All photos by Bradley
Don’t think of them as a performance troupe. Think of the DC Kings as drag finishing school. More than 200 performers have come up through the DC Kings since their founding in 2000 and the group is showing no signs of slowing. The always crowd-pleasing DC Kings perform at Apex, Phase 1 and on other queer-friendly stages throughout DC and this Friday they are celebrating their 11 year anniversary.
DC Kings founder Ken Vegas and local-favorite DJ and gender performer Natty Boom were kind enough to give BYT an inside look into how they get ready for their studly performances, as well as some insights into the drag king world of DC and beyond.
And since it’s good to be the king, we’re giving away two sets of tickets to this Friday’s 11th anniversary show at Apex. To win, just tell us what your drag king name would be in the comments.
BYT: Ken, the DC Kings started in 2000 and you were the founder?
Ken Vegas: Yeah, I was asked by Carlos Aguilar who was the owner of CHAOS to start drag king shows because he saw me perform at the 1999 Capital Pride Festival on the mainstage. I did La Vida Loca.
BYT: Ironic now, no? Did you act it straight?
Ken: Oh it was totally before he came out but of course I had to do a gay twist on it. And I performed with an M to F transgendered woman so it was a total genderfuck. So he saw me perform said he’d love to have drag kings at my club and asked me to put a show together. I was still just performing and I didn’t really know what it took to produce a show or be a director of a group. To start out we tried having a drag king contest back in 1999 shortly after Pride and it went off really well. But we didn’t have any drag kings to book so it wasn’t until March 1st of 2000 that we had our first show. From that point on, we just kept our shows going. At first it was exclusively at CHAOS and then 2001 we started shows at Apex and maintained shows there for the next several years.
BYT: So how’d you get into drag king performance?
Ken: Back in 1996 I saw a drag king competition poster and it was for the Lesbian Avengers. They’re a radical group of lesbians who would take to the streets here in DC and primarily put on the Dyke March which was a march for lesbians and other facets of the community that happened before Pride. This drag king contest was a fundraiser for the Dyke March. And so a friend of mine challenged me. She was like “I don’t think you can do it.” You know? And I thought, I don’t know if I can either. I don’t want to look like a dude. I don’t know if I’m butch enough. But I thought, ok, maybe I should do it. So I tried it for the first time and had so much fun because I’ve been lip-synching to male songs since I was 14, 15. George Michael, Prince, The Cure. And I would practice for hours in my living room, videotaping myself. But I never thought I would actually perform. I did it, got 10s across the board, the judges loved me, the audience freaked out. And I thought, I love this I want to do more.
BYT: What was your first song?
Ken: Fast Love by George Michael.
BYT: Natty, you moved to DC to be a drag king. Tell us the story.
Natty Boom: I entered a contest at school, got a bunch of friends together to do a group number to Hey Ya that was over the top and ridiculous and won that. Then I had a friend who got into the Mr. Pittsburgh contest. I went to that show and thought I could do it better and so the next year I did. I won Mr. Pittsburgh and after that started to perform with a troupe that had started a couple years before. We traveled a lot, went to Chicago for the International Drag King Extravaganza (IDKE) and that was ’05.
BYT: (Spotting a condom on the floor) Is that a condom?
Natty: Whoops. Maybe an old one from my packing.
Natty: So I saw the DC Kings perform at IDKE in Chicago and I went to at least two Great Bigs (ed. note — The Great Big International Drag King Show at the 9:30 club, also produced by Ken Vegas) my junior and senior year in college and saw them perform as well. Some of the great troupes were Chicago, DC, The Cuntry Kings from North Carolina and a couple other awesome ones. But DC was the most diverse troupe and seemed to say something behind their performances as well as being fun and extravagant with it. So that’s part of the reason I chose DC.
BYT: Natty, you said you use duct tape to bind (ed. note – to flatten the chest) and Ken you use a compression vest. What do you guys use to pack (ed. note – to unflatten the crotch)?
Ken: A soft dildo, or a sock or nothing. I actually went through a period of time where I was like, I don’t need to pack anymore. I’ve got my manhood going. But I actually find that when I do pack it puts me in the headspace of being more masculine. I walk a little different.
Natty: I usually use a condom. A flavored one since those aren’t really good to use anyway. And I roll up a sock inside the condom and tuck it down my undies.
BYT: So what do you think the main difference is between a drag queen show and a drag king show?
Natty: I’d say on a very simple level, collaboration is a lot more common with drag kings than drag queens. I feel like there are a lot more theatrical numbers that don’t rely so much on illusion as the main draw, but entertainment in addition to illusion in addition to theatrics in addition to, sometimes, social commentary, political commentary. I think there isn’t as much of that in the drag queen world.
Ken: When I first started creating the whole drag king scene here in DC, and started with the DC Kings, with what we were all about, I was challenged with the idea of not trying to be men. There was some talk among drag queens about “I don’t know about those drag kings, they’re not binding, they don’t hide their hips, they basically look like a bunch of women with facial hair. And I thought, we need to define ourselves, we can’t try to live up to established queen standards of what we should do on stage. We’re going to be whoever we are and we have to be happy with it, and our audience has to be happy with it. We don’t know what a drag king is, we’re still figuring it out. We have people who’ve transitioned through being drag kings but still continue to perform. They have full facial hair and chest surgery and still perform and that’s valid for a drag king.
Natty: That’s why I prefer to go by gender performer rather than drag king. It’s not necessarily about being the most masculine or being masculine at all, it’s genderbending.
BYT: Yeah, with queens, everything’s so over the top and there’s so much camp to work with. Your stereotypical straight woman has all kinds of different outfits and hair and makeup and everything. And a stereotypical guy has jeans and a t-shirt and maybe facial hair. So it’s always fascinating to see how gender performers take that and twist it and make it interesting.
Ken: Actually after I got those comments from the drag queens, I purposely started wearing more glitter, feather boas. I was really taking what made drag queens so interesting and flamboyant and I started adapting it to drag kings. It was like we’ll borrow some of your stuff because we want to be larger than life on stage. We don’t want to look like we just walked off the street and started lip-synching.
Natty: Yeah my character is generally flamboyant, extravagant, over the top. I think a lot of times comedy is tragedy and I like to play with that. It’s funny when I’m doing Rick James and doing 50 lines of blow off the mirror, slapping somebody in the face, saying bitch this, bitch that. But it’s also a tragedy because he was a huge, great talent that fucked it all up with drugs.
BYT: What are some of the trends you’ve seen over the course of 11 years? I imagine we saw some grunge acts maybe in the early 2000’s, some boy bands, maybe now we’re in a Justin Bieber phase… personal experience plays in a lot to a king’s performance but I’m thinking pop culture must, too.
Ken: Definitely the music of the day affects what we put on stage. We originally started with a lot of single performer acts and then we started moving into group numbers and now we’re moving back into single king acts. It really depends on the performer and whoever is in the group at the time.
Natty: That’s one thing I always liked about the DC Kings is I never felt pressure to act a certain way or put on specific types of shows and I feel like even as a DJ the way I look influences people’s expectations of me and what I play. But I never really felt that performing with the Kings. I think partially because it was a good community of people who were weird and black and Latino and didn’t fit into what people thought they should be performing because of what they look like. The first year I started performing with the Kings it was a Christmas show in ’05 and I did the Pansy Division, Homo Christmas. And it was really over the top, like suck my candy cane, but it was a punk song. There was a nice reception of that where it didn’t really matter.
BYT: What’s going to be fun and awesome about Friday?
Ken: We’re asking all the performers to bring their favorite, most fun, best performance. It’ll be a really entertaining show front to back. Very diverse. This time we opened it up. This is a celebration for everybody so anyone who wanted to perform can perform. It’s going to be a really cool show in a great venue.
To learn more about the DC Kings, visit the website: http://www.dckings.com/