“When nobody tells you who you are, you can be anything.” —World Famous *BOB*
The more I look at my notes from the World Famous *BOB*’s recent “one-man” show at the Wild Project (under the astute direction of Kate Valentine), the more I realize they just don’t matter. What matters is that I’m still thinking about it like a week later. And I’ve seen a dozen movies and read six back issues of the New Yorker since then. The trials and tribulations of a female drag queen are interesting by definition, and the confessions of a California runaway are both tearful and hilarious when they come from Bob. But beyond all the obvious attractions, for a certain subset of people—specifically, people who have always felt a little weird, always felt a little uncomfortable, always felt intimidated by the same-same world and its boring expectations—for people like US, Bob’s show is an inspirational magic carpet ride of transformation and optimism.
First things first: that fabulicious sparkly white fur stole was apparently made by Dirty Martini, so, like, mad snaps. This is a story about a girl who grew up on a farm in Pasa Robles, California—I almost feel for the audience members who don’t know about this California. I can only say it ain’t all El Lay and Es Ef, and yes, I’ve been to Needles, to Bakersfield, to motherfucking Barstow. This is a fantasy about a girl who wants to meet her “real mother,” dripping jewels from a white stretch limo, taking her off to Hollywood. And this is a story about a girl who runs away from home at 15. Bob first gets her hooks into us with cutesy stories about her early obsessions with beauty-parlor magic, and the few missteps and flubbed lines didn’t concern me much, largely because even when Bob missteps she does it with such charm and grace that it only makes you smile. But once she started dropping science on the goth look, the Cure, admitting the origin of her stage name, and—Christ on a crutch—Drakkar Noir, she had the whole room in the palm of her hand. Yes, the room was filled with a lot of freaks, but it also has to do with age and a shared experience—Drakkar Noir was very important when I was in high school. But as I said, for a certain class of people this story is salve for the wounds: when Bob sees an identically miserable new waver at Disneyland and has that first wave of feeling like “I’m not the only one,” it’s her translation of that feeling that is coursing through the audience of freaks and geeks. I guess if you were the captain of your high school football team this show wouldn’t be for you, but then again, who gives a fuck about you anyway.
In Bob’s parlance, the perfect patch of hair worn down over one eye is because “looking at the world completely unfiltered is just too hard.” I assume that sentiment extends into rampant drug experimentation—that’s sure as hell what I was thinking in those days. But the story pulls away from sentimentality as quickly as it lurches towards it—stinging one liners such as these rapidly give rise to anecdotes about, say, busting topless at a prom and saving the life—or at least the immediate social life—of a high school misfit. For Bob, sparkle and gleam seem to live hand-in-hand with shattered glass and hopeful dreams.
The meat of the story is Bob’s desire to become a drag queen, and her refusal to let that dream be inhibited by something as petty as, well, being a woman. Her den of wolves in San Francisco—gay men, natch—raised her well, and she claims that she knew she was “passing” when the guy at the check cashing place wouldn’t let her claim her sex as “female.” In what may be the biggest swindle in San Francisco since Dan White went on a rampage, Bob was passing as a man posing as a woman in the most gender-bendy town in the U. S. of A. Besides, says Bob, “I’d never known a strong or happy woman, so why would I want to be one.”
The professional drag queen makes it to New York City for the Miss Club USA contest, competing for a year’s free rent, and is disqualified by Downtown Julie Brown—remember her?—for being a man. And Bob, of course, takes this as the biggest compliment imaginable. Finally coming to peace with herself, the tear-jerker of the show is Bob’s meeting Dixie Evans, her real mother, who didn’t come to take her to Hollywood, but instead… Naw, I can’t give it away. It’s a great line and you should see the show for yourself. Not a dry eye.
All great art includes inference, allowing the audience to decide what happens next or what didn’t happen. We need some holes to dig our minds into. And for me the one big whopping unanswered question is, Bob, why didn’t you just show Downtown Julie Brown your pussy? My partner in crime thinks it was more important for her to pass as a “real” drag queen than to win some silly contest, but I’m unsure. I’m also painfully aware of the weaving of fiction, even if you’re using your “real” life as yarn. Bob, maybe someday, over a mani and a dye job, you’ll tell me all about it.
All photos used here with express permission.