California has been called the Left Coast, the Best Coast, the Land of Fruits and Nuts, and the hottest hotbed of drag in America, and it’s all kind of true, give or take a pair of size-14 sling-backs, an economy-sized bottle of Coppertone, and a three-picture—all of them Photoshopped—deal with a major studio.
From the glitteringly subversive, sex-positive hedonism of San Francisco’s hippest clubs, to the packed-to-the-rafters, if-you-shave-it-they-will-come alternative performance spaces of sunny Los Angeles, the Golden State is an almost too drag-a-licious destination. And, it has been that way, up and down the coast, since at least the early 20th century.
Los Angeles “gurls,” to quote Katy Perry, “don’t mind sand in their stilettos.” As long as they look fierce, they’ll draw a crowd, especially if they’ve appeared on RuPaul’s Drag Race. The Entertainment Capital of the World is a smorgasbord of drag, feeding its creativity to—and being nourished by—the movie and TV industries.
“You have club queens, comedy queens, theater queens, and even Tupperware queens here. You name it, we got it,” says Oscar Quintero, who, as his alter ego Kay Sedia, writes and performs in Chico’s Angels, a Latinx-flavored spoof of Charlie’s Angels, and sells plastic storage containers on the side.
The town that, for ages, played host to An Evening at La Cage, a popular female impersonators show that drew a Hollywood clientele, continues to boast a vibrant drag scene from the girls of drag bingo at Hamburger Mary’s to the talk show Hey Qween!, a hilarious web series hosted by Big Gay Sketch Show alum Jonny McGovern and his largely fabulous cohost Lady Red Couture.
Unique to Los Angeles is the fact that some of the funniest drag is performed by men who aren’t even drag queens. Crazed character actors—Tom Lenk of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and internet sensation (and Off-Broadway darling) Drew Droege among them—frequently don thrift-store attire and spout filth while playing a cracked version of The Match Game for charity at the city’s LGBTQ center. The Snatch Game has nothing on them.
Others peddle their sequined papayas on a tiny stage in the basement of a Mexican restaurant called Casita Del Campo in Silver Lake. The Cavern Club Celebrity Theater—presided over by Mr. Dan, a man who was known as Gina Lotriman when he was co-hosting the legendary L.A. drag party Dragstrip 66 in the 1990s—is home to some of the most inventive drag productions in Los Angeles. These shows really put the camp in Campo.
The chiquitito showplace has played host to all manner of drag over the years from a make-believe morning show presided over by a faux Juliette Lewis and Bette Midler (Chris Pudlo and Craig Taggart) to various 1980s-style extravaganzas featuring Love Connie (John Cantwell), a hairy gal whom one critic alliteratively described as a “hirsute high-kicking heroine.”
Meanwhile, in a revivified downtown Los Angeles, the horror-drag of the party-giving duo the Boulet Brothers is helping to make the city a drag-lover’s paradise like no other.
“I don’t really have enough objectivity to comment on the L.A. drag scene as a whole,” says Sam Pancake, a character actor whose drag antics as a very drunk Lucille Ball, an extra hot-to-trot Rue McClanahan, and a supremely potty-mouthed Lisa Whelchel have made him a local favorite. “But I do know that it is high-heeling on full-speed ahead and it’s only growing and getting better, bigger, brighter, and more fantastic and creative. Dare I say it’s a Golden Age?”