By Chris Azzopardi | Photos courtesy Alaska Thunderfuck
Are Alaska Thunderfuck’s filthy jokes about Jeffrey Epstein, “genderfluids,” labia and poop too much for our world on fire? Alaska, even though she has a song called “Anus,” thought maybe they were. She wasn’t sure if an assault joke in 2021 would fly.
So the winner of “RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars” Season 2 consulted comedy queens Jackie Beat, Sherry Vine and Margaret Cho, no stranger to bowel jokes herself, to see if she was out of her damn mind. They didn’t exactly say she wasn’t, but they also did give Alaska just enough confidence to release “The Alaska Thunderfuck Extra Special Comedy Special,” her premiere standup gig. The special is airing now on OUTtv, the first LGBTQ+ Apple TV channel now available on the Apple TV app.
In late March, Thunderfuck appeared on Zoom against a palm-leaf-patterned backdrop — “one of the many walls in my giant palatial mansion,” she joked. Just like in her comedy special, nothing was off limits: not how some of her jokes fell flat, not what she thinks of the entry rules on “Drag Race,” and definitely not how she’d “walk the fuck out” of a hypothetical winners edition of “All Stars” if they, God forbid, did it teams-style.
Azzopardi: I feel like with this comedy special, you keep just checking boxes. Drag queen, comedy queen. What can’t Alaska do?
Thunderfuck: I can’t do math really good. So I have an amazing accountant. And I also don’t know how to use TikTok. I cannot figure it out. My 10-year-old niece is really good at it; she can. I thought I would try and show my variety and try to do comedy. I know I’ve always been just a look queen and a glamour girl. So this is a huge step for me to try and tell jokes.
Has a career in drag prepared you for a career in comedy?
I mean, I don’t know. It was hard, and I was really trepidatious about doing it because I was like, “Yes, I’m funny, but I’m not a comedian.” Like, I have so much respect for comedians who go out there and pound the fucking circuit of comedy clubs and (are) having bottles thrown at them and learning their craft. I’m like, “I am a visual artist who does drag, who can tell jokes. Sometimes with an OK success rate.”
Was it harder than you thought it would be then?
The jokes part, that was great. That was fun. It was learning how to do dance moves. That was harder. (Laughs.) I couldn’t just do a comedy special where I tell jokes. I had to be Team Too Much. I had to, like, put in musical numbers and dance numbers and a drag contest.
You being extra — that’s not a stretch.
Right. Here I sit before you in a zebra hat, zebra dress, in front of a palm leaf on a pink background.
Are we looking at a giant palm leaf sheet in the background? What exactly is that?
Well, why don’t you tell your (readers) that it is just one of the many walls in my giant palatial mansion? It’s expensive wallpaper. It may appear to be a duvet cover barely pinned to the ceiling, barely covering the mess of fucking drag behind it, but don’t let your eyes deceive you. It is just one of the many huge walls in my mansion.
Going back, were you a funny kid?
I mean, my family has a fucking amazing sense of humor and they’re so funny. My mom is so hilarious. My dad was really funny. My uncles are the stupidest, funniest people ever. Humor was always going around and happening in my family. But I was never a funny kid because I was too shy and too scared of people. I was like, “I’m gay and I’m weird and I just wanna hide in my room.”
Was comedy a defense mechanism for you like it is for a lot of gay kids?
See, for me, it never got to that point. My defense mechanism was not being seen. I just tried to disappear. I tried to be a gecko and change to the color of the wall. That was my defense mechanism. (Laughs.)
How are you feeling now that this special has been released into the world?
I feel great about it now. (Laughs.) It’s been 87 years since we filmed this. It’s been so long, and it’s not an understatement to say the entire world has changed so much. We filmed this in pre-COVID Hollywood, and a few months went by, (then) COVID happened. The quarantine happened. All these things happened. I was like, “Is this appropriate? Why the fuck do I need to be like, ‘Look at me telling jokes, toots!’ Should I even be doing this? What the fuck is going on?” So luckily, we made it a part of the thing, a part of the movie. We have interviews with my comedy guru mentors and they help assure me that the world needs laughter and comedy now more than, I think, ever.
There is something to be said about laughter being the best medicine. It’s gotten me through this last year. Just laughing myself silly watching “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar.” And you could’ve been in that movie based on your Zoom background. I mean, I don’t know why you weren’t.
(Laughs.) I know. I was supposed to be Reba McEntire’s part, but you know, it’s OK. I read for it. Reba McEntire was 12th in line to play Trish. I was 11th. She got it… OK?
Going back to the comedy special: What kind of workshopping went into you preparing for the special?
I’m constantly writing jokes and a lot of them are just really horrible, and they’re not funny. But if I hear someone say a word on a thing and then I think of something that rhymes with it, I write it down in a file. It was basically years worth of just bad jokes that I had written and I was like, “We’re clearing out the file with this comedy special, OK? We’re gonna put the puns in there. We’re gonna put the fucking poop jokes in there. We’re gonna put the drag jokes in there.”
To me, a lot … like Alaska doesn’t talk about dating people or doing drugs. She doesn’t talk about that stuff. She maybe does them, but she doesn’t talk about it. So I had to make it this other character, which is like this comedian character that Sherry Vine calls something Rivers. Uh…
Phyllis Rivers. Yeah. Because it’s a mixture of Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers. But yeah, I just cleared out my joke file and some of them are good, some of them (laughs) you could hear a pin drop. But you know what? That’s comedy. I did no workshopping. This was not a finessed comedy set that I had built for years trying out with audiences, trying out different wording. It was literally like, “Here’s the jokes. I hope you like them.”
When you’re up there and jokes are not hitting like you had hoped they would, what are you feeling?
I was feeling like, “This is gonna be good footage.” It’s like the moment before a nuclear bomb drops. It’s just perfect pin-drop silence.
Aside from Margaret Cho, what other comedians did you look up to growing up?
Well, I always loved TV. I was really obsessed with TV. I was always getting told I watched too much TV as a child. So sitcom jokes, that sort of rhythm of the setup and the knockdown and the punchline is sort of ingrained in me. “The Golden Girls” is a part of my bloodstream. That sort of hokey jokey, here’s the setup, you see it from a mile away, and there it is — I love that sort of comedy. Which is also why I love Phyllis Diller and I love Joan Rivers and I love — sorry, I’m drinking LaCroix, so I’m burping. I love Rodney Dangerfield so much. Just wacky, goofy — that type of humor is my shit. It’s my jam.
I don’t wanna get too far off the grid here, but since you brought up “The Golden Girls,” it seems like a good time to ask you what you thought of Elliott’s Blanche for Snatch Game on the latest season of “Drag Race.”
Leave meeting. Um, no. Well, the thing is: It was stacked against her from the beginning. Even RuPaul said, “Molly, you’re in danger, girl.” (Laughs.) During the walkthrough, RuPaul was like, “Just don’t do it, babe. You’re gonna drown.” Um, and she kind of did.
Would I go in if I got to go do Snatch Game again? I would, probably. That was gonna be one of my characters. If I didn’t do Mae West, it was going to be Rue McClanahan. So if I ever go back on “Drag Race,” I probably will do it and I will rise up to the challenge. And I hope that it goes better than Elliott’s.
How did the comedy jacket and the comedy wig and the entire comedy look help you get into the comedy zone for this special?
It comes down to the power of clothing and the power of drag. It’s like different clothes literally make you feel a different way to make you hold yourself a different way. I found it very important to put on the big oversized blazer. I needed it. I needed some no-frills hair, so I wasn’t worrying about whether my fucking Cher hair was flowing. Like, no, I just needed short, crazy, crazy hair.
How has being a drag queen been good training for being a comedian?
Well, to me, they’re not that different. I think drag inherently is rooted in humor because it’s poking fun at the idea of conventions of gender: what is it that makes a man in this society and makes a woman in this society, and those rules are ultimately so arbitrary and so out of nowhere. So just absurd. So drag clowns all of those conventions and calls them into question and makes fun of them and “winks, winks” at you while it’s doing it. I think inherently there is humor in the absurdity of just like, What the fuck is gender? What is society? What is clothing?
Being a queen in quarantine this last year — what’s that been like?
It’s been really hard. And it was really hard on the drag community, because overnight all of your places that you do your thing (at) are gone now. They’re closed. And you’re also last in line for it to come back. It was really hard on the drag community. But it’s also really inspiring because the next day the queens were all like, “Uh, OK, well, I have a digital show now and I’m doing a show on Twitch and I have a weekly show on Instagram.” And so it’s been really hard, but it’s been inspiring to see that drag can survive the apocalypse.
Are you still into these drive-in shows you’ve been doing? Are they weird? Do you want to ever do them again post-pandemic?
It’s a little weird because everyone is so far away and I’m the type of performer… I like to sweat on you. I want you to spit on me when you’re screaming. I want to share the microphone with you and exchange fluids with you when I’m on stage. I love getting to be on stage and, yes, the audience is really spread out and they’re farther away, but you still get that vibe of having an actual audience. And there’s nothing that can replace that.
I loved seeing that a drag king, Tenderoni, won your very own drag competition, The Drag of the Year Pageant Competition Awards Contest Competition. It’s a mouthful, you know. I know a mouthful, and that’s a mouthful. The competition was all inclusive. What forms of drag would you like to see elevated, and how would you like to see the art form diversify moving forward?
The reason Lola (LeCroix) and I started doing the Drag Queen of the Year Pageant is: drag has always been crazy diverse. It has always been; you’re sharing a dressing room with the drag kings and the AFAB (Assigned Female at Birth) performers and the male performers and the burlesque performers. Anyone who has done drag for more than five minutes knows that to be the reality. So we found it really strange that there wasn’t a competition that was open to all these different avenues of drag; it was always very compartmentalized.
I mean, “Drag Race” is the sort of gold standard of drag competitions in the current landscape of the world. And the good thing that’s hopeful is “Drag Race” is always changing it up and always evolving with the times. So, I could see a drag king getting thrown into the mix. I think it’s possible.
I also wonder if it’s taken too long to get to where “Drag Race” has gotten. We’re on season 13, and while it’s great that the first trans contestant is a part of the show, do you think that there are too many rules on the show in general?
Well, OK: I love the fucking show and a lot of people do and it’s changed culture and it’s changed the world. But they do have rules to entry, and if it were up to me, I would blow the walls off and I would say, “Let’s have everyone apply and see what that looks like.” Do I think that’s going to happen? Probably not anytime soon. But it is hopeful to see the people who put on “Drag Race” are very aware of culture and they are always actively changing the show and keeping it fresh and keeping it current. That makes me hopeful.
Who might you be interested in having a Snatch Game with if there was a winners season of the show?
Oh my god. Jinkx, Bob the Drag Queen, fucking Monét X Change — as long as she does Whitney Houston. Sharon (Needles). Aquaria, oh my god. Yes, all of that. All of those divas.
If they do the dreaded teams format from “All Stars” Season 1, what winner would you want to be paired with?
If they try to pull that shit, I would leave. I would pull a Ginny Lemon and walk the fuck out because we’re not doing that team shit. No, that’s trash. They absolutely couldn’t do it. And if I had to be on a team, I would want to be on Bob’s team because Bob is so fucking funny. We work really well together. And Bob knows everything about “Drag Race.” Like, I thought I knew shit about “Drag Race.” Bob knows the most about “Drag Race.”
What’s next for you? Might you record another album at some point?
Okay. You’re in the studio.
(Coyly.) I don’t know! Stay tuned.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Chris Azzopardi is the Editorial Director of Pride Source Media Group and Q Syndicate, the national LGBTQ wire service. He has interviewed a multitude of superstars, including Cher, Meryl Streep, Mariah Carey and Beyoncé. His work has also appeared in The New York Times, Vanity Fair, GQ and Billboard. Reach him via Twitter @chrisazzopardi.