Queer Guide 2023

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What do you get when you cross drag queens, queer history, and lots of alcohol?

No, not a drama-filled post-Rusical episode of Untucked. In Portland, you get Drunk Herstory.

Drunk Herstory is the brainchild of Shandi Evans, who created the event with fellow drag queen Average Lavigne just before COVID hit. Since making their post-pandemic return, the show’s cult following has boomed, catapulting them from relatively humble beginnings at the Funhouse Lounge to the comparatively glamorous stage of Alberta Rose Theatre.

The premise is simple (and, for fans of Derek Waters’ Comedy Central show Drunk History, familiar): First, get some storytellers really, really drunk and/or stoned, and record them explaining an important moment in history. Then put performers on stage to act it out in sketch comedy form and lip-sync along to the slurred, less-than-expert tellings. Hilarity and chaos ensues.

Even Evans will admit the show is basically a “copy and paste” of Waters’ elegant formula. But here, it’s acted out by drag queens, and they focus exclusively on queer history. Stories recounted at this month’s rendition include Marsha P. Johnson, the Public Universal Friend, and notable queer icon Barbie.

We reached out to Evans ahead of their upcoming show to talk about Drunk Herstory’s extensive preparation process, their first sober storytellers, and the experience of being a drag queen when LGBTQ+ rights are under attack. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

MERCURY: What is the preparation process like for Drunk Herstory?

EVANS: First, we do the recording session. We'll get one or two permanent cast members to do a story, and then the other stories are told by various other drag entertainers, and queer performers that we just think are really cool. We let them choose their own story. And then we get them either drunk or stoned (though we actually do have a sober story for the first time this time around). Then they record! 

Once the recordings are done, myself and Dahlia Hearts, my co-host and my co-producer, take the raw recordings—which can be anywhere from thirty minutes to two hours, depending on how much these bitches talk—and we crunch them down into a 15 minute sketch. We transcribe it into an actual script, so people can actually learn their lines. Then we go into rehearsal, and put it on stage!

Are the performers drunk on stage too, or is that saved for the storytelling portion?

Sometimes they're drunk on stage. When you're working with drag queens, at least one or two people are gonna be drunk.

How are you handling your first sober storyteller?

The sober story was actually a little bit of a surprise. When Loretta Lordchild and They Blade told me they were going to tell a sober story together, I was like, “Honestly, work. We love it.” And it actually ended up being hands down the most insane story we've ever done. It's so, so good. 

But that actually kind of inspired me and Dhalia. There are a lot of sober entertainers. And obviously we would never hit anyone up and be like, “Hey, can you relapse real quick for the show?” So, we're going to do at least one or two sober stories every single time now. We obviously love drinking, we love drugs, all that good stuff. But also, this is an OK space for you if you're sober, and you don't have to feel weird about being here.

Have you thought about inhibiting them in other ways, like making them spin around a bunch of times or blindfolding them or something?

Yeah, I can, like, give you a concussion, make you a little loopy. Maybe drop an anvil on your head. 

How do the cannabis users’ stories tend to differ from the drunk ones?

Honestly, not that much. On recording night, people are always surprised by how fucked up I get them. I obviously don't pressure anyone; I allow them to drink or smoke as much as they feel comfortable. But because I'm trashy, and I know how to party, I think that they feel encouraged and in a safe space to do so as well. So this last time around, we actually have two stoned stories. Harlow Quinzel drank a 100 mg edible and took a giant chunk out of another edible before her story. She was totally blitzed. Silhouette, another storyteller, told me that she drank a 500 mg tincture.

Holy shit!

Honestly, it made for some good stories! It's definitely kind of a chiller vibe. But my performers know how to lean into the goofiness of the show. Like, yeah, we're here to tell actual history stories, but ultimately this is a silly show. We're not worried about accuracy, we're not worried about any of that. We're just here to exaggerate the truth, and have some fun with it.

Brief history lesson, could you tell us about you came to drag?

I've been doing drag for a little over eight years. I'm originally from Death Valley, the middle of nowhere. As much as I love Trump and Confederate flags and everything, it wasn't really my life. So I moved to Portland in 2017, and I just really fell in love with the drag scene. I loved that you could really experiment with shit. 

How has the landscape of LGBTQ+ and drag rights being attacked all across the country affected the show?

I think it's important to remember that we shouldn't be forced back. At the end of the day, statistically, most people in this country don't have a problem with queer rights. That's just factual information. It's a small group of people that just happen to be upsettingly loud, and are also violent. But people like Marsha P. Johnson didn't die for us to go back into the closet. They didn't fight so hard for our liberation and for our rights to exist for us to just throw that away.

And yeah, it is scary. I am scared that someone's gonna show up with a gun. I am scared that Nazis are going to show up. But if I let that stop me, then I'm not only giving into their fear, but I'm also showing the younger generation of queer kids that it's acceptable to allow people to change your life. And that's not ever a message I want to put out to anyone. 

With a show like this—where most of my permanent cast is trans and nonbinary, and mostly people of color—we are doing something that's really exciting and unique in this city. And we have a responsibility to keep doing it. Not just because the money is fierce, and we're in a beautiful theater (even though those are obviously great perks), but to show everyone that, while we can be afraid of these people, we can't allow them to stop us. We just can't.

Is there anything you’d want first time attendees to know going into their first Drunk Herstory?

I just want them to know that a lot of the world is terrible, and things are going to shit, but coming to Drunk Herstory is a fabulous way to be around your community, have some laughs, and forget about all the horrible things that are going on in the world for a little bit. We all deserve a break from it.

Also, don't expect a lot of facts.

Drunk Herstory returns to the Alberta Rose Theatre, 3000 NE Alberta, on June 29 & June 30, 6 pm, $25-$30, tickets here, 18+