Some where over the rainbow with Dirty Dorothy
by C.L. Frederick
Jessica Dressler and her alter ego Dirty Dorothy have become unconventional local icons and are regarded as a symbol of the Kansas City LGBTQ community. Dressler never intended on creating an alter ego; especially one based off of a legendary hometown literary character from the classic story “The Wizard of Oz,” but the opportunity presented itself and she took full advantage of developing a memorable and endearing character. According to Dressler, the story on how she created Dirty Dorothy is just as remarkable as one could imagine.
Local director, actor, writer, and emcee Missy Koonce figured heavily into the creation of Dirty Dorothy. “I can actually vocally impersonate Judy Garland, and putting dirty expressions in little Dorothy Gale’s mouth was always a fun party trick in the past,” Dressler said. “One night after hours at Bar Natasha, Missy Koonce had her ‘next big idea’ for an all-live singing drag show and needed a host. Damron Armstrong was originally cast as Dionne Warwick, but lucky for me, he landed an acting job in New York. So, again after hours, a few drinks flow, I’m making little Dorothy Gale say all sorts of innocent smut, and Koonce turns to me and says, ‘Dressler, I need ya to put a costume on that voice of yours.’ So Jana Jesse and I designed the costume, the Girlie Show opened, and Dirty Dorothy was born.”
Dressler recently played Carol Ann in “Poultry-Geist” with Late Night Theatre, which ended its run on Nov. 16. Starting Nov., 28, she will appear in “Betty White Christmas,” in which she will cross genders to play Bing Crosby. Through it all, Dressler will continue to use humor to guide and inspire her community. Jessica and Dorothy have endeared themselves to an entire community. They have become beloved personalities that have the uncanny knack at making every individual they come across within the community feel as if they are welcomed unconditionally.
“I don’t like mean-spirited humor. I want everyone to always be in on the joke with me. Perhaps there’s a charm to that? I only focus on everyone being inclusive and welcoming to each other … maybe that’s it? Maybe I can drink like a gay man and that’s impressive to housewives from Lenexa,” said Dressler.
It is rare for any one individual or character to become an iconic figure. Dirty Dorothy undoubtedly fits that bill. “I think it probably has to do with the fact I’m parodying Dorothy Gale, the most innocent character ever written. However, I’m playing her grown up, as though the whole trip to Oz changed her. Yet no matter what foul-mouthed joke I’m making, I still try to deliver it with that wide-eyed naiveté,” said Dressler.
The 37-year-old Dressler not only hosts events and shows around Kansas City, but she also performs as a singer and actor. “I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of so many great projects it’s hard to pick one that is most memorable,” she said. “I loved being Bette Davis to Ron Megee’s Joan Crawford in ‘A Very Joan Crawford Christmas’ at the Unicorn Theatre. I loved being Gooch in ‘Auntie Mame’d’ for Actors and Artists Against AIDS. I LOVE being a part of The Angel Tree fundraiser at Missie B’s every Thanksgiving night where we raise money to provide Christmas to tons of KC kids every year!”
She has been a co-producer, writer, singer and actor with her best friends Megee and Chadwick Brooks and admits that the new Late Night Theater at Missie B’s has become her current obsession. “I love any project I can be involved in that lifts the weight of the world off someone’s shoulders – if even for a split second – through laughter,” said Dressler.
Dressler also donates her time to important fundraisers on behalf of the Kansas City LGBTQ community in hopes of giving back to those who show her so much support and goodwill.
“My favorite fundraiser every year is Actors and Artists Against AIDS presents KC Strips! It’s a fundraiser for AIDS Walk Kansas City. It is based on the ‘Broadway Bares’ show in New York City. It involves dancers, actors, drag queens, visual artists, burlesque artists, sound designers and lighting designers all coming together to create a show where all the profits go to AIDS Walk,” Dressler said.
“It was Ryan Gove’s brainchild. Chadwick Brooks and I have co-produced it for the past two years alongside Gove. This past summer our two nights of shows raised over $17,000. That helps keep a lot of my friends alive and flourishing as well as helps keep transmission rates down in Kansas City, so it’s definitely something I’m passionate about.”
The idea of being an important figure in the Kansas City LGBTQ community is a perplexing reality for Dressler, who says she doesn’t know if she’s changed the KC LGBTQ community.“If I have, I would hope it was only to be more inclusive of each other and that we treat each other more gently. I hope as we move forward, we stick together. I hope we celebrate our differences. I hope that we will take care of each other,” she said.
Wisecracks and one-liners have become trademarks for Dressler and her character Dirty Dorothy. All who have followed her know they add to the charm of what she does best, which is to make others laugh. Her favorite sayings are “summ bitch. Schmegma. Bless it (when I can’t say fuck it). Chaka Kahn, Chaka Zulu and a ton, ton of drink toasts. You will have to come to a show to hear them,” said Dressler.
Through her talent, performances, compassion, and service to community she has shown that heart goes hand in hand with humor, and Kansas City is indeed all the more close knit because of her. As the Wizard from The Wizard of Oz stated “a heart is not judged by how much you love; but by how much you are loved by others.” Never has a sentiment rang truer. Jessica Dressler and her character Dirty Dorothy have become much-loved members of the Kansas City LGBTQ community.