“I went from having just gone on a full time schedule with a fully booked 2020, to society collapsing and having to get a job working nights in a care home,” says Joshua “Visage” Burke.
Wrestling has always been known for its uniquely strange and diverse cast of characters, from undead wizards, to leprechauns and even factions of evil male cheerleaders.
In many ways the character driven worlds of drag and wrestling are a match made in heaven, with pioneers of drag wrestling like Priscilla rising to the top of the UK wrestling scene in recent years.
Joshua Burke, who wrestles under the drag persona Visage, says they were looking forward to providing a positive figure for the LGBT+ community, having left their job to pursue a full-time in ring career in August 2019.
These plans were scuppered however when lockdown restriction’s on live events left independent wrestlers around the country out of work, forcing the 28-year-old to hang up the wig and begin working night shifts at a care home.
“2020 looked amazing, I was fully booked and I thought this could be a wrestling year for me, but obviously things haven’t worked out that way,” says Joshua Burke
“I quit my job in August 2019 to pursue wrestling full time and it was going amazing until this whole situation hit.”
The local star, nicknamed the queen of queens, says that the lack of government support for out of work for freelance independent wrestlers led to them having to get a job as a key worker:
“I didn’t get any [government] support whatsoever, we aren’t employed full time so we can’t get furlough.
“When things opened up last summer, the only thing going was outside shows, which were already booked up, so there was no work.”
Visage say they intend to go back to a fulltime schedule once restrictions are eased, however cautions that the industry would need time to recover from the pandemic.
The drag wrestling star, who has performed for promotions such as Defiant Wrestling and LCW, originally trained at Nottingham’s pro-wrestling academy House of Pain after moving to the city after university.
Joining in December 2015, they quickly become one of the academies fastest debutants, making their first in ring appearance after just four months training, which he credits to his life-long passion for theatre and performance.
Initially debuting under another gimmick, Josh Burke became Visage after being inspired by fellow drag wrester Priscilla at a local wrestling show.
“I fell in love with drag at Uni and I have always loved wrestling since I was a kid and when I saw Pricilla I learnt for the first time that these world could meet.
“My favourite part of wrestling is the story telling. Characters and matches have levels to them, and sometimes you will need that balance of comedy and brutality.
“Visage helps nail the need to go from 1-100.”
The 28-year-old wrestles a hard-hitting comedy style and believes that audiences have been shaped by how LGBT+ wrestlers have been used in the previous years as comedic fodder and enhancement talent for those higher up the card.
“When audiences see Visage, the initial perception is that its a joke and I think that’s based on how camp characters have been used in the past.
“When I debut for a crowd I definitely amp up the comedy to play up to that perception.
“Some people will understandably look at it as ‘oh god, here comes the drag queen and the comedy toilet break match.’
“But my job is to make sure by the end there is a respect there.
“When you have gone from this glamorous look when you come out and by the end; the wig is off, the make up is smudged and things are broken – the perception changes.”
Recent years have seen an increase of LGBT+ wrestlers achieving higher roles across the industry, with AEW star Nyla Rose recently becoming the first openly transgender wrestler to win a world title in a leading American promotion.
Visage believes that attitudes towards LGBT+ wrestling have changed across the industry, with audiences, promoters and wrestlers prepared to take them more seriously.
“I think the evolution of Queer wrestling is that we are taken more seriously, with the community deciding we want to be taken more seriously, similar to what happened with the women’s revolution,” says Joshua Burke
He added: “you definitely get some audiences that see a 6ft 1 drag queen and they are having none of it.
“Sometimes you come out thinking ‘I’m never going there again’.
“But 95% of the time, even when audiences are cautious, by the end they are completely into it.
“People in the industry are more accepting now, and increasingly your position on the card is due to talent.
“And as a community I think we deserve that opportunity.”
Words by Adam Ridgley