Keeping the San Francisco Drag King Contest exciting in its 18th year means — to paraphrase a line from drag legend RuPaul — going back to its roots.
While previous years have featured celebrities like The Go-Go's Jane Wiedlin and Mo B. Dick of John Waters' "Pecker" fame, this year's event, on Saturday at Space 550, promises an all-star cavalcade of kings, including past winners.
Favorites DeeDee Luxe (who appears in this month's Vanity Fair), Leigh Crow (aka Artist Formerly Known as Elvis Herselvis), hip-hop artists The Momma's Boys, Prince impersonator Jay Walker and International Ms. Leather titleholder Piston Chambers all are scheduled to appear.
Judges include entertainers Alotta Boutte, Rusty Hips, Anna Conda and Shack "The Shack" Shackwell.
"There is incredible variety in the talents these kings bring to the stage," show producer, co-emcee and performer Fudgie Frottage says. "We've had everything from contortionists to live hip-hop, magicians, wrestlers, jugglers, you name it — whoever has the most talent wins."
Following the competition is an after-party, with DJ Olga T, Downtown Donna and D.I.E.; the show benefits Pets Are Wonderful Support.
The Drag King Contest debuted at the Eagle Tavern in 1994 to showcase talented male impersonators. In 1997, Frottage — a longtime club promoter — took over, turning it into an annual event, where winners and runners-up win hundreds of dollars in prizes.
"The contest has expanded to a bigger audience and my goal is to keep making it grow," Frottage says. "You can make a 'That's what she said' joke here, if you like."
While it's virtually impossible to narrow down an all-time favorite performance among the many acclaimed showmen who have graced the Drag King Contest stage, regulars still rave about the Rusty Hips' Billy Idol impersonation and Jay Walker's Prince.
"The key to successful 'kinging' is to take a stereotype and exaggerate it," Frottage says. "So at the show you will see kings with a lot of attitude: cocky, sexy, silly, whatever fits their individual character and music choice. Depending on the venue, I may hear people ask, 'Is that a guy?'"
While his show has done its due diligence in spotlighting drag kings, it's not lost on Frottage that drag queens still reign supreme, at least in terms of numbers and celebrity. But gender inequality is not what this show is all about.
"When I perform as Fudgie, 99 percent of my numbers are comedy and 1 percent are political," Frottage says. "The goal was, and still is, to have fun — it's a huge costume party. Here you are going to see big-budget production numbers with choreography, elaborate costumes, props and concept. The contestants are all extremely creative and talented and the show is full of surprises."
IF YOU GOSan Francisco Drag King Contest
Where: Space 550, 550 Barneveld Ave., S.F.
When: 10 p.m. Saturday
Tickets: $20 to $25
Contact: (415) 282-2363, www.sfdragkingcontest.com