Lesbian Vampires: Vampyros Lesbos


By Corinna ‘Gaze This’ Tomrley

As part of the series on lesbian vampire films I analyze one of the more notorious of the genre, the wonderous Vampyros Lesbos. WARNING: THIS THING IS FULL OF SPOILERS! IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN IT AND DON’T WANT TO KNOW THE PLOT, STOP READING. THEN QUICKLY GO AND WATCH IT AND COME BACK. THANKS!

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Vampyros Lesbos (1971) stars Soledad Miranda and Uwa Stroemberg. Both are solid, wonderful, magnificent to look at lesbian vampire stars and both would go on to make other horror films with the director, Jesús Franco. Franco himself has an uncredited cameo in the film as the super creepy torturer and killer of women, Memet. It’s a good example of that movie animal – the European co-production. It’s a Spanish-German film shot and set in Turkey, the script in German, the stars Swedish, Spanish and English (old Ealing stalwart, Dennis Price crops up as the doctor). Miranda plays a Hungarian Countess  and Stroemberg an American. Fun fact: Price, bankrupt by the late 60s by gambling and drinking, would star in 5 of Franco’s films. He also made a few Hammers, including lez vamp film, Twins Of Evil.

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Vampyros Lesbos is one of those films that has an almost mythical status. Many have heard of it without seeing it. When a compilation of music from the director’s horror films was released in the 90s as Vampyros Lesbos – Sexadelic Dance Party, the film became a further cult on the back of the success of the CD’s sales. A trippy, psychedelic jazz score (co-written by Franco), the soundtrack is one of the best things about Vampyros Lesbos. It’s actually incredible. But even though the film itself tends to get less than favourable reviews, I would argue that it’s actually a really decent example of the lesbian vampire genre. If taken as it was presumably intended – a European soft porn art film – it is actually great.

I first saw this film in the mid 90s, like everyone else after hearing the soundtrack (that a boyfriend had), and then I simply had to get the video. And oh, my, but that was a very pleasant viewing experience. I hadn’t seen it since and watched it almost fresh for this review. I have to say, I really love this film. It’s right up there with other great lesbian vampire movies.

It looks stunning, it’s compelling and although I’ve read the acting being described as ‘wooden’, that’s a whole part of the genre! Get with the programme, people. Embrace these things for what they are. Are you entertained? Yes. Are you titillated? Hells, yeah. Well then. What more can you ask for?

What’s more, even though I can hear the screams of ‘male gaze’ from the ghosts of feminist film critics past (and present, let’s face it) –  as I will for most of the lesbian vampire films I review for Ethel – I argue that there is a queer subversion to these films that while they were undoubtedly produced for the pervy male gaze, can be reclaimed by a queer agency. Shock announcement: women look too.

And there is no better example of this than in the opening to Vampyros Lesbos. No, not the trippy titles with Soledad Miranda on her back gesturing towards the camera as guttural, demonic psychedelic jazz blasts out. Although she is inviting us and holding our gaze. It’s only presumed that this is for men.

Because, no, I’m referring to the first scene is in a club. Is this a strip club or progressive dinner theatre? We’re not sure but what we watch is more than a little on the ‘arty’ side as much as it is on the porny side.

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A woman, who appears to be imitating a mannequin (and who at times is very convincing. Only they’re not built like that) stands naked at the side of the stage. Another woman (our vamp antihero) looks into a mirror (she has a reflection!) and dances a bit and caresses herself a bit. She rolls around on the floor (nice ass) and then approaches the ‘mannequin’. The dance becomes a strip and reverse strip as the vampire dresses the mannequin in her own lingerie, caressing the mannequin’s body as she does so. When her object of lust is fully dressed the vamp embraces the mannequin who jerkily/animated mannequinly embraces her.

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All the while we focus on one couple in the audience who are watching. This is a usual vampire movie trope – the young, beautiful, seemingly hetero couple. We see that the woman is compelled; her subtle eye widening and mouth twitches suggest arousal. And, actually, wooden my arse; this is the most convincing bit of being turned on by watching that I’ve seen in one of these things.

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Her boyfriend is not aroused: he’s perplexed by her response and very unnerved by it. This is the first subversion of the male gaze. She is the one getting erotic pleasure from this spectacle.

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Although the audience is fully mixed of men and women, mainly couples (and weirdly look like they’ve come out for a nice meal in a bistro and are slightly amused by the show), she is the one who is the most obviously affected here.

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The two dancers fall to the floor and the vamp symbolically bites the mannequin’s neck.

The performance is symbolic, period. It is the dance of a lesbian seducing a ‘straight’ woman and of a vampire seducing a mortal. She appears as a mannequin because she is hypnotized to respond; perhaps we cannot see her going willingly or that would really upset the hetero state of things. She has no choice but to succumb to the succubus. But succumb she does. As does our blonde, watching heroine, Linda.

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We next learn that Linda has been dreaming about this dancer night after night. She tells this to her therapist. But she had never seen the dancer in waking life before the night she saw the show. She’s been having intense erotic dreams that she’s called by the mysterious woman and as they embrace, Linda wakes up, cumming. Her therapist dismisses it as sexual frustration and suggests she get herself a lover. ‘A better lover.’ Bitch, please! Was that therapy in the 70s? Hmmm, actually, maybe they were on to something. No one mentions the bizarre coincidence that her dream woman happened to appear in a strip show Linda got to see, where she seduces a woman on stage. It’s one of many occurrences of a man dismissing what she’s saying. We even see that instead of making notes about her session, he’s doodling stick people and box animals.

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But we will know that what she’s saying is valid. We’ll always know. It is the men who are ignorant, dismissive, unwilling to face what is happening to the woman who is asking for help and support. Fuck me, this could almost be argued to be a feminist film!

It turns out that Linda (who, incidentally looks like a cross between Diana Dors and Geri Halliwell. It’s uncanny, darlings) works for an insurance company and has to go to see a Countess about an inheritance. Guess who that is? And we will find out that the inheritance is bequeathed to the Countess by the estate of Count Dracula; twist!

As she goes to the island to visit the Countess Nadine Carody, Linda sees things that were in her dream:

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a red kite in the sky,

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a trapped butterfly,

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a scorpion,

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mauve and red (paint/blood?) dripping down glass.

It seems the dreams were premonitions of this visit. We will be battered over the head by that bloody symbolic white butterfly and the scorpion. I’m surprised they didn’t give the scorpion a little brunette wig to really hammer the point home.

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Anyway, when Linda sees the paint/blood, she freaks and goes to run away. But with a simple ‘hello/guten tag’ this is reversed and the butterfly is caught in the net.

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Within seconds of meeting the hot countess convinces her to skinny dip. Well, it would be impolite not to.

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When they do, they are watched by a man. This is a familiar trope; the lesbian frolic being observed by a man, unseen by them. In this way, it can be argued that this is all for the male gaze, for men to watch, whether the women know it or not. It happens in a similar way in Lust For A Vampire, but in that case it is the controlling male vampire who is watching. It turns out the watcher here is a minion to the Countess, Morpho.

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But we will learn that Countess Nadine hates men. She gave her neck to Dracula but that was all. She craves women. So Morpho may serve her, but she’s a full on homo and he is made impotent. He can only watch.

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After a drink of ‘wine’, Linda gets an instant headache then passes out. The Countess helps her to ‘recover’ by stripping her, having a bit of a go, then bites her neck.

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Here we see the offspring of Diana Dors and Geri Halliwell.
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Here in the seduction, Nadine mirrors the straddling that the mannequin did in the dance; is this an indication that the ‘victim’ is as powerful as the ‘attacker’? Or that roles are slippery when it comes to lesbian vampire seduction?

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And I have to say, bright scarlet aside, this is one of the best blood drinking scenes I’ve ever witnessed. She really seems to be gulping it down and pulls away leaving a convincing trail of blood and spit.

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Linda wakes to find Nadine floating in the swimming pool with blood on her face.

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She presumes she is dead and faints, waking in a ‘private clinic’ where another blonde, female patient raves about a woman who possesses her and who will return to be inside her. She won’t reveal the name of this woman to her doctor but we know who she means. This woman is at once like Renfield and Lucy in the Dracula story. Oh and she has this weird wooden clown doll thing that looks like a horrific dildo.

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Nadine tells Morpho about how Dracula made her a vampire and that she then went on to possess and take over women victims. Only now Linda has really got to her and she feels like she’s the possessed one. Oh shit, we’ve all been there, right? Jeez, I know I have. ‘I must initiate her into our circle,’ says The Countess. The sewing circle, perchance?

In a reverse of the hetero watching the lez sex, Nadine and Morpho visit Linda’s hotel and watch her being fucked by her bf. Nadine isn’t enjoying it though.

Linda ‘recovers’ but is simultaneously drawn to Nadine and tries to resist her. They share a drink from a big vase and Nadine says, ‘you know that’s blood, right?’

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Then they have sex, with Linda taking the lead.

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Linda goes to the clinic doctor for help. He’s kind of like Van Helsing but confusingly called Dr Seward who is another character in Dracula. Wow, they’re messing with the referencing a lot. Is Linda Jonathan or Meena? Is her boyfriend either or both? Anyway, Doc comes clean that he’s not a psychiatrist but he’s actually a vampirologist and that if she doesn’t want to give in to Nadine she must kill her. No steak through the heart though – she is to be killed by an axe splitting the brain or a spike stabbing it. Bloody hell, that stake is sounding pretty damn good right about now, eh?

Linda’s bf goes to watch the show again and we see a longer version of the stripdance with a groovier bit of the weird score. Instead of symbolically biting the mannequin’s neck she actually goes for it, killing her. But somehow she manages to leave the gig without being arrested. And the bf just stands there watching and smoking. So it’s all a bit redundant. And we don’t even have a good explanation as to why Nadine killed the girl. If she needed blood, why do it publicly? But, hey-ho, we got to see the dance again so I am not complaining.

Nadine turns up at the clinic where the doctor says he actually wants to be a vampire but when she refuses he gets all Latin-god-spouting and so she gets Morpho to kill him.

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Linda goes to Nadine’s house and walking under this AMAZING red tassel chandelier thing on the ceiling (the art direction in this movie is fucking stunning). She finds The Countess laying on a modern modular bed couch deal saying she’s dying and that drinking Linda’s blood is the only thing that will save her.

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We want Linda to give her the drink, don’t we? But we know she won’t because, as with all femme fatale films of certain periods, the vampire must die. Linda tells her that she can’t have her.

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But instead of just straight out killing her Linda at first drinks Nadine’s blood and then stabs her through the eye with a spike.

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Morpho kills himself with the spike but when Linda’s bf and psychiatrist turn up, Nadine and Morpho’s corpses have vampirically disappeared. Bf tries to convince her it was all a dream but she knows better. We know better.

However, what is unclear to us is the answer to this question: is Linda actually a vampire now? After all she drank from the blood of a vampire before she killed her. Isn’t that how it works? Is this supposed to be ambiguous or is it a plot hole? Whatever, I’m going to take it that she is a full-on, card-carrying vamp now and she will find herself a little vamp gf and leave the boring, non-believing stupid bf who can’t make her cum and she’ll have centuries of happy life sucking blood and having lesbian vampire orgasms, the end.

And, you see, I can do this because I am not paralyzed by the male gaze. I can watch and absorb and identify. Part of my sexual formation was watching lesbian vampires. Women on screen who were created to titillate men titillated me instead. And helped me to realize that I’m queer, like femmes and have a penchant for blood and vampires. And because I have this agency as a viewer, like Linda watching the show, I can watch and get turned on, I can then choose whether to go along with the story or, like Linda, make my own. This trippy, porny narrative can actually allow that.

And anyway, women are the ones with all the power in this film. First The Countess, to seduce and possess and to evade capture and finally Linda, to choose her own fate. And the power shifts constantly between the women. They have the gaze for each other and we have the gaze for them.

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Have a wee with Pia Zadora


By Corinna 5,6,7,8 Tomrley

If someone told me that they didn’t understand the delicious irony of camp, I would probably show them a Pia Zadora clip. Pia is good and Pia is bad. Pia is a star and yet Pia is also ‘ordinary’. Pia was huge… for five minutes… but Pia endures because she still does goddamn dinner theatre all the time. And although the kind of camp performance that Pia is most magnificently loved for was actually prolific in its time (all the ‘cool’ kids were equally as unhip now and then. Cher, Marc Bolan, David Bowie, I’m looking at you…). It somehow suits someone like Pia more; we expect it of her because she is so hilariously wonderful.

This clip, sent to me by the wonderful Lobotomy Room honey, Graham Russell, sums it up just lovely.

The singing (though pre-recorded) is just adequate, the setting is bizarre. But the dancing, though giggle-inducing is actually – according to our wonderful terpsichorean expert Pal – spot on.

‘I can’t fault Pia. She knows her Stag jumps and her Flick Ball Changes’ – Pal Griffiths

But in a public loo?

Well, yes. Why the flipping heck not? Who HASN’T danced with their knickers around their ankles in a public toilet? And then had everyone else spontaneously joined in once they’ve wiped, zipped and flushed?

Let’s consider a few glorious highlights.

As Graham noted, the pants-at-the ankles bit is ‘in shockingly bad taste. One of them is unwisely wearing patterned panties that makes it look like they have skidmarks!’ One of them hasn’t bothered to pull her clothes down. One is naughtily not wearing any knickers, the tramp. The detail of bits of crumpled loo roll on the floor… wonderousness.

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Pia pushing one of the dancers forcefully into a corner (we’ve all done that, come on).

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The hair: if anyone is looking to actually style actual 80s styles hair for once, look at this. Long perms big and frizzy and vertical, crispy, back-combed within an inch of their lives fringes all the way, baby.

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Likewise, the fashion. Unflattering jumpers? Hot as fuck, darling.

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The graffiti: Mustangs Rule. OK? But what the fuck is that thing?

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Who doesn’t have a whizz in a cubicle that has a poster of a dreamboat taped to the door? The same one on EVERY door? I know it helps me to wee more to look at a hot, leather-jacketed, bare-chested, feather-haired honey.

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The kaleidoscopic video effects… and on and on.

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This thing is so great you can almost forgive Pia for leveling Pickfair because she thought it was haunted.

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Camposphere


Review by Corinna ‘Merms’ Tomrley aka Lezzer Bangs

We need camp in our lives. It is as vital as anger. Actually, it can be an expression of our anger every bit as much as screaming our rage. Camp is rarely frivolous. Camp is fucking subversive.

This is something that people generally don’t get. And this is why we need Camposphere.

When I first heard about Camposphere – an evening soaked in glitter with queer, camp performance and disco dance tunes – I thought I had died and gone to queer heaven, darlings. I had the absolute privilege to interview Camposphere founders Sam Pallis and Chris Nelson for Loverboy. Alas, my Jennifer Ellison/Bob Fosse knee injury* meant I couldn’t make it to the first one. A misfortune that has forever left me with sorrow and regret. But even though that knee decided to play up a bit the night of Camposphere 2 (and I subsequently couldn’t walk without pain the next day) I was not going to miss this again. Even if it meant being carried around by butch queers all night. (Thankfully, that wasn’t necessary. There were chairs)

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As Sam told me (for Loverboy)

“The rise of normcore pushed Camp to the sidelines.  Camp goes in cycles; at points it is seen as attractive and at other times it loses its currency. This time it feels different; the notion of being queer has started to question this cycle, by acknowledging the performative nature of all of these identities. Camp is at the forefront of this movement and through drag it has become a renewed subversive sensibility where anything goes. With Camposphere we want to bring the energy surrounding the London drag scene into the queer music scene.”

And, by glittergoddess, they have done this.

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There is so much vital importance in fun. I adore the queercore scene with all my punky little heart (and there can be humour and tons of fun there) but with camp we sing a different, equally crucial song.

When I was chatting last night with Sam at Camposphere 2 I told him how essential I found Camposphere. He agreed, talking about the loss of our queer spaces, how we need a place for queer entertainment and performance that embraces and shouts about the politics of this happening.

It is so true. We need to celebrate and we need joy and we need to say fuck you, norm world, we’re here, we’re queer and we’re covered head to toe in fucking massive glitter.

So last night at Camposphere 2 I fell in love hard. I fell in love with JOEY FOURR, I fell in love with Georgia Tasda’s fabulously perverted performance. I was already madly in love with GIRLI and… the chance to see her live… with DJ Kitty… om fucking g. And I got to tell her she’s my hero.

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And I fell hardest for Sam and Chris’s own discofunk collective band Latexxx who deserve tons of gigs, a huge cult following and to be heard. HEARD. I can’t actually remember the last time I’ve had so much fun and my heart swelled with so much joy.

Oh and I got covered by a BUCKET full of glitter. No wonder I fell in love. Glitter is the quickest way to my queerheart.

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As much as it was a privilege to interview the whole schlew of Camposphere folk twice for Loverboy, it was an unequaled honour to witness Camposphere 2. Roll on Camposphere 3. We need this in our lives like we didn’t even know.

Read my interview with Sam and Chris for Loverboy

Read my interview with Sam, Chris, JOEY FOURR, and Georgia Tasda for Loverboy

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*If you ask me about this I will bore you tell you all about my embarrassment which has  left me with a lifelong disability. I’m such an asshole.

Ethel Loves… Adrian+Shane


 

When Adrian+Shane appeared in the first issue of Loverboy Magazine I was instantly smitten. Their art continues to delight, seduce and intrigue. With Judy and Liza being subjects of their work and ideas of queerness and identity at the forefront I needed to discover more about this amazing art partnership.

Corinna: I’m going out on limb and presuming you are a romantic couple as well as an artistic partnership? If so, what came first love or art or did both crash together at the same time?

Adrian+Shane: Haha, yes, you’re right to presume we’re a couple. Love came first. The art was never planned. We met at Christmas 1997. Shane was studying at the Glasgow School of Art and I was still living in Ireland. A month and a half after we first met I visited him in Glasgow for Valentines weekend and bought a massive bottle of Absolut vodka in the airport on my way. One evening, we sat on the floor of his student flat listening to the Spice Girls and getting drunk on the vodka. I began doodling in a sketch pad, then I passed it to Shane and he painted on top of my drawing. We passed it back and forth. This was the beginning of our collaboration. Over the weekend we filled ten pages in the pad with drawings, paintings and collage. We’ve still never shown them to anyone. The following year we had our first Adrian+Shane exhibition

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C: How does your work life balance pan out?

A+S: After the gym every morning we drive to our studio. We usually have a brief meeting to decide what needs to be done and we spend the day working on it. We finish at around 7pm depending on what we’re working on. If we’re in the middle of a big project we’ll work until midnight. Then do it all over again the next day. We generally work 7 days a week. We get a break when we go on holiday.

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C: Do you have a pretty solid and consistent vision as Adrian+Shane or do you, as two separate artists, have differences where you have to drop an idea because it’s not where you both want to go?

A+S: In general we both know what Adrian+Shane is and we have very similar likes aesthetically. But every now and then one of us will have an idea that the other doesn’t like. When that happens we either make adjustments to the idea or we bin it and move on.

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C: Your piece ‘I Was A Gay Child’ is so stunning and resonates for so many queer boys, I am sure. Is this strictly a gendered piece though, do you think? I was considering it in terms of being a queer woman and wondering what I’d depict for my own gay childhood. I wasn’t a ‘tomboy’ (shudder at THAT word, but you know what I mean, I hope…). I think I’d have Lynda Carter, Daisy Duke and Cat Woman in the background for mine but I don’t know what toy I’d have in the foreground.  Probably a Barbie tbh because I coveted them and all I had was my sister’s hand me down flat footed Sindy who was horse-crazy and Sloany. I couldn’t relate. I craved the glamour of old Hollywood and girlie things that spoke to me from within my queerness. Or I’d have a Spirograph because I used to think of Busby Berkeley chorus girl formations as I twiddled it… What are your thoughts on my rambling explanation here in terms of queer formativity, childhood and gender? And I’m thinking of it all from outside the binary as well…

A+S: We love the way you think. When we make art it’s generally from our own perspective. We grew up secretly fantasising about other boys/men and sometimes wanting to play with girls’ toys. It might be interesting to do a version of it from a queer girl’s point of view.

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C: Can we talk about ‘Judy Fucking Garland’? I adore this piece and not just because I’m a card carrying Judy nut (in every sense, darlings). It encapsulates the deification of Judy – classically understood as The Gay Men’s Personal Diva. But also, for me, sums up the cultish deification by The Good Judy Fans – those who will not see her personified and portrayed as anything but fun, pure, happy, sexless. The fact that you have the word ‘fucking’ in there will piss off a lot of them and that makes me particularly happy… anyway, I digress (as I usually do on the topic of Judy). Your JFG is one of the best pieces of Garland art I’ve seen because it has a multitude of readings but is also simply joyous. What are you exploring through this and the related Liza piece?

A+S: We fucking love Judy. As little Irish gay boys we grew up watching her on TV every Christmas in The Wizard Of Oz. About a year ago we had the idea of using the line “Judy Fucking Garland” in a painting or T-shirt. After creating several designs we were dissatisfied with, we put the idea on the back burner and every now and then we’d return to it between working on other projects. Catholic imagery has always played a part in our work and combining the text with an image of the Virgin Mary gave it a whole new meaning. It’s powerful. The paintings were exhibited in a show in Dublin in June 2015 and caused a lot of controversy. The gallery received letters from life long customers demanding that the paintings be removed etc. Meanwhile the T-shirts we made depicting the same image have been flying off the shelves.

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C: Some – unimaginative – people might not quite see how pop art and pop culture can be used to explore social commentary but it’s there in your manifesto and I definitely see it in your work. I think the subversiveness of camp is very, very underrated and one of our main weapons and tools. Can you say something about how your art takes on social critique and explores identity? There’s a particularly powerful thematic blurring of catholic and queer iconology there, too.

A+S: Pop art and social commentary go hand in hand as far as we’re concerned. Pop art was always about reflecting what was going on in society. That’s what we like to do, hold a mirror up and show off the ridiculous. We like to burst bubbles, including our own and try to disturb what’s comfortable. People get set in their ways and don’t like change and anything different.

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C: Madonna is an artist who excels on stage: discuss (I used to work at the Astoria in the 90s. I can’t believe that they actually got Madonna for G-A-Y. Gutted I missed that. Adore your video piece that came from it). In your opinions, is she still as powerful up there on the boards as she was in her Blonde Ambition/Girlie Show heyday?

A+S: We love her. She still has plenty to say. We just saw her current tour “Rebel Heart Tour” and she has just as much energy as she’s ever had. People have been bashing her for years. It’s so ridiculous that she’s criticised for being 57 when in fact she should be celebrated. I guess it’ll take her death for the masses to examine her career and really appreciate how fucking incredible she is.

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C: Your work ‘It takes balls to be a fairy’ challenges the stupid anti-sissy mentality in gay culture and celebrates the nancy boy instead. Is this something that’s particularly relevant to your artistic voice and message?

A+S: Growing up in an environment where boys were boys, played football and were masculine. If you didn’t match that stereotype you were singled out. Even now within the gay community “feminine” guys are looked down on. We love embracing these words that are used to bash and humiliate gays. Words that have been used against us. Taking them back, owning them and using them in a positive way. Queer, fairy, homo, faggot, poof, queen. We love them. ’It Takes Balls To Be A Fairy’ is by far our most popular T-shirt.

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Interview by Corinna Tomrley

Read more about Adrian+Shane in Loverboy issue 1

 

Ethel Loves… Lou Papalas


When I wrote about the puntasticly, fabulously named Barber Streisand recently, it brought to mind a similar – but more Babtastic – wonder that I heard about some years ago: The Barbra Shop. A regular barbers by day (albeit with Babs stuff on the walls and Babs busts for sale) and a Streisand themed museum by night. I mean. You know? I tried to track down Lou Papalas, the fabulous man behind The Barbra Shop museum collection for that article, but didn’t manage to by deadline. When he got in touch after the fact I told him I simply HAD to interview him for Mermania. As a man with the largest Streisand memorabilia collection in the world, he’s Ethel Mermaids material through and through.

Corinna: How did your love of Babs begin?

Lou: In 1963, my Mom called me into the living room to watch this “kooky girl” on The Mike Douglas show.  I was drawn to her for many reasons—among them, her non-conventional looks and atypical candour as well as a plethora of what seemed self-confidence.

After that a friend gifted me with The Barbra Streisand Album – Barbra’s first… LOVED IT!  Then Barbra was in Funny Girl on Broadway. My buddy (he also loved Barbra) and I both purchased the Broadway Funny Girl album. Not only did we know all the songs, but we used lines (in falsetto) from the musical in our everyday conversations. We would always crack up at the applicability of those lyrics to situations in our lives.

C: How did your collecting begin?

L: I began collecting quite by accident. Initially I obsessively cut out any article I found in magazines or newspapers and stuffed them in my bedroom dresser drawer. If I went to the doctor or dentist and Barbra was on the cover or in a magazine in the waiting room, of course I would take it home with me when I left the office. Soon I began looking for articles, scanning periodicals in hopes of finding more.

Once Barbra starred in Funny Girl on Broadway, starred in her own one woman hour-long TV special, the movie magazines and tabloids chose Barbra as “the celebrity.”  It was so easy for me to collect, however, my collection quickly out grew my dresser drawer. I then purchased a foot locker to accommodate it. All through college, while others were listening to the classic rock beginnings, I had Barbra. My college fraternity brothers teased me about Barbra all the time. Fast-forward to the 90’s. EBay came into my life and collecting Barbra got a whole lot easier and a lot more expensive. I purchased thousands of items from around the world. I had many of them framed to preserve them—hundreds of them. My collection now occupies six 10 x 10 X 15 climate controlled storage units, 9000 cubic feet. My quest to have it all became a reality and fulfil my goal to open a non-profit Barbra Streisand museum/performing arts centre seemed a lot closer. With that in mind, as if my collection wasn’t large enough, I started attending auctions to purchase more Streisand items.

 

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C: What led to your setting up the museum above the Barbra Shop?

L: I retired from a management position at Ford Motor Company in February of 2002.  By that time my collection was an obsession totally out of control and had grown into the tens of thousands. I had also acquired thousands of duplicate and triplicate (and more) of the same item. Some of them were purposefully purchased, but most were purchased only because I kept no written inventory and could not remember if I already had one.  I figured that when I opened my museum, I could sell those duplicate items to raise funds to support it.

April 24 of 2002 was Barbra’s 60th birthday as well as the 50th anniversary of the Caucus Club in Detroit. I befriended the owner of the Caucus Club, the first of Barbra’s non-New York venues. I proposed taking over the décor of the restaurant for a half year which culminated with a Barbra Streisand 60th birthday party and for the anniversary of the Caucus Club. I displayed over 100 items. The rich cherry panelling was the backdrop for beautiful professionally framed Streisand posters, articles and mixed memorabilia. I even had the ladies room painted pink with rose floral accessories.  The owner purchased pink linen tablecloths. The restaurant and my Barbra display was featured in articles and front page stories

My wife and I purchased a winter residence in Palm Desert, California. I had all of the “Streisand stuff” relocated to California from Michigan. After seeing the enjoyment people experienced viewing the items at the Caucus Club, I wanted to create a smallish museum. I did just that and my first location was the “BARBRA SHOP” in Palm Springs California …the Castro of Palm Springs. It was a barber shop by day and a Barbra museum by night. The walls were entirely covered from floor to ceiling with framed posters and significant display items. Additionally, mannequins with different Streisand hairstyles from her career were placed throughout the shop. The barbers wore black Barbra Streisand T-shirts and to complete the mood, Barbra albums provided background music and the TV showed Barbra movies. This clever shop became an international Palm Springs tourist destination and during evenings, after the barbers departed, from 6pm to 10pm many display items were added and the barber shop was transformed into a Barbra Shop Museum.

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C: Why and when did that have to close?

L: Our landlord had legal problems and we needed to vacate. Initially the shop moved to a downtown location, not easily seen and seldom patronized. Therefore we closed for good…unless someone wants me to do a Streisand themed restaurant, museum, Barbra Shop in any U.S. tourist spot or European location for that matter.

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C: Tell me about your experience of the Barbra auctions?

L: Initially I attended a Barbra Streisand Christie’s auction in NYC. I purchased several gowns, one of Barbra’s Chinese antique lamps, some china and three large pieces of antique pottery.  I participated in three other NYC auctions, at one I was high bidder on Barbra’s first eight concerts in New York City.

In 2004, I volunteered my service to assist Julien Entertainment in identifying significant items from Barbra’s career as well as personal items when she started to let go of her career items. I even hosted a two week exhibit of extremely significant career gowns at Takishimaya on 5th Avenue in NYC. During that exhibit I decide that I wanted to become owner of Barbra’s most classic and historically significant and iconic “My Name is Barbra” gown. It was the last item offered for bid in the Her Name is Barbra 2004 auction and I was the high bidder. This gown and the eight contracts are the two most important/valuable pieces in my vast collection.

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C: What items were you most surprised about her selling at auction?

L: Actually, it was almost painful watching all of her beautiful career gowns being distribute to others and breaking up what would make a significant career exhibit. I made it a mission of mine to keep tabs on who purchased what by starting the Barbra Streisand Legacy Associates. I requested that new owners of her gowns or other significant items register as associates. Many of those registered items have been exhibited to provide funding for non-profits.

C: What was the thing that got away that you wished you had won?

L: Her Oscars see-through Scassi pantsuit. Scassi won it back for himself. He repurchased many of the items he designed for Barbra.

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C: I adore the busts that were in your museum.

L: Those items were actually on consignment for me to sell. They were and many still are owned by Ken Joachim, the curator of the 1996 Hello Gorgeous museum in the Castro of San Francisco. The unsold were returned to him when I closed my shop.

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C: You’ve lent items to other museums and exhibitions toured with some of your Babs collection. Where is your collection now and how can people see it?

L: All of my collection is now in storage. My long term goal of establishing a Streisand Museum/Performing Arts centre becomes less pursuable as I am soon to be 70 and that goal is rapidly becoming a short term crisis. I do not want to die not having achieved all or part of my goal, leaving the thousands of items for my family to liquidate.

C: Have you met her?

L: Yes I have. After I curated a 1200 piece exhibit at the Hollywood Museum her manager, Marty Erlichman, called me and wanted to tour, film and photograph it. As a thank you he and Barbra invited me to her Arizona concert as a guest. Marty requested that I go backstage after the concert where I was one of very few guests – her sister Roslyn Kind , David Foster and girlfriend, Kris Kristofferson, Richard Jay Alexander, Renata, Jane Withers and Mrs. David Rose and of course Sammie.

Oh, I forgot the best part. When I met Barbra, she put her hand on her hip, looked me straight in the eyes and said in her Brooklyneese best “so wher’d ya’ get all my stuff?” I will always remember this as it is etched in my brain.

C:  We’re a little in love with Babs’ dog Sammie.

L: I have also met Jason and  his dog Eli when I again went backstage at the Hollywood Bowl

C: Lucky! What would you most like to see Babs do in the future?

Aside from Gypsy, I would love her to record a simply produced album of old favourites in the style of early Barbra, with a lot of drama and emotion without concern to be perfect and with minimal accompaniment. Purely classic Barbra.

When she and Bette Midler get a little older and before they retire from the screen, I would love to see them to star together in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (I am a little weird that way)

C: That would be the ultimate dream!

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90210: Behind the Zip Code – Review of a Wonder


By Ethel Mermaids contributor Gareth of The Haus of Garvie, Earth

Growing up in a postmodern, post-ironic, Postman Pat era allows our generation to embrace high culture and low culture, the cheesy and the heartfelt, in equal measure. For me, one of the ultimate fusions of cheese and heart is Beverly Hills, 90210, an Aaron Spelling produced, Darren Star created, masterpiece of televisual schlock/wonder. 90210 could at times move you to tears of sadness (or happiness), it could make you want to throw your shoes at the TV screen in annoyance, or it could give you two sneezes worth of an orgasm at the sight of Tori Spelling falling over in a mermaid outfit. It was campy, classy, serious, fun, well-acted, badly acted and just an all-round entertainment giver.

It’s strange to think just how popular the ‘210 was in its heyday. The actors got mobbed at malls, the merchandise flew off shelves, repeats increased ratings in 29 out of 32 syndicated metered markets and it made Douglas Emerson a household name. Maybe the last one only applied to my house – your loss. 90210 is one of the longest running hour-long dramas ever made, an early season guest starred Debbie Gibson, and the last season had an appearance by Christina Aguilera; if that’s not a sign of longevity I don’t know what is. Of course 90210 is also part of Haus of Garvie’s religious texts – ‘90210 begat Melrose Place, Melrose Place begat Models, Inc and Models, Inc begat Carrie Anne Moss being sold to the white slave trade’.

It was a crisp late-summer morning when I decided to root through the bins of an ex-Swan’s Crossing starlet and discovered the joy you are about to witness. Upon seeing the glorious item within my hands, I knew I had to share it with the world or be forever regretful.

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An unauthorised video exposé of the show and its stars! This was one trash rooting / photoshoot that really paid off! I just hope the selfies of myselfsies covered in dirt don’t get out. Or do I? Maybe this video contains pictures of Jason Priestly covered in dirt? Could we be that lucky? Let’s stick this baby in the video machine and get the dirt dished…

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Things kick off with a neon logo and a Saved by the Bell-esque ringing. Some woman who sounds a bit like Eminem doing a ladyvoice tells us to pay attention as there will be a test later. The voice-over lady, who I think we’ll call Mary from now on, gives us an in depth socio-political deconstruction of what Beverly Hills means in the 1990’s.

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WA?!?!?!? Those cheeky tricksters at Maximum Image Video Magazine are playing a trick on us! Oh those cads! An 80’s rock guitar kicks in and scenes of early 90’s Rodeo Drive get mixed with some awesomely cheap video effects to stills of palm trees. If you remember the start of the 90210 pilot, it’s like that, but done in a college editing suite by a janitor who’s snuck in after hours to fulfil his creative dreams. I realise I may be the only person who remembers the start of the pilot, but to be honest, that’s just shame on you. By this point, Mary’s voice has changed to infomercial mode.

Stop.

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Menutime.

What sounds like, but is not quite, the 90210 theme kicks in and Infomercial Mary tells us about all the exciting info we’re going to be finding out about in the next hour. I’d go over it here too, but that would ruin the surprise and I know how much you like surprises. Surprises like this one…

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Mary, now in serious mode, tells us that Brian Austin Green (aka BAG) was already an accomplished actor by the time he started on 90210! By the way, is that a frog in the ocean? Or an old Star Trek toy? Either way, Mary tells us that Brian was on a show with Hayley Mills called Good Morning Miss Bliss (the show that eventually ditched Miss Mills, moved to Bayside and became Saved By The Bell), a couple of student films, three seasons on Knots Landing and a PBS television movie. Mary then shows us some pap shots of BAG, including one where he’s sporting a Melrose Place T-Shirt that I don’t have. Bastard. Mary tells us that Brian has no love for drugs or alcohol, but that he does have a big love in his life…

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His dog! Apparently all pictures of the dog had been seized by Interpol, so in their absence we get a lovely doodle and stock audio of some dogs barking. According to Mary, the dog is a Shitzu miniature named Teeko. Brian also likes to BAG it up with numerous sporting things and spending time with his family (with whom “he holds onto traditional values”). Fans like his character on 90210 because “he’s the most real guy, he’s not a fake, he’s real”. This was the character that got hooked on drugs, became an addict and managed to give it up all within the space of two episodes/weeks. That seems to be your lot for Brian Austin Green, maybe not the detailed biography we were after, but after the dog doodle, I don’t think we can complain. Next up, Mary’s going to tell us a little bit about the greatest comedy actress of our time…

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Candy’s Baby Girl! The one, the only – Miss Tori Spelling! Like an equine angel from Heaven, she’s come to grace the pages of this website. We are so not worthy. Even Mary sounds a little happier that she’s got to talk about someone interesting. There’s a wealth of Tori rumours to pick and choose from so I’m hoping Behind The Zip Code is really going to delve. I mean it’s not going to be some puff piece is it? Is it? Is it? IS it?

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Mary, sounding like someone who has a gun to her head but is still looking forward to tea and biscuits afterwards, brings out the often told story of Tori’s road to success – she auditioned under a pseudonym and didn’t tell the producers she was Aaron Spelling’s child at all. They had no idea! And there was me hoping this video would confirm that Jack Nicholson rumour, oh well, at least we get to hear Jason Priestly sarcastically tell the press that Tori works really hard. More investigative reporting from the folks at Maximum Image Video Magazine reveals that Tori originally wanted to be a manicurist but then changed her mind when she was “about 5”. Then we get to see some clips of Tori doing charity work, which seems to consist of her saying “organisation” and “involved” a lot. Mary tells us that “Tori has proved herself in a competitive industry, and done it on her own”. Mary breathes a sigh of relief as the gun is pulled away from her and moves onto the cover story…

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Lots of teenagers tell us they love watching 90210 because it’s so realistic and relatable, Tori tells us about their responsibility to teach children and to “keep it real”. Obviously, they all went to a school just like mine. Some of the fans seem exactly the sort of Blossom-esque people you’re expecting, but some seem like they just got out of jail. We’ll see some more of them later. We like them more than anything. Mary mentions that 90210 wasn’t always the success it is now and brings out some reviews. Howard Rosenberg, LA Times TV critic, called 90210 “a zip code for stereotypes and stock characters”, Mary’s voice actually shits with excitement (or the tape went funny – you decide!) as she tells us that no one listened to him and ratings went through the “ruuf”. At this point, I should mention that one of the major reasons this tape is rocking my suburb is due to the proliferation of Candy Spelling footage. Candy, darling, never talks, she just stands next to her husband and looks Hollywood. If only we were all so lucky. Oh fuck it, shall we have a picture of her and her paramour?

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Isn’t she fabulous? Candy Spelling – husband of Aaron, mother of Tori and Randy, owner of numerous present wrapping rooms and, more recently, a mega successful Broadway producer (you would know that if you watched ‘Oprah’s Where Are They Now”). Her obituary is going to be the envy of the shires.

The video moves on with some more red carpet clips of the stars and grubby teenagers saying such things as “it’s just great” and “he’s like my father, I mean, I have a real father, but y’know”. I think the point of the cover story got a bit lost here, as Mary starts yabbering about the Spelling Mansion and lists some Spelling produced shows. Regaining focus, Mary tells us that all the cast have become pin-up idols and puts up some pictures of numerous magazine covers with the 90210 kids gracing the pages. It made me nostalgic for Tiger Beat. That seems to be the end of the cover story as we get some radical 80’s guit-ar and yet another red carpet montage. Then this…

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It’s about 10 seconds before you realise what’s going on. Eventually Mary, sounding incredibly coy, divulges that it’s quiz time and asks viewers to match up actors with dead guys they have played. True fact: Douglas Emerson, who plays the above dead guy, was on an episode of Blossom I happened upon the other day on the youtubes, he played “guy #2”. Quiz time over with, it’s time for another profile…

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J to the E double-N I E! Mary reveals that Jennie Garth is not spoilt, annoying or diva-like, she is, however, down-to-earth and centred. Mary obviously wants to prove this point as she brings out a clip from The Joan Rivers Show (RIP GODDESS) with Jason Priestly saying “she’s sooooo sweet” whilst looking adorable yet furrowed. I’ve asked our house boy to edit that clip so it appears that JP is talking about me. Bless him. Back on the Garth tip, Mary dishes some dirt (finally) – Jennie *hated* the character of Kelly Taylor to start with and was pleased when writers saw her potential as an actress and managed to make Kelly more likable. Some reading of Jennie’s CV is followed by this fabulous picture…

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…which, quite frankly, is one of the best pictures I’ve seen in my entire life! It’s almost enough to make Jennie Garth my favourite 90210 actress, but then we get a whole segment about what a beautiful home-body she is, and how homely her beautiful home is and how she beautifully went home straight after the Emmy awards to her beautiful home. Mary slyly pulls away from Garth Gossip and the fans get to talk about their favourite episode. The fans at this point have become my favourite thing in the entire world – thanks Tramadol!

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This one, who we’ll call Jolene-Jolene, is the youngest fan and also the wisest. How do we know she’s wise? Well, her wisdom is demonstrated in her choice of favourite episode, an episode which also happens to be my favourite episode as well! The episode in question revolves around bad girl Emily Valentine tricking Brandon into taking drugs, I’m sure I’ll write about it eventually if only for an excuse to get some screencaps of Brandon in a state of Euphoria. If you spot the 90210 in-joke there, you’re a very glorious person. Oh sweet Traci Lords, how could you? I’ve just seen what’s next…

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BLAH BLAH BLAH. Phone interview from ex co-star. BLAH BLAH BLAH.

Mary follows Iron’s riveting profile with the worst piece of filler to ever hit an unofficial guide – 10 minutes of horoscope readings for the actors. To be fair, Mary gives it her best, alternating between bathos and pathos with panache.

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Next up on the profile list is Gabrielle Carteris, otherwise known as Andrea (or On-drea). You may be seeing a pattern between the titles of the profiles and their content, this one is no exception. Mary tells us that even though an agent told Gabrielle she was too ugly to be an actress, she carried on anyway. Mary tells us this in about 10 different ways. Each time with more passion and frustration than the last. Is it a coincidence that we only hear Mary? I hope not.

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Top marks to Mary for pointing out that Gabrielle was born in 1961, this means that even today I am friends with people younger than Miss Carteris was when she first played 16 year old Andrea. For some reason this gets me excited, but not as excited as Gabrielle gets over charity work – we get a 5 minute speech about how important it is, at one point there’s a shot where she looks a little bit like Robin Williams.

The fans then give their opinion on the hot topic of the day. Should Andrea let Brandon bone her? The general consensus seems to be “maybe”.

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*FLUNK* Even though he occasionally looks like a troll, and his experiments in facial hair are rarely successful, I would totally tongue wash him for like, no charge at all. So, what does Mary have to say about my favourite slice of Canadian Bacon? Well, apparently he likes hockey and “unlike a lot of boys, Jason was already an actor”. Good to know.

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Three top things about that picture:

  1. The cigarette
  2. Shannen’s expression
  3. The interviewer’s hair

We get some more Joan Rivers Show clips to give Mary’s voice a rest and to give us a slight hint of romance between Jason and Shannen, albeit mainly via subtext. Jason tells Joan a lame Burt Reynolds anecdote before hawking his latest film, Calendar Girl. A film which history has shown to rank quite highly in google image searches for “Jason Priestly Nude”.

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Mary better watch what she says about my idol, but at this point I think we can be fairly sure she’s not going to say anything scandalous. Reeling off the CV Mary is starting to sound a bit bored, until she mentions that Shannen once won Teen of the Year award, Mary goes APE over that information, but then gets bored as she mentions La Doherty’s charity work. Apparently Shannen is very anti-smoking. Although a quick internet search indicates that darling Shannen may not have held onto that belief for long.

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It’s Shannen with Arnold Schwarzenegger from that bit in Total Recall! Be careful a bomb doesn’t go off Shan-Shan – it might mess up your hair! Mary’s just commented that despite the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, Shannen has managed to remain down to Earth and humble. I’m beginning to think Mary doesn’t really know what she’s talking about.

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At least she picks good pics. If it wasn’t for the crappy VHS resolution this would so be my new wallpaper. Some fans talk about Dylan and Brenda and one of them looks a bit like someone I despise. Hmmm, who’s left to profile?

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Yes siree, Bob! It’s Luke Perry! The other 90210 man in my life. Mary reckons that part of his appeal is down to his small town charm, but a lot is down to his smile (or smell – it was hard to make out). Ah, bless. Mary thinks she’s got a chance. Whore! “Luke encourages the 90210 writers to concentrate on the real issues.”

Throughout this video there has been an abundance of cheap and cheerful digital transition effects, not content with regular wipes or fades, this production has gone all out using bouncing spheres, jigsaw shapes and the occasional extreme zoom between transitions. For some reason, Mr Perry’s biography has got extra special treatment with a range of 3-D cityscapes and superimposed baseball player silhouettes to change between static picture after static picture. He sure is one lucky boy! Mary just divulged that in High School, Luke once landed on the football field from a helicopter wearing yellow tights and webbed feet in his role as the team mascot. Was that it? No top or head mask? The thought is strangely alluring.

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Doesn’t he look young? The ol’ Jason P On Joaney R clips are called out again to really milk that license fee (I like thinking that Joan Rivers earnt enough for a bagel from this video) and Jason tells us that “Luke’s a great guy, really down-to-earth, he does a lot of charity work”. If I hear down-to-earth or charity work one more time on this video I swear I will kill Mary in a very hostile manner. I may wear white for the occasion.

Mary then gives us a quiz. One of the answers is “Tori is exactly 60 days older than Brian.”

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And that’s it. Our exclusive documentary is over. Oh wait, hold-up! It’s the early 90’s, so just before the end credits we get a list of charities mentioned throughout with their contact details. Wasn’t it great when people cared?

Overall I think 90210: Behind the Zip Code was a very unsatisfying experience. Where was the dirt? The secrets? The topless Preistly & Perry shots? I bet bloody Mary kept them all to herself that little good-for-nothing, down-to-Earth, charity worker! Looks like I’ll have to delve into the world of Reddit for some real 90210 dirt…

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Ahh, that’s better. Satisfaction is mine.

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Gareth is a founding member of Haus of Garvie, an intergalactic collective based on the writings of Jan Leeming. He likes niceness and Drag Queens

Read the Loverboy interview with The Haus of Garvie here

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Ethel Explores Inside Jessica Fletcher’s Closet

Ethel Loves… The Back Building



 This is an interesting time for music, pop, gay and queer* culture. Interesting times don’t always mean ‘good’ – while there are some exciting acts out there, there’s also a safe stagnation to some aspects of pop culture. But this is mainly in the mainstream. Interesting can simultaneously mean very good. We all know that ‘online’ has long been the thing. And DIY – with its roots in alternative cultures – is an active and powerful way to get stuff out there that is ignored or marginalised elsewhere. A lot of this work has a very queer bent (pardon le pun). It is prolific, it is diverse, it is thriving and it is quite often very exciting. While the gay and pop press that relies on revenue and circulation figures is suffering (think the recent demise of the LGBT section in the print version of Time Out London), online and offline, self-published and self-started is a positive and increasingly successful way to go. The creativity out there is astounding and promising. But that should be no surprise – we have quite the history of being super resourceful and making our own kind of music when pushed to the corners. One very lovely example of this has come to our glittering eagle-eyed attention: The Back Building. A blog collecting the work and points of interest of one Michael Turnbull, The Back Building is a giddy compilation of gay pop culture from a very determined and enthusiastic source. We mightily encourage you to take a wander round The Back Building and soak up the atmosphere; take a pew here and eaves drop on our chat-ette to find out all about TBB’s author and curator.

 

What is The Back Building?

Well, I’ve written for several publications over the years and I really wanted somewhere to act as an online portfolio. But I also got frustrated as there were so many people I wanted to interview but every time I pitched them I got knocked back. So I thought, ‘Fuck it, I actually want these interviews for myself.’ These are what I love most on The Back Building.

I’d like to think my blog is not determined by sexuality, but I think I’d be kidding myself. Looking at my stats and the popularity of photos of near naked men, my demographics are nearly all men in their mid to late 20s and in their 30s. There are also a few in their 60s which I get a kick out of.

The Back Building has actually inspired another project which is well under way, but it’s top secret for now….

 Tease. You describe TBB as ‘Music, Men, and more’, and your posts are mainly pop and beefcake related – how do these food groups intersect for you? What criteria do you have for your ‘mores’?

Well, I’m not going to lie, I was just going for alliteration there… haha…. it sounded good and I couldn’t think of any other Ms, hence ‘More’.

I do interview a lot of porn stars and the men are ‘beefcakes’, but the thing is I don’t see those kind of men as real. I love them. These kind of gods that get worshipped, stalked, obsessed over for their bodies and the way they use them. But they’re like cartoon characters to me. So visual. We rarely get their personality. In interviewing them I am giving them some depth I guess, but normally they are just 2D characters. So for me, pop music and porn stars kind of work on some kind of parallel. If we’re talking food groups then both are candy.

beef

What is queer pop culture to you?

Queer to me has always involved some kind of political stance. But then the idea of ‘pop’ culture cancels that out. Ha. I studied Film at Uni and I always loved Postmodernism the most. The idea of throwing everything in the mix, ripping up the rulebook (terrible cliche, sorry), it’s that clash that always excites me and something I see in being Queer. It’s an idealism, not something based around sexuality. Unlike Gay pop culture.

Being shallow for a second, I also think Queer Pop Culture is like a narrowed down hipster version of Gay Pop Culture. It’s less Kylie and more Hedwig…

You’ve interviewed tons of important queers – Who have been your faves?

Hmm….I have a few. There’s Andy Butler from Hercules & Love Affair, we bonded over musicals and he suggested a movie date. Two years later I’m still waiting for him to call back and arrange. RuPaul was pretty special. She offered me advice about how to deal with reading at my Grandma’s funeral the next day. Sia is another big one for me. I’ve loved her since her first album. So when we hung out and got to chat that was very special. Then discovering she was bi, part of the LGBT club, was even better. I’m not really a Pet Shop Boys fan, sorry, but Neil and Chris were so great. I kind of forgot to interview them and we just talked pop music. Oh and Peter Tatchell too because going to his flat, meeting him face to face was a real experience. He is a personal hero for sure.

Who would be your DREAM interview?

Well that would be a no holds barred interview with Mariah. I spoke to her once when I worked at her record label. I asked her about her new album. It was very businessy. I would want to ask about Tommy, her early demos that sound like Madonna, that JLO story…so much juicy stuff in there.

The *actual* phone that Michael used to call Mimi
The *actual* phone that Michael used to call Mimi

You’ve mentioned in your work that there’s a certain dislike-of/fear-of-camp in some areas of queer/gay culture – where do you think this comes from? And what are your thoughts on camp? 

Great question. I came out very late – aged 25. One reason was I was scared of getting HIV, the other was that I was scared of becoming super camp like the TV hosts and soap characters I was being presented with. Obviously I became better educated on the former as soon as I came out. But the latter has taken a little longer to be at peace with.

Only in the last year – I am 33 now – am I truly comfortable with being camp and who I am. Sometimes it comes out, sometimes it doesn’t. It depends on the situation. I know it is part of me and I embrace that, but like most characteristics they come out depending who I am talking to. I now find camp guys attractive as it shows to me that they have the strength to be who they are.

There is definite ‘campophobia’ in our community and the idea of ‘straight acting’ disgusts me.  I think what we need to realise is that being gay does not define a person. There are many different types of gay and that is fine. You wouldn’t say straight people are all butch, so it seems crazy that we are so wrapped up in being camp or not. Sure some gays are, but some are not. Let’s just concentrate on who we are and be happy with that.

Who are your fave divas?

Well obviously Mariah is there. She will always be #1. Beyonce for her music and performance. Grace Jones I love. Tina Turner I will always love. It’s interesting though because most divas I love have an element of strength, attitude, boldness. Whereas Mariah has always been soft, cutesy and girly. I think it was always about the voice with her. But even when she performs she looks in pain as opposed to these other women who command the stage.

tina

What most interests you from the past and how old school do your queer tastes go?

Hmmm…not massively if I’m honest. I think the 80s is my favourite decade. I love all the Warhol/Haring/early Madonna/Interview magazine era. I guess 80s New York is what I’m talking about. It’s always interested me. Warhol’s The Factory, just a collective of his favourite people.
Kind of like a real life The Back Building….

andy haring

What would your fantasy gig be?

Well my Mum always tells me about the time we lived in Australia and she and Dad went to see Tina in a little hotel showcase. That would be amazing.

Also back in 96, Mariah came over to support the Daydream album. She doesn’t tour much and I was gagging to see her, but it was a Sunday night and I had to go back to boarding school, Mum wouldn’t let me have the night off. I have never forgiven her. But to see Mariah in an intimate venue at the top of her game mid 90s would be incredible.

M vs W

Mariah or Whitney?

Oh gosh…I have and always will be camp Mariah. But I have come to appreciate Whitney as I get older. All The Man That I Need is one of my favourite songs of all time. But Whitney never had the material. She just had this incredible voice. When she sang it was like she couldn’t hold it in.

When they sang together it upset me as Whitney showed strength and although Mariah opted to show range, Whitney clearly won. She sounds great on that record. And I will always have love for The Bodyguard. Every song she sang on it was incredible.
R vs S

Miss Ross or Miss Summer?

I used to work at Donna’s label and one of the best things was hearing old stories about her. About how warm a person she was, how she gave someone a small writing credit on a song of hers, how she’d invited him to stay with her in Nashville. I do love her, but my love for Diana runs deeper. I mean The Boss album is flawless. Ashford and Simpson are genius. Although obviously so is Moroder. Oh God, do I have to pick?

No, we’ll allow equal love of both. What would be your ideal date?

It would involve food. Ha. There are a few places I love. Randall & Aubin on Brewer St. La Fromagerie just off Marylebone High Street. The Wolseley. But yes, food is always a winner.

You’re DJing at Debbie on the 8th Feb. We had a blast when we did a set there. How are you selecting your tunes?

I am very excited. I DJ a lot at more pop/dance clubs like Push The Button or Songs of Praise. So I am really excited about throwing some unexpected stuff into the mix. Stuff I think Debbie can handle. There is an old Agnetha song I cannot wait to play. I may have to pull some Stevie out for Sina. I also want to drop a Liza song which is important to me. But we’ll see what works on the night.

debbie 

We think this is quite an exciting time for women in pop – there are lots of distinct, colourful, strong, creative characters such as Gaga, Katy Perry, Rihanna, Jessie J, Beyonce, Nicki Minaj – what do you make of this era of pop? And where are the colourful boys?

I’ve been thinking about this and I guess we do have boys in pop, we have One Direction, Olly Murs, Rizzle Kicks, The Wanted. It’s just I’m not interested in them. If you are colourful then it is seen to emasculate you. And although One Direction fans love thinking the boys are gay I think that is an anomaly. I loved it when Kele Okereke came out because he was tough, his album was called The Boxer. It’s just a shame it didn’t do better. I also loved the brazenness of Nightwork by Scissor Sisters. The shocking album cover. But again the label had higher expectations and it was seen as a flop. Labels are seeing less and less return so I think they just want artists to play it safe and get that £££. We need more queer independent artists bringing their work to the mainstream. 

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If RuPaul put you in charge of collating a bunch of drag artists for a UK edition of Drag Race, who would you approach for the auditions?

Well I always love the fishy queens, but I’m not really sure we have many over here. Well at least I don’t know many. I think London has a great alternative drag scene with Johnny Woo, Ma Butcher and that crew. I love them. Gateau Chocolat….

But a lot of our drag queens are promoters or DJs. Jodie Harsh, Dusty O, Lady Lloyd, Munroe Bergdorf. I mean I love them, but I don’t think they would be up for doing Drag Race. It’s different.

What are your fave things about London?

It’s interesting. When I had the corporate job at the label, I had grown so tired of London. But having been away for three months, returned, changed career. I see a different side to it. I love our night life still. It would be nicer if it was closer together but there we go.

I love the mish mash of architecture we have. I think the fact that one minute you can see the stunning Natural History Museum and then see the gherkin is great. 

It think the best thing about London is the life it has afforded me. The gay lifestyle is incredible and when I talk to people on my shifts at Comptons who are from out of town, I realise how lucky I am.

Who would be in your dream Girl Supergroup?

One thing I know about girl groups is they don’t last for long. I am happy with my solo singers. I’d rather they focus on the music than the drama.

What secrets are in your hair?

When I worked at Universal, I was privvy to heaps of gossip on the biggest stars. So there are a fair few in there but they need to stay there till I write my autobiography and get that pension.

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*The Ethel Mermaids see queer as being many things. As well as its historical and political connotations, we see queer as being all encompassing of the LGBTI food groups. This is why it’s our label of choice. I would say that ‘gay’ can sometimes describe something a bit more mainstream, perhaps, or perhaps not… let’s say gay doesn’t always explain what we’re describing as well as queer does, in some specific contexts. That said, I do understand Michael’s distinctions between the two as defined and discussed by him in this piece. I just wanted to clarify this point as I use ‘queer’ and ‘gay’ throughout – interchangeably for us in this context. Here, I wanted to explain that our own view of queer is wider than that expressed by Michael in this interview. What we love about these conversations on Mermania is that there is a whole variety of opinions and definitions of our fabulous world and culture. It’s not always Ethel’s world view, but part of our project is to present and discuss the many and varied world views of our participants and Mermates. CM

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From the Desk of Ethel


January 14 1959

Hiya KIDS!

Gee but we all had a SWELL time at the Angela Lansbury Night that those Namesake Mermaids threw last week. GOLLY, what a blast. I don’t know Angela. Her Mama Rose is obviously inferior to MINE, but then – HELL – every actress in any role is inferior to The Merm – am I right kids? You bet your sweet fucking asses I am!

Anyway, this is all obviously an out of town tryout. You KNOW they’re just testing the waters and gearing up to doing a whole MONTH of events dedicated to YOURS TRULY. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! But they are, right? I’ll phone my agent and get the low down for ya on THAT! HAHAHAHAHAHA!

So, what else has been going on in the World of Merm? I know you’re all DYING to know, aren’t ya? Well, I hear that those crazy kids Rice and Webber are writing a show for yours truly called COOKED! and I’ll be playing Nigella Lawson. You can see it, right? Won’t even have to get a new hairdo! I told them that I am SHIT in the kitchen but that won’t matter, I’m pure SEX, just like Nige and that’s all that counts. Gonna paint her as the wronged but strong heroine, of course. I know that role by HEART. We’re Team Nigella over here in the office of The Merm and we’re gonna put the record straight. IN SONG!

Well, I gotta go now kids. I’m having lunch with my pal Benay Venuta and the simply GORGEOUS Judy Garland. God I fucking LOVE Judy. She’s a great kid and the only one who can turn the air bluer than YOURS TRULY. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! I just hope that crazy broad Jackie Susann doesn’t turn up again. That gal is gaga over me and Judy – can’t blame her, of course. But I just wish she’d CHOOSE who she wants to stalk. I can’t believe she’d choose anyone over me, even a SWELL gal like Judy. I’ll be sure to tell you all about it, kids, you know you can count on THAT.

Until next time, kids, MERM OUT!

 

Ethel Loves… Punchy Players!


The Internet is – of course – full of wonderful things. Still, just when you think you’ve seen it all there is even now the occasional surprise and the occasional gem. Then there is something so superb that you realise that there was a little gap in your heart and soul that was just waiting for this thing to come along and take up residency. That’s what happened when we first saw a Punchy Players video. So brilliant, so funny, so GOOD; were we not guffawing so hard we’d say we were speechless. The genii behind Punchy Players are Chris and Jeff who have an obvious love and affection for their subjects. We know from our fellow Hollywood-obsessed queers-n-queens on the Interwebs (including some of our very own Mermates) that there is quite the hardcore obsessive following for Punchy Players – as well there should be. As much as we constantly need more Punchy Players for that spot we have reserved for them, we also needed to know all about the PP world. So grab your Cream of Wheat, your Mounds, your Joys and your good powdered donuts and enter with us into the day-to-day worlds of your favourite Golden Hollywood divas.

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How did the idea for the first Punchy Players film come about?

CHRIS: Jeff and I share a similar sense of humor and admired many of the same classic stars and TV shows. We would laugh a lot together and make up dialog when watching TV or just talking about our favorites. I told Jeff that I felt there was a project we could do together, and that our combined abilities could create something fun, but I wasn’t sure what it would be. One day Jeff was singing the old Cream of Wheat product jingle as Judy Garland. It was hilarious. I told him to record it and I would put some visuals together for it and share it on youtube. We’ve done quite a few more episodes since that one, but “Judy’s Cream of Wheat” continues to be a favorite.

JEFF: We each contribute equally to the ideas and the lines for each episode. In general I oversee the audio and Chris oversees the visual production.

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We like to think of the Punchy Players going around doing Judy, Liza and Ann Miller impressions all the live long day. Are we close?

JEFF: Yes, this is actually quite accurate. We find ourselves speaking as these characters in a variety of real life situations.

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Exactly how many hours of The Judy Garland Show has been watched to perfect that impression? And what do you love about her?

JEFF: I have been fascinated by all things Judy since I was four years old. I have every episode of her TV show committed to memory. She is a complete original. Her persona is so warm, unique, and delicious she is almost indescribable. As much as I love her singing. I have always been entertained by her way with words.

CHRIS: Judy had such a beautiful quality that was so rare and perfect. She was a combination of so many things. She could do it all. Jeff does such a wonderful, spirited impression of her. He emphasizes her fun side. I really like that.

Do you don an Ann Miller wig when recording the dialogue (she hopes…)?

CHRIS: I try to make Jeff wear one but he said it itches and is way too heavy.

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Part of our staunch fandom of Ann Miller (apart from the wigs) is her aggressive defence of hyper-glamour. What do you love about her?

JEFF: What I love about her is that she holds nothing back. She is very honest. In spite of being wacky and funny, in nearly every interview I have seen with her, she has a longing for the Old Hollywood system that kept stars looking their sparkly and spangly best.

CHRIS: Ann always looks her best and goes around with her microphone, even in her house. She’s always ready for her public.

How do you decide which divas to use in your films?

JEFF: There are two factors involved. First is, who do we love. Second, and I often wish this was not so, it comes down to who can we imitate.

CHRIS: Yes, we try to include our favorites. They are a great motivation and joy.

Who might we see in future episodes? Any old-school/current diva crossovers?

JEFF: Someone we both adore who has not yet made an appearance is Doris Day. We are trying to work her into a future episode.

CHRIS: We haven’t done as much with current divas mostly because we are such big fans of the old-school ones.

You made a film especially for a Judy Garland fan event, ‘Judy in Hollywood’. How did that come about? And so… ehem… do you take requests? (Cough… Ethel Merman… cough) 😉 ❤ xxx

JEFF: Judy in Hollywood was a request from a friend of author Coyne Steven Sanders. Steve happened to be a friend of mine who wrote the definitive book about Judy’s television series called “Rainbow’s End”. When his friend asked us to create a special video for his Judy fan event, we were honored. It was meant to be a surprise for him. I slipped and told him we were planning it and he was excited. The sad part is that Steve died suddenly, and never saw the finished product. We dedicated the piece to him.

CHRIS: “Audrey Airlines” was a request from a friend as well. We’ve received several requests from fans and we may surprise them with one or two in the future.

We’ve been reliably informed by our Mermates that lines from Punchy Players films get quoted on an almost daily basis (example: “I looked behind the dresser and there was Howard Keel!”): did you know this? How do you feel about this? Was it part of your ultimate goal to have people pretending to be Judy Garland snooping around Ann Miller’s house?

CHRIS: We quote our favorites from the comedies and stars we love, so to hear that people have fun quoting the lines we have written is very flattering. One person said he went into a store and started doing the lines and singing about candy bars as Judy. Too funny! Some have said that thinking about the dialog often has them laughing in waiting areas or in situations where they wouldn’t normally be laughing, causing others to wonder. We’re honored and glad that we’ve brought some smiles and laughs.

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Did you expect the cult following you’ve built on the back of these films?

JEFF: I think Chris always had a bigger vision for Punchy Players. My nature is to be more skeptical, and I actually worried that people might not understand what we were spoofing. I am happy I was wrong.

CHRIS: I’m not sure I expected quite the reception that our productions have gotten, but I did sense the irresistible possibilities of such a project. It’s great to connect with all of you who enjoy the comedy and love the same classic personalities and entertainers that we do. Fans of Punchy Players have been so friendly and we’re happy to have heard from so many lovely people.

Most of the featured talent in your films are no longer with us but some are, such as Miss Julie Andrews and Miss Liza Minnelli. Do you know if they are aware of your work? Would a Miss Andrews Herself or Miss Minnelli Herself cameo be a dream for the future?

JEFF: I would be thrilled to hear that they approve. I would also not ever want to offend them in any way, and we have put a lot of work into having these stars maintain their dignity. We love them, after all.

CHRIS: We’ve enjoyed putting these pieces together because we’re such admirers of these stars. If one of them did make a cameo at some point, yes, it would be a dream come true and you’d have to pick me up off the floor.

Could an extension of Punch yPlayers films perhaps be an actual Ann Miller Frog Collection? Just for me? Please? Think of the revenue you would rake in…

JEFF: Isn’t that Frog hilarious? The first time I saw that Chris’ visual of that wig on the frog’s head, I laughed myself sick.

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If you could live (perhaps briefly, to consider your nerves) with any of the Punchy characters, who would top your list?

JEFF: I am afraid if I lived with any of them my illusions might be shattered, but I have always wanted to sit and laugh with Judy Garland. I would not say no to meeting or knowing any of them.

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CHRIS: If I had a choice to spend time with one of them, I think I’d have to choose Julie Andrews since I’m such a fan of hers. I think that one of the reasons I thought of concepts like Judy Garland in a grocery store, is that I’ve often daydreamed of how fun it would be to just hang out with favorite stars in everyday situations. I know that many people, including us, feel that our favorite celebrities and shows are like old friends that bring us comfort. Punchy Players is a way to live those moments and spend more time with those we enjoy, even if just in make-believe.

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Punchy Players on YouTube

Punchy Players on facebook

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Ethel Loves… Leisa Rea



Leisa Rea is funny. She is really, really, jaw-achingly, might-puke-cos-can’t-breathe-from-laughing funny. We first encountered her at the Camden Fringe late summer 2012, in an awkwardly long, thin, L-shaped room above a bar. As massive comedy fans, we had scanned the listings, done our research and chosen wisely. (Much more wisely than the time we were tempted into a ‘comedy club’ in a basement in New York, anyway. That time, before we knew it, we were sitting in an audience of four others, two of which were openly smoking crack, the other two I think were having sex. The MC’s opening line of ‘So you gave someone you don’t know ten bucks and followed them into basement where you have no phone reception…’ preceded two of the most tense hours ever experienced.) Anyway. Bygones. So in the Camden bar there was no crack, sex or terror, but you know what? That was okay. More than okay. Replacing the fear was a mash up of moments of near magical hilarity entitled ‘Bastard Legs & Other Shows I Haven’t Written’. The concept was simple. Leisa fully admitted that she couldn’t focus to actually write any of these elements into a single show and subsequently the audience were treated to a never-before-performed-even-in-front-of-herself string of titles to the backdrop of a sweet, sweet Powerpoint presentation. The titular ‘Bastard Legs’ (in our house, a now oft-imitated move) was a few seconds of rubber-legged joy, and the rest of the show (possibly eased by the tic tac sedatives provided) was just punch after punch to the funny bone. She has a new show in Feb at the Soho Theatre called Conference. We’re polishing our lanyards already.

So, Leisa…

Like yourself, we have a penchant for Lazy Susans (see also Hostess Trolleys). In an ideal world, what would you laden down your Lazy Susan with?

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Crisps. But that’s mainly because if it was anything more interesting, I might not want to share it with the rest of the table. If it was just crisps, I’d be spinning that LS with enormous generosity. No mixed flavours though – we’d have to stick to ready salted. Hopefully then people would lose interest and drift off, and I’d order a Chinese Banquet for One.

Where do your bastard legs take you on a good day out in London?

Hampstead Heath for cobweb clearance, the BFI viewing room to look at obscure documentary clips for free. Also quite like playing with musical instruments on Denmark St, with no intention to buy. Otherwise I’m in Foyle’s cafe getting intermittent wifi against a background of light Jazz.

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You recently stayed at Burt Bacharach’s East Norwich Motor Inn (which, according to Trip Advisor, has a ‘bereavement rate’. Handy). What was the most Bacharach and what was the least Bacharach thing about it?

Oh, that’s marvellous – a bereavement rate. Super idea.

So, the most Bacharach thing was the ‘Fitness Centre’, located in the basement. Pretty kitsch: no windows, strip lighting, burgundy carpet and some of the best gym equipment I’ve ever sampled. I can almost see Bacharach’s ex wife, Angie Dickinson doing pull ups on this.

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The most un Bacharach thing about the place was the fact that Burt sold it in the 80’s after a divorce and disassociated himself with the whole damn venture. The Hotel rebranded and boarded up his name, but a storm last year ripped the board off and the new owners have wisely left it that way.

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Apart from Burt Bacharach’s Inn, what would be your ideal celebrity- based holiday destination?  

I’d like to open The Deirdre Langton Caravan Park in Rhyl. I have fond memories of caravanning in Prestatyn in the mid 80’s, and getting my photo taken with a sedated python in the Caravan Club House. (That snake, incidentally, went on to bite a woman on the next table who was then rushed to A & E).

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Anyway, my Deirdre Langton Caravan Park would be snake free. It would also have a couple of bars named after her other husbands – The Barlow Lounge would do a signature cocktail called The Ken (enjoyed by over a thousand women) and there’d also be Samir Rachid’s Corner, serving traditional Moroccan pub grub with Lancashire overtones.

Is drunk-ukulele the best ukulele?

One should always be ‘on something’ when listening to the ukulele. My poison is Complan & Jack Daniels.

Has your dog, Sally, managed to evolve further than the computer keyboard in communicating profundities?

Sally died this August *long awkward silence*

She was a supreme mime, never barked, always watched from the sidelines and of course was unmatched as a songwriter. She may well choose to communicate further, through dream. Then again she may not.

*allows a single tear to fall*.

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We all know the answer to the stupid question ‘are women funny’. We won’t ask you that. We’ll ask you this instead – ‘are lesbians funny?’ (Or, to put it another way, how does your queerness inform your comedy?)

I think who I ‘am’ does inform my comedy, yes. I like absurdity, old showbiz, outsider stuff. I see my sexuality as part of a whole package of being woman/queer/feminist/Mancunian lapsed Catholic with working class roots growing up in the 70’s and 80’s. All of that informs my creative work. It was definitely grimmer up North when I was a kid than it seems to be today. Back then it was bleak!  I suppose there’s a dark undercurrent in all the stuff I make. A sort of comedy for losers, underscored by the music to ‘Sale of the Century’. Failure with glitter on.

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Your work is a mix of the political and the surreal. Mental health, sexism, Phil Collins – what really gets you going?

Sale of the Century, public information films, variety nights in working men’s clubs, dirty caravans, great ideas and tuppaware parties all get me going in a good way. Things that work my last nerve are upwardly mobile people with bad taste, anyone who believes their own hype, and arrogance and stupidity. Grrrrr!

Do you give yourself nightmares with your Biscuit-Eyed Lady?

Yes. I also give myself ‘crumb-eye’, a condition which affects anyone who has ever worked closely with biscuits in the eye area. Symptoms are both immediate and violent and include blinking, swearing and blindness.

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How many packets of biscuits do you get through when doing a Biscuit-Eyed Lady film?  Does the fact that the character has no mouth make it more likely that they’ll make it to your eyes?

The original jammy dodger eyes (now 9 years old) are still intact. There are signs of wear and tear – which would possibly devalue them on eBay – otherwise, they are the Real Deal, patched up with a bit of clear glue. Like David Dickinson.

Karen Bird’s Holistick Therapy has been proven to work in The States. Is she still practising or has she been struck off?

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Karen is totally self-qualified, a safeguard she put into place to stop anyone trying to sue her. She’s still horribly active on both sides of the Atlantic. Clients tend to come via the yellow pages and only ever attend one session. That’s how good she is. Gifted, would probably be a better word.

We co-hosted a Wig Party at queer discothèque Debbie. There was plenty of hot n heavy hair-on-hair action. If any wig from Wendy’s Wigs & Weaves Woolwich could be yours, what would you choose and why?

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Oh crikey, there’s such a range at Wendy’s – erm, ok – I’m torn between the ‘Ann Darwin’ model (she was the lady whose husband pretended he’d had a canoe accident and lost his memory…when really, he’d been hiding in his wife Ann’s wardrobe for years, after she’d told her sons he was dead…Confusing I know).

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Ann & husband were both done for fraud in the end. So. Yeah – the Ann Darwin wig, is unassuming, grey but has a hint of criminality about it. OR, the ‘Cleo Laine’ wig. I’m going to have to toss a coin aren’t I?

Conference, written by Leisa Rea and Cicely Giddings is at the Soho Theatre on 3rd February

Leisa Rea.com