Gay of the Dead: Babette Bombshell, Part One
Part of the new “Gay of the Dead” business model is the “pay it forward” interview: I ask each interviewee to tell me who I should interview next. Michael Varrati (TALES OF POE) pointed me in the direction of the “Plus-size Goddess of Gore,” drag performer Babette Bombshell. A quick look at her credits reveals work with Herschell Gordon Lewis (THE UH-OH SHOW), Lloyd Kaufman (RETURN TO NUKE ‘EM HIGH), Richard Marr-Griffin (THE DISCO EXORCIST) and the notorious Kevin Strange (COCKHAMMER). Time to get the skinny on the 300-pound glamour-puss whose Facebook “Personal interests” are “perverts, deviants, delinquents, criminals and serial killers.”
FANGORIA: Just so you know, writer/actor/blogger Michael Varrati recommended you for this interview. About you he said, “Babette gets the whole aesthetic of the low-budget world, and knows how to take an on the nose performance and turn it into cult film gold. She proves that there really is an art to well-delivered camp, and is definitely a shining star in a world of sleaze.” And this from someone you’ve never actually met! How does it feel to hear such high praise?
BABETTE BOMBSHELL: It’s funny, Sean. I’m always amazed that people have seen my work, much less enjoyed it. I come from the age of mom and pop video stores, where indie horror was a total niche market. In those days if you ran into another person who knew about films like REDNECK ZOMBIES, KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTERSPACE or THE CORPSE GRINDERS, it was like two serial killers accidentally meeting each other while disposing of dead hookers. You looked at each other like, “Oh shit, no kidding… You, too.”
Now with the Internet and horror conventions everywhere, the audience has become a “community.” The interconnectivity is amazing. Everyone has access to everything. The concept of obscure cult cinema has totally been redefined. Nowadays if you want to call something obscure it better be way at the bottom of the Something Weird catalog or totally unreleased. We’re talking BAT PUSSY obscure. Having said all that, I still find praise challenging because so much of my nature is driven by a desire to shock and horrify people. When someone tells me they like my work I feel like the dog that defiantly pooped in your shoe and then got a round of applause. I’m happy, but surprised. It’s weird.
FANG: So first thing’s first (or technically second), gimme some dirt on your background.
BOMBSHELL: I wish I could tell you that I was born a small black child in a ghetto, or cue up the song “I Was Born a Coal Miner’s Daughter,” but in reality I’m just what happens when lower-middle class Americans accidently raise pink trash.
FANG: You studied improv in Chicago—me, too!—I wonder if we knew each other back then.
BOMBSHELL: I wonder? It’s entirely possible. I jumped around to several different improv groups and classes during that time. I came to the world of improv by way of standup. It was the late 80s and the standard trajectory for a career in comedy seemed to be in transitioning from standup, into an improv troupe, and then getting a big break of some kind… be it SNL or a regular acting gig on network TV. Improv was the testing ground for talent back then if you were an oddball, or comic character actor. It was just what’cha did.
I found that most classes were just fluff, where suburban types paid to play improv games and get their egos goosed. I hated that because I was accustomed to standup, where you got instant honesty from the audience. If you sucked they let you know it. Ninety-percent of improv classes totally lacked that edge and truthfulness. I’d sit watching housewives improvising boring scenes about dusting their Hummel collections, and feel the need to claw my own face off as the instructors cooed. Gag!
Then I saw ImprovOlympic and experienced Del Close (THE BLOB). He totally changed my entire outlook. To say that Del was honest would be like calling Godzilla slightly “disruptive.” He was known for making people cry on stage. I loved it. In my book, he was the best teacher that ever taught improv.
FANG: And how did Babette Bombshell come to be?
BOMBSHELL: This is where things get interesting. I was successfully courting mediocrity in my career as a performer, so to supplement my income I began stripping as a go-go boy in a bar in Boystown. If you lived in Chicago, you know that Boystown is what we called the north end of Halstead Street. It was essentially the gay ghetto where all the best gay bars lined the street.
Anyway, I was dancing in this bar called The Lucky Horseshoe and just scraping by. The wolf was not only at my door… it had jimmied the lock… climbed in my bed… knocked me up with a litter of puppies and skipped town. I was living hand to mouth.
So anyway, I came home one Wednesday night after a long evening of tea bagging alcoholics and turned on the TV while I washed my g-string in the sink. Bang! On the screen flashes a picture of one of the guys that I recognized as having been in the bar from time to time. Jeff Dahmer had been busted for luring guys back to his apartment in Milwaukee and eating them. Most of the victims were Chicago locals so it hit the gay ghetto like a ton of bricks. Everyone was shocked. The effect was instant. The gay bar scene was like a ghost town in Chicago. I was broke… literally busted. I remember walking in the grocery store with three dimes and buying three kiwi fruit because they were the closest thing to real food that only cost ten cents.
FANG: Holy sh*t! We were in Chicago at exactly the same time. I used to go to the bar where he found at least one of his victims, called Carol’s. After it all became public, I realized, “Hey, he’s actually not bad looking. I might have gone home with him had he asked…” Very creepy. Anyway, back to your story.
BOMBSHELL: By the end of that month I was well and truly screwed. Rent was due and I didn’t have it. The following night after work I did what any sensible stripper would do, I stumbled further down the street to another bar named Roscoe’s… hustled a beer from a horny rube, and then ditched him so I could cry in it. As I sat there feeling hopelessly sorry for myself I overheard the entertainment manager. He was fighting with a local drag queen who canceled a gig with no notice. I perked right up and offered to fill in and do it. They sent me down to the basement where they had a lost’n’found box of stuff that drunken drag queens had dropped and… ta da… that’s how I first did The Bombshell character. Rent was paid, and as luck would have it an indie filmmaker saw the show that night. He cast me to star in his short horror film and here I am all these years later.
FANG: Why did you leave Chicago?
BOMBSHELL: I left Chicago after a series of friends died in street violence. You might remember one of them. His death caused quite a bit of outrage in the community. He was a bartender at a bar called The North End. I was walking with him after his shift when he was killed in a drive-by shooting. It was probably kids from the suburbs out to bash someone at random in Boystown. They were never caught. They just drove by and shot him in the head. I dropped out of everything after that. It totally fucked me up. I wouldn’t have returned to performing at all, if it were not for the director who did my early films being adamant that I come back to appear in his first feature film. That was Scott Grenke and his film called SPACED OUT. Suddenly there was this thing called the Internet and the ball started rolling.
FANG: I remember that incident and others like it at the time. You have a gay ghetto, where you feel safe, and then some psychopath swoops in to remind you where you stand. But back to the good stuff for the moment. Do you do club dates like so many of your fellow drag superstars?
BOMBSHELL: No. I don’t do bar or club shows. If I ever do appear on stage, it is more like a proper comedic act rather than a club date or traditional drag show. As an actor I look at drag as just another means to creating a character. People ask me to perform at their clubs. I get that a lot, especially at Halloween. I know what they want… they want me to lip-sync in drag among a gaggle of other drag queens. I don’t get any of that really. To me going to a drag show has all the appeal of going to a taffy pull. It’s so old fashioned and out of date. It’s a bizarre tradition in the gay community that comes from a time before karaoke.
Most times when I see drag shows I feel tempted to put a poodle in a dress, smear peanut butter on the roof of it’s mouth and shove it on stage. You’d get the same basic show but at least with a poodle there would be the ever-present threat that the dog would take a crap on stage. That show I’d watch.
FANG: I think I know the answer to this, but… Any desire to appear on RUPAUL’S DRAG RACE? I would love to see you destroy that show from the inside out!
BOMBSHELL: The only way I’d do that show is if it was reinvented to be like THE HUNGER GAMES. I have no interest in “being fierce” unless there is a chainsaw involved. I really like RuPaul. If you haven’t seen his film STARRBOOTY, you should. He stomps on a guy’s testicles in that. It’s very much in the flavor of DOLL SQUAD or a Doris Wishman film. But as far as his DRAG RACE show, people are surprised that I don’t watch it. I’ve never seen it.
FANG: Speaking of RuPaul, you’ve appeared in some real trash (and I hope you take that as a compliment), but I have to start with Kevin Strange’s COCKHAMMER. Strange’s stuff is so aggressively horrifying I can’t help but love it. Can you tell me how you ended up in this sleazefest (again, a compliment), and what one can expect from a Kevin Strange set experience?
BOMBSHELL: I love Kevin’s work. He had wanted to have me do his previous film COLONEL KILL MOTHERFUCKERS and portray a mother who rapes her son. For whatever reason that didn’t pan out, but from that point on we were determined to work together. Kevin offered me a small part in COCKHAMMER where I’d portray a demon. He gave me free reign to design and create this really tasteless creature suit. It looked like something out of Gwar with a huge diseased penis and hanging ball sack of warts. When it came time for me to fly from Orlando, up to film with Kevin’s team in Michigan, I was reluctant to check the costume in with my baggage for fear it would get lost. I stuffed it in my carry-on and didn’t give it a second thought.
As soon as I was standing in the airport security line I had one of the out of body experiences where you step outside of yourself and realize the unfortunate situation you’ve put yourself in. Sure enough, when I placed my bag on the conveyor belt to go through the X-ray machine, the girl sitting behind the monitors eyes bugged-out. Then an evil smile crossed her face and I knew she was going to have me for lunch. “Is this your bag?” she snarled. I hadn’t even answered by the time she had unzipped the bag and pulled out the enormous set of monster genitals to hold them over her head. It looked for the world as if she were working at Target and requesting a price check.
There is a certain level of hate and disgust that exudes from a crowd of two thousand travelers who have just had you punctuate the end of their Disney vacation by waving a huge syphilitic penis in their faces… I don’t think there are words to quite describe it.
Stay tuned for Part Two, where we talk about Babette’s work with Herschell Gordon Lewis, Lloyd Kaufman, Richard Marr-Griffin and Debbie Rochon!
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