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Dungeons and Drag Queens!: Invading Middle Earth for comedy

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Issa Man, Killer Bunny, Kylie Mooncakes — Photo by Kaleb Danko
Issa Man, Killer Bunny, Kylie Mooncakes — Photo by Kaleb Danko

Imagine, for a minute, a familiar scene: a vast mine dug deep into the heart of a mountain. The reclusive and stubborn Dwarves who built the place have been bewitched by a phantom noise from below, and the party of adventurers who intended to save them are now surrounded on the edge of a bottomless crevasse. The king of the Dwarves calls his people to vote, to either let these intruders go, or try to push them into the pit.

Yet this is not the ensemble cast of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. They're drag queens, and according to Dungeons and Drag Queens! showrunner Paul Curry, they do things differently. On the way to saving these Dwarves, the adventurers had tried to pickpocket some, and inadvertently gotten others killed. And now, facing a small army of them, the queens took it a step further by pushing the Dwarven king into the pit first. And the crowd loved it.

This is just one moment of many from Curry's monthly in-person Dungeons & Dragons shows, in which Curry, the Dungeon Master, narrates and plays the supporting cast while three drag queens play the main characters in a comedic tabletop adventure.

Those familiar with Dungeons & Dragons have likely shared the table with a "wild card" — another player who, when the action slows down, will do something unexpected to keep things moving, for better or for worse. Curry says these queens "dial that up to 11," which is comedy gold when he places them in a fantasy world that "plays itself semi-seriously."

"Drag queens have... very powerful personalities," Curry said of his reasoning for the idea.

Paul Curry — Photo by Kaleb Danko  

Meanwhile, Curry plays the side characters in a "realistic" way, which means they often end up bewildered and confused by the queens' sudden breaches in genre expectations. That contrast, and what Curry describes as a somewhat "antagonistic" relationship between the Dungeon Master and the players, also serves to "accentuate and elevate the voices of the queens, to make their voices more epic."

And it wouldn't be a comedy show without working the crowd a bit. The Dwarves in the scene described above weren't just Curry. They were the audience at the venue, who were prompted, as the Dwarves, to either cheer or jeer for the drag queens. Between the queens, the audience, and the mood-setting music improvised live by Carson Grubb (Instagram https://www.instagram.com/carsongrubb/), the experience is richly layered, Curry said, and hilarious.

Curry also made it clear that Grubbs's contribution couldn't be overstated, since the energy onstage is "bound to the music," and having to DJ from a laptop would be distracting and limiting. Canned music just isn't versatile enough for an event with so much improv.

Photo by Kaleb Danko  

It's no wonder, then, that the show has been a hit, even given the pandemic's deep cut into the performing arts scene. One early showing actually oversold tickets, and feedback so far has been "all positive," Curry reported.

The show's usual venue is Jai Thai, located on Capitol Hill, which is fitting considering the district is a nexus for both drag shows and tabletop gaming.

For those interested, Curry says anyone unfamiliar with Dungeons & Dragons won't have to worry about learning all the rules; the audience is given flyers that explain the basics well enough to enjoy the experience as much as any D&D veteran would.

The show started when Curry and two of his friends — drag queen Issa Man and musician Carson Grubb — came together around the idea. Curry said he started playing D&D in college, and had run live sessions with comedians in the past. Adding the queens to the mix was just a matter of making the right connections.

As for the future, Curry said he is especially excited for a much larger show coming up, at Hale's Ales Palladium on March 3. Tickets for that show and others can be purchased online from Comedy on Broadway's Eventbrite page for $20.

With continued success, Curry says, he hopes to record the show for podcasts, and even partner with artists for animated segments.