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Joshua Grannell is living the artist's dream. He grew up loving movies and performing with improv theatre groups. After studying film at Penn State, he moved to San Francisco to begin his life as a filmmaker. Joshua continued theatre as a side hobby of sorts, and his career as a performer eventually took off. He became the toast of the town.
As his stardom grew, the dream of filmmaking became a reality. He wrote, directed, and starred in his first feature-length film. Job offers came rolling in. The media raved. Art became his full-time gig. Yet if you saw Joshua walk down the street, you probably wouldn't guess that he is one of your favorite San Francisco personalities. Unless, of course, he's walking down the street as his drag queen alter ego, Peaches Christ.
Under the seemingly endless layers of wigs and makeup and sequins and underpinnings—and yes, there are many undergarments—Joshua is your funny, friendly Hayes Valley neighbor. Onstage, he is Peaches, a character he created almost 20 years ago for San Francisco's now-infamous drag club, Trannyshack. When Joshua offered to let Racked come to his home to check out Peaches' emergency sequin stash, we naturally jumped at the opportunity.
The first thing you need to know about the Peaches juggernaut is that Joshua didn't set out to make a career as a drag queen. "None of us ever could have imagined that it would last more than a year. No one predicted that it would become this sort of institution...If [Trannyshack founder] Heklina and I had been in an industry kind of town like LA or New York, we couldn't have done it," Joshua explains. "Because we were in the bubble of San Francisco—and we didn't set out to make it successful—it became successful. I hate the word authentic because everyone uses it now, but it's true. That's why it worked."
"None of us ever could have imagined that it would last more than a year. No one predicted that it would become this sort of institution."
Joshua started Midnight Mass, an offshoot of Trannyshack, as a way to celebrate movies that he loved. Rowdy crowds would show up to watch Peaches and friends perform reimagined vignettes from the films, and then stay for an actual screening. "It was just kind of an accident," he recalls. "It became the thing where Peaches paid the bills a lot better than filmmaking did."
These days, Peaches is more than just a character—she's an entire production company, staging six shows each year in San Francisco alone. That's in addition to the drag queen trips, personal appearances, traveling revues, and events like this weekend's Drag Queens of Comedy. Joshua tells Racked that Peaches performs as many as three times a week (both in the US and internationally), and she's a wedding officiant.
With popularity comes a larger wardrobe, so Peaches (the company) keeps a storage facility filled with costumes. Joshua estimates there are approximately 100 outfits, ranging from form-fitting, sparkly gowns to more forgiving mumus. (Joshua prefers the mumus for bus trips because he can wear "boy clothes" underneath them.) Costumes generally start around $500 each, and that's before accessories like jewelry, wigs, and shoes. At any given time, Joshua is working with up to five designers to ensure that his alter-ego is impeccably dressed for her fans.
Beyond the storage unit, Joshua keeps "emergency drag" options in his home, should he get called out for an appearance at the last minute. (We counted more than ten sequined dresses, seven wigs, three pairs of Peaches' favorite black platforms, and three bins of jewelry among the emergency supplies.)
"My goal with drag has never been to emulate a woman, but to be the gay, male, queer ideal of female gender."
Becoming Peaches is no small task. "Peaches was supposed to be an insane glamazon—the height, the wigs—but I still want the silhouette to look like this ridiculous, unrealistic version of female. My goal with drag has never been to emulate a woman, but to be the gay, male, queer ideal of female gender. To me, they're totally different things. The women I know would never dress like Peaches."
Fair enough: The women Joshua knows probably wouldn't spend three hours primping for a night out, but that's how long it takes Peaches to get stage ready. "That would be for everything from shaving to nails," he explains. "If I have to do it in less time, I can. It used to be longer and kind of harried, but now, because I've done it for so long, I can do my makeup in 90 minutes. (In case you were wondering, Peaches's foundation is a custom blend from Dr. Jen's Atomic Cosmetics in Seattle, and she favors MAC eyeshadows.
On the makeup front, it helps that Peaches' look took on a following of its own. "If I do something more traditionally female and less Bozo the Clown, my Peaches fans don't like it," Joshua admits. "They see her as this insane, over-the-top, clowny glamorous. So now, that's what it is. I know how to do it and I know how to do it quickly." Not that efficiency makes the transformation less daunting.
Doing anything out of drag—a movie, a lecture, the class he teaches at San Francisco Art Institute—is manageable. But the moment Joshua becomes Peaches, even if it's just for a photo shoot, the task becomes exponentially more exhausting. "I think there's a physical toll that your body's going through with the shoes, the corset, the wig, the garments. Just walking in it is ten times as hard." (At least we know that Peaches can never post an #IWokeUpLikeThis selfie.)
If there's a lesson to be learned from Joshua's success, perhaps it's that it is possible to make a living doing what you love, even when that path is artsy and unusual. "In the beginning, I wondered if I was crazy to pursue this Peaches Christ thing because it would shut a lot of doors for me, but it was what I was interested in," he recalls. "I was about being cult and subversive and transgressive and using drag to entertain and horrify. It ended up being the thing that got me into a position where I could make a feature film. But you never could predict that."