Of the many drag performers who've graced the set of "RuPaul's Drag Race," Pandora Boxx remains a personal favorite.
With a wry comic edge that can leap into slapstick or caricature, Boxx's performances balance classic drag with contemporary pop sensibility. She'll be performing in San Francisco on September 6, 7 & 8 at Rebel.
This isn't Boxx's first time in the Bay. She recently performed at the Gay Gaymer convention, and had a blast.
"It was the first LGBT game event, and about two thousand people were there," she said. "I'm a nerd myself. I outed myself as a gamer."
Asked if drag and video games go well together, Boxx reminded me of the video game portion of RuPaul's "Dragopolis," where she is a character.
Born Michael Steck in Rochester, New York, Boxx may be one of the more well-adjusted drag performers to have expanded her career post-RuPaul. Part of that may be due to her appreciation of drag's legacy.
"There's character drag vs. being in drag," Boxx explained. "It's about more than looking good."
The concept of being visually compelling isn't enough. "I think that's changed with Sharon Needles and Jinxx Monsoon, who are quirky, comic, but also can look great."
Boxx got some ribbing on Season 2 from younger contestants for being a 'theatrical queen.' But Boxx brushed their barbs off as backhanded compliments.
"I know my drag history," she said. "I knew RuPaul and also Lady Bunny and Coco Peru and all these queens." Pre-Boxx, the young Steck studied theater, so yes, this queen has been schooled.
Although Boxx said that while the Rochester nightlife scene includes some fun drag venues, "It's a small city with a good gay population," she added, New York called.
Steck says his Pandora Boxx persona was his first drag incarnation, "from the very beginning. It's a side of me that stands out, for sure. I tend to be a little shy around people I don't know. With Pandora, this entity -- some might say demon! -- like the mythological tale, was unleashed. Pandora is blond and slutty, and that's just within me to be."
As Pandora, Steck said, "I could do anything I want onstage, like Miss Hannigan from Annie, or acts I'd never be able to play elsewhere. I idolize women like Madeline Kahn and Goldies Hahn, women who play ditzy roles, but who are smart."
Boxx's act includes backstage stories from the show, songs live and lipsynched, and some catty comic moments. Since the "Drag Race" contest, Boxx has made music video parodies, comic short films and even penning a few saucy songs, like "Nice Car (Shame About Your Penis"). It's all part of the creative spirit his character thrives on.
" 'Drag Race' changed the game again and really brought it to the mainstream," said Boxx. "Because it's ongoing, you do have to put yourself out here. You have to try and put your hand in every jar out there. It's all about staying relevant. 'Drag Race' was an amazing opportunity. But it's what you do afterward."
Pandora Boxx: Lick This Boxx! $22.50. 7:30pm & 10pm, nightly Sept 6, 7 and 8. Rebel, 1760 Market St. www.pandoraboxx.com www.brownpapertickets.com