Watch Drag Queens Smack Down at New Orleans’ Wildest Event of the Year
At this drag wrestling show, the phrase “slay, queen” gets taken literally.
At a warehouse in an industrial area of New Orleans, 400 screaming fans boo and cheer simultaneously as Jassy—an evil capitalist real estate “invest-her”—gets dragged to the wrestling ring by her gigantic fake breasts. One boob has the word ‘FREE’ written on it. The other, ‘MARKET.’ “They're too big to fail,” taunts Gorlëënyah, the show’s goblin-green host, from her throne atop the stage.
Jassy—and her assets—proceed to get tossed around the ring by a dirty cop who’s punishing her for stealing top-secret files (they’re for tops only). But with a few well-executed roundhouse kicks and a swift somersault, Jassy turns the tide. Soon, she's motor-boating the cop atop the turnbuckle and getting away with those files.
This is Choke Hole, a raunchy, satirical drag wrestling show that’s become a tradition in New Orleans come carnival season each year—though 2022's comeback edition, “ThE ReBoOt,” nearly got shut down by authorities.
“I've never felt so upset and so excited so close together,” said Jassy, a NOLA drag queen and co-founder of Choke Hole. Just days before the 2022 show, organizers announced that the beloved event—which, save for a hiatus during the past two years, has run annually since 2017—might be canceled following an unofficial warning from a Louisana commission, which stated that all wrestlers would be arrested if the show went on due to a state law mandating all boxers and wrestlers hold a special license.
But as the bright lights dimmed under the giant disco ball on the first of two back-to-back sold-out showings in the Zony Mash microbrewery on February 24, there was Jassy on the big screen declaring, “Recycling is a liberal scam,” and demanding the screaming crowd’s affection. “What about Jassy? Don’t I deserve admiration?”
Like Jassy’s faux chest pillows, it seems that Choke Hole, too, is too big to fail. Founded in the wake of Netflix’s Glow on the floor of New Orleans’ Hi-Ho Lounge by drag collective High Profile, the show has since exploded in popularity and production value. I watched (and hooted and hollered) as costumed, bead-and-fishnet-wearing fans lost their freaking minds as drag queens jostled—and stripped—inside the ring.
In the show’s kick-off round, a pre-recorded video skit shows a bad date gone wrong (the date’s favorite authors are Ayn Rand and J.K. Rowling) leading to a “TERF war” match that involves one wrestler shaking her butt in the face of her opponent, which closely resembles WWE Hall of Fame wrestler Rikishi’s stink face. In another, a satanic lesbian daughter fights and ultimately kills her religious zealot mother with a giant upside-down cross to the butthole.
But while Choke Hole features wrestling (there’s also a couple of drag striptease segments), it isn’t meant to rival the WWE. “To me, it's not a professional wrestling show,” Jassy says. “It's a parody of wrestling and it's this large stage show that incorporates wrestling or choreographed fighting as just another tool or element to express our heart.”
For Jassy, Choke Hole is a satire of pro wrestling, which has historically failed to depict queer people in a positive light despite being blatantly homoerotic. “[Wrestling] is very sexualized. It's very drama. It's costumes. It’s makeup and theatrics. It’s all these things the LGBT and the queer community love,” Jassy says. “And so as a kid I did not like wrestling or I did not relate to it because I thought that it was beyond me, but as an adult looking at it from a clear lens I'm like, ‘Oh, this is everything that I love.’”
Whereas pro sports entertainment gives an illusion of reality, Choke Hole leans into outlandishness. In one round, a nearly-nude dominatrix throws her sub in a suitcase and hauls them all the way from Chicago (she says she’ll do anything for 50 bucks) to tour New Orleans, eat beignets at Cafe du Monde, and brawl in the ring. During the match, the dom uses a handheld power tool to spray fiery sparks from her chastity belt onto her sub’s butt. “No one thinks that this is real life,” Jassy explains. “We are playing up on the campiness. We are playing up the theatricality of it. The fakeness of it.”
Choke Hole also distances itself from pro wrestling by blurring the lines between villain and hero, with neither representing pure good nor evil. “My character is this evil businesswoman, capitalist, landlord, and real estate investor, and she only cares about herself and her bottom line,” Jassy said. “But she also still has some redeeming qualities [and sometimes still does] things in a way that you can, like, empathize with or can see how she got there.”
In fact, Jassy has found herself wrestling with the nationwide dilemma of gentrification in her own life as a new homeowner who rents to a long-term tenant. “It's funny, I've been this evil landlord character for about four years now and over COVID, I bought a New Orleans double. So I now live in one side of my house and am renting out the other, and that's why I'm saying that there's good and bad to all of our characters,” she said. “I don't think that all landlords are evil, but certainly I think that it's an easy way to exploit people. I'm trying to learn from my character about what not to do as a new landlord.”
Of course, satire and complexity are nothing new for Mardi Gras. Back in the early 1900s, historians say the predominantly-Black Krewe of Zulu parodied the way white New Orleanians celebrated Mardi Gras. Many of today’s krewes also riff on politics; Krewe du Vieux, for example, handed out fake syringes labeled “ivermectin” during their 2022 parade to poke fun at the COVID conspiracy theories that have run wild during the last two years. “Choke Hole is all about the same ethos that Mardi Gras is,” Jassy says.
In the wake of this year’s near-cancellation, Choke Hole is hoping for more stability in the future. They’re pining for a TV show à la RuPaul’s Drag Race or Queer as Folk, a campy reboot being shot in New Orleans that inspired Choke Hole’s 2022 reboot theme.
But if Hollywood doesn’t come calling, Choke Hole hopes to do more shows in and outside of Louisiana. They already performed last summer at Lady Land in New York ahead of headliner Christina Aguilera, as well as in Hamburg and Berlin, thanks to a grant. “We're talking about maybe bringing the show to Chicago in the summer and we also are thinking about trying to put together a domestic tour,” Jassy said.
For Jassy and Choke Hole, the show is more than the controversy it has faced. And it’s more than a satire of how queer wrestling is. It’s also about showing the many facets of humanity and femininity. “It's just great to be able to fucking show how powerful you are,” she says. “We can be really feminine and show that off and be really queer, but also really strong. The two aren't separate, they can go hand in hand.”
And yes, it’s also about kicking ass. “Yeah, we love to beat the shit out of each other in a contained, respectful way,” Jassy laughed.