Usually it would be insulting to describe someone as an accident, but Irishman Rory O’Neil has been making a career out of his accidents with his famous drag character Panti Bliss. “Panti appeared when I was living in Japan in the early '90s,” reflects Rory.
“I was in a double act with an American drag queen and our group name was called ‘Candypanti’: that’s where I got the nickname Panti from. When we started performing, we never thought we’d make much out of it. It ended up going from being the side-project to the main project.”
After returning home to Ireland, Rory became a pioneer in the local drag scene, bringing it more popularity and finding himself becoming more well-known in the conservative country.
It was in the lead-up to Ireland’s recent marriage equality referendum that Rory found himself being thrust accidentally into a brighter spotlight. It’s this incident and its consequences that provided material for Rory’s latest show as Panti: ‘High Heels In Low Places’.
Rory describes the show as being: ”essentially a kind of stand-up comedy show”; a far cry from a traditional drag show filled with song and dance, although he “still has lip-sync deep in my show”. The biggest story to make its way into the show is what many have dubbed ‘Pantigate’.
In 2014, Panti made an appearance on an Irish chat show. What started off as a casual chat led to a discussion about homophobia and Panti calling specific Irish journalists homophobic, with the journalists named suing the show and Panti.
‘Pantigate’ eventually led to Panti becoming a bigger voice in the Irish marriage equality debate, and an even bigger icon globally. A speech Panti gave about homophobia soon after the incident even went viral and was remixed by the Pet Shop Boys; a prospect which shocked Rory as he only “wrote the structure of it that afternoon. But when you’re pissed off it’s easier to think.
“At the time [‘Pantigate’] was a giant pain in the ass and everything. But, in the intervening years, it changed the trajectory of my career in a way. It ended up leaving Panti in this weird position where she’s now a mainstream figure.
"Panti now gets honorary doctorates from universities, meets politicians and opens science fairs wearing a hard hat. It’s just such an odd position for a drag queen to end up in, but it’s also one which has its amusing side.”
Another plus is being able to tour around the world, even returning to Australia again after the premiere of the documentary about Panti ‘The Queen Of Ireland’, which has Rory looking forward to “a month of sunshine”.
Even more so, Rory is excited to be performing to Australian audiences. “Australia is one of my favourite places ever to perform because it has this weird sort of respect for drag and an Australian sense of humour is quite similar to an Irish sense of humour.
“The funny thing about Australia is that on one level it’s so butch; it’s all your tradies, your utes and your Blundstone boots. On the other hand, there’s a hyper camp quality too. I think it’s something to do with the sun making you all go crazy.”
Panti Bliss ShowsSun 5 Feb - MELT Festival @ Brisbane Powerhouse
17-19 Feb - Adelaide Fringe @ Gluttony
Thu 23 Feb - Astor Theatre (Perth)
Tue 28 Feb - Mardi Gras Comedy Gala @ Enmore Theatre (Sydney)
Wed 1 Mar - Enmore Theatre (Sydney)