Anyone who's been on social media during WrestleMania has experienced just how far and deep pro wrestling's tentacles reach. What may seem to non-fans like a niche or curiosity is, of course, one of the modern world's most popular art forms.
I recently interviewed three of the promotional impresarios behind a genre- and gender-crossing performance series ChokeHole, a late-night "XXXTREME DRAG PRO WRESTLING" event that spans two weekends, Saturday, May 26 and Saturday, June 2. While die-hard pro-wrestling freaks like myself tend to look askance at non-wrestlers dabbling in pro wrestling, on reflection what's most surprising is that drag and pro wrestling haven't been combined more often.
Drag and pro wrestling are both protean performance arts that ravenously remix and recycle elements from all strata of culture and politics, digesting contemporary anxieties into a physically demanding theatrical form that's proudly lowbrow and yet capable of allegorical profundity. Both are rowdy, cheap-seat-pandering entertainment recombinators of drama, spectacle and humor populated by commanding, larger-than-life archetypes. Both are defiantly transgressive, both combine glamour, artifice, gender excess, sleaze and a performance dynamic hinging on crowd engagement. All in all, it's a perfect if unholy memetic marriage.
GAMBIT: Hi! Can you introduce yourselves and this collaboration to our readers?
JASSY: Visqueen and I are part of High Profile, a drag collective started about a year ago. I'm putting together the actual content of the matches, and within High Profile I'm more of the manager role; getting people together and organizing everything. I'm also a performer.
From the beginning, our intent with High Profile has been to act as if we're bigger than we were. We'd fake big sponsors for our events; for our second party we threw a New Orleans Nightlife awards show where we gave out awards to ourselves. We love commercialization and acting as if we're at the top of the chain when really we're nobodies. It's funny because we've always been faking it, but this event to me feels like the realest thing we've ever done. We've got an Eventbrite! We used to always have fake Eventbrites but this one is real, because people actually might buy tickets!
VISQUEEN: My name is Visqueen, and I'm one third of High Profile. I'm in charge of all High Profile's digital content and promotional material — the visual elements. We're excited to be collaborating my visual elements with You Go Girl's to make this event. And we're excited about our sponsors.
HUGO GYRL: I'm Hugo Gyrl. I'm a local graffiti artist and event producer. I've been doing underground events for a long time. When I bumped into High Profile I was really impressed by their commitment to their shows, their visuals and their ability to create a production with a really good sense of humor. We collaborated on a party before called "Qasino," which was a huge success, a casino-themed new year's party. This is our second time working together.
JASSY: A lot of what we were doing with High Profile was fake production values— we'd have all these promises and online content, and then the night of, we'd just be in some little bar. When we came to You Go Girl's parties, it was like everything we'd actually been promising, done in the physical world. All these huge installations and crazy shit that we could never imagine. We were like, this is what we want to do!
HUGO: We all firmly believe: the bigger the better.
Why pro wrestling?
JASSY: High Profile did a show called FLOW last summer. We were inspired by GLOW, so we did "Fake Ladies of Wrestling." It was at the Hi-Ho Lounge, with mats on the bar floor and pool noodles as the ring. Very low budget, but a success. We got a couple big sponsors and had printed a backdrop, and we had "backstage drama" videos we'd shot before, like we're doing now.
VISQUEEN: That was definitely the most video content we'd ever done for an event. It was more than just a drag show — and that's kind of High Profile's mission, that when we do something it's not just your average cabaret drag show. We really want to have a cohesive theme, and run as if it's a special event. Performance art.
JASSY: We try to meld all the performances to create a bigger vision.
HUGO: And pro wrestling is drag. I don't think many people would disagree with that. It'a all about creating a character and a costume and music and storylines. I think there's a lot of similarities, and I think it's fun to bring the queer element of drag into wrestling. There's already overlap, because there have always been so many queer wrestlers... their characters are queer, I don't presume to know the personal lives of the wrestlers themselves. There's a tremendous amount of camp in both worlds. Bringing them together feels natural. I mean, Goldust? Drag queen.
JASSY: Although there a lot of queer subtexts within WWE, I think on its surface it's very macho, masculine. Traditionally it's skewed to a little more of a conservative audience, so I think it's interesting to take that queerness that's always been underlying and pull it to the forefront.
How did you cast the wrestlers themselves? Did people come up with their own gimmicks?
VISQUEEN: We wanted the queens to really have full control over what their characters were gonna be. I believe that the more control you have over a drag image the better you'll perform and the more fun you'll have.
Did y'all book the matches? How was that decided?
JASSY: I paired them up, but I asked them first— I found queens who I knew had worked together in the past or who were friends outside of drag and tried to pair people who already had a close relationship, so they could work easier together.
Maybe this is outdated, but I think of drag as being about "put the spotlight on me." When you're onstage for your number, you're the sole focus. How has it been for the girls to plan these two-person acts?
JASSY: Normally drag is a very standalone thing. You do the design and you do the performance. You do everything yourself: the audio, the visual. But I think High Profile has always been about creating a concept as a whole, rather than individualism. Rather than, "Oh, do whatever you want, it's just a fun time," it's like— hey, this is our vision, do you want to buy into it? I feel like we've had a really good experience of people being willing to do a lot for a little because we were able to create these things that seem big and exciting and out of the ordinary.
VISQUEEN: And fun. We wanted it to be fun for the queens to create something on this grand stage our beautiful production boys are making for us.
JASSY: And I think because we are asking them to do so much — to create characters, make up a match, and do video promos — we wanted to leave a lot of the ideas up to them, so that they would have more control and be excited about what they're doing.
HUGO: But let me add this: behind the scenes there is hot drama. There are undercurrents of jealousy that will explode into rage. Chairs will be thrown. Wigs will be snatched. Eyelashes will be drooping.
VISQUEEN: You'll only find out if you come to the show.
HUGO: For example we have Miss Toto, hailing from Miami, who is a body-builder out of the ring. She's going to smash into a local fave, HashPat who's going to be Raid, a giant bug that wants to destroy humanity.
VISQUEEN: Simple concepts. Timeless.
HUGO: Bodybuilders vs. giant misanthropic bugs.
JASSY: Me and Visqueen are going to be performing as a pair of conjoined twins.
VISQUEEN: Very muscular conjoined twins.
JASSY: We'll be facing Dangerous Rose, who's a queer go-go dancer. She's not really a drag queen... but she's incredible.
VISQUEEN: We had to bring her back from L.A., where she's been performing. She's perfect for this.
JASSY: She's a pole dancer... The things she can do with her body...
I see the ring out there under construction. It looks highly technical. Did you look up some schematics on YouTube or what?
HUGO: We did a lot of research, a lot of safety planning, and weight testing... but mostly the stage is actually made of Chee Wees, which were donated to us by our sponsor down the street. Thanks Elmers CheeWees!
JASSY: That's what gives the ring its bounce... and its crunch.
Are there gonna be referees? How faithfully will this resemble pro wrestling as people know it?
JASSY: Each match will start with a video that sets it up, a "backstage drama" scene for back story. From there, each performer will come out and make a grand entrance from the staircase onto the stage, all while doing a lip sync. We wanted to incorporate drag by keeping the lip sync element, but the lip syncs will be in the vein of the performer's character. That'll be the introductions into the ring. From there, each match will have a ref, and matches will be commentated by Hugo Gyrl and Garlic Junior., the third member of High Profile. You have to consider Garlic like... the pop princess of High Profile.
VISQUEEN: She's the voice. She hosts most of our events; she's the personality.
JASSY: [Visqueen and I] are behind the scenes and performers, and she's the face, almost. She also makes original music, so she often composes songs for us to perform at our parties. So we'll be opening the show, the three of us, with an original ChokeHole song.
Do any of the girls have training as pro wrestlers?
HUGO: Oh, they've been training around the clock. In special locked chambers.
JASSY: We have a workout regimen. We've been enforcing it strictly. They have no say over what they've been eating or drinking the past several weeks.
VISQUEEN: They must be fit. We give them the creative freedom, but they submit their bodies to us.
JASSY: Creatively everything; physically nothing. We've been been monitoring their calories.
HUGO: They're only permitted Chee-Wees.
Do y'all watch pro wrestling? Do you like it?
VISQUEEN: I have only just begun to appreciate the WWE Universe... specifically, the NXT brand. They get really experimental with the characters.
Isn't Velveteen Dream amazing?
VISQUEEN: I love Velveteen Dream. He's hot! I want him to come to ChokeHole.
JASSY: His Instagram is so weird too. It's really arty.
VISQUEEN: Contemporary wrestling has a lot of more genderfluid elements.
Not to stray too far, but I love that Velveteen Dream has this kind of ... queer ferocity. Instead of, "Oh, I'm a simpering sissy," it's more like a D.C. club kid, vogue-battle vibe.
JASSY: It's been rewarding to explore the ways in which queer aesthetics can be not just effeminate, but strong. And evil, and good, all the variety. Since we've had the queens pick their own characters, we've ended up with such a diverse range of performances. It's all over the place in a way that will create a more dynamic show. Even the matches are going to be so different from each other. Like one match might be a synchronized megamix, where they're wrestling and lip synching at the same time, and some other people are just doing straight wrestling where they're trying to hurt each other.
Is the card different both weeks?
JASSY: There's some overlap. The majority of the queens are different each week, except for those of us involved in producing it; we'll be there both weeks.
VISQUEEN: That's a big thing — each show is different, although there are a few storylines that continue and develop between the two shows. And you can get a discount advance pass good for both shows.
HUGO: We've also got an amazing range of DJs for the post-show parties. This ChokeHole's gonna be tight. Squeeze in while you can!
ChokeHole runs Saturday, May 26 and Saturday, June 2 at 2120 Port St. Doors open at 10pm, bell time is 11pm, and afterparty goes 'til late. $20 for both shows at http://bit.ly/chokeholetix, or $15 each show at the door.