Come meet Linda Simpson in person Wednesday, November 4, 2015 at Howl Happening Gallery for the exhibit Secrets of the Great Pyramid: The Pyramid Cocktail Lounge as Cultural Laboratory (curated by Brian Butterick a.k.a. Hattie Hathaway). For the event, Linda will be be incorporating video from Channel 69 into her acclaimed slideshow presentation The Drag Explosion, featuring her photos of NYC’s drag scene of the 1980s and ‘90s.
Excerpts from Channel 69
by Linda Simpson
Throughout the history of NYC gay nightlife, some clubs and parties have stood out for being particularly special and reflective of their era. I’m proud to have helped create one of those magical moments: Channel 69, a weekly party that ran from 1990 to 1992 at the Pyramid Club in the East Village. For many years, the Pyramid had reigned as headquarters of the neighborhood’s kooky drag scene, but by the time Channel 69 started, the club’s glory days were kaput and the place was majorly falling apart. Despite the odds, me and my pal Dany Johnson decided to go full steam ahead, with her as DJ and me in charge of organizing and hosting the shows.
I was still a newbie drag queen. My main claim to fame was publishing an underground magazine called My Comrade (founded in 1987). Channel 69 was my first real nightlife venture, and I had to learn all at once how to host, promote and pluck my eyebrows. As I grew, so did the party. At first, the shows were boob-tube parodies, but as the months went by the format broadened to all kinds of theme and acts. Some of the performers were Pyramid veterans, but most of us were new to the scene and Channel 69 was a launching pad for all kinds of talent. We shared a similar sense of humor—a sarcastic tomfoolery that frequently involved me battling it out on stage with the rest of the cast. I blame the audience who egged me on!
Downstairs in the dressing room, things were much more harmonious. We were very supportive of each other, and I can trace many of my closest friendships to Channel 69. Back then, the East Village was rough and tough, and the gay community was being battered by the AIDS crisis and rampant homophobia. Channel 69 was an oasis where we could forget about our troubles and have a million laughs. I’m so grateful that videographer William Comstock and his trusty collaborator Karel van Aggelen took it upon themselves to artfully document so many of our stage antics. I love watching us back then. We were young, with loads of energy, and burning with desire to put on a show!
About the Channel 69 Cablecast
by Bill Comstock
In 1990, author Sebastian Stuart introduced me to Linda Simpson, the editor of MY COMRADE/SISTER magazine. Linda was hosting a clubnight at The Pyramid Club called Channel 69 that featured stage shows loosely parodying mainstream media by imagining what it would be like if it was controlled by drag queens. It was essentially gay burlesque, as witty and self-mocking as Linda herself. Channel 69 was operating during the AIDS crisis in New York City, and the edginess of the performances were as much a product of their times as Drag Race is of our own. If the shows had any political agenda, it was pure nihilism, though I’m sure Linda would object to my using such a word. They were most of all fun! Channel 69 featured the top drag and transgendered entertainers in Downtown Manhattan, including RuPaul, Lady Bunny, Misstress Formika, Tabboo, Ebony Jet, Flloyd, Sherry Vine, Page, and others. Public Access television was in its glory days, and together with my best friend Karel van Aggelen, we cobbled together a weekly thirty-minute television series on Manhattan Cable TV documenting the performances. The series ran from 1990 to 1992.
The television series was a community service, and run by volunteers. Nobody was paid to work on it or made money. I wanted the style of the cablecast to be at one with the threadbare production of the stage shows, which was easy enough to accomplish because I didn’t have any money or backers. I believed that a professionally produced cable show would have completely destroyed the essential nature of Channel 69. I reached out to Flloyd, a regular performer at the club, who helped me direct the production, and facilitate our working relationship with all the queens involved. The shows were recorded on two to four VHS videocameras of varying makes and quality. Karel and I brought our own cameras, and Flloyd and Dan Douglass theirs. I edited the tapes in my apartment on a couple of prosumer VCRs. There was no time code, so I had to sync the tapes visually. It was very time-consuming. I would then copy the master to 3/4” tape and drop it by Manhattan Cable, which cost nothing to broadcast. Sadly, all of my masters and originals were destroyed after I moved to California. The 25th Anniversary Edition was cut from a digitized VHS copy of Linda Simpson’s Channel 69 that was shown at Lesbisch-Schwule Filmtage Hamburg in 1994.