10 Questions with Joan-E

John Bello Photography; 1181 Vancouver

What makes a legend most? Joan-E is an iconic performer and activist in the Canadian drag scene where she is well-known and respected by artists and politicians across the country. Joan-E is known for quick-wit, live vocals and advocacy work within the LGBT community. She has even worked in film along such stars as Toni Collette and Debbie Reynolds. In Vancouver, Joan-E's weekly show can be seen Sunday nights at 1181 on Davie Street. Last week, I had the pleasure of interviewing Joan-E with ten rapid-fire questions...

First thing's first - what’s the story behind your drag name?

My name for years was spelled Joanie. Everyone always spelled it wrong. I never wanted a last name and didn’t ever want to change my name as my career was already established. Then I became very good friends with one of my heroes, a drag queen from Reno, Nevada named Jack-E. The night I stepped down as Empress XXVIII of Vancouver, Jack-E, who is a real big f*cking deal in drag circles, (after being SO cool that she checked first with my best friend Justine Tyme to confirm that I would indeed want this) made me her drag daughter and changed the spelling of my name to Joan-E.  

My name never changed, but the meaning behind the spelling sure did. Edwards is her last name. We only use it on Facebook as one needs to have a last name there. Otherwise, we are Jack-E and Joan-E, and for that I am honoured. Occasionally, however, I am asked if I am an ecstasy dealer. 

I love that! From what I've seen, Jack-E is one glamorous queen who knows her craft well! With that said, who inspires you both in and out of drag?

My drag mother Jack-E, who is a shining example of what a drag queen can be. My best friend Justine Tyme who is a shining example of what talent looks like. My friend Diana Rose who taught me (before her passing over a decade ago) just how much love you can have for a friend. And every cool young person I meet. Oh, and Bette Midler!

I was also inspired early on by the very talented and very well known queen from Edmonton who told me that I should never do drag and that I wouldn't succeed as a drag queen. I've spent about two decades hoping that I've proved her wrong. 

I think we all have those people we're trying to prove wrong - that negativity can act as a strong motivator when you're starting out! That's what has propelled me every step of the way in my career, including in creating IshTalk. There are many people who still think I'm crazy for trying to establish myself as a serious blogger.

You're very seasoned and I'm sure you're approached all the time by kids who want to try drag. What advice do you give to those new performers who ask you for guidance?

Find your character. Learn your craft. Perform for your audience and not just for yourself. Be very good to the established gurls (or they will crush you). Get yourself great drag sisters be easy to work with.  Get help.  Don’t ever let someone tell you that you can’t be a drag queen. And because it bears repeating, get yourself great drag sisters!

There is definitely a renewed interest in drag among kids in the clubs these days. What are your thoughts on rise the prevalence of drag in popular culture and what do you attribute that to?

It certainly has opened up in popularity in the main stream. RuPaul had a lot to do with that. And there are WAY more queens than there were ten years ago. I’m honoured to be part of an ever growing family of gifted, crazy and never boring group of artists, f*ck ups, community activists, philanthropists, entertainers that are the “clowns” of our community. 

I'm a huge fan of drag - it breaks all the rules of convention and what society says is acceptable. Any man who can strut down the street in a lacefront and pumps is my personal hero. Now, back to advice, what is some of the best advice you have ever received?

"Foot prints in the sands of time are not made by a man sitting down."
"Don’t trouble trouble until trouble troubles you." 
"Don’t cross that bridge till you get there."  
"Don’t sh*t where you eat ."
"Never put the c*ck on payroll."
"Never try to be someone you are not unless someone else is paying you to be." 
"Use manners and proper language."
"Enter loudly, leave quietly."

This advice comes from my father, my mother and my first boss, Andrew.

I love that - a lot of great wisdom there, which I'm sure has attributed greatly to your success. Speaking of which, you have had quite a successful and prominent drag career... including in film! Which would you say has been the most rewarding?

The first time I “brought the house down” was a memorable moment. 

I had had a very rough and slow drag start. I was big, awkward, had not found my character and had not yet connected with any audience. I felt frustrated and was more than aware that I was getting less applause exiting the stage than I even got entering it. Which was polite golf clapping at best. Then one night I performed in a huge fundraiser I had begged to get into. And it happened. Right night. Right number. Right queen.

Being crowned Empress of Vancouver, stepping down as Empress, and meeting The Honourable Prime Minister Paul Martin in drag. Hosting the Vancouver Pride for 15 years now and receiving the Queen Elizabeth Golden and Diamond Jubilee medals as a drag queen were all highlights. Another recent highlight was having Justin Trudeau co-host Friends For Life’s Bingo For Life with me (which I am proud to have hosted for 19 years).

"Connie and Carla" was amazing. I’m a gay man who got to dress in drag and dance and sing with Debbie Reynolds... and I met one of my best friends, Alec Mapa. Perfect!

The last night of the Odyssey nightclub I closed the bar with my last Feather Boa show was a stand-out. I had performed every Sunday night for almost 16 years. It was an emotional evening to say the least.  And the night I did the first Feather Boa show was also a highlight.

There are a lot of queens who would love to have a career like you have had so far. Now, is there anything you haven’t done in your career yet that you’d like to focus on

I would love to do more film. Be a regular on a TV talk show and to get a book published.

Onto some of your philanthropic work, how long have you been involved with Friends for Life? What has working with the organization taught you?

I have been involved with Friends For Life for all of their 20 years. Working with an HIV/AIDS and cancer organization has taught me perspective.  My “bad day” could be way worse than it is. It has taught me what “community” can really mean.  It has shown me the best of what people can be and that our time here on earth is most precious.

Now, you’ve been in Vancouver for quite a few years now. What is it that you love so much about the city?

Vancouver is physically just absolutely beautiful.  The West End is like a small village with tons of gay people and 24 hr everything. Stanley Park is spectacular. It is a walking city and I have an incredible group of friends here. And I have also had a few spectacular kisses here…

Last question, for all the kids out there who have never seen you perform, where can they see you perform live and what can they expect?

I do a Sunday show at 1181 in Vancouver each Sunday at 11:15 PM. We meet for drinks at 10:30. It is a small lounge so I perform with only one guest.  It is intimate.  I am literally performing in the middle of the crowd. I love it. After the Odyssey, 1181 is my favourite bar to be working in ever.