How to Behave at a Drag Show, According to the Professionals
It is 10 p.m. and you and your good Judys are strolling to the gay bar, greeted by a queen at the door. The DJ is pumping some sort of disco beat with a Top 40 track playing over it. Over your shoulder you can see the queens rolling in with their carry-on suitcases. Some in a full face of makeup with pedestrian clothes, and some fully ready. As a queen myself—KiKi Bootz—I am always fully ready, but you may have seen me putting on heels on someone's stoop a block away.
You know then and there that a drag show is about to begin, and your next move is breaking that $20 bill into singles to tip, and getting that first round of drinks. The drag host? Consider them the mâitre d's of the night scene, just with lace fronts, rhinestones, and eclectic diplomacy.
Bars, clubs, and the world of nightlife hospitality is something everyone should experience. Drag performers, especially, make sure of that. Just like restaurants, drag shows at bars also aim to serve (pun intended) their guests. Splits, dips, lip syncs and well drinks are what keep patrons coming. However, knowing how to act at a drag show is immensely important, especially when shows like RuPaul's Drag Race and Dragula have made the art form more mainstream. Drag shows have become tourist destinations because of it. In turn, tourists occupying queer spaces in favor of personal satisfaction has its drawbacks.
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Several New York City drag performers have come forth to set the record straight on drag bar etiquette, the importance of tipping, and how drag can benefit the hospitality industry. My rule of thumb is to tip a dollar to every performer by simply holding it out for them to see. We performers have full control during our shows, and if we hint at other forms of offering tips, just go along with it. However, whatever you do, do not touch, grab, or grope us without consent. Ever!
Maddellynn Hatter, drag performer / Dragula season 3 contestant
Drag can be anything, and as a queen you need to be able to adapt. I expect respect. I expect a certain level of attention paid. I expect tipping because drag is expensive, and base rates (the agreed upon honorarium bars pay drag hosts) are awful. I expect acceptance and encouragement of self expression.
Don't scream over the music. Don't sit or stand in the front, and not tip every single number. Respond when a queen asks a question. Clap, hoot, and holler. Interact and have fun, but understand that it is not your show.
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I think that I have changed in my tolerance for audience bullshit. I think audiences have gotten more fragile as well. They are scared, and you really need to be able to break the ice. Make fun of yourself, and if you are skilled, make fun of others as well, but don't make it a cancel culture moment. You can really create something special where egos are set aside, even for just a few minutes.
Boyish Charm, drag performer / DJ
I think that having drag shows at a bar or nightclub adds more of a community feel. Drag shows are more popular now than ever. These shows really have the power to bring in large crowds to a business. It's nightlife, mostly everyone in there is under the influence of something so there's always gonna be someone who's had a little too much, and who's just plain disrespectful while you're on stage. As a host and performer you have to learn how to handle it.
There's always three rules that most drag performers usually give before every show:
Number one, be respectful.
Number two, tip! Drag is expensive! A lot of us do drag full-time, so these tips really help us to not only pay for our drag, but for our rent and bills as well. Always tip your performers, DJs, and bartenders.
Number three, have a good time! Drink, cheer, and laugh because that's what we're here for! As long as the crowd is respectful all I expect from them is to have fun and get wild with me.
Devo Monique, drag performer
Drag is queer artistry brought to life and sums up the emotions of queer people. It can show how to interact with queer people on a human level. There's a lot of homophobia and transphobia in the industry that I've experienced because people feel comfortable saying things to people just because they have queer coworkers.
Mental health is important in nightlife when you need to feel safe on a basic level, which we were robbed of in our childhood. There is never a wrong time to tip a queen, but there can be this taunting way of tipping queens that some people do in these spaces that's disrespectful. As someone who has experienced extreme homelessness and tips were my only way to eat, it's important because $15 can change someone's night. There's been nights I've literally had $2, and with tip spots I can make $100. These are things we need to bring to the forefront of drag conversations, and how to keep drag consistent since it's so expensive. You have to create a whole new person that you depend on for survival.