Jonny Woo: 'Drag kings have an important contribution to bring to queer performance'

Jonny Woo: 'For anyone performing at the heat, don't do a number to impress me – do what you need to do baby!'

Drag legend and organiser of Man Up talks about the drag king competition as it struts its way to Summerhall

It seems drag queens are ubiquitous as an art form these days, but what of their female counterpoints? It seems that the late Diane Torr and artists like Hole Star are still less well-known by mainstream audiences. Drag king event Man Up aims to redress this, as inimitable drag legend and organiser Jonny Woo explains.

'It's the sixth year for Man Up and our biggest contest yet, with about 150 drag kings entering across the whole country, and at least 12 confirmed for our very first Edinburgh heat, which is really exciting. There's definitely the need for drag king representation', he says.

'Sometimes their inclusion on line-ups can feel like tokenism too. People like what they know, and many people haven't had the chance to see, enjoy and get to know the drag king scene, so some audiences aren't ready to get behind kings simply because they don't know enough about it yet, and promoters listen to what their audiences want – so more representation will change that. Venue owners should take the lead and book kings! '

Jonny Woo: 'For anyone performing at the heat, don't do a number to impress me – do what you need to do baby!'

Woo's raucous London-based club The Glory has been instrumental in working with drag kings. He says, 'The Glory works with and takes kings to festivals and they are often really-well received – the public like it, they just don't all know that they like it yet. At the same time, the genre is evolving fast and still working out what it is, defining itself. Man Up's past winners have all been sensational performers who push the genre and bring something hugely entertaining to the stage. There's a lot of fun to be had around male stereotypes and I love it when kings do what I call "the switch" and become total blokes onstage, it's an art form – capturing the posture, the swagger, the expressions, the "Big Dick Energy" or the entitlement and sleaze that some men exude. Drag kings have an important contribution to bring to queer performance, and there are all these exciting stories that need telling onstage.'

And it's not just clothing that maketh the man. He adds, 'I love comedy, I love imaginative looks and sex appeal – or just stage appeal. You don't need to be body-perfect or conform to beauty stereotypes to be sexy onstage, it's about connecting with an audience and giving everyone a great time. I like people that really pop onstage and connect with the audience, great showmanship! And I love great pop songs too – they can be show tunes, disco hits or middle-of-the-road radio bangers, whatever, but a good song is a good song, choose wisely! Of course Man Up is multidisciplinary so kings can also play live, do stand-up or dance – I love dance! If I have a night off I go to watch dance shows, but for anyone performing at the heat, don't do a number to impress me – do what you need to do, baby!'

Without giving too much away, Woo promises: 'A really great evening with tons of performances, a raucous crowd, big laughs, some fantastic looks – charge your phones – and usually it all descends into a total bop afterwards, too. See you all there! Let's MAN UP!'

Summerhall, Edinburgh, Sun 22 Mar.

Man Up: Scotland Heat

Edinburgh welcomes the Scottish heat of the Drag King competition created by The Glory.

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