This performance art queen got her start doing progressive drag in San Francisco, and has since become a rising star of the Brooklyn scene. Pepto Dismal spills the Pink T on her journey, influences and gigs.
Thotyssey: Pepto, hello! How was your Easter / April Fools?
Pepto Dismal: It was good! Had a nearly naked brunch with friends, and a six hour nap after. No complaints.
Nearly naked brunches are great! Unless you spill the hollandaise sauce…
It was fairly mayo-heavy, but all in all no sauce was spilt that couldn’t be cleaned up.
Good! Did you watch Jesus Christ Superstar at all?
No, but lots of the Hercules soundtrack–another gay root.
Well that just sounds amazing. When you are not performing, how much of your off time is devoted to creating looks and numbers? From what I’ve seen, what you present onstage can be very intricate.
I try to spend a few hours each day working on my drag, whether it be making new lqqks, editing music and video, or conceptualizing future numbers. A lot of my process is making 20 things I’ll never wear, and then creating my favorite piece an hour before the show. A lot of “iteration, iteration, iteration!”
How would you describe the Pepto Dismal performance experience to people who might not have seen you yet?
Pepto Dismal is all about dissecting all the manufactured beauty we experience. I try to show the gross and uncomfortable sides of capitalism and sex. Our relationship with sex is like a mirror to our relationships with money, labor, art….
I really want people to question how we got to this level of excess and disposability. And to then question their role in creating something out of all that trash.
Nobody wants to take credit for all the crap that’s been happening in the world today!
Tea is tea. But I also think, as a performer or personality, you have to know your audience. I don’t do anti-Trump numbers because none of my audience supports him. I prefer to go after issues that my queer BK audience might still be divided on, or not have knowledge about.
Any number of things–drag queens have to have a constant well of ideas. I generally like to look at privilege, power, and validity. The old Warhol saying, “Art is what you can get away with.” Like, “How can I douche my asshole clean on stage and still have it considered art?”
That was for the MR(S) BK pageant, right? I heard your sister queen Harajuku douched for her number as well–was that a theme?
My MR(S) BK number was referencing a lot of different artists and performers, and Harajuku is one of my favorite. I wanted to pay homage to her, but also play with the idea of art as competition. I remember a couple years ago hearing of Abominatrix in SF doing a waffle iron douche number, and thought would be the perfect one-up to Harajuku’s. I also did a whole visual propaganda series in the days leading up to it, with the intention of getting my audience and peers to question the validity of a pageant in the first place.
That’s subversive! Speaking of San Francisco… is that your native city?
I was born in Minnesota, but moved to the suburbs / foothills of Sacramento. I moved to SF for school when I was 18, then to NY last fall. SF and the Bay are definitely where I got my basic queer knowledge and sense of self, though. Or maybe that’s just living on your own.
Did I hear that you have a musical performing background?
I used to write and produce my own music / DJ, but most of my creative skills are going towards my drag these days.
Who or what has been a major influence on your own art?
I would definitely say the band YACHT is one of my biggest influences, aesthetically and design-wise. They have a super tight brand and message, and I hope that I can be as effective as them in getting a Utopian vision across.
How would you say San Francisco drag is different from New York drag?
It’s somewhat difficult to say, but in general I would say that what SF lacks in “polish” and lqqks, they make up for in innovative, aggressive, narrative-driven performance. What NY lacks in crazy performance, they make up for in amazing aesthetics and craftsmanship.
Like, SF doesn’t have any hosting gigs, whereas in NY–you have a club kid culture that really drives people to serve well-executed looks. SF is all performance-based, so you find somewhat rag-tag outfits and looks, but much more inspiring performance.
Lil Miss Hot Mess has done both coasts! I think she prefers SF.
LMHM! I remember seeing her at the Stud in SF before I moved here!
And Grace Towers is another incredible SF queen, whom I believe you’ve worked with.
Yes! Grace is truly an inspiration. She has such a strong commitment to philanthropy and community involvement that I don’t see many other queens serving as much. We all do things to give back and help others, but with Grace you can see that that’s always her endgame, and that’s so inspiring. Also, her Slumbersexual parties are exactly the kind of function that a queen should be overseeing and giving to her friends and community.
So, what eventually brought you here to NYC?
Part of my move was a life-long desire to live in NY, and the other part was realizing that there’s somewhat of a glass ceiling in SF. Nightlife is not given the credit or resources the way it is in NY, and it’s even worse for queens. You’re probably making half the amount of coin for twice the work, and that’s just tea.
There’s also more opportunities outside of nightlife for drag performers. Everyone here is also modeling, creative directing, making clothes… It’s much more interdisciplinary here, and I like that kind of movement between gigs and industries.
How did you first establish yourself in the Brooklyn scene?
I did what all new girls in town do: go out in face twice a week for 6 months until everybody knows your name! I had already been doing drag for a year and a half before, so I sort of hit the ground running in BK. I already had a good sense of who Pepto was, and when I came here it was mostly a matter of finding where she fits.
I watched your Bushwig performance from this past summer, where you came out as a giant dick.
Yep! The song was “War On Women” by YACHT. I sort of took Jenny Holzer’s “Men don’t protect you anymore.” to heart, and wanted to play with that imagery.
It’s always a weird line to walk when you benefit from a lot of male privilege, but the narratives you perform are feminine in nature.
Yeah, that whole situation is so extra. At least we get to see the community rally behind local establishments and defend them. Hopefully those Gay Fascists take note and have a change of heart.
We shall see!
So let’s segue to RuPaul’s Drag Race for a moment… how are you enjoying Season 10?
It’s early in the season, but I’m still sucking the bottle hard on this one. I’m excited to see what all the NY girls bring – I’m actually really bad at keeping up with Manhattan drag. It’s also fun to see it at Year 10, where there’s an entirely new culture surrounding it.
Yes and no. I can’t remember who said it, but they said “Miz Cracker is what Aquaria would look like if she was a drag queen and not a real woman” (obviously ignoring the problematic nature of the phrase “real woman,” etc.)
I can see that! Sasha Velour was a true art queen from Brooklyn who’s really elevated her platform since winning Drag Race last season. Did it surprise you that an artist could win a “commercial” drag show (if that’s a thing) and still be true to their art and persona?
Drag Race is undoubtedly a commercial drag show. As for the “artsy” queen winning, I think we’ve seen a pretty strong succession of weird and unique queens winning.
What I think was unique about Sasha was her strong agenda and post-show plan. She has her hands in a bit of everything–production, performance, film, design, publication–and I think that might her strongest asset. She knows how to take her very particular brand and make it into a concrete and commercially viable product. And that product (be it NIGHTGOWNS or the drag magazine) still feels authentic to her. That’s what I love about her most, and why I identify with her a lot. I’m a graphic designer too, so everything I do I try to keep in the same visual universe.
How do you like co-hosting the weekly Drag Race viewing parties with Harajuku at the Deep End?
I love the Deep End and Harjuku, so I’m really having a good time.
Are you two “talk during the commercials” hosting queens, or “save it all til the end” hosting queens?
It’s difficult to say what our format is yet, because this two-hour block of Drag Race has every viewing party shaking. It’s a lot of time to sit down and watch something in a bar, so getting the energy of people to stay up is important. I prefer to watch straight through and talk shit at the end–but Juku always has good tea, so we do some chit chat during breaks too. It’s also fun to have a weekly gig where you can experiment and have fun with looks. Also free tacos, so like…
Say no more!
It’s so fun! If I’m not relying on an artsy enema gag, I’m definitely relying on my naked body–and this is no exception. LOADS is Devo’s brainchild, and when she pitched the party to me I was instantly in. I think we all three have “sex” as part of our brands, but we all embody different sides of drag and performance. It’s nice to have another outlet where I can give a platform to my favorite sex-positive performers.
And you produce a recurring showcase at the Dreamhouse in Ridgewood.
SPRUNCH! It’s a late night party with drag, beats and lots of SPRUNCH! It’s all about giving the queens the space and resources to do numbers that are too weird, experimental or aggressive for a bar audience. Things get messy, and your vision will probably be blurred by the time you leave. Our next date is April 28th at Dreamhouse, with DJ’s Horrorchata and Jasmine Infiniti. The drag lineup is extra saucy this time too, but I can’t reveal it all just yet!
Sounds like Pepto has arrived! By the way, when was the last time you consumed actual Pepto Bismal, for like medicinal purposes?
I have no idea. I haven’t taken a dump in years.
Lol, dumps are for Muggles! Okay, so in closing: how do you want the world to remember Pepto Dismal in 100 years?
I want people to say that Pepto changed the world. Maybe I’ll stop the war on drugs. Maybe I’ll make a new strain of super gonorrhea. We’ll just have to wait until my retrospective to find out my true contributions to society.
Epic! Thanks, Pepto!