As RuPaul’s Drag Race cements its size 12 pump-print on culture and entertainment with a host of international offshoots, former contestants continue to use the exposure they received on the show to gain and maintain successful careers. But last year that became difficult thanks to COVID-19, which not only forced the producers to cancel their wildly successful conventions in Los Angeles and New York, but pretty much obliterated the drag community’s opportunities to perform live and make money off the fandom they earned via the TV competition.
One of the show’s most popular queens — she was a contestant on season 5 and won the subsequent year’s “All Star” competition — decided she wasn’t going to let the coronavirus take her crown. L.A.-based Alaska Thunderfuck 5000 (real name Justin Andrew Honard) seemingly became even busier during the pandemic, co-hosting her scorching Race Chaser podcast with Willam (another outspoken former RDR alum), making music and releasing videos, creating her own online drag beauty pageant and most recently, releasing her first-ever stand-up comedy special.
“I always save jokes on my phone and I just emptied out my comedy file,” the queen tells L.A. Weekly by Zoom, about the taped program’s material. The Alaska Thunderf**k Extra Special Comedy Special features some of the performer’s provocative music numbers, special guests, and stand-up comedy, off-color jokes and all. Because of the multitude of elements, it took a while to put together. “Then the pandemic hit and that sort of threw a wrench in everything,” Alaska says. “And at that point I was like I don’t even know if it’s appropriate to do a comedy special during this really difficult time. The world changed and it still is changing.”
Though it was filmed pre-pandemic at Sweet Hollywood in the Hollywood & Highland complex, the producers decided to add new elements that address what we’ve all been going through including zoom calls with Alaska’s mentors about current topics, “to put it in perspective and make it make sense with the new world.” Now that in-person nightlife is rolling out slowly post-vaccinations, the show provides a perfectly tarty taste of what’s to come for the fashion figure/funny “lady.”
While live drag shows are starting to trickle into towns across the country, the ease and scope the of web means online shows are here to stay as well. Alaska will be doing a Britney Spears-themed club musical in New York called Blackout that will also be streamed at the end of May, and just last week, it was announced that queens from many past RDR seasons will be part of a new online festival. The “Digital Drag Fest 2021.” will see Alaska will join last season faves Tina Burner, Denali, and Utica along with fan faves Ginger Minj, Jinkx Monsoon, Jujubee, Latrice Royale, Manila Luzon, Miz Cracker, Monét X Change, Sharon Needles, Trixie Mattel, and non DR LA royalty Jackie Beat and Sherry Vine, to name just a few.
As with her comedy special, music is sure to be a part of Alaska’s segment. She’s garnered big numbers on YouTube for her side-splitting and simply infectious song stylings and accompanying videos. Chart-topping, shamelessly-named studio albums called “Anus,” “Poundcake” and “Vagina,” and catchy singles — some featuring fellow queens — have helped elevate her profile, and provided much-needed laughs and levity during lockdown, even for this writer. After a call was put out on Instagram for fans to film themselves in leopard looks (our favorite!) and tag #quarantinecouture for a chance to be in Alaska’s video for the song (Everything Must be) “Leopard Print,” we decided to participate and made into the final clip. Can you spot us?
L.A.-based queen Symone just won the current season of the hit VH1 show, and now that the virus appears to be subsiding, it’s exciting to see what she and the other queens from this past season will do with their fame. Alaska serves as a forceful example of how to get creative in terms of platform and self-promotion, even as a pandemic made doing so challenging.
“Alaska’s Drag Queen of the Year Pageant” is another example. The digital extravaganza just crowned its second-ever winner– Chicago’s own Tenderoni, who won $10,000 and will reign until 2022, when a new competition is planned.
“We started it as an experiment,” Alaska says of the competition. “There were a lot of pageants out there but they were for one type of drag only. My drag sister Lola LaCroix and I thought, ‘what would happen if there were drag kings competing against trans queens competing against cis female performers,’ and we wanted to see what all of that on the same stage would look like… so we did it and it was like one of the fiercest shows we’ve ever seen.”
The focus on this kind of spectacle featuring all gender identities and anatomies was clearly an idea whose time had come, and with Drag Race featuring it’s first trans contestant, GottMik, this past season, it seems like drag inclusivity is here to stay.
Though Alaska has clearly sashayed into new entertainment territory, she says will always be grateful to RuPaul and his show, noting that it inspired everything she is; Drag Race started airing the same year “Justin” became “Alaska Thunderfuck 5000,” which by the way was meant to be a sort of space alien glamazon persona. These days, she’s mostly just referred to as “Alaska,” due to the moniker’s expletive, but also the notoriety she’s achieved as she continues to balance bodacious comedy and queendom. Clearly the former is her focus right now, and no matter how risque or salty the material, it’s all about bringing joy.
“I really admire comedians for doing the work of being out there and taking the dark, horrible scary stuff of life and turning it around and making it a little less scary,” Alaska shares as our Zoom chat concludes. “And I guess drag does that a little bit as well. I like talking about stuff that maybe is too much to talk about. Sometimes I get it right and sometimes I don’t. But I don’t want anyone to ever leave one of my shows feeling diminished. I want people to leave feeling empowered and happier and better.” ❖
Links to everything Alaska here.