San Francisco’s very own high priestess of camp, Peaches Christ, is turning 40 this weekend, so I decided it was a perfect time to profile the entertainer in my weekly column for The San Francisco Examiner. Ms. Christ (née Joshua Grannell) and her team put on some of the most popular events in the city, selling out the Castro Theater weeks in advance. Her campy re-imaginings of already irreverent cult classics like Heathers, Welcome to the Dollhouse and Grey Gardens have become a tradition in the local drag scene. In March, she will pay tribute to Clueless alongside RuPaul’s Drag Race star Willam Belli.
Grannell had lots of interesting things to say about working with his cult idols, a possible bitchy bear version of Mean Girls and why San Francisco drag queens don’t translate well on reality TV. My full interview below.
You’re turning 40 soon, I thought it was against the rules of drag to reveal one’s real age… Why so forthcoming?
Part of the character of Peaches Christ is that she’s overly forthcoming. In most ways, Peaches is way more revealing than I am as Joshua and I’ll sometimes find myself onstage saying something honest about myself “in character” that I’d never reveal to a more intimate group of people while out of drag. So finding myself in the position of becoming an “aging” drag queen I’m completely fine blasting it everywhere I can. I also love that so many of my drag idols — RuPaul, Elvira, Jackie Beat — are all a bit older and still working successfully.
Welcome to the Dollhouse: Heather Matarazzo with Peaches Christ.
How did you get started in drag and how did Peaches Christ come to life?
Peaches was born in my senior thesis film, Jizmopper: A Love Story. I was studying film production at Penn State and the actor we’d hired to play the drag queen in the movie I was directing didn’t pull through for us so Peaches was born and stepped in to play the part. My advice to first-time drag performers is always, “Try not to put your first-time drag in a movie so that people can discover it forever.”
Your shows sell out every time at the Castro Theater, that’s not an easy fill. Why do you think they’re so popular?
I started doing these types of events at my Midnight Mass series that began back in 1998 at the Bridge Theatre so I’ve had lots of time to grow, make mistakes, fall on my face (literally once), and build a group of loyal attendees. Once we began selling out multiple nights at the Bridge, The Castro was the next logical step.
On your Twitter bio you describe yourself as a cult leader. How would you describe your cult and your cult followers?
I like to think that Peaches leads a cult of of devoted followers who worship the cult movies we all love. It’s my job to create events that celebrate these movies, and I borrow lots of ideas from other cults like the Catholic Church. I think for us, the cinema is our church and we earnestly believe in these characters. We are the nerds, the freaks, and weirdos with a wicked fierce sense of humor. We’re the Dawn Weiners who grew up to become the Dawn Davenports. Both Dawns are Saints to us.
Sharon Needles got criticized for some racially-loaded comments. Have you ever felt you’ve gone too far or there are topics that you just cannot address? (AIDS seems to be the buzzkill of queer comedy). Do you believe in self-censorship?
I have definitely made mistakes over the years and have said things that didn’t go over well, usually when performing for an “outsider” audience, where people just didn’t get my humor, but I’ve never felt comfortable being racially risky or overtly sexist or mean to a group of people. It doesn’t really mesh with my idea of the Peaches character. I try hard to connect with the audience. I might say something “controversial” but would only really offend the outside world, not so much my audience. Often my favorite kind of humor can best be described as stupid.
Something Wicked: Peaches Christ, Honey Mahogany, Alaska Thunderfuck and Sharon Needles practice The Craft.
What do you think it’s the last taboo? I think it’s menstruation.
Really? I think menstruation gets its fair share of jokes. I don’t know what the last taboo is right now, but I’d say there are things that offend even me. A friend of mine, someone I really like dressed as dead Matthew Shepard for Halloween and I just couldn’t see how it was funny. But then I thought about all the times I’d laughed at Zom-Benet Ramsey costumes, or some other dead celebrity and realized that maybe I was being hypocritical? I don’t know. One thing I’ve realized is hard to do is make fun of Madonna if you’re a drag queen. I’ve gotten bona fide hate mail for it.
Tell me more about the Haus of Peaches?
Chris Hatfield has been my graphic designer from the very beginning, Sam Sharkey has been our stage manager for over a decade, Ric Ray is our art director who’s designed every set we’ve showcased at the Castro Theatre, plus a team of costume designers, makeup artists, and regular superstar performers like Lady Bear, L Ron Hubby, Peggy L’eggs, and of course my sidekick Martiny who moved to SF with me from Penn State back in 1996.
When you were first starting out and trying to create something, how did you go about approaching potential creative collaborators? I talk to a lot of SF creatives who have had difficulties solidifying creative relationships because everyone’s too focused on their own stuff. How did you get RuPaul and John Waters to believe in Peaches Christ?
I was really lucky to have moved here right when Trannyshack was starting up. It’s where Martiny and I found our friends and a community of folks that we’ve worked with for years. I think we were really lucky that at the time in San Francisco there was this “art for art’s sake” mentality and we’d just all show up for each other and work on each other’s stuff. Midnight Mass was really born out of Trannyshack. As far as being able to work with my idols over the years, we just began inviting folks like Mink Stole, Tura Satana, John Waters, Elvira and RuPaul to come and be worshipped by us in person.
Talk to me about the upcoming Clueless show. How do you go about selecting which movies to recreate? Have you ever done Heathers? Do you think you’ll ever do Mean Girls?
I really try hard to choose films that have a true cult of people attached to them so that I can write and direct a stage-show that people will truly connect with. I really loved Clueless when I first saw it in theaters. I immediately knew it was special. I’m excited to see Willam do Cher! I think he’s so talented. We did Heathers back in 2009. I’m hoping we’ll do Mean Girls. What do you think about a pre-show starring bitchy bears and we call it Mean Grrrs?
“Often my favorite kind of humor can best be described as stupid.”
Locals have criticized RuPaul’s Drag Race for not having nearly enough SF queens. Why do you think this is? Do you think SF drag is too “weird”? Isn’t that a good thing?
I’m not really sure why there haven’t been more queens from SF, but I do think that probably there’s a sense that some of the more established, character driven queens won’t translate well on that show. I think it’s probably true of similar queens who hail from other cities like Dina Martina or Christeene. We might be misunderstood on Drag Race or not be able to bend into what each episode calls for. I’d say that being a weird queen is definitely a good thing though, and I’m also a huge fan of Drag Race. I think it’s wildly entertaining, but if you’re looking for one TV show to represent all of drag, you’re going to be disappointed.
Peaches Christ’s birthday celebration at Rebel on Saturday featuring Heklina, Honey Mahogany and Fauxnique is free. Tickets for her Clueless pre-show and screening on March 8 are now on sale.
Photos: Nicole Fraser-Herron