by Chris Davis
How perfect is this? Just this week I discover the existence of a Stacey Campfield musical, and the next thing you know I’m interviewing Del Shores, the divine Campfield agitator and Sordid Lives creator who is coming to Memphis to perform at First Congo in conjunction with Sister Myotis and Voices of the South. It’s the first time Shores, also a producer/writer for Queer as Folk and Dharma & Greg, with a long list of writing credits including Southern Baptist Sissies, and Daddy’s Dyin’, Who’s Got the Will, has ever played the Bluff City. His most famous (and most sordid) creation has some important history here though and he’s shared all of that (and so much more) with Intermission Impossible.
Intermission Impossible: I’ve been dying to ask. Did you know there is a new musical about Stacey Campfield?
Del Shores: Yes. And it’s so funny you said that. I’ve just been talking to them. I sent them all of my emails with him and Facebook messages with him. He’s fucking crazy. I got into legal issues with him because of his asking me for $1000 to debate him. I had many conversations with the Attorney General of Tennessee. They just warned him but were going to punish him somehow for soliciting funds while in office. At one point they were talking about flying me in to testify and I’m going to walk in like Lana Turner with a big hat. Sashay right into that courtroom: I’m here motherfucka.
Wow. Are they going to use any of that in the show?
I told them they were welcome to.
That whole thing with Stacey was quite a show in and of itself.
It was a fun time for me press-wise. Who would have ever thought that I’d get into a pissing match with a state senator and that he would actually write back? And you just won’t believe the emails he wrote to me. I would copy and paste them and send them to all the Senators. Republicans and Democrats. I’d send it to everybody and then to the press.
So when does all of this get transformed into some kind of sordid political satire?
I’m very political in my life. I’m certainly addressing the equality movement that we’re on now in my sequel to Sordid Lives, A Very Sordid Wedding. I bought the franchise up to 2014. It was always a period piece because Sordid Lives was set the day Tammy Wynnette died or the day after Tammy Wynnette died. died. So I’ve brought it up to speed and the big issue in the town is that they’re having an anti-equality revival. So there’s certainly a lot of politics in the new movie all sort of pointing at how ludicrous it becomes when you put it down in those words: Anti-equality. Yeah, we’re against equality.
I know you were a Sister Myotis fan. Is that how this show came about?
It’s so crazy. I was a crazy rabid fan of Sister Myotis. I told Steve [Swift of Voices of the South], you know I’m responsible for a half million of those YouTube hits. I have a good friend from Mississippi, McGhee Montieth who’s an amazing actress out in LA. I told her I’d never played Memphis before. Whenever I’ve been on tour I’ve never been able to get a bar or a theater to support me or bring me in. So she said let me make a few calls. Within 24 hours I heard from Steve and we talked for a good while and he said, “You know you know who I am, right? I’m Sister Myotis.” I said, “Noooo!” I went crazy and said, “You have to open for me if we do this.” So that’s how it all came about.
Well, welcome to town.
I’ve never played there but there is a huge piece of Del Shores Sordid Lives history in Memphis. Sordid lives premiered in Memphis. The very first public screening was at the Memphis International Film Festival. We flew in, Leslie Jordan and myself, and Ann Walker who played LaVonda and Kirk Geiger who played Ty. I remember that screening so well for two reasons. First I’d never seen it with an audience. And to be in the South with just a packed audience and hearing the response for the first time was just a huge moment in my career. Because it was in Memphis that I realized “I may have something here.” And we went on to win the festival and the audience award.
I was at that screening. I wrote about that screening. I’d forgotten it was the world premier.
Then you remember what happened. This was back before they were doing DVDs in theaters and the reel actually caught fire and they had to stop everything and tape it back together. I got up and did a little tap dance while they were fixing it. It happened right as Doctor Eve took off her top and spread her legs. That’s when the film caught on fire and I said, Oh my God, the Baptist prayers are working!” Now, Ironically I’m coming back to Memphis and performing in a church.
Well, at First Congo. It’s a different kind of church.
While we were in Memphis I did go to Graceland as any good white trash boy has to.
I was a tour guide there in college before they had the headset tours. A lot of locals roll their eyes, but I recommend it.
Oh, it was wonderful. It was me and Leslie Jordan and Ann Walker. We walked into that room with those things on our ears with Priscilla narrating. Well Ann Walker is just a huge Elvis fan and she burst into tears and Leslie and I lost our minds laughing at her. She has never forgiven us for that.
Obviously I know your film and TV work, but I’m less familiar with your live shows. What are they like?
I’m a storyteller and humorist. I’m not a standup although I play a lot of standup gigs. So, it’s not jokejokejoke, it’s story, story, story. I always feel like I’m just sitting t my dining room table just shooting the shit with my friends. And that’s how all of this started. My ex-husband— who was actually born in Memphis— encouraged me to get back on stage. So I wrote a show called Dell Shores: My Sordid Lives and it was very well received. From there Caroline Rhea, my friend who was doing standup, said let me help you pull some of these stories and you can open for me. So I opened for her for some gigs. And of course you get on stage and people laugh, and you get addicted to it. I love doing this. I collect stories. And I like to tell the stories behind the stories that have made my films. I’m doing a piece about my cousin who shot a policeman and went to jail for 35-years. The story is in my movie Southern Baptist Sissies. My father was a Southern Baptist Preacher and my mother was a drama teacher so, since I’m in a church for this one, I’m doing some church stories too. And also one amazing story that a fan told me. And also, a little trash. A little dish, if you will. I can certainly talk about Mr. Leslie Jordan a little bit. We’ll see what comes up. I always have a map, but I like to fly by the seat of my pants.
Leslie Jordan as Brother Boy, the man who thinks he’s Tammy Wynette. Talk about being born to play a role.
I wrote it for him. We’d been friends for a long time before before I wrote Sordid Lives. He was in my first play, Cheatin’ and we had worked in TV quite a bit. We were best friends. I always say it’s frightening that he’s the godfather of my oldest daughter. I don’t know what the fuck I was thinking to think that Leslie could give any sort of spiritual guidance to my child at any level. But he has been this amazing uncle who gives great presents. And I guess he did give spiritual guidance because he’s given her a lot of laughter and sometimes that’s a spiritual gift. He is truly the most gifted comedian I’ve ever worked with.
I called him one day and said, Leslie, I’ve written something for you. It was “The De-Homosexualization of Brother Boy,” and he said, “I have never played drag before.” I said, “Oh, come on,” and he said, “Well… not publically.” So I asked if he’d do it and he said, “Well, of course, who else is going to do it.” His manager at the time advised him not to. She said it would ruin his career. Thank god he listened to me and not her. It’s become one of two of the most popular roles he’s ever done, along with Beverly Leslie on Will and Grace. Leslie has more talent per inch than anybody I know.
I’m sure I’m not the first to ask. But Sordid Lives has become a cult film.
Was there some point that you knew it was different? That it had this whole other life?
So many people think it’s all I’ve done, which is crazy. I’ve written so much outside of that. But I am okay with being the Sordid Lives guy. Still, when you write something like “lug nuts,” who thinks somebody is going to scream that out in a theater? I just write from the point of view of an actor. Okay, now I’m Brother Boy and I’m writing these lines for Brother Boy. It was shocking.
We’re re-releasing the video. We got into one of those things where we weren’t being paid by the production company so they returned the title to me, I re-sold the video rights. And so I filmed many of the cast members talking about Sordid Lives. We all just did it thinking it was fun. We made it for a little over $500,000. And thank God I have no… no… well, let’s just say I always get to work with people I don’t deserve to work with because I’ll just ask: Hey Olivia [Newton John], I promise I’ll get you out of there in three days. Olivia made $700 for Sordid Lives. $700.” Anyway, when I’m filming I asked the cast the same question you just asked me: When did you know? At what point did you know this film was different than what you thought it was. And everybody points to this one event where it had been playing in Palm Springs for a full year. And we kept hearing about that. So, they wanted me to bring us all down for this celebration: A Year at the Camelot. So I remember pulling up on the bus and there are hundreds of people just screaming. Leslie Jordan was like Madonna. Its the first time when I saw Leslie Jordan become a star. He walked off that bus and he was a star to that crowd. And then we look around in the crowd and it’s like, look over there, there’s a Brother Boy. And there’s a LaVonda with the yellow blouse. There were all of these people dressed like the characters and they were all popping their arms with rubber bands, and wearing lug nuts around their neck. And then we watch the movie with them, and they start screaming out the lines. We all thought, “Wow, this is nuts.”
You know you’ve made it when you get cosplayers.
There’s a parrot in Palm Springs that can say, “Shoot her Wardell, shoot her in the head!” And that’s how you really know you’ve made it. When a parrot starts quoting you, that’s when you know you’ve made it. It’s been an amazing journey, and I keep thinking it’s going to stop, but it doesn’t. Last year I was Grand Marshal of Atlanta Pride, and was one of the headliners for Alabama Pride last week. So there you are in that convertible driving down the street in the South and people are screaming, “Can you see my pussy now?” It’s ridiculous. But I’ll take it.
An Evening with Del Shores: My Sordid Best
Sunday, June 15, 7 p.m.
First Congregational Church
For ticket information, here's your click.