Chico drag performers serve virtual elegance


Joseph Lau, who performs as J-Lau, is a local drag performer based in Chico. During quarantine, Lau has participated in a new online wave of drag shows, usually done through livestreams. Courtesy of Joseph Lau

Among Chico’s renowned nightlife and social scene, the drag community is one that is prominent and growing. The shelter-in-place order has changed the way the drag scene can promote itself. In what has become an era of virtual entertainment, local drag performers have risen to the occasion to provide drag fanatics their fill of glitz and glamour in a time when it is needed most.

Joseph Lau, who performs under the name J-Lau (@ladyjlau on Instagram), is a Chico-based drag performer who has been part of the community since 2015.

Lau said that although the Chico drag community is small, “the queens of Chico are all aware of each other for the most part, so we try to support each other as much as we can. There’s a few of us and we’ve been keeping in touch through the pandemic because we’re all really close to each other.”

He said that as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many bars and clubs that once served as venues for drag performers are shut down, creating a need for an alternative setting for their performances.

“Being a drag queen, we really rely heavily on performance venues like that, so we typically make a lot more money doing drag than at our day jobs,” Lau said.

As the urgency for a new venue for drag entertainment has become an issue, many queens and performers have resorted to putting on shows via live stream or on social media.

Lau explained the fundamentals of online drag shows and how performers can still try to make money without access to live venues.

“The way the online drag shows work is it’s an open room,” Lau said. “Most of the shows there’s no mandatory cover charge since it’s all online and not everyone is in a stable financial place right now. So our intention with the online shows is to provide entertainment for people who do enjoy drag.”

Lau said that the way queens can earn money is from voluntary tips left by viewers of a live stream.

“For each performance, they’ll invite each performer on their Instagram to take turns to live stream with the host, and with that, we can attach our Venmo, our Cash App or our PayPal for any viewers who would like to tip us,” Lau said.

Lau’s last live performance was Sunday night during an Instagram live stream called Tropicalia, hosted by Southern California queen, Paradisa LaHore (@gregory.paradisa). Online shows, like Tropicalia, feature drag queens performing songs, lip-sync, choreography and theatrical sets.

Shows like Tropicalia “help drag queens still bring in a supplemental income,” Lau said.

J-Lau has an upcoming online show that will be hosted by Pam Cakez (@pamdoesglam) on Instagram on May 1, as well as other future shows that interested viewers can get information about via Instagram.

“The entire drag industry right now all over the world is suffering, because none of us can perform and none of us are making our living,” Lau said, adding that in the future the local drag community hopes to put on more shows to promote the active drag scene that Chico has to offer.

Danielle Kessler can be reached at [email protected] or @reserv0irpups on Twitter.