Get with the drag queens

Kicking off Chico Pride weekend with Mini Merna and her lively variety show

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Pride Weekend
Aug. 22-24
Friday: teen dance, 6-9 p.m., at Trinity United Methodist Church; variety show, 8 p.m., at Chico Women’s Club. Saturday: AIDS walk/run, 8 a.m., Cedar Grove; Pride Festival, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., City Plaza; adult dance, 7:30 p.m., Chico Women’s Club. Sunday: community brunch, 9 a.m., Oak Grove in Bidwell Park.

“The biggest misconception is that we’re comfortable doin’ what we’re doin,” drag queen Mini Merna drawls into the camera in a video interview posted to YouTube last year. “It costs a lot to look this cheap.”

The clip was filmed on the back patio of the Maltese Bar & Tap Room, which, with its monthly Dragopolis event, is the central performance outlet for Chico’s drag scene. In just less than 90 seconds, Merna manages to cram in a few generous handfuls of double-entendres, all smeared—like so much cheap mascara—with a healthy dose of her trademark trash and sass.

Merna is arguably the most visible (along with Dragopolis organizer Claudette deVersailles) of Butte County’s drag queen performers, a notoriety developed through 10 years of putting on drag shows and other events through Mini Merna Productions. As Stonewall Alliance Chico continues ramping up annual Pride events that began in 2011, Merna is a natural fit as the event’s entertainment coordinator, a role she’s filled since 2012. This year’s three-day Pride event kicks off Friday (Aug. 22) with the Merna-hosted third annual Pride Variety Show, a bonanza featuring tons of largely offbeat local talent at the Chico Women’s Club.

“To be honest, in the beginning it was just a big ol’ drag show,” Merna said in an interview. “But it’s evolved to include all kinds of musicians, dancers and other local entertainers who are, in my opinion, local celebrities.”

Merna said she starts planning the variety show each year in February. Performers this year include hula hoopist Meg Amor, a half-dozen local drag kings, musicians and dance troupes. And, of course, there will be plenty of drag queens on stage at the kickoff—14 to be exact, including several members of the Imperial Sovereign Court of the Czaristic Dynasty (ISCCD) of Chico, the local chapter of a nationwide nonprofit organization focused on equality. (Merna said she got her start dressing and performing with the local ISCCD 13 years ago.) Among the cadre of queens performing will be Jessica Wild, a reality television celebrity from RuPaul’s Drag Race.

A highlight of the annual variety show, Merna said, is a fashion show portion where all of the performers are invited to strut down a catwalk.

Merna is also in charge of organizing entertainment at the weekend’s central event, Saturday’s Pride Festival at the downtown City Plaza. At that event, speeches by city officials, including Chico’s first openly gay mayor, Scott Gruendl, and other LGBTQ activists will be interspersed with dancers (Full Force Dance Company and the Chico Diamond Dancers), DJs and more drag.

In an effort to protect the Merna mystique, she requested her alter-identity not be included in print, but described her stage persona as “everything I was raised not to be.

“The main point of Merna is just to make people smile and laugh, and I know they’re laughing with me and not at me,” she said. “I know there’s some people who don’t smile and laugh at [drag], who don’t enjoy it at all, and that’s OK—to each their own.

“On the other hand, it’s 2014, people, you need to get with it. Fortunately, most people in Chico already have.”