Fists Under a Poncho: A Drag Origin Story as Told by Jack Plotnick

Evie, Varla & Coco
Image Credit: MGM

The increasing mainstream popularity of drag may be a fairly recent pop culture phenomenon. But make no mistake, the art form that is drag has been around for quite some time. The first recorded use of the term is credited to none other than everyone’s favorite wordsmith, William Shakespeare, back in 1870 and was used to describe male actors dressed in women’s clothing, which as most people know, was pretty common in the days of yore.

Flash forward one hundred and some years to the 1980s and 1990s, and drag queens were starting to take the entertainment world by storm. To the delight of many a young gay boy, iconic queens like Divine and RuPaul became household names and were being featured across film and television. The popularity of drag entertainment at the time led to the creation of several sub-genres of film, most notably the “drag parody,” which includes iconic films like “Die Mommy Die,” “Hush Up Sweet Charlotte” and the cult classic “Girls Will Be Girls.

I was fortunate enough to spend some time chatting with legendary gay actor Jack Plotnick, who just so happens to also be the brainchild behind “Girls Will Be Girls’” aging starlet, Evie. Jack started by walking me through the genesis of the film. “The movie sort of started with a short film that I had made with my friend, Dennis, called ‘Evie Harris: Shining Star.’ [We] wanted to make this funny short where Evie has a film crew come to film her going to the Hollywood Walk of Fame to shine her star, but she can’t remember where it is. So, she just starts talking about all the famous people whose are on the ground, dishing on everyone,” Jack said. Prior to filming, he mentioned the short to Emmy Award-winning TV writer Richard Day, who offered to send a few jokes. “The next day, this three-page document full of the funniest, most evil jokes arrived. And I think when Richard saw the final product, he kind of realized that Evie was a terrific mouthpiece for his particular brand of twisted humor.”

Girls Will Be Girls
Image Credit: MGM

After an unsuccessful pitch to a network that was adamant about not doing anything with drag queens, Jack and Richard decided to take matters into their own hands and produce the film themselves. “It really was the little drag movie that could. We did it all ourselves. Most of the movie was filmed at Richard’s home. His bedroom was, among other things, a hospital set and a restaurant,” Jack recalled.

“It was great fun, but also a ton of work … because I was playing Evie, I was also producing the movie, I was building sets and in charge of costuming. It was intense. As a matter of fact, the day before we started filming, I was helping unload some furniture from a truck into the house and I actually broke my finger and threw out my back, and in the cover photo on the DVDs, you can clearly see, my hand is in the picture because I’m smoking a cigarette, you can clearly see that my finger is broken and they didn’t Photoshop it… they just left it all red and swollen. And it is so funny to me that nobody was like, shouldn’t we make this finger not look so weird. But it was a labor of love, obviously, and something I’m super proud of.

“One of my favorite things, when I worked with Rebecca Romijn, she told me it’s one of her favorite movies, and that she shows people the movie in order to decide whether she will be friends with them or not. When I hear stuff like that, it’s just like, oh, my God. I love that the movie has a sensibility that goes beyond being gay, that goes to the core of your sense of humor and how you view the world.”

When I asked Jack about the inspiration for his drag persona Evie, he said, “For a lot of artistic gay children, they take in the behaviors of the grown-up women around them, and that can often end up in your character. You’re playing your mother or your aunt. If my mom is in there, it is subconscious.” But like all good drag queens, the inspiration for Evie came from QVC. “This infomercial on TV that had this horrible woman, who was selling these food processors, and my writing partner, Seth, and I, we loved this woman. We were obsessed with her. She also had that Evie look, so a lot of the character came from her crazy, over-the-top selling of this blender.”

Christmas Evie
Image Credit: GWBG Online

Interestingly enough, before Evie was even a twinkle in his little eye, Jack had already performed in drag in front of his entire elementary school. “In sixth grade, my school had a talent show,” Jack recalled. “For my talent, I threw on a wig and a poncho, and I lip-synced to Dolly Parton’s9 to 5.’ I used my hands, balled up as fists, to be her boobs. And then when the chorus hit, I started clapping them together. And the school … went … crazy! They started screaming, freaking out laughing. That was my first taste of drag.”

While Jack was growing up, drag was starting to make its debut on the boob tube, but with a very different message. “There was drag [on TV], but I didn’t love it. It was mostly straight comedians throwing on a wig. They all did it, they were doing it all the time. There was an art form to it, but it was very winky-winky, like I’m not really a woman, I’m commenting on women.” Jack vividly remembers seeing RuPaul’s music video, “Supermodel (You Better Work)” for the first time: “There has never been anything like that. That was a man really becoming a woman and owning a woman’s beauty. It was really incredible to see that.”

“I think it was a big and beautiful change when there were these actors who said ‘I’m going to really put myself in a woman’s circumstances and portray a woman.’ They may still have been commenting on what tickles them about women’s behaviors, as Lypsinka and Charles Busch do, but they were never putting themselves above women. They were really saying, ‘I love this about women.’”

As with all great cult classics, the loyal fan base of “Girls Will Be Girls” is always hungry for more Evie, Coco and Varla! And if you think you’ve heard the last of these queens, think again. Jack and company have been busy creating the extremely hilarious “Girls Will Be Girls” web series, which currently consists of three somewhat unconventional new episodes. “The first one is called, ‘The Jizz Party.’ That’s really fun to have on your IMDB,” Jack quipped. There is also a crowd-funded sequel to the original film that is currently in post-production and expected to have its theatrical release next year. Stay tuned!

Girls Will Be Girls
Image Credit: MGM

You can find “Girls Will Be Girls” within the XFINITY LGBTQ Film & TV Collection, or you can check out Jack Plotnick in a ton of other queer titles, including the hilarious dark comedy “Space Station 76” and the Netflix Original “Grace and Frankie.

Scott Conant is the LGBTQ Editor for Comcast XFINITY. You can watch his top picks and more LGBTQ-related titles in the XFINITY LGBTQ Film & TV Collection

To visit the LGBTQ Film & TV Collection on XFINITY, or say “LGBTQ” into the X1 Voice Remote.

On X1: Navigate to “Popular Destinations” > LGBTQ Film & TV
On Native: Go to “On Demand” > LGBTQ Film & TV