One of Montreal’s most notorious drag acts all began with hockey. It sounds unlikely, but that’s the story, according to Nathalie Théorêt, aka Nat King Pole.
“I was playing a lot of hockey about eight years ago,” Théorêt recalls. “And then I decided I wanted to take a break. I realized then how much I missed singing. I asked Miriam Ginestier, who organizes the Meow Mix cabaret events, if I could sing. She said she didn’t just want me to sing, she wanted something a bit more vaudevillian.”
That led Théorêt, who is a nurse by day, to start concocting an act.
“I wanted to find a way to sing onstage, so I thought, ‘What if I put on a mustache?’ But then I started to think about an actual character I could portray, a guy who thought he was a hit with the ladies.”
Théorêt recalled how impressed she was by the sublime antics of the famous, but now disbanded, Montreal drag-king troupe The Mambo Kings. So on one fateful night at Meow Mix, Nat King Pole – who salutes legendary singer Nat King Cole in name only – took his first bow. “I thought it would last for a couple of gigs, nothing more,” she says.
But people love Pole, as she found out. “I was actually quite shocked by how popular he is, and how people take to him. Basically, as Pole, I’m saying things that aren’t very pleasant. But because I’m a woman, people know I don’t really mean the sexist-boorish stuff I’m saying. It’s safe because I’m a woman.”
Théorêt doesn’t lip-sync but rather sings her own raunchy lyrics to popular tunes. Her biggest crowd-pleaser is Justin Bieber’s “Baby, Baby,” reconfigured as “Nag me, nag me.”
And Théorêt, who has taken her act to Toronto and Ottawa Pride events over the years, says some of her biggest fans are straight. “Women will come up to me and say, ‘My husband loves you.’ Again, I think because I’m a woman it’s all seen as safe.”
Is there another drag performer Théorêt admires? RuPaul, she says. “I’d do him.” She recently performed with an up-and-coming drag artist, Ella S Bonita. “He’s really great. One of the things I like about him is that he doesn’t take himself too seriously. Some drag queens take themselves very seriously. I think it should be about having a good time.”
Théorêt argues that “using humour is the best way to reach an audience. If I’ve got a point to make, that’s how I’m going to do it. I think you will appeal to an audience if they want to be your friend, or feel like they could be your friend.”
It must be asked: why is drag such an enduring, popular act? “You know, it’s a mystery. People do love it. I think we’re all a little bit bisexual. Perhaps the crossing of lines in drag appeals to us because of that, the bisexuality. Or maybe it’s just a Montreal thing, I don’t know.”