THE FIRST TIME I saw Carla Rossi perform, I was charmed by her awfulness. Like a combination of Grey Gardens' Little Edie and Lucille Ball, she's hungry for fame and celebrity, but foiled by the fact that she is a clown who always puts her foot in her mouth. Artist Anthony Hudson has been embodying the character of Carla Rossi for more than four years. People call her "Portland's premier drag clown," she's become known for vaudeville and cabaret shows, and, as Hudson put it, "If they bring a RuPaul drag queen to town, I'm probably hosting the show."
This winter I visited Hudson's early-1900s apartment—filled with built-ins, books, cat paintings by his boyfriend, and an actual cat (Margo Martindale)—to talk about where Carla Rossi came from.
"The professional answer is that she started as a [Pacific Northwest College of Art, PNCA] project. The real answer is that I had a Lindsay Lohan semester at school," he says, laughing. "Which I recommend to everybody—you get to know yourself and you get to know the unmitigated horror of the void. I'd been through this crazy breakup. A good friend and I decided to go out to [PICA's Time-Based Art festival] one night, in 2010; we would put on these disgusting costumes and show up to parties and crash them. It was the Art Party [that TBA] did. They had a bunch of different bands, and we would jump on the stage with the bands, and then they started asking us to stay and be in the next set, and be in the next set."
Since then, Hudson has been officially invited to appear as Carla Rossi at TBA for the last two years, as part of the crowd favorite Critical Mascara show. This year, Carla Rossi was also the first person to be awarded a media residency by the Hollywood Theatre and PNCA. The residency's first installment began in January with Carla Rossi: To Indignity and Beyond, a one-woman show that Hudson compared to a "greatest shits collection." Last year, Carla Rossi also performed her first "one woman-ish" show, Carla Rossi Sings the End of the World, recalling her time in Nazi Germany.
One of the best things about the Carla Rossi persona is her brazen absurdity; Hudson is quick to acknowledge the importance of comedy in his work. "I'll show up at a regular drag show, and there [are] these beautiful, female-presenting performers," he says. Conversely, Carla Rossi wears intense clown makeup, garish costumes, and wild curly hair. "You can kind of hear a pin drop, like someone throws up in their mouth a little bit. If you're seeing Carla for the first time, there's a little bit of shock. And then, going out, the first thing I do is a poop joke. The audience is like, 'Okay, fine, I'm with you on this,' and then they're willing to listen to her talk about being rich and white and [from] Lake Oswego, and then maybe something is accomplished in the process beyond the poop joke."
Carla Rossi will be performing at the Austin International Drag Festival in May and at the Oregon Jewish Museum as part of The Hiding Place: A Queer Storytelling Night this February, where you can catch the delightful whirlpool of bad taste that is Carla Rossi.
The Hiding Place: A Queer Storytelling Night
Hosted by Carla Rossi, Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education, 1953 NW Kearney, Thurs Feb 26, 7:30 pm, $8-15, thecarlarossi.com