Alaska Thunderf**k on queens ruling the world and showing drag kings some damn respect
Alaska Thunderf**k spills the tea on her comedy debut, drag kings and RuPaul’s Drag Race.
It’s been eight years since Alaska sissied into the Drag Race season five werk room, whipping off a horse mask to screech an ear-piercing “Hieeee”. Back in 2013 the set was smaller, the guest judges more B-list, the general vibe a little scrappier than the expensive polish of later seasons.
In the time since, Drag Race has gone from strength to strength, and with it, so too has Alaska. She returned to the franchise for its second (and best) All Stars season, taking home the crown she narrowly missed out on first time round. She’s released three albums, toured the world, founded a podcast empire and, now, is unleashing her first comedy special, the Extra Special Comedy Special.
“We filmed it but well before the pandemic happened,” she tells PinkNews in her instantly-recognisable Alaskan drawl. “Then the pandemic happened. Everything changed in such a short amount of time, and I was like, ‘I don’t even know if this is appropriate.'”
The “trepidation” Alaska felt manifests in the special through recently-recorded, super-meta Zoom footage of her discussing the material and the state of the world with Margaret Cho, Jackie Beat and Sherry Vine. Is it OK to laugh at Jeffrey Epstein in 2021? Is it OK to joke about anything given that the world is on fire? Clearly, the answer she landed on was yes, but “navigating that line” prompted quite a bit of soul searching.
“I don’t consider myself a comedian,” Alaska makes clear. Professional comics, she says, “do extremely hard work, and important work, because ultimately they talk about the dark s**t in order to make like a little less horrible.”
Though Alaska isn’t a stand-up, that same analysis could be applied to what she and countless other drag queens do through their art. “I think the function of drag is to expand your mind and to expand what you believe is possible,” she says. “As drag queens were able to say s**t that you can’t say on the radio or on TV, but we’re still able to reach people in a real and accessible way.”
An example of this approach? Her single “Vagina”, which caps off the Comedy Special (featuring the ear-worm refrain “Time’s up, hands up, bow down to vagina”).
“I write about stuff that’s in my brain,” Alaska explains. “So, when I wrote ‘Vagina’, it was like, we had the Women’s March happening, and it was the Me Too movement and all these conversations were being had. And I was like, this is really important stuff that’s happening, so let me write a c**ty rap song about it.”
Alaska and her fellow Drag Race alum Willam recently rewatched her season five run for their hit recap podcast, Race Chaser, “and it was like looking at a different person”.
“And not just because I’ve had such drastic plastic surgery,” she jokes. “I have grown up so much, it’s like looking at a different person. You get smarter, I guess, a little.”
Race Chaser has proved to be an important part of Alaska’s post-competition career (to call it post-Drag Race doesn’t feel right, considering the important place she commands in the wider Runiverse). What started as an episode-by-episode recap of the series has spawned the Moguls of Media (MOM) network, home to an on-the-pulse current affairs show (Hot Goss, which cheerfully ends most episodes with Alaska and Willam reviewing the dick pics that have found their way to their inbox) as well as vehicles for the likes of Manilla Luzon, Latrice Royale and, in a new signing, Shea Coulée.
“I love it,” Alaska says of recapping Drag Race, easily her “favourite show”.
“If you get in a group chat, or in a room, all we do is f**king talk about Drag Race anyway. It’s a TV show about drag queens. So any time that people like to get bitchy, that they’re like, ‘Hmm, I don’t like this season, this episode is terrible.’ I’m like, ‘You guys, we are so blessed. There’s a TV show about drag, about drag queens. We are so lucky to be alive during the time where the f**king drag queens rule the Earth.”
On the podcast, Alaska plays the reverent fan to Willam’s freewheeling pundit. In the past neither has been afraid to call out what many see as Drag Race’s biggest problem – its lack of progress on trans inclusion. It’s a sticking point that producers seem to be finally acting on, with season 13 casting the franchise’s first out trans man, Gottmik, and the recent second UK season widely celebrated for giving non-binary contestants a platform to speak frankly about their identities and experiences.
“The thing about Drag Race,” Alaska says, “is it’s always changing and it’s always evolving. It’s a TV show. TV moves a little bit slower than the culture in general. They are progressing and I think they’re doing a good job of changing and always being aware of what’s necessary for them to keep it real and keep it reflective of the actual world of drag.”
And what does she think of the current crop of queens? “Kandy Muse is so inspiring. She’s effervescent and such a joy and so funny and so great to work with. And the LA girls are turning it out. I mean, Gottmik is turning it, breaking boundaries, the makeup, the fashion. Symone, as a personality, as an icon – it’s been really exciting watching this season and seeing the dolls turn out.” (We spoke before the season 13 queens had been whittled down to a final four, so don’t read too much into the exclusion of Rosé).
Recently, Alaska hosted her own drag pageant – Drag Queen of the Year 2021. From a diverse crop of contestant, she and co-creator Lola LeCroix crowned drag king Tenderoni this year’s winner.
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Tenderoni won on merit, but his success also sent an important message about the inclusion of drag kings as the stage given to drag queens grows ever larger.
“Drag queens tend to get all the attention, and there are some really amazing drag kings out there,” Alaska says. “I think the drag kings have been overlooked a lot in our community. I think part of it may be misogyny. I think we do we need to give drag kings some respect and some spotlight.”
Launching her own drag pageant, branching out into comedy and doubling down on her podcast may seem to some like a clever plot to rival the original queen of drag, RuPaul. But Alaska’s insistent that her incredible success and new ventures aren’t the result of any carefully-formulated business plan. Instead, eight years after she first “hieeed” onto our screens, Alaska is just doing what feels right to her.
“There’s no plan to it,” she says. “I’m just doing drag.
“I do stuff that excites me. To be a part of the Drag Race world is an honour, it’s been the journey of my life and I love it.”
The Alaska Thunderf**k Extra Special Comedy Special debuts Wednesday (April 15) exclusively on the OUTtv Apple TV channel in the US, OUTtv in Canada and Froot in the UK and Ireland.