Introducing the Wildest Drag Show in New Orleans

Welcome to Choke Hole, the craziest drag show in New Orleans (and maybe the world) | Photo by Stephanie Foden for Thrillist

Welcome to Choke Hole, the craziest drag show in New Orleans (and maybe the world) | Photo by Stephanie Foden for Thrillist

In a warehouse in an industrial area of ​​New Orleans, 400 screaming fans boo and cheer simultaneously as Jassy – an evil capitalist real estate “invest-her” – is dragged into the wrestling ring by her gigantic fake breasts. One breast has the word “FREE” written on it. The other, “MARKET”. “They’re too big to fail,” taunts Gorlëënyah, the show’s Green Goblin host, from her throne atop the stage.

Jassy – and her assets – get shaken up in the ring by a dirty cop who punishes her for stealing top secret files (they’re only for tops). But with a few well-executed roundhouse kicks and a quick somersault, Jassy turns the tide. Soon she’s motorboating with the cop on top of the turnbuckle and getting away with those records.

This is bottlenecka raunchy satirical wrestling show that has become a tradition in New Orleans during carnival season each year, although 2022’s returning edition, “The ReBoOt”, was nearly shut down by authorities.

“I have never felt so overwhelmed and so excited so close to each other,” said Jassy, ​​a NOLA drag queen and co-founder of bottleneck. A few days before the 2022 show, the organizers announcement that the beloved event – which, except for a hiatus in the past two years, has taken place every year since 2017 – could be canceled following an unofficial warning from a commission of Louisiana, who said all wrestlers would be arrested if the show continued due to a State Law requiring all boxers and wrestlers to hold a special license.

But as the lights went out under the giant disco ball during the first of two sold-out screenings in a row in the Zone mash microbrewery on February 24, there was Jassy on the big screen declaring, “Recycling is a liberal hoax” and demanding the affection of the frenzied crowd. “And Jassy? Don’t I deserve admiration?

a drag queen dressed as an insect spraying a giant spray can of fake insect repellent on her own face
WWE really has NOTHING on these queens | Photo by Stephanie Foden for Thrillist

Like Jassy’s faux chest pillows, it looks like Choke Hole is too big to fail too. Founded in the wake of Netflix Shine on New Orleans soil’ Hi-Ho Lounge by drag collective High Profile, the show has since exploded in popularity and production value. I watched (and booed and hollered) as costumed fans, wearing beads and fishnets, lost their minds as drag queens jostled – and stripped – inside the ring.

During the show’s kickoff, a pre-recorded video sketch shows a bad date gone wrong (favorite date writers are Ayn Rand and JK Rowling) leading to a “TERF war” match that involves a female wrestler shaking her butt in her opponent’s face, which closely resembles that of WWE Hall of Fame wrestler Rikishi stinky face. In another, a satanic lesbian daughter fights and ultimately kills her religious fanatic mother with a giant upside-down cross in her asshole.

But while Choke Hole features wrestling (there are also a few drag strip segments), it’s not meant to compete with WWE. “To me, it’s not a pro wrestling show,” Jassy says. “It’s a parody of wrestling and it’s this great stage show that incorporates wrestling or choreographed fights as just another tool or element to express our hearts.”

For Jassy, ​​Choke Hole is a satire of professional wrestling, which has never managed to portray gay people in a positive light despite its blatant homoeroticism. “[Wrestling] is very sexualized. It’s very dramatic. It’s disguises. It’s make-up and acting. It’s all those things that the LGBT and the queer community love,” Jassy says. “And so, as a kid, I didn’t like wrestling or relate to it because I thought it was beyond me, but as an adult looking at it from a clear goal, I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s all I like.'”

Every Choke Hole Queen Has A Bit Of Good And Bad In Her | Photo by Stephanie Foden for Thrillist

While professional sports entertainment gives an illusion of reality, Choke Hole leans into the weirdness. In one trick, a nearly naked dominatrix throws her submissive into a suitcase and hauls him from Chicago (she says she’d do anything for 50 bucks) to visit New Orleans, eat donuts at Coffee of the world, and fight in the ring. During the match, the dominatrix uses a hand-held power tool to spray fiery sparks from her chastity belt onto her submissive’s buttocks. “Nobody thinks this is real life,” says Jassy. “We play on campiness. We play the theatricality. The falsity of it.

Choke Hole also stands apart from professional wrestling by blurring the lines between villain and hero, without depicting either good or pure evil. “My character is this evil businesswoman, capitalist, landlord, and real estate investor, and she only cares about herself and her bottom line,” Jassy said. “But she also still has redeeming qualities [and sometimes still does] things in a way that you can, for example, sympathize with or see how she got there.

In fact, Jassy has found herself wrestling with the national dilemma of gentrification in her own life as a new landlord who is renting to a long-term tenant. “It’s funny, I’ve been this evil landlord character for like four years now and during COVID I bought a double from New Orleans. So I now live on one side of my house and rent out the other, and that’s why I say there’s good and bad in all of our characters,” she said. “I don’t think all landlords are bad, but I certainly think it’s an easy way to exploit people. I try to learn from my character what not to do as a new owner.

Choke Hole is a Community Matter (as well as, you know, kicking ass) | Photo by Stephanie Foden for Thrillist

Of course, satire and complexity are nothing new to Mardi Gras. In the early 1900s, say the historians the mostly black Zulu Krewe parodied how white people in New Orleans celebrated Mardi Gras. Many of today’s krewes also riff on politics; La Krewe du Vieux, for example, handed out fake syringes labeled “ivermectin” during their 2022 parade to poke fun at the COVID conspiracy theories that have run wild over the past two years. “Choke Hole is pretty much the same philosophy as Mardi Gras,” says Jassy.

Following this year’s near-cancellation, Choke Hole is hoping for more stability in the future. They yearn for a TV show at the RuPaul’s Drag Race Where Queer as Folka campy reboot shot in New Orleans that inspired the 2022 Choke Hole reboot theme.

But if Hollywood doesn’t come calling, Choke Hole hopes to do more shows inside and outside of Louisiana. They have already performed last summer at Lady Land in New York in front of headliner Christina Aguilera, as well as in Hamburg and Berlin, thanks to a scholarship. “We’re talking about maybe bringing the show to Chicago this summer, and we’re also looking at trying to organize a national tour,” Jassy said.

For Jassy and Choke Hole, the show is more than the controversy it faced. And it’s more than a satire of the queer struggle. It is also to show the multiple facets of humanity and femininity. “It’s great to be able to show how powerful you are,” she said. “We can be really feminine and show that and be really queer, but also really strong. The two are not separate, they can go together.

And yes, it’s also about kicking ass. “Yeah, we like to fight each other in a restrained and respectful way,” Jassy laughed.

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Joel Balsam is a Canadian freelance journalist and guidebook author who writes for Lonely Planet, National Geographic, TIME, BBC Travel, and more. His home base is Montreal, but he can often be found tasting somewhere in a crowded market.

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