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Joe Leather - Wasteman Interview

Wasteman is the story of a bin-man who dreams of being a drag queen, based on Nottingham-raised writer Joe Leather's time working as a refuse loader over lockdown. It's an hour long comedy-drama with original songs, fabulous gowns and plenty of heart. 

The show has come fresh off the back of a sell-out run at the VAULT Festival in London having received two West End 'Offie' nominations. It was also a recipient of the Keep It Fringe Fund set up by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, to support its upcoming Edinburgh Fringe run.

Photo by Corinne Cumming

Wasteman will play a Fringe preview at Nonsuch Studios in Nottingham on Saturday 15th July and then plays at the Edinburgh Fringe from 4th to 28th August. I spoke with Joe ahead of the performances.

What inspired you to write the show?
Through a series of unusual events I wound up taking a job as a refuse loader over lockdown. In some ways, it was brilliant (I probably got as much applause for being a key worker as Ive had on stage!). In others, it wasnt (The 4:30 never got any easier). 

At the same time, a friend of mine was starring on RuPauls Drag Race, and I began working on my own drag skills with the extra free time lockdown granted us. Mere months later, I hosted my first Zoom quiz as  Mariah Scary’ for my friends. 
The fact that I could be in both environments at oncethe traditionally masculine world of waste management and the very feminine world of Mariahand the fact that they both felt like drag, inspired the show.

How did you approach writing the piece combining music with comedy?
I come from a musical theatre background, so songs are very much my comfort zone. Ive been in quite a few commercial musicals including Jersey Boys and have written musicals before. The challenge with Wasteman was that it is predominantly a play with music. It was important to me that I created songs that were lyrically witty and immersive, but that served the story logically. Im also lucky to have amazing collaborators in Harry Francesci and Guy Hughes, who provided music and advice and made the whole process so much easier. 

How much of a lifeline was taking on the job as a bin-man during the lockdown period?
It was honestly a life-saver! Like many artists, I was stuck for money. I had a job in a jewellery shop which closed down before I could even start. The bin-man job was a good salary, and I knew for a fact it wouldnt be going anywhere. The experience itself was invaluable, really taking me back to my Northern roots after years pretending to be a Southerner in London.

Where did your fascination with drag begin?
My grandma was a huge Lily Savage fan, and a big fan of over-the-top makeup and shoes herself, so my first exposure to drag was watching TV with her. I was also very lucky to have a family who let me play with dolls and never shamed me for being interested in pursuits that society considers traditionally feminine.

Like many queer kids, I have a distinct memory of trying on my sisters dresses with my friend George when we were about seven or eight… and poor George was a little bit bigger than Maddy, so he got stuck in her velveteen gown. We had to cut him out of it, and a version of this story made it into the show.

Ultimately, I think drag fascinates so many of us because its such a special thing to see people defying gender roles and being utterly empowered by the fact. Its why visibility of drag is so important, especially given the current political climate. 

Photo by Corinne Cumming
What would you say to anyone who dreams of becoming a drag queen?
Your makeup skills will get better. But alsodrag is so much more than the hyper-editorial looks we see on RuPauls Drag Race. Drag is art, so do it your way. You can be a runway queen, but there are so many facets to the art-formdrag kings, bio-queens, club kidsso dont let anyone tell you who you should or shouldnt be.
What do you want an audience member to take away from seeing the show?
The show is a comedy-drama. The audience is going to laugh a lot, but  it also doesnt shy away from the hardships we as queer individuals face. Ultimately, I want an audience to fall in love with Wasteman, to feel the highs and lows, and then to leave feeling uplifted and empowered; Like they can take on the world in six inch heels!

What performances/shows have inspired you?
Jordan GrayIs It A Bird?’ was awe-inspiring to me. Seeing a trans woman being herself so fearlessly is something that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

Wasteman is also a tribute to the incredible British culture of one-person shows. Nicole Leckeys Superhoe/Mood was a big inspiration as it similarly incorporated music and working class culture. Of courseFleabag was a big influence, which is why I was thrilled to be one of the fifty shows receiving funding from Phoebe Waller-BridgeKeep It Fringe’ Fund for its Edinburgh run. Im still hoping shell come along. 

Can you describe the show in 3 words?

Wasteman plays at Nonsuch Studios in Nottingham on Saturday 15th July at 7.30pm with tickets available from The show then plays at the Edinburgh Fringe running at Assembly George Square Studios from 4th until 28th August (not 17th) at 6pm. Tickets are available from

Photo by Corinne Cumming

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