Front Page A&EStage

Varla Jean Merman’s Show Tackles Drag Bans and LGBTQ Issues

Show highlights the importance of gay art in the face of anti-LGBTQ legislation.

Varla Jean Merman (Photography by Kristofer Reynolds)

Jeffery Roberson, most famously known as drag queen Varla Jean Merman, has dazzled and entertained audiences for decades. While there will be comedy and fun at the star’s upcoming “Stand by your Drag ” Houston show, there will also be a deeper message on the importance of gay art amidst looming drag bans and anti-LGBTQ legislation. 

“I want people at the show to walk away realizing that drag was sabotaged and is being used for political advancement,” he says. “Drag is love and laughter! You will witness both at the show!”

The one-woman show pinpoints the origins of the drag bans through the history of the art form. The show will be a call to arms for anyone who loves drag, while still retaining Roberson’s signature humor and wit. 

“I love making people laugh,” he says. “I find it is very healing for myself and the audience. I did this show mainly in support of my Florida sisters. I am lucky that I get to travel all over the country. Friends of mine who only perform in Florida were devastated when no drag queens were allowed to perform at Wilton Manors Stonewall Pride last year. Pride is a lucrative time for drag queens. But also to feel not invited to an event paying homage to a drag riot that changed life for all gay people in the United States was a slap in the face.”

Roberson first started doing drag in college at Louisiana State University where a good friend introduced him to John Waters movies, he says.

“Being from New Orleans, I was introduced to drag at a very early age,” he says. “Straight and gay people did drag for Mardi Gras! The character of Varla was born after reading Ethel Merman’s autobiography. Ethel Merman and Ernest Borgnine were married for only 38 days. In her memoir, she has a chapter entitled ‘My Marriage to Ernest Borgnine.’ You turn the page, and it is blank. I always believed that if they would’ve had a child, Ethel Merman would’ve sent it to an orphanage in Louisiana because a child was too painful of a reminder of her sour broken union. That is how Varla was born!”

Audiences will also get to hear Roberson talk about his famous “Tic-Taccident,” where the performer fell on a Tic-Tac and injured himself, ending up in a wheelchair.

‘There is definitely some truth to the phrase “laughter is the best medicine,'” he says. “I really did it all for myself to process it. Even though I laugh at it, it was a traumatic event to suddenly be in a wheelchair. I have total utmost respect for anyone dealing with a physical disability, short or long term. Out of tragedy comes great art…or a dancing Tic Tac box that tries to maim me!”

Roberson has accomplished many things in his career. He starred in the musical Lucky Guy opposite Leslie Jordan in New York at the Little Schubert in 2011, guest starred as Varla Jean on Ugly Betty in the final season and was also featured on season 5 of Bravo’s Project Runway. What has been most rewarding, however, is traveling the country and making audiences laugh, and the performer says he has no plans to slow down. 

“I have been on Broadway, sung at Carnegie Hall and the Sydney Opera house, and made multiple television appearances,” he says. “But still, performing on a plywood-covered pool table in a dive bar can be just as satisfying. I am very happy exactly where I am!”

What: Varla Jean Merman’s Stand by Your Drag
When: May 3
Where: Midtown Arts and Theater Center Houston (MATCH) 3400 Main St,

FB Comments

Connor Behrens

Connor Behrens is a communications graduate from the University of Houston. He has written for the Washington Post, Community Impact Newspaper and the Galveston County Daily News (the oldest newspaper in Texas). When he's not writing stories, he is likely watching the latest new release at the movie theater.
Back to top button