Stand-up comic Rhod Gilbert faces the daunting challenge of performing as a woman in front of an audience, after coaching from one of the country's leading drag artists.
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'I'm Rhod Gilbert, stand-up comedian.
'People tell me I've got the toughest job in town,
'but I'm sure I'll find other things far more difficult.
'I'm ditching my job and trying something completely different.
'This is my work experience. And this week, I'm a drag artist.'
'In a few days' time, I'll be tucking my Clifford in my knickers and becoming support act
'to world-famous female impersonator Ceri Dupree. I was bricking it.
'Closest I've come to impersonating a woman
'is holding me girlfriend's handbag while she makes a call.
'I head to Femesque, a male to female makeover company.
'They could make the Gruffalo look like Audrey Hepburn.
'They stick on some rubber gloves, bend me over
'and find my inner woman.'
I have absolutely no idea what to expect from this. Quite nervous.
'Lynne and her team have been helping men look like women for over 15 years.
'And in a few hours, I'd be part of their portfolio.'
I'm here because I've got to be a female impersonator
and I didn't know where to start
and I thought, I'll go somewhere where they can make me into a woman,
maybe try out different...aspects of my character,
try and bring out the woman in me.
-Does that sound like it makes sense?
We're going to be doing the whole male to female transformation.
-Just to be clear, today, I'm not having a sex change?
We need to take you through a transformation,
which is to remove body hair, sort your eyebrows out,
get you into underwear and breast forms, padded pants,
to get that nice hourglass look that every girl wishes for.
-And we need a female name.
-You know, you just look like a Rachel, you know.
Rhona. It's got to be Rhona.
-That's Welsh, innit?
-Does it matter whether it's Welsh or not?
I'm dressed as a bloody woman, I don't give a shit whether I've got a Welsh name!
-Well, you could be more attractive as a woman than a guy.
I'll look like somebody's attacked Davina McCall with a hammer.
I'm pretty apprehensive. Probably more out of my comfort zone than I've ever been on this series.
I just don't know what to do. Being a drag artist, dressing as a woman.
I'm concerned about the flamboyant performance aspect.
I'm concerned that I'm going to make a dick of myself.
Albeit a dick that's tucked neatly between my legs.
So if you can just remove all your clothes
down to your undergarments and pop yourself on the bed.
This is the first part of the...transformation process.
'I looked like Chewbacca. Lynne and her partner in pain, Clare,
'would shave, wax, pluck and polish me until I looked more like C3PO.'
I'm just removing some of the long hair because it makes it more comfortable to be waxed.
How far up are you going?! Just stop when you get to my anus, yeah?
-I most definitely will.
-It's too late to go back, isn't it?
Yes. No going back.
The waxing will be about four weeks
before it comes back to the surface of your skin.
-Oh! You twat!
Calm down. Come on.
-Hold on tight.
Aye! Ah! Argh!
Oh, you...bell end!
-You need to man up, Rhod.
It's really not the aim of today, is it?
That's disgusting, that leg. It's horrible!
Hairy gorilla. This one's slender, smooth, sleek.
-You can't say it doesn't look like a sausage.
-It's like an athlete's leg.
'12 black bin bags of body hair later,
'and a team tending a two-storey hair bonfire in the backyard,
'I still look like Bungle.'
Ow! Ow! Ow!
My eyebrows look absolutely ridiculous.
I just look constantly surprised.
I'm starting to shape up into Sylvester Stallone's mother.
Can I have sideburns?
'My skin was already scorched,
'but it was out of the frying pan and into the fire.'
I'm going to really come into your personal space now.
Because I'm going to dress you. OK?
Right. So, first of all, a bra. So...
Right, OK. So let's try this one. It's a 36.
I think it'll be right across the size at the back.
You can kind of try and help me. Look like you're interested.
Breast forms. Just feel that.
-It's very odd feeling your own breasts.
-Especially on the inside.
That sticks to you...if you wanted.
-I could take my bra off and still have breasts?
-They'd stay there.
-I have to see that.
-I have to see myself with tits.
-Where are those breasts?
-Here they are.
Come on. Tit me up, Scotty.
'Michelle strategically positioned my adjustable nipples.
'Being a girl was a right faff. If I was a real woman,
'I'd get permanent breasts with built-in nipples.'
And then that bit of your skin...
-Oh, you weren't joking about the personal space.
-I told you!
Would this be the size breasts that a drag artist would have?
Some are much bigger. It depends how comedic you want to look. So, um...
-I don't know what I want yet. I'm not...
I'm not really in that mindset yet.
I know I'm standing here rubbing my nipples, but I'm not there yet.
Right, shall we get some knickers on now?
-I think that's the next stage.
-The next step.
If you put them on...
What do I do with my...lunch?
Um, you kind of tuck them up the back.
Sort of tuck them in the best you can.
Are those knickers too big, or are they OK?
Not sort of bulging out? It won't...?
OK. Right. If you come over here.
'Michelle was an expert in genital origami.
'She folded my man fanny like a demented pastry chef.
'I couldn't get at it if I tried. It was like Fort Knobs down there.'
We've probably taken an inch, two inches off your waist.
Pull those pants up just over there a wee bit. Yeah, just like that.
That's much sexier. That makes a big difference.
-No, no, no! I don't mean...!
-It really does.
-Once you get the moustache coming out, that really does lift it!
-I hadn't noticed that.
'Michelle thought I needed a bum transplant. Temporary booty Botox.
'She was the only person since Burke and Hare to have a drawer full of spare arses.'
It's definitely improved my arse.
See, you've got a bit of a bum now.
God, it's like a...black peach!
Look how impressive it is! It's just awesome!
You could run the world from that. Look at it!
I would wear that. I'd wear it onstage. Just at a normal gig.
'My new rented bottom was an all-conquering bum colossus.
'I was Gluteus Maximus, father to a murdered lunchbox.
'And as they womanified me, I started changing.'
Have a look in the mirror.
So, I mean, it's not you, is it?
It's not your body, looking in the mirror? I mean, shape-wise.
Look at that. What's that? What's that doing there?
What's that leg doing? What the hell is that doing?
What's nice for us is that you're naturally going with the flow.
I'm doing more than going with the bloody flow.
Look at me! I'm like Larry Grayson!
This is the weirdest thing ever.
-You've gone through quite a bit already to get to this stage.
-I suppose so.
The actual last bit, I think, with the makeup and the hair,
and then your final clothes...
I'm not sure if I want to go through the door.
We can tell by the way you look that you will look stunning as a woman.
However, we do not know exactly how you're going to come out.
'There was no going back. But I wasn't sure I wanted to be a woman at all.'
This bit of being a woman is pretty bad.
I haven't dealt with the rest of it. I haven't walked past a building site.
Oh, God, yeah.
I haven't failed to get on the board of a...
FTSE-100 company because of my gender.
'The team thought I looked like the girl next door. I agreed,
'provided you live next door to an unlicensed morgue.
'Time to work on my voice. I normally sound as feminine as a drill bit,
'so we tried some role-play.'
-You're just a guy, it's your local and I'm new in town. OK?
-I've just walked in, you've seen me.
-If you just close your eyes.
Would you say that, would you? It's too soon for that. Buy me a drink first.
-AS A MAN:
-Can I get you a drink, then?
You don't look like you want to buy me a drink.
-Right. You come in again.
Hi. Would you like a drink?
It's too aggressive.
What drink would you like, love?
-You sexist pig!
-I wouldn't mind if someone called me love.
-It's the feminist in me.
-I don't want to offend you.
-I was about to throw myself under a horse.
So, er...how are you? Can I get you a drink?
-AS A FEMALE:
-Are you offering to buy me...? Oh, I can't talk like that!
-I'd like, um...
Don't laugh in my face! I'm trying to get the voice right!
I'd like a gin and tonic, please.
Oh. Gin and tonic for the lady.
And I'll have a...Guinness.
-Just carry it on now and we'll just talk like this for a little bit.
Can I just get you...? I don't need to talk like a man now. OK.
-Can I just get you to close your eyes, please?
'The transformation was almost complete.
'I didn't fancy myself, but I found the experience erotic.
'I made a mental note to stop off in Ann Summers for Men.
'There was definitely a woman inside me struggling to get out.
'But when she finally emerged, the struggle had clearly taken its toll.
'I looked like a horse with an admin job.'
-AS A FEMALE:
That's the hair and makeup. That's the...
-That's the hair and makeup done.
-AS A FEMALE:
-That's the hair and makeup done, and, um...
I think it's time now to, um...
put me in some outfits and see what flies.
I'm really trying.
I am really bloody throwing everything at this.
'I was feeling that some repressed aspect of my being had awoken.
'But to complete my journey, the team had one last task for me, and I wasn't ready for it.'
So, what's this pub like?
'As a drag artist, I'd have to perform in front of the public.
'The Femesque team knew I'd never be able to do that
if I couldn't accompany them to their local pub.'
Is it busy? I don't...
I'm not comfortable about this at all.
-Have a look how many people are in there.
God! Oh, this is just awful!
(This is the worst thing I've ever done in my whole life.)
(Absolutely the worst thing I've ever done in my frigging life.)
Pub's fairly busy. There's a few stares, a few laughs.
And I feel about as uncomfortable as I've ever felt in my life.
'This was too far too soon for me.
'But if I couldn't handle this, how could I perform in drag? I had to stick it out.
'Turning me into the admin horse had given us an appetite.
'I ordered the sausage for old time's sake.'
-AS A FEMALE:
-A white wine.
-A white wine? Small? Large?
-Is Pinot OK?
-(BLEEP!)..enormous, in fact.
This morning...I was somebody who had to become a female impersonator
in a couple of days' time.
I'd never really dressed as a woman or done anything like this.
This has gone someway to push me out of my bloody comfort zone.
You've done as good as you could with the raw materials, so thank you very much.
-Cheers, one and all.
Who's coming clubbing?
Let's hit the dancefloor!
I'm going to get me a bloody Aldershot fella.
I want to be pregnant by dawn.
'Walking in that pub as one of the girls
'was one of the weirdest moments of my life, and I've had it off with a Portakabin.
'Next day, I threw my breasts and nipples in a skip,
'pressed the eject button on my John Thomas
'and headed to Milford Haven to watch Ceri Dupree in action.'
Face it, peasants, one day, this will be on a stamp.
You'll be licking me, sir. LAUGHTER
This is going to be terrifying.
It's really intimidating. In the dressing up and in the character.
I'm so nervous about completely failing, mucking it up,
being dreadful at it, when I kind of should be good at it
because it's almost what I do.
Yesterday's experience of being made into a woman toughened my nipples.
I am not ready for this.
Ceri would be my mentor, but the thought of supporting him made me feel ill.
I can't sing, I can't dance and I can't do impressions.
I felt as out of place as Geoffrey from Rainbow at a meeting of Taliban elders.
# Darling, it's so nice to have you back where you belong. #
I can't do that. There is not one fibre of my being
that wants to do that or feels capable of doing that.
I don't even know what aspects of my personality
I'm going to have to dredge up to try and do that.
-Hello. Come in.
-Nice to meet you. This is James.
-That was my first experience of seeing a drag artist.
Of all the things I've done in this work experience, this should be the closest to what I do
but it feels by a million miles the furthest from what I do.
You think this is the worst one you've ever had to do? Really?
By a million miles.
I had no idea how I was going to do what Ceri did,
but at least I knew my raw sausage meat look was right.
You don't have to wax at all.
You've put yourself through unnecessary pain.
Look at my hands, my knuckles, my arms. Look at my eyebrows. Plucked.
You don't have to pluck your eyebrows. I cover mine over and paint ones on top.
It's all done with make-up and costumes and lighting
and clever fabrics.
-Everything was a complete waste of time?
-Absolute waste of time.
-I'll show you the pictures.
-You look like David Bowie there.
-I do look a bit like David Bowie.
They're better than I thought they were going to be, but you couldn't do an act dressed like this.
No, I look like somebody from Office Angels.
You need to approach this from a theatrical point of view, as a performance, a piece of theatre.
So what character do you want to do?
-I don't know. I can't do her can I?
-You have to pick somebody to do.
-You see him in Cher. That sort of thing.
-Where is your, erm, man Cher?
-Just sort of...
-Has it gone up the back? Is that a trade secret?
-It is, definitely.
-But I'm going to have to do it.
-Where am I going to put it?
-You're not doing Cher, are you?
The obvious one, being Welsh, would be Bassey.
-Dame Shirley Bassey.
-Do her. You know, Welsh.
Shirley. Exaggerated. It's the obvious one.
You say that but I don't know anything about Bassey.
I can vaguely hear her voice in my head. I've met her.
But I can't do mannerisms. I'm not an actor. I'm not an imitator.
You'll have to sit next to me and do as I do and hope for the best.
We've only got one day.
'Next day, I met Ceri at a costume shop in Cardiff to dame up
'because as the song goes, There's Nothing Like A Dame. And I was nothing like one.
'I could tuck my tiger prawn into my knickers but it wouldn't make me the girl from Tiger Bay.'
-Shall we crack on?
'Diamonds might be forever but my dress was going to be rented.
'Ceri took the lead.'
I'm finding it very difficult to imagine myself in any of them.
It's all right. It's OK. The shoes are a bit Mini Mouse.
Try something else on. Next one.
-It's not great. Turn around.
It needs to be more... And gold shoes.
-You'd never wear gold shoes with red.
-No, you would not.
This feels a lot more comfortable than the gold.
It's not about comfort. It's about, you know, suffering for your art.
-I've lost the socks.
-Then the transformation is complete!
-Is it worse than the red?
-Look how waxed those are.
-Don't you want to feel them? Feel how smooth they are.
-I really don't want to.
-See what I went through for you? Look at my toes.
-I hate feet.
-Even my toes have been waxed for you!
-Go and get changed.
You're wasting time. Shirley Bassey would never wear anything like that. It's wrong.
I haven't got a clear image of what Shirley Bassey would wear.
Well, she wouldn't wear that. It's all wrong.
-That's the best one so far, but not with that boa.
-The best one so far?
-Lose the boa. It'd too white.
-This is what I've got to put up with!
-It's the wrong white!
-You need help. The wrong white!
-You need help! Hello!
-You need help!
-I'm not the one wearing a dress!
-There's nothing wrong with me.
Dress finally chosen,
it was back to Ceri's headquarters to complete the transformation.
-Right, OK, so have a seat.
-This is your church.
-It's my office.
-And these are all you?
-These are all me in shows I've done over the years.
How did you get into this?
When I was a kid, I was always interested
in the flamboyant side of the entertainment business.
You can hide behind this persona, wear these outrageous costumes,
become these outrageous people, or women in my case.
It is an art form when it's done well.
I've seen it done badly too many times.
-Have you got room for one more?
-That wasn't a dig.
If you see a bad singer, it's just a bad singer.
If you see a bad comic or a bad ventriloquist...
But when you see a bad drag act or a female impersonator, it's... Urgh!
It's probably going to be dreadful, embarrassing, never going to live it down.
It's probably going to be an insult to drag artists all over the world.
But I've got to do it. I'm going to do it.
But if I was going to do it, I still needed to accessorise.
My boa was completely the wrong shade of white.
Luckily, Ceri knew exactly what he wanted around my neck.
-That's amazing! What's that made of?
-There are all different kinds of feather.
-Does it have to be cock feathers?
No. Those are ostrich feathers. I'm trying to think.
Cock's the best is it?
These are... I'm not walking into your gags!
We were proper pimping my Bassey.
All we needed now was a wig that said showbiz.
From a distance, you know.
I look like a plumber who's knocked on somebody's door
half an hour earlier than they were expecting them and I've run downstairs.
-God, I wasn't expecting you until nine!
-Do that then. She does that. She does that, you know.
AS SHIRLEY BASSEY: Thank you. Can you say, "Thank you, sweethearts."
Thank you... No!
-AS SHIRLEY BASSEY: Thank you. AS SHIRLEY BASSEY:
-That was like Prince Charles!
-I think I might have to think about Prince Charles.
-AS PRINCE CHARLES:
-Thank you, sweethearts.
-You know, it's like... Thank you.
-AS SHIRLEY BASSEY: Thank you, sweethearts. AS SHIRLEY BASSEY:
-Thank you, sweethearts.
-So there's a bit of James Mason in there.
-And don't call me Shirl.
Don't call me Shirley.
-That's gone North Wales now.
-Yes, it has.
I've gone North Wales so we'll have to bring it back down.
-I love you.
-I love you.
-I love you all.
-I love You all even more.
My North Walian James Mason was miles off
but I was determined to nail Dame Shirley Bassey.
I look like somebody who used to have a successful ice cream van business in the 70s,
but who's now lost the plot.
For crying out loud!
-AS SHIRLEY BASSEY:
-Oh God, I've dropped my bloody earrings.
You just need to get your mannerisms right.
I'm going to mirror what you do.
At the moment, I've just got no idea what I'm doing.
I look like Russell Brand two years after it's all gone wrong for him.
-It's coming together. You'll be fine.
-It's not coming together.
It's not coming together costume wise. But performance wise?
Your words. You haven't even learnt the words yet.
-I can see you were a man of distinction.
-A real big spender.
# Hey, big Spender! #
-What do you want me to say? It needs work.
-It does need work.
It's definitely not perfected.
Today, I've been focusing on one little thing.
One little step at a time. But when I think about the whole thing...
I can not express to you how badly I think it's going to go.
So without further ado,
I'm going to go home and prepare for that humiliation.
For my debut, I'd be part of Ceri's show in Rhydyfelin in the Welsh valleys,
where men are men, women are men, children are men, babies are men,
and I had detachable nipples and a power arse.
I stuck out like a panda in the Playboy Mansion.
I've been learning my lyrics and Dame Shirley Bassey mannerisms last night.
But I have to say, I am not remotely reassured.
I'm just imagining a baying mob and a complete nightmare.
While Ceri's team transform the valleys into Vegas, I perfected my Bassey.
I'm starting to get the lyrics, I'm starting to get the rhythm of the song,
but the big problem is trying to impersonate Dame Shirley Bassey.
-Hello. Are you all right?
-This is the engine room.
-Have you learnt all your words?
I think I've pretty much got the words in my head.
Once you get the gear on, it will be better.
But I'm still hoping from last night, it has improved a bit.
You should have started by now.
# The minute you walked in the joint
# I could see you were a man of distinction
# A real big spender
# Good looking
# So refined... #
It wasn't that good.
As soon as I try and do Shirley Bassey, I go...
It's an insult to Shirley Bassey.
And it's an insult to women in general.
'I felt like a contestant on Britain's Got Issues.
'Kerry's face was a picture that told 1,000 words and the last word was definitely off.
'Luckily, he came up with a plan B.'
That place you went to the other day, and they made you up to look like somebody who worked in an office.
-Rachel, that was it. Couldn't you sort of exaggerate...
My stand-up isn't a character. It's just an aspect of my personality.
That Rachel thing is an aspect of my personality.
I genuinely would find that easier. 'This was it.
'I had to summon up Rachel, the admin horse.'
I summon thee, Rachel. Oh, admin horse, thou art inside me, show yourself now.
Show yourself now, oh, admin horse. Show yourself.
# Hey, big spender!
# Hey, big spender!
# A little time
# Me! #
That's a high one.
Just think of Rachel from accounts,
at the office party, very drunk. She's got up,
she's doing her karaoke, Big Spender.
That's what I'm going to try for, Rachel from accounts,
office party, she's got a bit drunk.
Just, if I take it too far, and you find me outside the back,
with somebody up against the skip, stop me!
Rachel would do that, wouldn't she?
Now that I can just let it happen naturally,
I feel a little bit more comfortable.
But everything's relative.
I'm not in a happy place right now.
But we were out of time. The doors were opening.
I just have to stick some vodka in Rachel's nose bag, and pray.
If I was going to do this as Rachel, I needed her creators.
Lynn and Michelle kindly raced down with a car full of arses,
stick on tits and plaster of Paris.
And they arrived just in time to recreate the admin horse.
On stage, Ceri wowed his audience.
Backstage, the girls went at my mange hair with a staple gun.
They had to drag Rachel out of the accounts department
and into the spotlight.
'Mr Rhod Gilbert.'
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
-EFFEMINATE AND HUSKY VOICE:
-Ladies and gentlemen, it's my first time.
So please be gentle with me.
# The minute you walked in the joint
# I could tell see you were a man of distinction
# A real big spender
# Good looking, so refined
# Wouldn't you like to know what's going on in my mind?
# So let me get right to the point
# I don't pop my cork for every guy I see
# Hey, big spender
# Hey, big spender
# Hey, big spender
# Spend a little time with me. #
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
'Rachel had done it. Together, we'd survived.'
'Thank God it's over!
'I have absolutely no interest in ever doing that again.
'I've never felt so out of my comfort zone, uncomfortable, scared, nervous...
'It was brief and painful, it's gone.
'That was a fleeting aspect of my life that was as temporary as those nails.'
And it's gone.
I never want to do it again, as long as I live.
And Rachel, bless her... Rachel got me through that.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
Stand-up comic Rhod Gilbert is always told he has the toughest job in the world but in this work experience he is facing a challenge he has been dreading - performing in front of a packed audience as a woman. Coached by one of the country's leading drag artists can he convince an expectant crowd that this is a new, and very different, Rhod Gilbert on stage?