Peaches Christ’s Showgirls: An Oral Whoral History

by Jason LeRoy (@ExcessFaggage) | Photography by Ashlynn Danger Danielsen

After first putting Paul Verhoeven’s 1995 opus Showgirls on the map as a cult classic in 1998 with a midnight screening at the Bridge Theatre, drag icon Peaches Christ has celebrated it every single year since. Her unforgettable pre-shows have transformed from scrappy no-budget midnight spectacles into lavish, star-studded primetime affairs at the Castro Theatre.

And while Peaches will continue celebrating Showgirls one way or another for the rest of her life — particularly as the acclaimed stage musical she directed last summer at the Victoria Theatre — this 20th annual celebration of the film will mark the end of an era: the final classic pre-show/screening presentation offering free lap-dances with every large popcorn. Peaches isn’t going anywhere, nor are her other movie tributes throughout the year. But her signature show is popping out of that Goddess volcano just one more time: May 20 at the Castro Theatre, at 8 p.m. Tickets are on sale at peacheschrist.com.

Below, we sit down with Peaches to reflect on the crazy times, the crazier times, and yes, on occasion, even the craziest times from the last 20 years of Showgirls celebration.

What’s the first word that comes to mind when you hear the word Showgirls? <Peaches Christ> Extreme.

What do you remember about the first time you watched Showgirls the film? <Peaches> I remember meeting John Waters my senior year of college at Penn State, and he’d seen it ahead of its theatrical release at Cannes. Martiny and I went out to dinner with him, and I specifically remember him telling us how amazing Showgirls was and how it had to be seen to be believed. When it finally opened in State College in late-1995 and we went to see it, I had to cross a picket line of protesting friends to get in. I was a Women’s Studies minor, and my friends in that program knew enough about the movie to justifiably protest it. But of course me and Martiny still went to see it because of John’s review. And nothing could’ve prepared us for what we witnessed. I felt like I was watching a different movie from the rest of the audience. Martiny and I thought it was the best movie we’d ever seen. I didn’t know that I would be closely affiliated with it for 20 years of my life, but I knew it was magic.

What do you remember about programming Showgirls for the first time and that very first show in 1998?  The first thing that I remember clearly is when we were planning that first season of Midnight Mass, a lot of people at the Landmark Theatres home office in Los Angeles didn’t understand why I was booking Showgirls for a midnight movie screening, and in fact had listed it incorrectly as Striptease. I had to correct them and say, “No, there’s another movie about strippers that did not star Demi Moore but did come out that same year!” So it was super-insider when we first programmed it in terms of the audience: the kind of people who showed up to see Showgirls at midnight three years after it was released were the kind of people who knew what we knew, which is that it really deserved to be a midnight movie.

As for the pre-show, I remember stupidly thinking that it would be a good idea for me to enter the auditorium on an actual motorcycle and drive it in from the back of the theater. So we drove a motorcycle into the Bridge through the lobby, and then it couldn’t navigate around the walls between the lobby and the main aisle. But I’d planned this dramatic entrance and did not want to let go of it! So, I got a friend to bring me their scooter instead. The entire auditorium filled up with exhaust, but I got my entrance. And not only did I drive in on the back of this person’s scooter, but I was wearing these giant feather boas and one got caught in the motor. So right off the bat, people were choking on exhaust and my boa got sucked into a scooter motor.

I was doing almost everything myself. I helped build the sad first volcano; I built up the movie print; I would do the pre-show and then run up to the projection booth and run the film; then when the movie let out, it was me counting the money and making the deposit to the bank. It was crazy, but it was all for love. Also, I was much younger and had to prove to Landmark that this thing they’d told me wouldn’t work was going to work.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever seen happen at a Showgirls show?  There have been many times where one of our lap-dancers has actually shocked me. I’ll never, ever forget what L. Ron Hubby did one year. We did Showgirls on 4th of July weekend and she came onstage in this patriotic drag. As we played patriotic music, she commenced to bend over and pull an American flag out of her ass, where it had been stuffed, and just wave it around. Now you would think that’s shocking enough on its own, but we’d actually already seen someone do that at Trannyshack. It was still great, but we’d seen it. And then she turned around and pulled another flag out of her vagina.

That’s when I when into shock. The idea that she’d had them shoved up every hole…I was just blown away. And I think it was when we first had Rena there! Like, “Welcome to our event!” We had someone come out onstage and shoot up once. I cannot say for sure whether that was real or not…but of course it was! It was anything-goes in the early days of Midnight Mass. I remember when that person put the band around their arm, I was thinking “I need to sell this as theater.” So I started saying, “Wow, it looks so real!”

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Who else have been your favorite lap dancers over the years?  First off, you should know that aside from trying to book a certain number of them, I have no control over the dancers whatsoever. I’m such a total and complete control freak about the show in every single regard except that one. And you’d think I hate leaving such a huge part of the show up to chance and spontaneity, but I actually love it! One of the best was Cricket Bardot. She was one of the first faux queens to really explode onto the scene back in the days of Ana Matronic and Bea Dazzler at Trannyshack. Cricket had recently had a baby, so she came out onstage dressed like a total whore but with the baby strapped to her chest in one of those baby carriers. I said, “Ladies and gentlemen, our MILF lap-dancer!” Everyone cheers, and she grabs the mic and starts yelling, “Don’t judge me! Diapers cost money! I gotta make a living somehow!”

But then, the audience saw the baby actually move and make a little noise. There was an audible gasp and just a complete change in the room. Whatever drunken Midnight Mass Showgirls experience they were having was completely interrupted. I realized they’d all thought it was a doll. When they realized it was a real baby up there onstage strapped to this trashy lap-dancer, it was almost like we’d gone too far. Then it got worse: Cricket’s husband Tony is this rock-and-roll guy covered in sleeve tattoos, and he’s sitting in the audience as a plant wearing a wife-beater and drinking a pretend 40. She gets offstage, hands him this actual real-life baby, and starts giving the guy next to him a lapdance. I mean, people called 911! I remember in the lobby there were both men and women who were upset about it. We had to talk them off the ledge and explain that this was all theater. Sometimes the audiences can’t tell where the characters started or stopped.

On a lighter note, I remember one year some queen I’d never seen before or since showed up late. I was about to unleash the lap-dancers on the audience, and suddenly she busted into the theatre and came running down the aisle looking amazing. I said, “Oh my god, we have a late entry! What’s your name, honey?” She was this fierce black queen in a messy bathing suit and this ratty hair. So she just bolted down the aisle, jumped onto the stage, ran over to me, and screamed, “I’m Angela Bassett Hound!” And I just remember in that moment thinking, “I love my life. This is my life and these are its moments.”

What’s your favorite backstage/behind-the-scenes Showgirls show memory?  When we would do these shows in the early days, we didn’t have access to any real special effects or lighting. The volcano that I burst out of was primarily paper mâché-based, as it remains to this day. My genius idea for getting the volcano smoke to look right was to go to Chinatown, buy these firecracker smoke bombs, and tape them to the top of the volcano. So when I wedged myself in there in full drag to wait for my entrance, I had to pick up a lighter and light these smoke bombs one by one. Then they would spark, which singed my hosiery, burned my skin, and sometimes actually caught the paper on fire, which I had to then slap out with my hands before emerging seductively from the volcano.

I mean, there was just a total disregard for any logical safety measures. I was literally sticking myself inside a giant firebomb and hoping for the best. There wasn’t any fire extinguisher up there with me! One year in particular the whole thing was fully on fire and I was like, “Oh my god, I’m gonna burn in this fucking volcano. This is the end for me.” I somehow managed to put it out and complete the number, and then in true Peaches form tell the audience all about it afterward.

I also remember the time that Jason El Diablo, Squeaky Blonde, and I somehow tipped over the kiddie pool we were using during the sex scene, which sent water cascading into the wires at the front of the stage, which in turn connected to the wired mic I was holding because we weren’t cordless in those days. So I was literally electrocuted. And it was filmed! And I’m saying, “I’m being electrocuted!” and the audience is laughing and cheering. I still remember how it felt.

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How have the show and audience changed over the years?  It was the only movie from the first season of Midnight Mass that I brought back for the second one, and I think that says something about how standout that experience was. It felt like we couldn’t deny the audience. And by our second Showgirls show, there had been so much word-of-mouth about the first one that it became our first real sellout show. So for me, really early on it became our signature hit, and we ran with it. It was like our own private little joke. But then I felt as though the rest of the world started to catch on. I was asked to be on VH1’s queer pop culture show Totally Gay, where Gina Gershon and I talked about Showgirls. Gina said, “I always knew when I made the movie that someday drag queens would dress up like me and burst out of a volcano.” And then there I was! They sent people to film us.

I remember when that happened being excited, but also disappointed. It was my first realization that things you love in your little cult insider group do often become popular, and there was this sense of, “This was just supposed to be our thing!” I almost decided to retire the event because I was annoyed that the cult had become popular to, like, basic people. But then I remember thinking, “Wait, we made this happen.” That was the first time where I stood up and took ownership, where I was like, “We were the ones who started screening this at midnight.”

I do pat us on the back for gimmicks like free lapdances with every large popcorn and drag queens reenacting scenes from the movie. So after accepting that this thing was now popular in a cult way, I decided we should just make it bigger and better. That’s when I started to invite people from the movie to participate, like Rena and Patrick. The way that the San Francisco public started to count on it as an annual event, I almost felt like I had a responsibility to keep doing it. And then we made the move to the beautiful and historic Castro Theatre and suddenly I was booking 100 lap-dancers every year.

Do you have any regrets looking back at the last 20 years of Showgirls shows?  I really, really wish that Elizabeth Berkley would come to one of our events and allow me to celebrate her in a way that is nothing but love. I know that this movie was a traumatic event for her, I understand that. I just would love for her to come and experience this thing we’ve created and cultivated in San Francisco that I think is so unique to this city. She knows that she has an open invitation. She could bring the screenings back! Elizabeth has my info. If she ever called or emailed me and said, “I’m ready,” I would drop everything and do an evening of idol worship centered around her and how much we all just love her.

I think she was unjustly criticized, and really crucified, for the misunderstanding that was this movie. There was a director and a writer to blame, but of course the young woman got thrown under the bus. The men who should have been blamed were let off scot-free. And I want to say that after all these years, the only thing I really care about is her and Gina. When it comes to what I really love about this movie, it’s them. They’re amazing. It would just be a really special thing if Elizabeth would come some day. I’ve been trying to get her for years. I’m not going to be private about that anymore, because what’s the point? Maybe now people will stop emailing me and saying, “Oh, you know what you should do? Get Elizabeth!” Thanks, I’m trying!

What do you think will be the legacy of Peaches Christ’s 20 consecutive years of Showgirls shows?  This will sound super cheesy, but I think about how much joy and fun it’s brought my friends, myself, and our audiences for all these years. It’s still one of those things where you either get it or you don’t, and the people who get it really get it. It’s just so much fun and so extreme, and such a great way to celebrate something absurd, and it makes people laugh. Even though this is our farewell screening, I’m not giving up on Showgirls. I mean it’s the most fun, and that’s why announcing this farewell show I’m kinda like, “Hmm, am I serious?”

But yes. After 20 years, this is the final annual screening. I still want to focus other things that still involve Showgirls, like our stage musical. I’ve never done anything for 20 consecutive years in my life, other than celebrate my birthday. But each of these 20 years, every single time we all came together to make this show happen, I loved it. I would climb into that volcano and that music would start playing and every single year I would just think, “Oh my god, this is so much fun.”


Peaches Christ Productions Proudly Presents
The Full Frontal Farewell: The Final Annual Screening of
SHOWGIRLS

Night of 1,000 Showgirls Returns
With All Your Favorite Lapdancers of the Last 20 Years!
As always, FREE Lap-dances with every large popcorn

The Castro Theatre, Saturday May 20th

This event marks Peaches Christ’s 20th Annual screening of the best movie ever made and in honor of such an important anniversary, Peaches promises an XXX-tra special Goddess Spectacular pre-show celebration!

Get tickets at PeachesChrist.com

 

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