Editor's Note: The Changing Face of Drag is a five-part KQED Arts series spotlighting innovative performers pushing the boundaries of drag in the Bay Area. Click to read more about the series.
“I just learned about Bitcoin! Pay me in Bitcoin!” Laughter, cheers and crumpled dollar bills erupt from the audience.
Nicki’s standing in for Mother’s regular host (and Oasis co-owner) Heklina, introducing the performers for a Janelle Monáe tribute night. Between acts, she strides around the stage, heckling the audience, commanding them to “clap, bitches!” and relating a story about how, this one time, she broke a guy’s ribs just by dancing.
“My drag is very 'unapologetic hoe,'” says Nick Marshall of his drag persona Nicki Jizz. “That’s just who she is. I’m very fun and flirty, but I’m also that best friend.”
Nicki is best known for hosting her own parties with Haus of Hoe (made up of Nicki, Fíera and God’s Lil’ Princess) at El Rio and the Stud. She's committed to booking queer and trans artists of color and delivering “sex-positive dance and daring drag.”
“We are an open, very diverse crowd and we like to book from everywhere,” Marshall says. “But in the city, most of the performers aren’t POC. And we want to make sure that we have a platform for them. We just want to make sure everyone’s included, as they should be.”
Each of their Hoe is Life parties takes on a different, often hilarious theme: Hoe is Quinceañera; Hoe is Coven; and Hoe is New York, a Tiffany Pollard (of reality television fame) tribute night. “We did Hoe is Hot Dog once for the Fourth of July,” Marshall says. “It was one of the most ridiculous shows ever. I just walked around the club during the number shoving hot dogs in people’s faces.”
Marshall started doing drag in 2015, during a work party at Brick & Mortar for Amoeba Records, where he still works full time in addition to three to five drag gigs a week. “I did like this eight-minute Beyoncé medley,” Marshall remembers. “I didn’t shave, all I had on was eyeliner, a lipstick and some blush and I thought I was the cutest girl in the world.”
The excitement of that first performance, along with regular visits to drag nights at the Stud, eventually propelled Marshall onto the stage. “Now they have to drag me off it!” he says. Over the past three years of doing drag, Marshall credits the art form—and its surrounding community—with being an enormous influence on his life. “I’ve met some of my really good friends. I’ve learned a lot about myself as a person and about myself as a drag performer—what my limits are and what I can and can’t do.”
Nicki’s a member of the House of More, a legendary Bay Area drag house founded by Glamamore in the '80s. Nicki is part of the house’s third generation—her drag mom is Rahni NothingMore, and Juanita MORE! (also profiled in The Changing Face of Drag) is her drag aunt. Through that extended family, Marshall’s learned about the history of drag, and the performers who paved the way for Nicki Jizz. It’s a legacy he says young drag queens often take for granted.
“Drag was not invented by somebody out of the blue,” Marshall says. “It’s something that’s been built and put together, just like you built and put your face together. And it comes from all walks of life. It’s that beautiful collage that makes it worthwhile.”
“Someone asked me once, ‘What does it take to be part of the House of More?’ You have to be good at everything,” Marshall says.
As an example of just how much Nicki can do, Marshall describes his favorite performance, which happened (only once) at Vivvy’s Grand Opening at the Stud. It was a Beyoncé medley (of course). Nicki entered as the villain Samara from the horror movie The Ring; lip synced to “Ring Off;” ran offstage to remove her wig and reemerge as Gollum in a bald cap and loincloth; lip synced to “Ring the Alarm” (sensing a pattern here?); performed a Sméagol monologue from The Hobbit; then closed it all out with hobbit backup dancers in perfect choreography to “Single Ladies.”
Consider it Nicki Jizz’s very own Ring Cycle.
“It’s great to see that this field of art is finally being recognized as really art and as a job,” Marshall says. “Because it is a job. I have my day job, and I have my night job.” The popular VH1 show RuPaul’s Drag Race, he says, shows people just how much work goes into being a drag performer. “It’s not just a man in a dress. It’s the energy, the personality, the persona that people are seeing. It takes a lot of time to build that.”
On weeknights when he performs, Marshall works an eight hour day, comes home to paint (do Nicki’s makeup) for two hours, then gets home from the club around 2:30am, sometimes doing it all over again the next day.
Although some traditionalists view drag as an art form for cisgender men dressing up as women, Marshall heartily disagrees, praising the gender-diversity of the local scene. “I think anyone can do drag. If you want to go out there and perform and give somebody life, then go out there and do it. I don’t care what you identify as or how you want to present,” he says. “I don’t see how you could exclude anyone from something that magical.”
Especially in the Bay Area, Marshall says, the performers pushing the art form into new and exciting directions are often transgender, people of color, women-identified or non-binary. “I’m all about supporting local drag,” he says. “I mean some of those girls just turn it out so well, and I want them to be appreciated for all the talent they have.”
Instead of spending $30 on a meet-and-greet with one of the stars of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Marshall suggests, go to a local drag show and see six or eight amazing performers for one-third the price.
At the recent showcase Oaklash, a new festival of Bay Area drag and queer performance, the ladies of Haus of Hoe closed out the night with a 15-minute medley. “It was all these different parties and collectives coming together and showing this is what Bay Area drag is,” Marshall says of the event, organized by Mama Celeste and Beatrix LaHaine. “It was beautiful.”
A sense of local pride and a knowledge of the Bay Area's rich drag history helps Marshall set his sights on what he wants for Nicki Jizz’s future. “I don’t need to be world-famous, but I want to be the queen of my city,” he says. “I want to be that hoe that gives back.”