In a world of gender-neutral washrooms, self-identifying as recreationally transgender, and the concept of fluid sexuality, where does the drag queen stand in today’s LGBT landscape? Is drag dying? And what the heck is it doing at the Traverse and not even in a late-night slot? On this and more, Panti has much to say. There’s a lot of self-awareness and intelligence at work here not just jokes about hair ’n’ heels from a rude dude in a frock.
Panti, however, is not your average pub drag act. It’s not for nothing that she’s been dubbed the Queen of Ireland. In 2014 on Irish TV Rory O’Neill, Panti’s real self, was outspoken about ingrained Irish homophobia, naming names, and in the process the broadcaster was threatened with legal action and almost immediately capitulated, offering to pay damages. Suddenly Panti found herself an inadvertent gay activist and hero of free speech. ‘Only drag queens and puppets can say the unsayable,’ she says. Pantigate became a non-stop rolling news story for weeks as the drag artiste received messages of support from the likes of Madonna and Stephen Fry; the Pet Shop Boys even made a dance track to honour her. Her rise to “a bona fide national fecking treasure” status informs her act. ‘Homophobia is not the worst thing you can call someone. Solange Knowles is.’
An impassioned speech – funny, levelheaded, thought-provoking and bristling with an undertow of anger – from the stage of Dublin’s Abbey Theatre went viral and Panti became the poster child for Ireland’s gay marriage referendum. Some of the stand-up riffs in her show are great stuff, some pretty standard fare. ‘There’s no audience participation… [beat]… per se,’ she says stalking the Traverse aisles like the incredible 50 foot woman. When there is more of a story, Panti’s on firmer, fierier and funnier ground. There’s a devastating story of Rory’s HIV status and hilarious retelling of the time when Panti appeared on the Maury Povich US chat show (he’s a rival of Oprah’s) and went through a “back to boy” makeover.
It may be a trifle disingenuous when Panti tackles the old accusation that drag is essentially and fatally misogynistic. ‘I’m not impersonating a woman. I’m representing something in between. The other.’ No, the other is Ziggy Stardust.