The long-running queer storytelling show TELL, hosted and curated by the hilarious and charming Drae Campbell*, offers a communal confessional for LGBTQ+ artists that audiences can join in person at a quaint bookshop or online on the third Saturday of every month.
On the second floor of The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in the West Village resides the Bureau of General Services—Queer Division, a bookstore with baby pink walls that smells faintly of patchouli. A sharply-dressed, friendly crowd of a wide variety of ages, ethnicities and genders buzzes around titles such as Gayface and Butch Lesbians of the 50s, 60s, and 70s as they make their way to their seats. This evening’s theme is “smut,” a term Campbell feels compelled to define for the youngs in the audience (if you are one such young, it means sexually explicit or pornographic material), an expression that is basically a siren call for yours truly. Please, please, please tell me all about your toilet parts.
Campbell, a seasoned actor who has been touring with Off Broadway sensation The Nosebleed and whose TV appearances include New Amsterdam and Bull, welcomes the “porn-loving smut-grubbers” in the audience with a story about the famously gay Riis Beach, wherein a random Karen tries and fails to get queer nude revelers arrested. A different kind of happy ending!
Next up is a story about orgies from Rudy Ramirez, a director, writer and teaching artist from Massachusetts. I appreciate Ramirez’s assertion that orgies are only smutty for straight people, and that they’re just a normal part of gay life. In fact, Ramirez met their boyfriend of 2 ½ years at an orgy. But even the mundane can become memorable, as they discovered when a fellow orgy attendee surprised them by lubing up Ramirez’s virgin fist without warning. I practically choked on my tongue when Ramirez described their cheerful thought process as they decided to delve into a brand-new experience.
Playwright and Brooklyn College professor Diana Lobontiu kept things PG-13 with a tale of light choking, after which the tip cup (in this case, paper bag) was passed. Since there was no cover charge, the audience could have been more generous in this humble reviewer’s opinion. One can only hope there was some Venmo activity that I did not witness.
Rounding out the evening is Stonewall-era survivor and Vietnam veteran Renée Imperato, a chairperson of the SAGE Advisory Council and a member of the People’s Power Assembly who, as the children say, understood the assignment. Werrrking an extremely strong look with a black vinyl top, silver-chained black combat boots and a red vinyl cap, Imperato owned the room even before she hit the stage. And then she opened her mouth. Out flowed a thick New York accent spewing tales of fucking and sucking in the back seat of her taxi in the days when the city truly never slept. I could not get enough.
Coming in at just over an hour, TELL is a delightful way to get your Saturday night started. Each month boasts a different theme as well as new guests, with queer luminaries such as Becca Blackwell, World Famous *BOB*, TL Thompson, Ryan Haddad, and Diana Oh having graced the stage and screen of past shows. I recommend arriving early, since the limited seating will certainly be snapped up. Those who can’t wait for the next iteration can tide themselves over with the podcast of the same name.
*Full disclosure: I have been a fan, colleague, and friend of Drae’s for many years. My first encounter with Drae was when their band, The Pizzas, played at my dearly departed open mic, SHOW & TELL. We later performed together in Straight Up Vampire, a Paula Abdul jukebox musical about vampires in colonial Philadelphia. During my reign as Miss Fag Hag, I served as their lovely assistant when they took the crown at the Miss Lez Pageant.