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Celia Putty's 2 Girls, 1 Cup Is a Good Time at Kobalt Bar in Phoenix

Celia Putty primps backstage after 2 Girls, 1 Cup on Wednesday, January 22.
Celia Putty primps backstage after 2 Girls, 1 Cup on Wednesday, January 22.
Janessa Hilliard

It's nearing 10 p.m. at a bar in the center of a shopping complex in the middle of Phoenix. Standing in front of the slightly raised stage are four men, each wearing the same combination of discomfort and amusement on his face. They stare into an audience of high-topped tables cluttered with patrons who are just beginning to drink off the mid-week slump. They exchange glances.

Unexpectedly, a fur coat is flung forward, resting on the shoulder of one of the gentlemen. Moments later, a bustier follows suit. A floor-length black dress is next. The men making up this human changing curtain neither flinch nor move -- there isn't time to react. From behind, a woman emerges, clad in thigh-high leather boots and mesh, a large, gaudy cross around her neck, mic in hand.

"Are you having a good time?" she demands of the audience.

See also: Paul Elliott Captures Phoenix's Drag Scene with "This D**k Walks Into a Bar" at Eye Lounge

Lorde's "Royals" plays over the sound system and she struts among the tables, miming every lyric. "You can call me queen Bee." The sass is palpable, the dark-lipped sneer playful. Audience members begin handing over dollar bills, captivated by the parade. Because under the fake eyelashes and all that makeup -- and there is quite a bit of makeup involved -- is a man. "Let me live that fantasy."

Perhaps the best description of Celia Putty's 2 Girls, 1 Cup is a variety show done in drag, hosted by a Valley queen with a devoted following. It's part cabaret, part show-and-tell, part free-for-all. There's audience participation (both willing and non), exaggerated performances, and free shots. It feels more like a group of friends outdoing one another at the end of the evening and the end of yet another bottle. Everyone's welcome here, and everyone's at home.

Named for the unofficial nickname of scat-fetish pornographic film Hungry Bitches (which is exactly what it sounds like), Putty's 2 Girls, 1 Cup is a play on the graphic shock video -- an excuse to be outrageous and talk shit about shit, literally and often. Newcomers are asked onstage during each performance to view a clip from the film, which includes vomit and making out, but the extent of the relationship ends there.

Celia Putty, whose real name is Richie Black, has been performing for years. The former Miss Gay Arizona 2011, Putty, 43, has hosted or participated in regular drag nights at the Rock, Cruisin' 7th, and Zoan with a rotating cast of locals, including Barbra Seville, Sophia Sinclair, and Monica Mooree, long before RuPaul's Drag Race became a must-watch for makeup artists and aspiring drag queens alike.

Wednesday nights at Kobalt have belonged to Putty for over a year now. The loose format is the same each week, but the content -- and what's in the cup -- always changes. The cup, a large coffee cup with a toilet seat handle and two noticeable padlocks, is permanently housed at the bar. Patrons are encouraged to donate whatever they'd like into it throughout the week prior to the gig. Past items have ranged from baby dolls to anal beads to a giant black dildo. Anything's game, and it all will see the light of day during an elaborate reveal in-between musical numbers like Lady Gaga's "Donatella," during which Putty donned a long, blonde wig, tight black pantsuit, and signature Versace pout, and routines from the cult classic Showgirls.

 

Celia Putty's 2 Girls, 1 Cup Is a Good Time at Kobalt Bar in Phoenix

"It's a penis-shaped rape whistle!" tonight's guest, Ivonna Bump, declares as the second item is pulled out.

"Who had anal beads just sitting around in their car?" she says minutes later. "I don't know, but it's not safe for a child."

She looks into the audience and asks again, "Queers and steers! Fags and drags! Are you having a good time?"

The nights begin innocently enough, between 9 and 9:30 p.m.: a few quick jokes, light audience banter ("You look like Kathy Bates from Misery!" Putty tells a noticeably intoxicated woman), and Putty's first number before introducing tonight's special guest.

Every first Wednesday, Putty teams with Lady Christian and then brings Olivia Gardens to the stage the following week. They've been Putty's plus-ones essentially since this show began and have become audience-approved staples. The last two weeks of the month (and occasionally a fifth Wednesday) are saved for special guests, like New Mexico's Ivonna Bump, who did a healthy stint on the drag circuit herself when she lived in Phoenix years ago.

From that first half an hour on, anything goes. There is a handful of song-and-dance numbers between the two ladies. Comedic bits drag on, but the audience sticks with it, shouting suggestions as the $3 well and $3.50 domestic beer specials start flowing. What started as an audience hovering around 10 people has transformed into a packed house in a matter of an hour and a half, with show-goers standing around the tables and crowding the curved bar.

Pudding shots are passed out as the evening nears the end. It's a house recipe of strong booze the consistency of cake batter and served in a little paper cup.

"Suck and squeeze like your mama taught you!" the performers tell the audience.

The audience reactions are mixed. "It doesn't even taste like shit," one says. "It looks like a used condom," adds another.

Putty and Bump join each other onstage for their final number, an on-stage candied food fight the audience approves of, riddled with laughter. Then it's over, nearly three hours later -- the evening's only casualties being bits of pudding and the dignity of some.

The post-show energy lingers like the comedown from a decent Saturday night, but at shortly after midnight the crowd has all but dissipated. There will be hangovers tomorrow, but no booze-filled brunch to cure them, just the glow of the fluorescent work haze.

Celia Putty has emerged from her dressing room, wearing an auburn bob, severe lipstick and silver and blue eye-shadow overtop her own true eyebrows. She speaks to a large woman with impeccable eye makeup and a colorful dress at the bar. She does this every week, she explains. She has been doing this for more than a year -- at Kobalt, that is. Behind her, the floor in front of the stage is speckled with the remnants of the food fight, waiting to be cleaned. As a new friend at the end of the bar turns to leave, Putty calls after.

"Goodnight!" she says. "I hope you had a good time!"

Celia Putty's 2 Girls, 1 Cup starts at 9 p.m. every Wednesday at Kobalt, 3110 North Central Avenue in Phoenix. Visit www.kobaltbarphoenix.com.

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