Super Chief Gallery hosted a drag wrestling match in Ridgewood, Queens on Thursday as part of the WorldPride celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. New Orleans-based drag collective Choke Hole featured a diverse crew of 12 drag queens, six battles, and three halftime performances. Each battle combined choreographed wrestling with well-paired music, drawing the audience down a rhythmic rabbit hole of fantasy and humor. In the spirit of WWF wrestling, character development and plotlines were reinforced with pre-recorded “backstage drama” videos played before each match.
“Queers and Queens have always been attracted to wrestling for the obvious reasons-tights, makeup, and camp,” said Choke Hole’s co-creator Hugo Gyrl. “It was only a matter of time before we created our own version.”
The show commenced with a battle all too familiar for many New Yorkers and New Orleanians: gentrification. In the ring, a jumbo cellphone-flaunting real estate mogul wrestled “Raid”- a neon-colored bug performed by Pat Wolf. “My character is a slick real estate agent who will do anything to turn a profit, but she’s got one serious squatter to deal with first,” said Jassy, one of Choke Hole's co-creators. The audience booed as Jassy strangled Raid with a giant eviction notice, and cheered as Raid smashed a bottle of insecticide on Jassy’s head.
“What goes on in Choke Hole is sort of like a parallel universe to the crazy stuff that’s happening in whatever you want to call the world we’re living in right now,” said co-creator Visqueen. “It’s like if you threw all our pop culture demons of 2019 into a blender and then made them wrestle.”
Choke Hole delivers queer commentary on topics ranging from gender to body positivity to capitalism. “Drag is at its best when it’s punk, weird, DIY, inclusive, transgressive, and collaborative,” said Jassy. “At a time when drag is reaching its commercial zenith, I think it’s important to remember the values and mindset that this art form was created under.”
Exaggeration and parody as a form of coping and resistance is inherent to drag performance. Choke Hole’s characters wrestle with societal fears but ease anxiety through jest and surrealism.
“As a female-bodied person, drag has been a pretty wild ride for my self-discovery,” said Visqueen. “When I started performing in drag, I was going through a very personal and reflective time during which I recognized all the performative femininity I accumulated while growing up. I began using drag as a means of parodying that, as a sort of inside joke with myself to help me see the absurdity of the feminine trap I was caught up in.”
Ready for battle with rival Youtube beauty guru “Annie Bacterial,” Visqueen stepped into the ring during Thursday night’s performance with bleach blonde hair, bright pink skin, and two monster-like tongues springing from her cheeks. “If the Choke Hole universe is going to have beauty gurus, they’re going to have to be mutant, right?”
“Drag is in an interesting place right now,” said Hugo Gyrl. “It’s more mainstream than ever, with RuPaul's Drag Race and queens reading to children at libraries. I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing, but I think some people miss when drag was an underground, wild, even dark pastime. I don’t think we are bringing it back to what it was, but bringing it into a different Adults-only direction.”
Choke Hole’s debut in New York embodied the spirit of its mother city New Orleans, a culture that prioritizes self-expression, costuming, and celebration. Their performances simultaneously highlighted the significance of the LGBTQ+ pride and resistance movements that helped pave the way for radical queer expression, such as New York’s Stonewall riots. “Both cities were part of this event, truly making it a joyous, sweaty, shiny, smelly fusion,” said Hugo Gyrl.
Asked if New Yorkers can expect another Choke Hole extravaganza any time soon, Hugo Gyrl said, “I’d love to! If New York can handle it…”