On Being Varla Jean Merman
The outrageous performer Varla Jean Merman (a.k.a. Jeffery Roberson) is known for films Girls Will Be Girls and Franchesca Page, and her renowned live shows across the world. Tonight, Here TV premieres her film Varla Jean and the Mushroomheads.
The mockumentary follows Varla Jean’s attempt to launch her own children's television show. Needless to say, things go very wrong. The Advocate sat down with Varla Jean to discuss life, love, and the pursuit of free cocktails.
The Advocate: How did you get your start in show business?
In the early 1990s, I met a friend with a video camera, Vidkid Timo. We made short films to play at the bars while they were playing disco hits. Some of the films included me running around the city of New Orleans drinking a gallon of milk, or me being chased by a plastic rat. They played them underneath the music and I caught on. Then I started performing live, but not really until I moved to New York.
What’s your favorite venue you’ve performed in?
The Sydney Opera House wasn't too bad!
Who are some of Varla Jean’s biggest inspirations?
Jo Anne Worley, Ann-Margret, Shirley Bassey, Carol Burnett, and Joan Sutherland!
What’s the inspiration behind your new film, Varla Jean and the Mushroomheads?
Varla cannot have children, or even legally be around them! I thought it would be funny to put Varla in a position where she had to come up with a children's show.
Where did the “concept” for Mushroomheads evolve from?
Where do you think?
How was working with those children?
Thanks to the magic of editing, the children were never exposed to the dirty humor. But I do remember when the parents were there I kept accidentally cursing and saying "Sorry!" and "Fuck! I'm sorry!"
Tell us about the production. Was it fun? Grueling? All in a day’s work?
Low-budget films are not really fun. You are frantically trying to get it done in a certain amount of time for no money. I suppose if you were Woody Allen and could film people ad-libbing for countless hours, that might be a bit more enjoyable. I remember getting angry on set that people weren't finishing their water bottles before getting new ones. It was at that moment I realized I should only be in front of the camera.
You guest star on Sherry Vine’s She’s Living for This, also on Here TV. How was it working with Ms. Vine?
Sherry and I go way back. In fact, at one of my first gigs in New York, I showed up to find Sherry and I had brought the same exact song to perform one night. We both found it hilarious and did the songs back to back. I think her version was better.
What’s your favorite thing about Varla Jean?
She gets to drink for free during a show!
What’s your next movie about? And who stars in it?
The sequel to Girls Will Be Girls will hopefully come out soon. I hear the editing is taking a long time because it is taking so long to render the filters to make us look youngish again. ... HD ain't a "lady's" friend.
Varla Jean and the Mushroomheads premieres on Friday on Here TV, our sister network. Watch a trailer for the film below.