Flash back to a year ago, December 2018: surrounded by a large Bart Simpson head, a talking magical lamp, and a canopy bed, local drag villain Princess Jafar charters a path to world domination alongside Snuggles, her teddy bear who magically comes to life.
The epically titled The Princess Jafar Show LIVE! EP 1 The XMAS Pilot: A War On Black Friday severely skewers Disney movies and 90s sitcoms, riffs on after-school specials, and slyly (but loudly) confronts commercialism and cultural appropriation. The evening is a surreal, hallucinogenic laugh riot, but one with political purpose, executed with skill and precision.
The Princess Jafar Hour
The more recent The Princess Jafar Hour featuring Gia Gunn is not quite a sequel to last year’s extravaganza. Instead of a tightly-scripted, lushly decorated–thanks to Anna Azizzy–performance piece, The Princess Jafar Hour is more of an experiment, a scenario that is allowed to play out in real-time, unscripted and with the potential for rawness.
The event is based on the talk show format, kind of like The View, kind of like a Late Show interview. Princess Jafar brings a number of guests to the stage. Some friends from last year’s XMAS Pilot are back–the moon baby, now living in Philadelphia and looking stunning in a tall, red wig–and Gia Fagnelli, who just won the “Mx (sic) Innovative” award at the Erotic City Awards in Portland, OR. While advertised, Executive Pastry Chef Dwight Penney was not present, but two now-famous folks definitely show up–Pennsylvania Representative Sara Innamorato and Gia Gunn, who appeared on the sixth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, the second season of The Switch Drag Race, and RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars season four.
The evening starts slightly sedately. Princess Jafar enters the stage to enthusiastic applause and sets the context for the event. A joke about how the 90s rap rock band Crazy Town stole her camera lands with half the audience. The early interviews with the moon baby and Gia Fagnelli are informative and pleasant–we get to catch up with the lives of the guests, where they are living and what they are doing–but are a little dry.
A talkshow format at Club Cafe in Southside
The slow start is partially due to the venue. Club Cafe is one of the best sounding rooms in Pittsburgh, but it is known for programming that skews towards singer-songwriters and the AAA format. There are certainly outliers–the Sun Ra-inspired big band OPEK took up residence at Club Cafe for years and musician Maurice Rickard used to run an electronic music series in the early 00s. The intimate stage feels a little cramped for tonight’s show and the audience, many of whom are making their first visit to the venue, are still finding their comfort zones in the oddly-shaped room. The South Side also feels different-it’s Thanksgiving weekend, so the usual din of toxic bro-town energy and responsible drunkenness is largely absent.
But like a talk show, energy compounds as discussions become more intricate and entangled. Sara Innamorato formalizes loose strands of talk into a discussion about policy–how there is a need for people that are impacted by policy to have a seat at the table to inform that policy, how policymakers need to spend time listening and processing the needs of those that they represent. Otherwise, the policymaker risks pushing people into unsafe spaces, people that are contributing to their communities through local spending, tax payments, and creative expression.
Gia Gunn, who was “the night’s biggest get,” drawing fans from Ohio, discusses the exploitation she faced from her former management company, how the Howard Brown Health Center helped with her transition, and the illusion of fame. “Not everyone is a millionaire” despite what Instagram and Drag Race may present.
After the formal interviews, an audience Q&A brings a sense of excitement and fun. I mean, fun in the sense that digging into policy and complex social issues is fun. Discussing the legalization of marijuana and what each guest would do with the money, Princess Jafar proposed opening Princess Jafar World, while Innamorato advocated for decriminalizing weed, providing justice to those locked up for marijuana offenses, and structuring legalization bills to favor justice over building pipelines to immense profits for multinational corporations.
Responding to another question, Gunn discusses how the most visible representation of transgender persons is on the news in stories of transphobic murders. She goes on to talk about how shows like Drag Race have sidelined the trans community, a topic that Gunn spoke out about earlier this year. One solution that was either said aloud or was implicit was that events like The Princess Jafar Hour can counteract the negativity of a sensational media and provide a place for sharing experiences.
Building community across a wide spectrum of experiences
Fans looking for the gut bursting madness of last year’s XMAS Pilot have to satisfy themselves with little blips of ad-libbed jokes, small jolts of humor within a larger conversation about equity. If humor is used to bring people together, these discussions served much of the same purpose. The main takeaway from the event was that active listening and collaborative sharing can be used to unite and build community across a wide spectrum of experiences.
Near the end of the show, when Gia Gunn asked if everyone learned something, the entire audience raised their hands.
And check the upcoming calendar at Club Cafe here.
Header Photo courtesy of Neptune Nix. Follow Neptune Nix on Instagram.