Varla Jean Merman wants to show San Francisco her ‘Big Black Hole’

By David Helton / Images by Jeff Kaluzny

Varla Jean Merman (Jeffrey Robinson), the infamous daughter of Ernest Borgnine and Ethel Merman, returns to San Francisco with her new stage show Varla Jean Merman’s Big Black Hole at Oasis on October 22, 23 and 24th.

Merman is perhaps best known for her role in the 2003 independent film Girls Will Be Girls. She also had a co-starring role in the 1997 film Franchesca Page. Merman was also one of the performers featured in the HBO original documentary Dragtime. Varla jean has appeared in a number of short films and live cabaret acts since she and her male alter-ego attended the School of Music at Louisiana State University but Varla Jean is best known, however, as a staple of the summer season in Provincetown. Her shows are legendary.

We caught up with Varla Jean poolside in Provincetown to talk about her new show, Varla Jean Merman’s Big Black Hole.

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You travel across the country showing people your Big Black Hole. Do you find that audiences respond differently? Or is there something universal about gay audiences when it comes to seeing your Big Black Hole? My Big Black Hole is a massive undertaking and I really want people to enjoy the spectacle of it all. People tend to react the same way…a combination of hysterical delight and sheer horror! They want to look away but they can’t! It’s kind of like a train wreck. In fact, if a train hit a clown car, that would be my Big Black Hole. And let’s face it; if you are gay, you are really going to enjoy getting sucked into my Big Black Hole. It’s a thrill ride from beginning to end.

What’s so special about your Big Black Hole? I think my Big Black Hole can make you feel better if you’ve had a rough week. I think it can make you laugh. Maybe even make you cry. For what it’s worth, my Big Black Hole is here to offer people relief from their boring lives and I welcome them to simply escape and get lost in my Big Black Hole.

How much is your Big Black Hole? Is it expensive? It’s a bargain at $25. But if you want to get up-close and personal, it’s $35. Just keep all of your limbs and small animals close to your body. In Provincetown someone lost an arm… and a Chihuahua.

Can I get a Groupon for your Big Black Hole? Unfortunately, no. But I will be doing pedicures after the show in front of the club in an abandoned car. So if you need some callus, corn, and cuticle removal, I think there are a few Groupons left for that.

How long has your Big Black Hole been running? It’s actually been running since May. It ran in Provincetown for a few weeks and now I am just taking my Big Black Hole to city after city.

Are you exhausted?  Not at all! I enjoy giving everything I have to my Big Black Hole. Honestly, I hope my Big Black Hole never stops running.

What do you think it is that draws audiences to your Big Black Hole night after night? It’s a gas! Varla Jean’s Big Black Hole is a delight from beginning to end. I have put so much work into my Big Black Hole and I think that it shows. Audiences can really feel the emotion in my Big Black Hole.

What’s the best way to experience your Big Black Hole? You need a few cocktails and a few fun, willing friends — and about 90 minutes to kill. The best way to enjoy my Big Black Hole is to simply kick back, relax and let me do the work. My years of experience will be your guide.

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Did it take a lot of effort to get your Big Black Hole open? I’m an experienced professional. I’ve been around the block a few times so getting the momentum to open my Big Black Hole was easy. I just reached out to some great people that I’ve worked with over the years. I said, “I’m ready to show people My Big Black Hole… I think it’s ready!” They were all very supportive. At this point, I think it would take a lot more effort to get my Big Black Hole to close! Maybe even an act of God!

Do you think Kim Davis would learn anything if she saw your Big Black Hole? Who is Kim Davis? Wasn’t she Tootie on The Facts Of Life? Regardless, I suspect that my Big Black Hole would really make her think about her choices. Often people see my Big Black Hole and they’re left with a lot of questions. My Big Black Hole is something you just need to experience for yourself.


Varla Jean Merman’s Big Black Hole is at Oasis on October 22nd, 23rd and 24th.
Tickets are available online at Oasis

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