Irma Gerd is best known as one of St. John’s prolific Drag Queens currently on stage. Though also known as Jason Wells, a visual artist from Corner Brook, while Irma Gerd “is the queen of any room she enters. She’s known for being a bit odd. That goes for both her personality and her looks,” as she describes herself.
She can be spotted across the room adorned in bright colours as she stands out from the crowd in neon yellow, bright pink and many hues in between.
Irma Gerd was recently featured on CBC’s Canada’s a Drag giving a shout out to the ever growing drag scene in St. John’s. She has a weekly show on Thursday evenings and she encourages everyone to super local to keep the momentum going, or as she says it “GET YOUR ASS TO A SHOW, BRENDA.”
We were lucky enough to have Irma Gerd for a Q and A and learn more about this fabulous multicoloured Queen.
When did you start performing ?
I began performing in 2012 when I lived in Toronto. I was involved with a monthly drag show where I painted styrofoam props that would often get smashed over people’s heads, and eventually found myself on stage being the head that smashed them. My first gig was as an Athenian townswoman getting her baby ripped away by Hades in a Mount Olympus themed spectacular.
What’s the drag scene like in Newfoundland ?
It’s growing! Just a few years ago it seemed like there were only 3-4 cities in Canada that really had a drag scene that people talked about, but in recent years they are cropping up more and more. St John’s is totally one of those cities. I mean it’s still small, my show is the only weekly/regular event in the city, but there are more groups of performers starting to put off shows. It seemed like for years every show I did I also had to organize, promote,and sometimes even sell the beer myself. Now I get to have gigs that I just getto do the most fun part of the job: performing!
Who do you look up to ?
I look up to a lot of people, I think a lot of why I do drag is to emulate women who I admire. Often it’s famous singers like Marina Diamandis,Amanda Palmer, Lizzo, or Nina Hagen. But also people in my life like friends and family. Also characters from TV, Irma is somewhere between Liz Lemon and Moira Rose.
What advice would you give to someone interested in drag?
Come support your local performers. A lot of people are ‘fans of drag’, but what they really mean is that they are fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race. They will spend $40 to go see a queen from Rupaul’s Drag Race lip-sync two songs, when they could come down to Treble Lounge on a Thursday and get a better show (just with slightly less famous people) that lasts all night long! People are doing things here in town that are way more interesting than a well timed deathdrop. However, they cannot continue to happen if people only support TV stars and not their local performers.
My advice: GET YOUR ASS OUT TO A SHOW, BRENDA.
Where did you get the confidence to start?
It took a lot of time for me to get the confidence I have now. I used to be a very shy nerd who was bullied into a shell. Drag was a way for me to finally crack that shell open and allow myself to be me. I also attribute it to one of my best friends, Sam Sferrazza, who lives in Toronto and is now a successful stand up comedian. I saw him living his true, authentic, and very GAY life, and he showed me that it’s not just ok to be gay, it’s a lot of fun. We started doing drag together, which was a way for me to act confident when maybe I wasn’t. After a while, I learned how to fake being confident well enough that it just stopped being fake.
What’s your favourite thing to do in St. John’s ?
I love walking around downtown, going for coffee and flipping throughrecords. My boyfriend and I enjoy driving down to places like LeManche for an afternoon. I like checking out what is happening at the art galleries. But also I love just staying home in my living and room playing video games!
What was it like starring for CBC’s Canada’s a Drag?
I think it was great for them to get somebody in Newfoundland.We are all too familiar with things being marketed as ‘nation-wide’, but mysteriouslyending in Halifax. So when I got the call that they had picked me I was really flattered. Canada’s a Drag is a really great showcase of the talent we have inour country. I think they did a really good job with it and I’m happy that I got to be involved.
What is your favourite part about drag?
I love lying!! I love that I can pretend to be someone that I’mnot. I talked about this in another question where I can pretend to be confident, though which I actually learned confidence. I can act in ways that I’d never act in my regular life. I make jokes that are a lot bolder than I normally am, and basically social rules just stop applying to me! It’s like having on a mask that lets you decide your identity.
How did you think of the name ?
I love a pun drag name, so it’s a game my friends and I would play. We’d take pop culture things and try to spin it into a name. In 2012 the Ermagherd Gersbermps meme was at it’s peak, and it came out of a drunken afternoon on a patio. I like that it makes people laugh. Some people get it right away, and others have to have it spelled out for them. But the most common reaction is people going OH MY GOD, and then I correct their pronunciation.
What are some challenges you have faced ?
It’s been a bit of a challenge since moving back to create a culture here where. I can make a living doing what I love. In big cities like Toronto there are drag shows every night. I worked very hard to create gigs for myself, and then to be paid fairly to perform at other places. I think we are getting to a good place now, but it’s not perfect. There are so many performers in town now that when you turn down a show because the pay is too low, there is likely someone who is willing to do it for less. So like, good for them, they got the gig, but it undercuts those of us that have been working to establish fair wages.
What have you learned along the way?
I’ve learned a lot of skills that go into the creation of a look – sewing, hairstyling,makeup, I’ve made countless different props, headpieces, and things out of materialsI’ve never worked with before. But also I’ve learned how to talk to a room of people and keep their attention, I’ve become a better dancer, and every blue moon I’ll sing something live. I’ve learned a lot of things that have helped me become a better performer, and I can do pretty much everything involved by myself. I’m my own fully customizable barbie doll!
What would you say is distinct about your art?
I think most drag queens consider themselves to be shapeshifters, but I feel like I am even moreso. There are a lot of types of queens – comedy queens, pageant queens, artsy weirdo queens… but I jump around in between categories. I don’t let anything limit what I want to do. I think this makes me especially odd because nobody can peg down what I’m going to do next!
Check out Irma Gerd on instagram @queen.irmagerd
All photos were submitted