Chucky Bartolo: What’s in the bag?

TEODOR RELJIC speaks to Chucky Bartolo about Suspicious Baggage, an upcoming drag stand-up comedy act which will also serve as something of a performer’s swansong to the island as he prefers to take the show beyond Malta’s shores

Chucky Bartolo: “On our island, people are not used to seeing queens outside of panto (aka actually pretty drag queens)”
Chucky Bartolo: “On our island, people are not used to seeing queens outside of panto (aka actually pretty drag queens)”

What has your journey across stand-up and drag performance been like? What led you down that path, and have you found the local audience to be receptive to it?

My path to comedy was simple: I grew up fat and gay, and didn’t plan on being bullied relentlessly for twelve years – so it was easier to be the funny one than the bruised boċċu.

I love stand-up because (at least at my shows) it’s the perfect balance between scripted jokes, and just having a fun chat with a group of people who have literally paid to come and laugh.

In Malta both drag and comedy have been a bit of an uphill battle, but one I’ve convinced myself (and my nanna) that I’m winning. On our island, people are not used to seeing queens outside of panto (aka actually pretty drag queens) and we’re not used to comedy that isn’t slapstick. But I tape my penis between my legs for a living – a little uphill battle in some heels isn’t about to scare me off.

Would you say there is a particular ‘type’ of audience that gravitates towards the kind of performance that you do, or is the range of the crowd broader than what you were initially expecting?

I won’t say that I have a particular crowd, because the last time I did I had to rewrite my script days before the show. Back in November (for my first gig) I thought I was gonna have a cute little crowd of 50 gays and their five female friends who saw one episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race. As ticket sales started shooting up I realised my stand-up ain’t just for the gays anymore.

In general, I think the only ‘type’ of audience I do draw in are people who know they’re gonna gasp at some of the cheekier jokes, but laugh anyway. Last show, back in March, one person panic-booed me while cracking up with laughter. The joke was harsh and they knew they shouldn’t have loved it so their body just went into full panic mode. That’s the sort of reaction I live for.

Chucky Bartolo with Ben Camille: “I am fascinated by Malta’s obsessive hatred of local celebrities”
Chucky Bartolo with Ben Camille: “I am fascinated by Malta’s obsessive hatred of local celebrities”

What are some of your favourite subjects to tackle at these shows? And how does Suspicious Baggage build on what you’ve done previously?

I am fascinated by Malta’s obsessive hatred of local celebrities. I’ll crack jokes about Tamara Webb’s incessant product-pushing or Ben Camille’s cardboard-cut-out role on X-Factor (both people I admire for their work and like personally), and audiences will bawl with laughter. But the only reason they’re able to laugh at my niche jokes is because they follow these celebs obsessively, and that is honestly so interesting to me.

It’s some weird, national masochism on par with checking-on-my-ex-on-Insta-just-to-get-sad.

Suspicious Baggage will obviously have a healthy dose of brutal jokes about local personalities (who are usually seen laughing along in the audience), but after a recent move up to Glasgow, I have a whole bunch of new material gathered by sitting in a Greggs with a pen and notepad.

You’re also expanding the show beyond Malta’s shores. What are some of your hopes and dreams beyond the confines of our isle, and how do you hope the shows will resonate across a more international crowd?

I’m just hoping that next show I host will be called: ‘The One Before The Netflix Special’.

But ego aside, I am scared of doing stand-up for a foreign crowd, particularly since I can’t slip into an improvised ramble about Eileen Montesin’s incredible Instagram page when the jokes aren’t going well. But again, if you’re not scared your audience might walk out, you’re not going to give 150% in every show.

What do you make of the performing arts scene in Malta? What would you change about it?

Just to clarify, I didn’t study performing arts; I’m an architecture graduate who wears fabulous clothes for a living, so my opinion will be uneducated (and that means I’ll probably get an official position within the government). But the solution seems pretty simple to me:

Flood the entire scene with money. I’m not talking about tax money given to gatekeepers who choose what’s art and what’s not; who spend weeks bureaucratically denying wages to their artists.

I mean private businesses should sponsor shows of performers they like or trust. People should buy tickets to shows that caught their eye and friends who get comps should share Facebook posters to show the island there is a lot of stuff to watch out there (but nothing as funny as Suspicious Baggage).

What’s next for you?

After my show in September (opening Malta Pride nice and savagely on September 7 and 8), I fly back to Glasgow where I’ll be working on a city tour of open mics while hosting a new club night in the city centre once every month. Then, it’s just an endless stream of emails to top execs to see who I have to sleep with to get my stand-up special.

Chucky Bartolo will perform Suspicious Baggage at Mount Carmel Hospital, Attard on September 7 and 8 at 8pm. Bookings: https://www.chuckybartolo.com

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