Inspiration can sometimes spring from the most unlikely places. Newton's apple, Archimedes' bath, John Travulva's drag persona. Sure, one of these things is not like the others; it's much more important. Jodie Mitchell, the person behind "quietly macho" Travulva, found their voice after their improv instructor told them they weren't confident enough.
"But I am quite confident, so that didn't really make sense," they say. "One day I started doing characters that were seen to be masculine. I'd go on with a deeper voice, shout at people and tell them what to do. This is actually quite bad improv practice, but people stopped talking over me immediately."
They'd discovered that "confident" is a synonym for "masculine". And masculine, it seemed, was funny. They found audiences trusted them more and the laughs came easier – they were actually recruited into renowned drag troupe Pecs pretty soon after making this realisation.
Exploring masculinity in all its forms – toxic, fragile, positive – is a king's bread and butter. Mitchell's specific area of expertise is utopian masculinity: masculinity that is feminist, intersectional and that listens.
"When you take the toxicity of men and put it on stage in its purest form, you're just retraumatising your audience a lot of the time. I want to hold a mirror up to it in a way audiences can enjoy."
So, Travulva is a feminist in his own way. He's annoying and he hasn't quite dropped his deep-rooted mansplaining, but he's not aggressive. He's funny and he's doing his best for a Glaswegian ex-Catholic who is – Mitchell admits – 100% inspired by daddy issues.
Similarly turning ingrained notions of masculinity on their head are Oasissy – an Oasis-inspired semi-tribute, semi-piss-take comprising Agent Cooper and King Biff. They perform ostensibly as the Gallagher brothers, but their portrayal of the pair has changed since they began.
John Truvulva, photo by Corrine Cumming
"It was too much of a straight copy," says Biff. "Over the years, we're bringing much more of ourselves and our politics into it. It's really fun to be playful and ask what it would be like if we showed their softer or more feminine or queer sides. We're not actually being Oasis."
Their show, Don't Look Back in Anger, Babes, is a party for the end of the world. As they were putting it together, a lot of the conversations the duo had were about their fears and the world and the future and how overwhelming it all was.
"But we also spoke about how Oasissy help us to be a little braver," says Biff.
Cooper adds, "We want to impart some of the ways in which embodying these characters help us face the world."
When you're dealing with the Gallagher brothers, their swagger, often-toxic opinions and general laddiness can be overwhelming.
"There's a lot of pleasure in embodying the characters and dispensing with that," says Cooper. "Just being fully queer beings."
And while fear – of the world and the future and, particularly, of scary white men – can be debilitating, it can also spur new artistic practices, create confidence and help acts build safer spaces for themselves and others.
"It's powerful to celebrate and take the piss at the same time. It's not a safe place to be a gender diverse person and I feel really paralysed by that sometimes," Biff adds. "But the power of drag has always been a middle finger to that fear. Drag's helped me change the way I carry myself in public, the way I communicate. To stop apologising for myself so much."
For Daisy Doris May, aka Steve Porters, developing a king persona helped them explore and open up their gender identity too. On top of this, they found allies in a fairly unlikely place: the garage run by their neighbours.
Daisy Doris May, photo courtesy of the artist
"I'm experimenting with drag and I take out the bins, and they're on the road and they see me," they explain. "I was like a rabbit in the headlights. [They work in] this quite traditional masculine environment – they're going to judge me."
Instead, they couldn't have been more impressed. Far from being labelled a freak or laughed at, as May feared, the men invited Steve to do some work experience at the garage. When Steve asked for some man-to-man advice, one of the guys responded with "love everybody".
"It was a penny drop moment," says May. "Through Steve I became closer to this circle of men I thought were laddy. But they weren't laddy, they're the most sensitive, gorgeous humans. And Steve was a vehicle for me to get closer to them, closer to men."
This is what the character of Steve is all about – he harks back to Mitchell's idea of utopian masculinity. He's trying to share his buds of wisdom with other men in a way that does nothing more dangerous than encouraging more spooning in the world. In How to Flirt: The Ted XXX Talk, Steve and May – grapple with balancing toxic and positive masculinity, asking questions like: How is society giving space to men to be vulnerable? How are men supposed to cry? Who are the role models and what are the lessons?"
May adds: "Steve has been on a journey of listening, learning and loving. He's naive, but he's got a heart of gold," says May. "There are elements of Steve I love that are pure and that are beautiful and I want to see more of that in men."