IzzyDead MotherF*cker commands the stage at Gladys: The Nosy Neighbor in front of a packed room of people about six months into her residency as the new host of Weirdo, a weekly drag competition that urges contestants to embrace the odd and unconventional while challenging the audience to do the same. The show exploded in Denver over its short and mighty lifespan so far, proving that folks are looking for more than just your run-of-the-mill drag show in the Mile High City.
“I do have to tell you, sh*t gets weird; sh*t gets crazy; sh*t gets loud,” the host and co-producer boasted, dressed in a huge wig and stoic cape, as she warmed up the crowd for the February 21 show.
Sh*t got weird about five minutes later, when IzzyDead kicked things off with a performer dressed as a submissive pup on a leash, seductively lip-syncing, peeling off the other performer’s dog costume to reveal another bodysuit littered with organs and guts. Finally, she got down on her knees to simulate doggy-style sex with the skinned pup.
Sh*t got crazy when Mani Queen came out, dressed like an undead corpse straight out of a horror film, slowly moving around the stage and lip-syncing to an ominous Billy Eilish song, before contorting on the floor like Linda Blair in The Exorcist to a creepy, electronic breakdown.
Sh*t got loud when Kitty Monroe riled up the crowd with a number dedicated to self-pleasure mixed with an audio clip from Broad City about getting off and embracing sexuality in spite of the oppression posed by our current administration, aggressively and joyfully thrashing under the covers to the Violent Femmes.
And that’s just the first act.
Coming in on a regular Thursday in 2019, it feels like you have gained special access to a precisely crafted, one-of-a-kind, communal celebration. That was the initial hope when things at Weirdo first got going. Chris Newell, the owner of Gladys, was eager to start up a new drag show for the bar on Thursday nights that embraced the avant-garde and challenged the Denver drag community to push the limits.
“There is a lot of drag going on right now, so we wanted something that would stand out and that would be different,” Newell said. “I think, also, when we were originally deciding what to do, as far as putting a show together, the venue itself is a little bit more weird, a little bit more funky, a little bit more eclectic, so we wanted a show that would reflect that.”
IzzyDead was a queen on hiatus when she first met Vivica Galactica, the previous host who worked with Newell and J.T. Tafoya, Gladys’ event coordinator and resident DJ known as DJT. She was toying with coming out of retirement following a bad breakup and Kesha’s release of “Praying,” which prompted her first performance in years on a Colorado Springs stage.
After talking to Vivica about her emerging idea for a weekly, competitive, alt drag show, IzzyDead’s curiosity was peaked. She missed the first show but attended the next two. IzzyDead said what specifically sparked her interest to pursue drag again with this show was an early performance she witnessed, which was unlike anything she’d seen before.
“In that show, we had seen Sexy Sadie, like, douche on stage during her performance, to the point where it was squirting out,” she chuckled. “And I was like, ‘This is art. This is shock value. This is my sh*t.’”
After being out of the scene and giving up performing for several years, the competitive, weekly mission to experiment with alternative concepts brought IzzyDead back to life. She lost the first monthly finale, but after coming back the next month, she won.
“Nobody necessarily got offended by anything, because you went in there with the previous notion that you’re about to see something weird,” IzzyDead said. “I think just the show itself was a sign. It really helped me get back into drag and to tell me that it was, like, fine.”
Vivica Galactica made the move to New York, and the next Mx. Weirdo was to take over the show as host. Of course, IzzyDead was crowned in August 2018.
“I was kind of shocked, but at the same time, I knew I was gonna win, because I was so confident in myself,” IzzyDead said. “Like, I knew my number wasn’t necessarily putting spaghetti through my nostril or anything, but it was still—it was so weird. It was mainstream weird, and it touched everybody.”
Newell sat down with IzzyDead right away to talk about next steps. In encouraging an ever-changing and evolving show with challenging concepts each week, Newell said that a crucial element to keeping an alternative and experimental drag show successful also included pushing honest feedback each week.
“Something that I really was pushing, and Izzy was very receptive to, is that the show is a competition,” Newell said. “I think, nowadays, people have a hard time giving criticism, so we were really focused on trying to find a way to provide critiques. The whole part of it is that I want this show to make the drag in Denver better.”
DJT remained the co-producer of the show after IzzyDead took over and said that while watching the concepts develop over time has been thrilling, it’s ultimately important to focus on fundamentally entertaining the crowd.
“You don’t want to reinvent the wheel,” DJT said, “you just want to help it turn a little easier.”
Part of staying open to new possibilities means being inviting of outside perspectives, even if they come from close neighbors. Newell recalled one week when IzzyDead invited a slew of queens from Colorado Springs for a takeover.
“She got all these queens to come up, and I think that’s great, not only for those girls, because they get a different audience, but then, also Denver gets to see something different. Then hopefully we’re making everybody’s drag a little bit better and moving things forward,” Newell said.
DJT works as a DJ and producer at a number of queer spots in the Denver area. Whether it’s paying attention to the concepts, performers themselves, or even getting inspiration from staff and audience members, DJT said that playing a role in a variety of venues helps him as a producer keep his eyes open for fresh ideas within the drag community and continue challenging the scene to grow.
“I think, with the addition of Izzy, the ideas I get from other places and working in broader environments, like going to Las Vegas and working with drag queens, just working at Tracks, and doing all this other stuff,” DJT said. “That’s the great thing about it, is that it keeps evolving.”
Of course, this partially refers to intentionally aiming for weirdness in performance and continuously pushing boundaries. IzzyDead recalled a memorable act, an ode to the ever-growing, sensory audio trend booming online.
“Amya Kunt did an ASMR Pickle performance,” IzzyDead said, “and there was no music. It was just her eating a pickle on a microphone. It was perfect. She won.”
IzzyDead, DJT, and Newell were not only happy to be part of a push for alternative drag in Denver; they all spoke with pride about promoting inclusivity, not only in drag performers, but for those in the audience who come and watched it all happen. Pushing for an inclusive show also inherently encourages new perspectives and a variety of challenging, creative concepts week-by-week.
“We believe that all drag is valid,” IzzyDead said before introducing the lineup at the February finale. “We love every type of performance expression. Whether you’re a drag queen, drag king, live singer, whatever the f*ck it is, as long as you want to showcase some art, we have a stage for you.”
Seeing the eccentric and varied performer lineup and looking around Gladys on a Thursday evening makes this sentiment abundantly clear. Newell said that one of his initial aims was to ensure that the space was open and welcoming to everybody.
“It delights me that [inclusivity] has generally been our reputation, and that the reputation of the bar gets reflected in the show,” Newell said. “Izzy’s absolutely fantastic about how she handles herself on stage. She’s really great about doing shows that try to bring in different performers, so it’s not always the same six or seven queens competing day-in and day-out.”
IzzyDead said she hopes more drag shows in Denver embrace the push to be more inclusive with their performers and more open to non-traditional drag concepts as the community continues to evolve.
“I think that’d better happen!” she said. “To be honest, I’m not threatened by anything, because I don’t feel like you’re taking anything away from my show.”
She also said that, as time passes, the inherent, loyal audiences who seek unconventional drag ensure any type of person could stumble across something they weren’t even planning to.
“There’s always some rando walking down the street, and they’re like, ‘This sh*t looks poppin’. What the f*ck’s going on in here?’” IzzyDead said. “And then, at the end of the night, they’re like, ‘I’ve never even seen a drag show, let alone a f*cking show like this.’ And if that even entices someone to go to someone else’s drag show, I did my job.”
The week after her puppy play pandemonium dressed as a sultry, Cruella de Vil-inspired temptress, IzzyDead slid onto the stage on roller skates before switching to gold platforms, jerking around a shiny, matching dildo by the end of her performance, dressed as a glammed-up Goldmember from the 2002 Austin Powers film.
“It’s definitely not ‘The IzzyDead Show,’” she said. “I’m just there to have fun, and I do, every week. We have so much fun, and I just don’t think that competitions are necessarily like that. People put so much high stress on it… It’snot going to affect me, because I know the show’s gonna be bomb as f*ck. I think approaching it that way, very light-hearted, helps the show.”
It’s clear that the Denver LGBTQ community craves alternative, experimental drag and is already thriving upon it. At this point in Weirdo’s brief but massive weekly presence, most people in the room are just regulars who can’t help but coming back for more.
Newell said he is surprised that he can still be amazed by what performances he witnesses, and after almost two years, he still hasn’t seen it all. If his 2017 self could witness the innovative performances he sees today on a regular basis, Newell said he’d be pretty happy.
DJT agreed that he’d be shocked (in a good way) if his past self could witness the left-field nature of the shows and performers he regularly works with today. He also noted that drag in Denver, and in general, is changing. In the same way he would’ve never predicted today’s drag, there’s no anticipating what we can expect going forward, but that’s what makes it so exhilarating.
“I’m just excited to see where it goes, because I think, conceptually, it should move forward,” DJT said. “Maybe it’s not in the mainstream, but it’s something people are talking about, and it relates to what people are talking about. It relates to people and what’s happening in their lives at that moment, in the current.”
Hosting and co-producing is a big gig, and even though many assume performing each week would elevate a drag queen to the next level, IzzyDead said her acts are generally tailored to that week’s show and performers. If anything, hosting a show that goes out of its way to be a black sheep in town showed her that she could push her concepts and looks further, and that what she once thought was ‘weird’ now isn’t even close.
“I still love to do horror movies, pop culture, and stuff, and I don’t necessarily think that’s weird, though, because people have shown me, even, that’s not Weirdo, necessarily,” IzzyDead said. “I used to think I was goth, but now, I’m like, I’m very Disney Channel.”
Even with a themed night like the “Elements of Love” February finale, focusing on elements of the periodic table, IzzyDead insisted that expecting the unexpected is a must when attending one of her shows.
A performance by Styler Phoenix, dressed in Star Trek attire and admiring a poster of Captain Kirk and Sulu with the company of a silver dildo as a nod to his chosen element, was shortly followed by Markie Arendelle, who ended the night as Mx. Weirdo February and had the room paralyzed during her gut-wrenching, live performance dedicated to a loved one recently lost to addiction. Her chosen element was yttrium, or “Y” on the periodic table, alluding to her overarching question following her loss.
“Know, when you’re on the other side, when you’re a standard drag performer and you see something weird, it makes you go crazy, like, ‘Oh, I could never do that.’ I wish that everyone could experience what I experience with it, because it’s so magical. You’re not going to necessarily see splits and dance leotards, but you will see something else.”
By 1:30 a.m., the show is over. Quickly, the unpredictable atmosphere from an hour earlier shifts from other-worldly to everyday, just a nearly empty bar about to close up for the night. After commanding the microphone for over two hours with gusto, IzzyDead spends the last hour or two of the evening nearly silent, soaking in the evening and looking toward the next week. “I used all of it. It’s all gone out of my head, now,” she laughed. Arriving back home around 2:30, she throws her clothes from the evening wherever she can, washes her face, and crawls into bed.
“You’d think there’d be this crazy afterparty, but the real party is the show.”
Drag can ultimately be boiled down to cultivating a memorable performance and captivating the audience, and by embracing the weird, IzzyDead sets out to do just that for the Denver drag community. Beyond that? Well, it’s easily more fun if we don’t know what to expect and just gear up for the journey.
“The performers’ understanding of the audience and what’s weird is really what carries the show,” IzzyDead said. “I think drag is going to evolve, because we as performers right now are being liberated so much, because, you know, things that were once a big no-no, it’s like, ‘OK, maybe you could try it out.’”
Photos by Mike Bomburger and Stu Osbourne