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We interview Austin icon and fitness guru Erica Nix about her hilarious, surreal, and thought-provoking film “Erica’s First Holy Shit”.

I’m a native of Austin, Texas, and part of the city’s creative community. So, when I heard that beloved, Austin-famous queer fitness guru Erica Nix made a film about life in Austin from the perspective of its bohemian artists, I knew I had to see it.

Erica is an Austin treasure — and unlikely mayoral candidate — and her film, Erica’s First Holy Shit, promised to explore the changing tides of Austin’s value system while showcasing a large cast of the city’s celebrated queer icons.

When I first moved to Austin to attend college, I immediately fell in love with the city’s quirky, wonderfully weird, laid-back vibe and its absolute embrace of its creative and artistic community. I knew it was where I wanted to grow roots, having never before experienced such a sense of belonging and purpose. Over the years, I’ve watched my beloved city boom, resulting in a seismic cultural shift. Austin became a thriving metropolis — no longer a plucky little college town devoted to its misfits.

Erica explores this evolution — hastened by Covid and the recent death of many Austin institutions — in her hilarious, psychosexual cinematic adventure of self-discovery. It’s a tribute to old Austin and an homage to keeping things weird in the face of increased corporatization and sanitization.

And it’s every bit as gloriously magical, beautifully bonkers, and highly relatable as I hoped it would be. 

Taking inspiration from films like Waking Life and The Holy Mountain, Erica’s First Holy Shit is a psychedelic mash-up of genres and formats ranging from confessional monologues, outré humor, game show segments, explorations in self-help, and mind-bending visual freakouts. 

It’s an extremely personal film and a satire on the mass culture of seekers and the insatiable need for personal fulfillment. Erica invites viewers to join her as she explores religion, psychedelic rituals, therapeutic healing, and politics.

You don’t have to be an Austinite to appreciate this surreal, erotic, hallucinatory fever dream.

While the film is, in fact, a love letter to Erica’s hometown, it’s about something so much more than that. It’s a celebration of the “weirdos” — the different, the marginalized, the creators, and the underrepresented.

Erica’s First Holy Shit! made its world premiere at aGLIFF‘s 35th Annual LGBTQ+ Film Festival in Austin, Texas, on Friday, August 26th, with an encore presentation on August 27th.

I was fortunate enough to sit down with Erica and discuss the film, what it means to be an Austin “weirdo” and struggling creative in a rapidly growing and changing city, and her political aspirations.

You can check out my video interview with Erica below and read on for the full transcript of my chat with this incredible, inspiring woman. 

1. I just watched Erica’s First Holy Shit and, well, holy shit! It was such a surreal, hallucinatory, wonderfully weird (and wickedly fun) experience. What was the biggest challenge you faced bringing this project to life? 

I think the biggest challenge is just working without any budget at all during Covid, and also kind of throwing all my guts out there for everyone to see. But they all kind of became challenges at different times, you know? So I feel like, in the moment of filming, it was hard because we had to do everything. No one had just one job. We were all putting it together and having to do all the managing and costume set design.

Most of the people are costumed in my Leocard collection that we already owned or created from other projects. So that was really hard. Also worrying about people testing positive when we’d have bigger shoot days. And then after the fact, I would say just the vulnerability of everyone seeing it on the big screen was a bigger deal than I thought, a little bit more vulnerable than I expected.

But it’s worth it because I’m really proud of what we made.

2. How important is humor to you as a form of healing/therapy, and did making this very funny film help you in ways you weren’t expecting? 

Oh, that’s such a great question because I think that humor is the most important thing in healing. I mean, I also go to therapy, but I definitely think that this movie is kind of what got me through Covid and what got me through these very big transitions in my life that were heartbreaking.

I basically would talk to my creative team about what I was going through and kind of laugh about it, and then they would make it even more ridiculous. And then we would write it in a story. So that’s why I’m still alive today, I would say.

I don’t know what I would have done if we hadn’t been creating this movie during this time of my life.

3. I know the “Erica” in the film is an exaggerated character. Still, the film also feels very personal — exploring serious and highly relatable ideas of guilt, anxiety, fear of failure, and feelings of inadequacy. How much of the “real” Erica is infused into the character, and did you feel scared or vulnerable at all in making the film? 

Yeah, I don’t know that the character is much of an exaggeration, to be honest.

There used to be something between me and this character. But the longer I’ve lived as this aerobics enthusiast, the longer I feel like we’re just the same person. And a lot of the movie is basically just what I’m going through and things I actually did. There are definitely some things that were exaggerated or things that started in truth, maybe we found out later down the line that weren’t true and just kept them in the script. So definitely fact-check anything that you thought was very interesting and you didn’t know yet about the world.

Yeah, this is all me, baby. And it is vulnerable. But I think the best stuff is I don’t even have friendships that aren’t vulnerable. So I know many people who have fun and laugh with their friends all the time. I laugh with my friends, too, but I’ve never been able to hang out with people that just have a good time all the time.

You have to have some darkness in there, or I’m just not interested.

4. The film is a tribute to old Austin, an homage to keeping things weird in a changing landscape that is no longer artist-friendly. You’ve said, “Austin has to find a way to keep its weirdos.” Why do you think this is important? 

Well, I think that, first off, we have to create space and support marginalized groups of people because we know that when we do that, we’re lifting up the whole community.

It doesn’t trickle down the way they’d like us to believe; it’s a trickle up. So when you help the people that need to help the most and everyone benefits from that. That’s really important.

Personally, I obviously think it’s important to keep Austin weird because a lot of us have kind of created our entire vocations and lives around the city, and that allows us to be these creative people and live on a smaller budget. And I don’t have children. I’ve made choices so that I can afford my life and be a creative person. But the city that kind of allowed that creativity to grow is now kind of clamping down, and I don’t know where we’ll all go.

To me, it doesn’t even feel like we’re getting pushed out of the city. When you build your entire career on your creative community and queer community, it feels like you’re kind of getting pushed out of your life. Right? So when cities become unaffordable and communities have to leave. It’s not like we all get to just go to the same city. We all get displaced and no longer have community.

And as a queer person, although my parents and my family, I love them very much, but they don’t necessarily understand me. So my chosen family has really been who I’ve leaned on my entire life for support and community and for everything. So if I don’t have that, I feel like I have nothing.

And there’s just a lot of us going through that right now.

5.  Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future of Austin, and do you think there’s an opportunity for an artistic resurgence? 

Yeah, I think that if we made it a priority, then our city could do anything.

We are a very creative city. We just have to put our priorities back into place, and we have to stop giving incentives to big companies that we don’t need here. I mean, they’re not really giving us jobs, and if they are, they’re probably the shit jobs. And they’re giving all the good jobs to other people moving here. So that doesn’t really help our community.

I think we’ll be creative. We’ve always found places, other new places. They just have to stop shutting them down as we find them. Yeah, I think we can do that.

6. Do you plan to continue to embrace your creative, artistic spirit as you pursue your political career? Do you think it’s possible to be a hardworking advocate of real change and still embrace that free-spirited slacker mindset made famous by Richard Linklater’s film Slacker

Well, I do identify a lot with Slacker as an Austin slacker than moving all the characters in it. But I would say as a creative person, none of us are slackers. We’re hustling all the time. So I feel like as a creative person in Austin, even if my job is like, I don’t know, I’m hustling all the time, I’m going to hustle to be mayor. I don’t know what the difference is.

I’m definitely not going to change, like, who I am. I’m going to show up to every debate I can wearing a leotard and a blazer, and I’m going to stay true to myself. So if it works out, it works out. But this is my first political rodeo, so I have no idea what to expect.

7. If you could choose one thing to come out of releasing this film into the world, what would it be? 

The first thing that comes to mind, which is such a failure as an adult, is that it would be great if I made enough money that my dad would be happy. Because right now, my entire family thinks that this film is pornography. Which is fine. If it were, it’s fine. But, like, none of them will see it. It’s totally fine. But it feels like it would be great if it was like written in something…

It’s terrible to say, but still, it would be amazing if it got enough eyes on it that someone could be like, oh, your daughter is Erica Nix…in the movie Erica First Holy Shit?  I guess, isn’t that what we’re all just still wanting is the acceptance of our father?

Ultimately, when I just continue being able to do what I love to do, which is creating work with my friends and being creative and putting stuff out there that I think a lot of people are afraid to say. I don’t know why, but I’m not afraid to say it. So it would be great if we could just continue to make new projects — and this time, get funded for it and have help around that so we can continue to make people laugh and go on this crazy psychedelic journey.

Follow Erica on Instagram at @workoutwithericanix or on Twitter at @workoutericanix. Look for Erica’s Holy Shit streaming from August 29th through September 5th. It’s a truly unique and unforgettable treasure of a film you won’t want to miss!

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