The first thing we notice about Alaska are its eyes: a cold, brilliant blue. The second: her tank top Elvira, Mistress of Darkness.
Somehow, we’ve never noticed the eyes before, maybe because we’re usually transfixed by her outfits. Alaska, of course, rose to fame as a contestant in RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 5. Since then, she has won Season 2 of Drag Race All-Stars, started her own podcast, “Race Chaser” with fellow Drag Race alum Willam, and even started her own podcast network, Moguls of Media.
In other words, she likes to stay busy.
Alaska’s latest effort, The Alaska Thunderf ** k Extra Special Comedy Special, finds her combining her love of flirting with her love of comedy. Part drag show, stand-up comedy special, and behind-the-scenes documentary, the show finds Alaska performing its own brand of stand-up in front of a live audience. She also takes on the role of judge, as three very different drag queens compete for her affection and a bouquet of flowers. Shot before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, the show also features interviews with Margaret Cho and Jackie Beat reflecting on the importance of comedy in dark times. The specials premieres on OUTTv on April 15th.
We hung out with Alaska to talk about the special, its brand of comedy as performance art, and the shifting cult cult of Drag Race. The Alaska Thunderf ** k Extra Special Comedy Special premieres on OUTTv April 15.
You must hear this a lot. Is it getting old for you? Tired of saying it?
You know, there’s a reason he’s been around for so long. It’s catchy, it’s cool. I never tire of hearing it.
It’s interesting. Dan Levy is someone who tells how “Ew, David” has become whatever anyone says to him. When you have a slogan that follows you everywhere, does it become something that you can’t escape?
I haven’t wanted to get away from it yet. That does not bother me; I love it. Every time I hear it, it makes me happy.
That’s wonderful. Watching the show I felt a vibe of Joan Rivers for sure, but also Sandra Bernhard and her performance art cabaret genre. What are your comic influences?
Sherry Vine calls her “Phyllis Rivers”. It’s a mix of Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers. I like both of them. I love Rodney Dangerfield. I love Paula Poundstone. It’s kind of like this standing Molly Shannon character: Am I right ladies, don’t even get me started! It is a bit like that. That makes me laugh; that’s my kind of humor.
What is the appeal of doing a show like this compared to a standard drag show? What are you creatively passionate about?
I’m excited now because I see the value of laughter and comedy and how important it is. I think about this last year and how it was so terrible for so many people. So without those things that get us a little bit out of it, that make us laugh and make us a little less afraid of the world – without those things that I wouldn’t have been through. It makes me feel sane and connected at a time when everyone else is feeling disconnected.
Related: WATCH: Alaska Thunderf * ck to Trump: “You’re Fired”
Fantastic. We also see you coming out of the drag on the stage, and you talk about Alaska as a character, which is pretty interesting. You point out that Jessica Rabbit never changes clothes. Do you think of your drag ego-Alaska character – like a cartoon in some ways? How does this affect your approach to drag?
I mean, it’s certainly not a strictly demarcated character the way some people go about it. It’s not like oh, Alaska is a carefully crafted character.
Alaska came out of me as an extension of me, and an explosion of my embrace wanting to be as queer and gay as possible. This is where it started. He’s kind of taken on a life of his own, but it’s not separate from me. This is something I love about drag: there is no strict delineation of this is the theater and you take off your costume and go home. When you go to a drag show, the drag queen does something on stage, then she saddles up next to you at the bar, and you see her walking to her car later. Drag is real in a way that is not. He can go out into the world and exist. It breaks boundaries. So I like that about it. And Alaska is me, but with the volume high.
You say in the special that drag queens are bad liars. This is something that did not occur to me. Why is that?
Well, because at the end of the day drag queens are truth tellers. My best friend Jeremey’s philosophy is that drag queens are modern day shamans.
They are going through a transformation. There is a lot of tradition and culture that goes into this area. Then on stage they have the ability to think about you your truths and truths about society that we don’t want to think about. So in the end, everything is wrong: the hair, the body, the nails – but in this fallacy something real can be exposed. That’s not why I got into the drag. I entered the drag because it was cool. But learning why the drag was cool is something I love later on.
As far as your comedic look, I’ve noticed that you wear dark contact lenses. Why? How does this affect your performance?
When I think of Alaska, or if I had to draw a picture of Alaska, she would have blonde hair and dark eyes. I don’t know why – that’s what she looks like. She’s an alien, so I think when I started dating I wanted her to have big black eyes. I like it because it’s kind of like a deer, kind of like Judy Garland. These are all things that fascinate me, and I love blonde hair with dark eyes. I think it’s so pretty.
It’s interesting. I don’t know if people realize how carefully crafted drag characters are, the same way actors create a character. It’s instinctive.
You and Jackie Beat have a very provocative conversation at one point in the special about how the drag almost became. too much acceptable. While it was once very subversive and edgy, now we have story time. I mention this because it’s a topic that has been brought up by other artists in recent years: the idea that some queer people liked to be a freak. It was part of queer identity on some level. What is the power of being a monster for you?
Well that’s exactly what it was when I first started dragging. That’s why I was interested. Now that’s an acceptable career path, which is so wild and hilarious to me. When I started it was like, What are you doing? People didn’t know what it was, and like you said, people were afraid of it. I liked him because he said “f * ck you” at the convention. It was the strangest form of expression I could imagine. So it was interesting to watch this change and see the audience change. My audience is now mostly made up of young women. This was not the case when I started. I see it as a beautiful thing though. Ultimately, drag is a powerful and beautiful thing. The more eyeballs we can have on it, the more people we can share it with, I don’t see that badly. I think it’s awesome.
Do we lose anything when we lose monster status?
Now, we’re okay with a lot of people now. Drag has become much more palatable than it once was. But let’s not be misrepresented: if you showed up booming in some parts of America or some countries, that would be weird. It would scare people and blow their minds. So there is a certain level of it, but we have more people who understand and accept what it is. I don’t see this as a bad thing.
The kind of jokes you tell are kind of anti-comedy… something so straightforward and bizarre and deliberately not funny that they’re hilarious. Margaret Cho calls it a Bergman film.
I don’t know why, but this kind of humor tickles me. That kind of shit makes me laugh and it’s funny to me. The jokes where you don’t want to laugh – the moans. I love a good moan. I like cheesy, horrible, silly humor.
Funny, I’ll say that. So what’s the first thing you’re going to do when you’re ready to play again? Are you planning a big comeback?
No, but that would have been really smart. I should have. I should have taken the last year to put on the ultimate, over the top and fabulous drag show. I can not say that I have. It’s also weird because much of the humor that came out of quarantine life laughed at the absurdity and horror of the pandemic. Having to wear a mask, vaccines, hand sanitizer, viruses. But it’s like we are above that. It’s no longer funny. So I don’t know what it’s going to be like when I finally go back to a room with people. That’s why I thank God for RuPaul Drag Race. I feel in many ways like a commentator on Drag race. We have our podcast. But with drag I like to take shit that everybody knows Drag race and twist it and make it mine. So I don’t know what the drag will look like, but I’m sure it will be fun.
Anything you want to add?
I’m really bitter that we didn’t win the best podcast at Queerties. I want to express my grievances with you personally. I want a recount. I think it was a stolen election.
There is always next year.
The Alaska Thunderf ** k Extra Special Comedy Special premieres on OUTTv April 15.