grid for 7 days out at sea with no email, no phone, no WiFi, but it can be really lovely. That's the lovely thing about cruise vacations but both Heklina and I are primarily producers and when producing your own work you have to be super ahead of the game so we are all racing around getting our crap done but I am actually in a great place today.

Hugo: I'd Imagine there would be an awful lot to pack though for a seven day cruise with Peaches?

Peaches: There is, but I'll be driving down with Heklina so its actually a lot easier than flying with wigs. We will just be able to carry them right on to the boat. Its like a massive boat with 3000 people on it and its not a gay cruise either which I actually quiet like. It's way more in the spirit of what we do, which is you know old peoples and families gawking in horror as we walk through the boat with our wigs, which is actually part of the fun.

Hugo: And then after you come straight off the cruise you pretty much start Mister Act with Latrice Royale and Willam?

Peaches: Yes, so I've been having a lot of production meetings and making sure all of the team are working whilst I'm gone. Actually today I have a few meetings but I've met up with our Sound Director, our Make-Up Artist, our Costume Designers, our Set Builders, our Art Directors and you know the big thing for me is I have to have the script done so that they can do all their work. Then we will come back and start rehearsing and that feels really good. You know there is always this period after I create the script where I have to back away and let everybody do their job so its good timing for me to go on the cruise.

Hugo: How long does it take then for one of your productions to start from the drawing board to the finished piece then?

Peaches: That a really good question, it really depends on my schedule. Some of the scripts I take more time with, for example The Witches of Eastwick parody I knew I was going to take a lot more time with because its more of an adult show. The reason why I was drawn to that movie was because its about 3 women hitting their forties and thinking is that all there is? I wanted to do a drag version of that for myself, Coco Peru and Chad Michaels. I knew that this parody was going to be serious in some ways because Chad and Coco were like "oh my God this script is like therapy for me because we are questioning what are we doing as grown men who have been doing this ridiculous job for two decades", so I knew that show was going to take longer. Whereas Drop Dead Gorgeous was a lot faster. I knew it was going to be silly and fluffy and straight forward. So it depends.

Hugo: So say you go from Witches of Eastwick to Drop Dead Gorgeous, Clueless, Hocus Pocus or even Grey Gardens. There's never just one genre you stick to, so what makes you choose which film to do?

Peaches: Well I have to find something personally about it that is attractive to me because if I don't connect with the material then I think it is very fraudulent for me to celebrate it to a cult movie audience. Especially if I don't have a connection to it or understand where they are coming from so there are a few movies that people have always asked me to do for years which I wont even talk about.

Hugo: Such as?

Peaches: Haha, well it will piss people off but It's thing that I just don't get. I'm looking at it and I'm like I get that it's popular, I understand you like it.

Hugo: You have to tell me what it is I'm far to curious now!

Peaches: Oh god, I always get into trouble when I do that. Well for one I'm not a big fan of what is called hate watching, where an audience loves to hate something. So in the States right now and I don't know if its popular in the U.K but there is this midnight movie called The Room. Its a big phenomenon all across the States. It was made in the 90's and its a terrible film made in San Francisco and the director is this totally bizarre, clueless kind of disgusting person that has made this terrible movie that's funny because it is so bad. Then there is this millennial hipster-artist community of audiences love to hate it, they make fun of him, they bring him to screenings of the movie and snigger and pretend to worship him in a way but the worship is all about "you're awful!" I'm personally maybe not that cynical and I find it uncomfortable. Honestly I don't enjoy it. I get it, I understand it and then people say ooooh you should do The Room after all you did Showgirls. The difference is I love Showgirls, it's amazing, it is a great great film and if I ever get to do a show with Elizabeth Berkley it will be and evening of queer worship. When I do a film I tend to want to do it earnestly and I represent all the nerds, freaks and weirdos who grew up watching these movies and even something like Clueless can become something personal for people, they feel connected to these characters. Like Cher, what I love about that character is she is so complicated. On the one hand she is this vapid, rich, terrible cunt, just a total bitch but her journey is real and her performance is super nuanced and layered. So maybe the common theme with the movies we celebrate is that there is this sort of transgressive quality and usually some sort of underdog is winning in the long run.

Hugo: I don't know because for me with Hocus Pocus I was always rooting for the witches and never the underdog!

Peaches: Well I started doing this back in the late 90's and I was screening cult movies that I learned about through my idol John Waters. I grew up in Maryland and I became obsessed with John Waters and Divine and discovered Rocky Horror Picture show and it kind of changed my life and my world view. About what it meant to be queer, like oooh this all makes sense to me and growing up in Maryland, John was doing this just up the street from me. I could recognise places from Hairspray and Pink Flamingos and my Aunt just lived round the corner or whatever.

Even still though, I felt it was a million miles away and I consumed everything John Waters, I went into a total immersion and this was way before the internet so I had to find his books and find his movies or any interview I could in the library. Through John I went to almost a cult movie film school because any film or film maker he liked, or that he talked about, like my love affair with Elizabeth Taylor comes from that I heard Divine loved Elizabeth Taylor and I rented all these Elizabeth Taylor movies when I was a kid. Then I started to understand what 'camp' was and what being a gay icon was. So in the early days we were filming cult grind house films like Faster Pussy Cat Kill Kill, and The Bad Seed, a lot of Black and white movies so when it came time for me to evolve because I was getting older and my audience was getting younger there were these sort of nostalgia films that I had outgrown. Nostalgia films for me were the ones that came out in the late 80s, like I'm 42 right? So I was nostalgic for the Goonies or Poltergeist.

Over the years I was getting presented with these nostalgic films that I have no nostalgia for, I didn't grow up with Hocus Pocus so I remember when people said "oh my God you have to screen Hocus Pocus" and I said "Isn't that the terrible witch movie that Bette Midler bombed in"? I don't even think I had even seen it because it came out when I was in my early 20's being a complete film nerd, an elitist film snob so why would I go see this terrible looking Disney film, I was beyond it. When I watched it though about 5 years ago to understand it, it all made sense. I watched it from your point of view, what it really felt like for me was like Oh wow this is like this generations Pee-Wee Herman or Elvira......

Hugo: Well can you even compare Elvira though to Hocus Pocus, because Elvira is on a completely different level?

Peaches: Right but you didn't grow up with her like I did. She was an adult woman who taught me how to do drag. Bette Midler is an adult woman in Hocus Pocus is also doing every drag queen she ever met and you can see it crammed into her performance as Winifred.

Hugo: True and you are right I didn't grow up with Elvira, it was actually my boyfriend who introduced me to her, but John Waters however much like you I discovered as a child. I remember being about 10 finding Serial Mom for £3 and not having a clue what it was but I loved the picture of Kathleen Turner holding a knife with a maniacal grin and I loved the film and I ending up discovering more and more of his films through that. You know who I love though who I don't think gets as much credit for in all the Waters films is Mink Stole. She is my absolute favourite actress in his films and I know you have worked with her quiet often too?

Peaches: Mink was actually the first person I invited to do our midnight movie show called Midnight Mass and I was so nervous because there is this holy trinity of stars, Divine, Edith Massey and Mink Stole and Mink is the only one who is still alive. Like you I feel Mink Stole is so utterly brilliant and underrated like you say, I mean she plays opposite Divine in Pink Flamingos and holds her own as an incredible larger than life screen presence. She is such an amazing villain.

So when she agreed to come to San Francisco to do the show I put her up on a big pedestal. You know the audience in San Francisco gave her a standing ovation, we had a banner which read 'Hail Mink' and I created these church like effigies of her character from all the different movies. She was so overwhelmed by it and you know what she said to me was that it was the first time that she received that treatment because in past it was John and Divine that received this larger than life recognition and she was sort of included with Divine or Eddie and never on her own. So after that weekend she called me and we stayed in touch and over a period of years we did more shows together and we became friends and helped each other with some normal friend life stuff, so when All About Evil came about she says now that she said yes before she read the script. In the movie her mouth gets sewn up my Natasha Lyonne and she's abused a lot in the movie but she was so amazing. She is one of my true close friends and its surreal because I have created this bizarre career where I literally have become friends with people that I worship. I have never stopped being a fan and I'm always so blown away by these friendships.

Hugo: If you hadn't gone down this career route of film and then having to be in drag for a college film production last minute, something you have mentioned quiet a lot in you life, do you think you would have still become a Drag Queen?

Peaches: Well at first I used to say I had to do it, step in a save the show. Later in life though my friends side eye me a little because no one put a gun to my head and told me to get into drag. Probably I'm thinking now I would have done drag anyway because in the mid 90's that kind of grungy hideous drag was so accessible to me and so much fun that if I hadn't done it college I still would have move to San Francisco and gotten in with the Trannyshack crowd which was the scene when I moved here. So I think yeah its hard to say but I used the movie I did in college as an excuse which we could go on and on about in terms of internalised homophobia, drag-phobia, coming to terms with my own queerness and gender issues but it was a nice excuse at the time to do drag if that makes sense?   

Unlike John he had a muse in Divine, I didn't have that muse. John and Divine had each other, I didn't really have that in central Pennsylvania, there wasn't anybody there at the time except for Michael who became Martiny my sidekick, we kind of looked at each other and thought why not? Even though we got bashed, you know it was a scary time and place to do drag......

Hugo: You come from a Catholic background as well right? So did the area you grow up in have a very strong Catholic community?

Peaches: Yes. Which I think made me become more rebellious and more offensive and perverted and all the things that inspire kids to rebel. That's the funny thing growing up Catholic is often time the Catholic kids are the worst kids because repression leads to people revolting. It inspired me too well, if you didn't grow up Catholic then you probably wouldn't call yourself Peaches Christ and do a show called Midnight Mass. At the time I wasn't afraid of offending people, but now over time its been a long long time since I went to Catholic school so I don't carry around anger and the wounds aren't as fresh. You know in San Francisco Peaches Christ is literally like a part of the city or the institute which is really bazaar. In terms of you can see me on billboards and you can see a banner of me hanging in city hall where the mayors office is and that is fucking weird you know? But it becomes quiet normal here and I forget that I can be offensive, or challenging to people but when I leave or go somewhere else!

Hugo: I know, because wasn't it when you were doing Bear-Barella and you brought it over to the U.K you got into quiet a bit of trouble when you took it to Belfast? Did you expect that kind of reaction?

Peaches: No, I didn't. I think because it had been so long and I was primarily focused on London and Manchester where I was immersed in quiet a liberal drag scene I was really relaxed when I did an interview with the BBC. The interviewer really questioned me about my stage name and my Catholic upbringing and I guess I was caught off guard and I was very honest about my feelings about my upbringing in a very uncensored way. I wasn't careful about it and that interview was what lead enough people to be upset in Belfast that it became and issue.

Hugo: Even still it got great reviews and you still succeeded. I find you rather incredible, I don't think I have heard of any other drag queen for example who has had their own major museum exhibition, which I personally find wonderful.

Peaches: I know isn't it wild? It is as just a big a surprise to me as anyone else or even more so because me and my friends who I work with all theses years have to pinch ourselves and say can you believe this? And maybe that's why it came to be because San Francisco is not a industry town in terms of Show business. It was never a part of our thoughts, it was a hobby where we could be with our friends and express ourselves, it was never about making money and in many ways maybe that's why we succeeded hahaha!

Hugo: Well yeah, I see you very much as someone who is a very hard working person who has worked up to where they are now. Do you think that maybe, not in every person but there is a sense of people doing drag as a form of instant fame?

Peaches: Well that is the question for all us veteran queens who haven't gone on television. Okay so I have mixed feelings about it. On the surface it is like oh my God you can have this amazing drag career now overnight! You can be famous on the internet or go on RuPaul's Drag Race and become exposed I mean we would have killed for that level of exposure. However, I am very grateful believe it or not that we had to put each foot in front of one and the other and slowly learn how to do this in a way we make mistakes. If I made a mistake I made it in front of a few hundred people, not in front of 15,000 people or on the internet with God knows how many people and I think what you see is on Drag Race especially is maybe the queens that have the most talent come off the show and have the most ability to create a sustainable career but also the queens who have the most experience and talent are able to navigate the waters in a more constructive way. So with Bianca Del Rio as someone who is a 20 year veteran of drag plus with ton of exposure and boom she's great! She's doing well and for the girls who don't have that experience, I don't think is good for people. I think it can hurt in some ways.

It is a tricky one. I think the reality of it is a bunch of us could go on the show and behind the scenes a bunch of us have been pushed to go on the show and choose not too! Hahahaha! But I love the show and it is wildly entertaining, I think when drag is lifted up it is good for all of us. There is more opportunities for all of us but I don't think the show is right for me. So everyone kind of has to decide.

Hugo: I suppose you would have so much to consider, for example would you even need it for your career and also how would they even edit you could destroy the character you spent so long creating?


Peaches: Its not just that though, its the competition side of it. I don't compete with my friends, I don't compete with drag so I would be taking this character that I care a lot about and invested a lot of time in and then have to completely radically change her. I mean if I was to go on the show I would play the game. I would commit 100%. I would not go on there and pretend that I could manipulate the system into something else. I would realise I would have to become Peaches Christ the competitor who wants to beat other queens. I don't think I could do that because I don't care!

Hugo: That's the thing, on the one hand they have this belief that drag can be anything and has no limits and then they are saying that these girls are not polished enough or aren't wearing the right kind of make-up or their clothing isn't 'fashion forward.' So now there is almost becoming in a younger community where you can see cookie cutter drag queens where they all mimic the catch phases from Drag Race. It is almost like the Kardashian effect but in a drag formation.

Peaches: Haha! Yes! I mean I haven't heard that analogy but yes! And their values in a lot of ways are similar, it is all about hashtags and catch phrases and selling t-shirts and having internet memes. Like last night I went to see my friend Dina Martina, totally twisted, hideous and brilliant, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful drag queen who wouldn't last a minute on Drag Race. Same with my friend Christeene from Austin Texas who went on tour and opened for Peaches...the other Peaches!

Hugo: I was actually tempted, should I say soooooo about Peaches using Peaches Christ Superstar as the name of one of her last shows but I thought that question may have been asked one too many times?

Peaches: Yeah not really, not as much as you might think. You know the only frustrating part of that was people got confused because I was on tour at the same time and so people bought tickets for her show thinking it was me. She and I had actually done things together in the past and I know her and when I saw her doing this, I thought what!? That's not good! But when I realised she was doing the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical I was like fair enough what else are you going to call it? Your are literally doing Jesus Christ Superstar so it never really bothered me that much but anyway, you know.

Christeene though, who opened for Peaches last year, again, she is a kind of drag that isn't television friendly at all but the kind of drag that I adore so I hope people realise there is more to the world of drag besides what is presented on television.

Hugo: Well there are people who do their research and there are people that I know that are completely off kilter but the sad thing about that is sometimes these amazing performances are lost in clubs filled with alcohol.

Peaches: Right, because I'm a huge fan of John Sizzle. When we did a show in Hackney at the Rio Cinema. I saw amazing alternative drag like Sizzle, like Baby Lame and it was at the same time as Andrew Logan was doing his Alternative Miss World and we got to go to that. Baby Lame performed at that and she was so twisted that she made even people at the Alternative Miss World uncomfortable, which I loved!

Hugo: So have you done much work with Andrew Logan out of curiosity?

Peaches: You know that was the first time I had met him and he invited me to The Glass House and I got to spend a very romantic afternoon in London and it was raining and I got to go to the Glass House to warm up and have tea with Andrew Logan and he took me on a tour of his artwork and it was amazing. I don't know Andrew that well, I'm friends with Patricia Quinn who is Magenta in Rocky Horror. So Patricia and Vivienne Westwood and Andrew Logan and Zandra Rhodes are all friends for 30 plus years so it was very humbling for me to be invited to go to the Glass House and meet Andrew that way.

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Hugo: Do you have anymore plans then to come back to the U.K?

Peaches: We are working on something fingers crossed!

Hugo: Oh really?

Peaches: Well, its not been announced yet but it would be silly for me to do an interview with you and not say that Jinkx Monsoon and I are very very very much trying to get to the U.K to do our Grey Gardens show. So we are working on it. We are talking to a venue in London and both me and her really really want to do it so we are working hard on London and Manchester. We are almost there but to do these things there are Visas and all these behind the scenes kind of crap that has to happen.

I will tell you this for any London person who is a fan of Jinkx or me or Grey Gardens just know we are working very hard to try to do this. We don't have exact dates yet but it would be Mid-October.

Hugo: That would be awesome. It really would. I've loved Grey Gardens for so so many years. I was very surprised when Jinkx did that role on Drag Race and so many people hadn't heard of it. I thought with the whole Bouvier-Kennedy connection it would play more of a role in American History?

Peaches: Well it's that thing that, well how to I say this eloquently. Even in the world of drag there are all different forms of taste levels and all sorts of different representations. So whilst I love all sorts of drag, I mean if you impersonate Janet Jackson flawlessly then I will find value in that and I will go and be entertained by it but it's not something I'm particularly passionate about.

What I love about Drag Race still is that they have put on that show people like Jinkx or Sharon Needles or Bianca Del Rio where the make up or the look isn't pageant, it isn't perfect, it isn't beautiful and these kids that become fans of Jinkx or Bianca, Bianca is old school we did Whatever happened to Baby Jane together. She's introduced kids to Auntie Mame and Lucille Ball. Sharon's introduced kids to Jayne County and Amanda Lepore and the Church of Satan and that's fabulous! So Jinkx by doing that with Grey Gardens a whole generation of people got to discover little Edie and then went and found the original. Like with me and John Waters it opened up this whole world of underground film makers and obscurity. Only the really cool kids are going to seek that out and only the interesting people like see Jinkx do it, find the original documentary and connect with the magic that is Little Edie and Big Edie and the bazaar scenario of their lives

Hugo: And maybe not just think of it as just as film staring Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange?

Peaches: You know we have done the show so many times, New York, San Fransisco, Los Angles, Seattle, Provincetown and we still meet people who think we are doing Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange and we have to be like no you rented the wrong movie!

Hugo: So apart from trying to come over to the U.K and Mister Act do you have any other works in the pipeline?

Peaches: Yes and this may interest your readers. I adore these queens I have worked with in Manchester and some of them are coming to the States for the Austin International Drag Festival and because of that I am working on a show here in San Francisco where I can feature these U.K drag stars on stage. So I'm trying to get the rights to do Spice World. So this would be my first British show for British queens about British icons. It's just a little challenging because it is the Spice Girls 20th Anniversary so we are waiting.


Peaches Christ Productions presents Sister Act with the pre-show parody "Mister Act" at the Castro Theatre, Saturday February 27th.