A grown man in a spandex chicken costume scurries up a twelve-foot speaker tower in the corner of the stage. The crowd below him hoots louder with each foothold he makes. By the time he has risen, arms outstretched like some neon shaman, the chicken man has already launched into the VIP section below. People laugh and scatter, no harm done, for this is the kind of spontaneous fuckery that fuels Lucha VaVoom.
This year marks an astonishing two decades of turnbuckle tigers and brazen burlesque for the "glam slam" wrestling show in downtown LA. About four times a year, LVV takes over the Mayan Theater, a 1920s movie palace adorned in Mexican tribal kitsch. Albeit a lesser-known cousin to fellow exotic darlings, The Egyptian and Grauman's Chinese Theater, the faux temple is always a grand hang. There's something ridiculous, yet completely Los Angelean, about stumbling through dark hallways of feathered priests and winged serpents just to find a pisser.
The show's program boasts a steady parade of freaks and acrobats: OG masked wrestlers, ringside dancers, little people, cartoonish bad guys, all set to thundering entrance music. Can you keep up with the character names? Who cares, the Crazy Chickens are coming.
When they enter, the Crazy Chickens flap their wings and butt-scootch across the stage as their signature "B'Gaw!" hammers from the speakers. Their masks have beaks and wattles that flail during their aerial moves. The thickest among the LVV cast is Matt Classic, part of a tag team with a little person version of himself who goes by Mini Matt Classic. Another wrestler called Dirty Sanchez scoops chocolate pudding out of his shorts and splatters it into the front rows, a fitting spectacle for the people up in the cheap seats.
There is an almost hypnotic sense of branding to the whole evening. Announcer Blaine Capatch yips the word "Lucha!" and the crowd screams back, "VA-VOOM!" This happens about 200 times throughout the night, and you will find yourself answering Capatch unconsciously. You have taken the creed. You are one of them now.
At the heart of this operation is Liz Fairbairn, the founder and head designer of LVV, who has helmed this circus of sweat since its inception. I reached out for an interview because I wanted to know how this all got started. And honestly, it's just fun to see how many times you can use the word "GWAR" in casual conversation.
Boing Boing: Congrats on the Summer Sabotage show!
Liz Fairbairn: Thank you! This last show was a lot. We also had the tie-in with (Sony Pictures) Bullet Train. That was a pretty major get for us, I have to tell you.
Boing Boing: That's amazing. Beyond all of the promo stuff, the timing of the show is really fluid.
Liz Fairbairn: The production has gotten tighter and tighter over the years. I mean, the caliber of talent…everybody wants to do Lucha VaVoom. Raquel Reed stars in Absinthe in Las Vegas. It's taken me this whole year just to get her to do the show. She told me it's always been one of her dreams to do Lucha VaVoom, which is really flattering.
Boing Boing: How do you guys determine which talent goes into the ring for a given show?
Liz Fairbairn: I keep my ear to the ground. I have my captain, Magno, he lives in El Paso, and he wrestles a lot in Mexico. So he's got everybody's number, and everybody knows and respects him a lot. He keeps his ear to the ground. And because people love LVV so much, even if they're too big for us, like the Lee Brothers, the ones in the last match, are definitely giant arena talent.
Boing Boing: Were they flown in from Mexico? I thought I remember the announcer saying that.
Liz Fairbairn: Yeah. We had to fly them in two days early because one of the brothers had a visa that was expiring!
Boing Boing: I'm partial to The Crazy Chickens and Dirty Sanchez on the LVV roster. How do these characters get created? I know you had done design work for GWAR in your early days, do you have a design team for that?
Liz Fairbairn: Dirty Sanchez was an idea that I had. We did a promo for Nacho Libre in Amsterdam, and there just happened to be a wrestler there that I knew because we were short a wrestler. And he wore flesh-colored tights, we kinda gussied him up a little, put a mustache on him and some pubes, and I named him Dirty Sanchez. That's how he came to be.
And the Chickens came from another promotion. When the promoter got another job and stopped doing shows, we literally paid him for the gimmick. We were like, "we wanna buy your chickens," it was pretty wild. It was a handshake deal, it was the fair thing to do.
Boing Boing: I think that speaks to what LVV has built over time in terms of family and recurring characters.
Liz Fairbairn: Well, I did boot camp with GWAR. So I learned a few thousand lessons (laughing).
Boing Boing: Do you think that your experience in GWAR steered you towards LVV?
Liz Fairbairn: It's just a series of circumstances that led me toward where I am today. And that's how I ended up with GWAR, too. Like, punk rock, you know? I don't know how to explain it. I was booking a club in San Francisco, then somebody told me about GWAR, I tracked them down… you know, shit happens. Before all of that I was an art major with a theater minor. My mom, my sister, we were all costumers. So it was just sort of a natural progression.
Boing Boing: Have there ever been any LVV characters that have had to be retired?
Liz Fairbairn: Oh sure, we have plenty. Some of them were created just to fulfill the purpose of a single show. Some of them we tried and didn't really resonate with the audience. We've had people who got injured. Sometimes they just head back to WWE!
Boing Boing: So you guys just hit your 20-year anniversary, is that right?
Liz Fairbairn: We are 20 years in! Our first show was in August of 2002.
Boing Boing: That's pretty surreal in terms of a legacy.
Liz Fairbairn: It is. This all started with me hooking up with a wrestler on location in Mexico — I do special effects costumes, too. We were together for ten years. That's like the length of most marriages.
We were just gonna do it once. About 15 minutes into the show, we were like, "IIIIIII think we're gonna be doing this more than once." There's some kind of weird natural affinity between burlesque and wrestling that nobody had done like this before.
Boing Boing: What I also love about LVV is the connection with the audience. I was there about seven years ago and some of the wrestlers came up to the cheaper balcony seats and hung out. That really makes a difference to fans.
Liz Fairbairn: On Cinco de Mayo weekend, we had somebody go up and do a backflip out of the balcony! He struck the landing, too. At our last show, one of the Chickens flew off of that speaker stack and took out an agent from APA!
Boing Boing: I mean, LA could probably use more agents getting that kind of treatment.
Liz Fairbairn: Hey, they know the deal.
Boing Boing: Is there anything we can expect for the Halloween edition of LVV?
Liz Fairbairn: Well, the title has been decided: "Bienvenidos Twilight Zone." We're already starting to break down what elements we would incorporate from the show with our choreographer. It's coming together. And the original member of GWAR, who has been training to become a wrestler, is going to be making an appearance as Techno Destructo.
Boing Boing: Would there ever be a LVV cruise?
Liz Fairbairn: I would love to do that! We're exploring other possibilities now. We'll see. We usually get a lot of offers and interest just after our latest show. I always think that our last show was our best one.
Boing Boing: Well, being able to say that after 20 years must be pretty wild.
Liz Fairbairn: Yeah, surviving anything for 20 years is wild!
Lucha VaVoom's next shows are happening at The Mayan in downtown Los Angeles on October 27th and 28th. The evening will feature LVV faves Taya Valkyrie, Magno, Chupacabra and burlesque from Lou Lou la Duchesse de Rière, Jessabelle Thunder, hoops acrobat Tosca and more. You can check out their calendar and roster here and follow them on Instagram over at @luchavavoom.
Lee Keeler is a writer and educator based in Northeast Los Angeles.