Bianca Del Rio Talks Life Beyond Drag Race
By R. Kurt Osenlund
“You look like a fuckin' thermos,” Bianca Del Rio barks at a plaid-wearing New Jerseyan, one of three brave souls who opted to join Del Rio on stage during Hot Mess Drag Revue, the famed New York show at 42West, recently hosted by the fiery winner of RuPaul's Drag Race season six. Delivered from the mouth of a queen who's sickeningly polished, Del Rio's comedy can make you ugly-cry with guilty laughter. Nothing is taboo, no one is safe, and it's nearly impossible to mentally replay a joke, as you'll be hit with six more before the first sinks in. If his fellow Drag Race finalists, Courtney Act and Adore Delano, represent the epitome of female illusion and America's first true drag pop star, respectively, Del Rio is holding it down for classic insult queens like Lady Bunny, who take pages from the dig-filled books of legends like Joan Rivers.
Still, it's a tricky time to be a queen whose schtick is rooted in being offensive, seeing as more and more members of the LGBT community are taking offense to—or, at least, taking a position on—the use of certain language, like “tranny,” which has famously placed RuPaul under fire. (Del Rio was also called out recently for an off-color swipe at former Drag Race star—and current trans woman—Carmen Carrera, before later apologizing on Twitter.) Del Rio is of the mind that what happens on stage stays on stage, and that any criticisms targeted at his act or RuPaul's Drag Race itself are warped and unwarranted. And indeed, the Del Rio I finally speak to on the phone—after a brief meet-and-greet at Hot Mess that was cut short thanks to his loaded schedule—is miles away from the potty-mouthed lioness reading people to filth in the spotlight. Benevolent, but never without edge, America's Next Drag Superstar (aka Roy Haylock) discusses his pint-sized gal pal, Lola; his kinship with the “brilliant” Bunny; and the Hurricane he's brewing, soon to be unleashed on the world.
Out: It was great to meet you at 42West. You were a quite a sport, standing at that step and repeat for photos with an entire club full of people.
Bianca Del Rio: Well, you know, the least I can do is take a picture for people. I didn’t cure cancer, but if you want to take a photo, why not? Let’s do it.
I mainly want to talk about life after Drag Race, but let’s just briefly recap this season’s finale. I think season six had the strongest top three yet.
I’m very fond of Courtney and Adore, and we all kind of had a general consensus of, “If you get it, I understand.” And it was one of those moments where you didn’t know how it was gonna go. Most people think, “Oh it’s scripted; it’s said and done.” But it really isn’t. You just don’t know.
So what were those moments like, leading up to that last minute before the announcement, sitting there next to RuPaul?
I mean, it’s crazy. Ru’s a bad bitch. Ru can do what she wants, so you never know how it’s going to roll. She says it all the time: the decision is hers to make. So, even if you felt that you’d done a great job, statistically, you never know which way it’s going to turn. And I feel that at that point, to get to top three is a really big deal as far as the process of the show. It’s not easy to get there, and when you start with 14 people, it really is a process.
Since gaining this notoriety, you’ve become someone whom people increasingly pursue to be insulted—they want to get insulted by you. How challenging is that, when people walk up to you and say they want a read?
Well it takes a minute, you know? I can’t just walk into a room and go, “Yeah, let me take your read.” For me, it’s a show—it’s what I do on stage. And what I do on stage is not necessarily my identity. I go after the obvious. Stereotypically, I make fun of whatever is in front of me, but by no means do I assume I’m better than, or that I’m the queen bee. Ru always says, “If you can’t love yourself how are you going to love somebody else?” For me, it’s, “If you can’t make fun of yourself, how in the hell are you gonna make fun of someone else?” But for someone to say, “Read me, read me!” I’ve gotta be in the zone to go there. And there are moments when you’re like, “Oh shit, maybe I shouldn’t have said that,” but it’s got to come to me in that moment. I don’t spend my life walking around reading people.
So you kind of need a girl to walk on stage who happens to not shave her armpits, like at the show I attended.
There you go! Then you have material.
Within the context of your show, it seems like nothing is off limits, and in the performance I saw, you mentioned the “tranny / she-male” issue, and how it falls under the notion that you’re going to say what you want with the idea that it’s all in fun. But what are your thoughts about this topic beyond your show? Ru has strong feelings about these words, as do a lot of people.
Well I think it’s an interesting topic, and it does bring on tension. I think everybody’s entitled to their opinion, but I can say, from my perspective, that to assume that a show like RuPaul’s Drag Race is transphobic, or derogatory to anyone, in any way, is insane. If your issue is with a word, or your issue is with how you feel, you’re entitled to all of that. But as far as the show is concerned, it’s about men in wigs who “lip-sync for their lives” and pretend to be each other with puppets. It is not offensive in any way. And the great thing about the show is the platform. We’re in people’s living rooms every Monday night for many weeks, and as I’ve been able to travel, I’ve seen audiences full of gay people, straight people, and transgender people that are all coming out to see us because of the show. And the “She-mail” aspect of the show was just a play on the word “E-mail.” It was not derogatory. It’s in fun. You can feel what you want, and tweet, and go on Facebook and discuss it if you want. Free speech. But I’ve never found the show offensive.
Well, in your show, the Hot Mess Drag Revue, the tension was cut, or something, with a raunchy little Katy Perry parody from Lady Bunny, which left me speechless. If you, RuPaul and Lady Bunny were in a death match, what would you do to survive?
Oh my god! Well first of all, those two have survived longer than I have. I’d have to give in. Especially if it’s Bunny—you never know what you’re going to get with Bunny. She is a loose cannon who makes me look normal, kind, and sweet. She’s a bitch that’s survived a long time and she’s a genius. People do drag for different reasons, and what she does is put on a show, deliver, conquer, and leave. It’s not personal. She is what she is. And frankly, we do a show together called Hot Mess. If you don’t know by the title what you’re getting into, then you’re screwed. And as far as Ru is concerned, I mean, come on. I noticed on Drag Race, several people were like, “We want to follow in Ru’s legacy, and be as good as Ru, and follow in her footsteps.” And I was thinking, Great for you, but Ru ain’t goin’ nowhere. Ru ain’t done. That’s lovely, but that bitch is still going strong. In a death match, I would have to sit back, and ask Bunny and Ru to give me some notes.
I’m glad that you brought up that Bunny is brilliant, because she recently wrote a Facebook post aimed at Ru, and it was this hilariously articulate rant clapping back against a dig Ru made against Bunny. Personally, I hadn't realized how smart Bunny is.
Oh, she is. You have to be Bunny’s friend on Facebook. Have to. I mean, politics, anything. I love going to lunch with Bunny. First of all, you realize she’s going to be out of drag, which is interesting, and you also realize that you’re going to pay—no matter what. She will never reach for her wallet. The thing that I love about her, and about drag in general, is you learn your craft. It’s not necessarily your identity. With Bunny, she can sit back and discuss anything beautifully, intelligently, and honestly. And she knows her audience. To assume that people like her are against, or afraid, or not cooperative with certain groups is insane. We’ve been there, we’ve done it. I’ve worked with transsexuals, I’ve worked with drag queens, I’ve worked with drag kings. All of it has been part of my process. And to ever assume that people are against one another is, to me, unfathomable. Do I agree with everyone’s opinion? Not always, but we live in a world now with social media where everybody has that opinion and everybody everybody voices it. So it can be a little difficult at times, but I don’t feel anyone is against anyone else.
You do a great Bunny impression, and clearly, you do a great Judge Judy impression. Have you met Judge Judy?
I have not! You know, I’ve already said it: Judge Judy should be president of the United States. And we need Suze Orman, Oprah’s financial girl, to be vice president. They would get this fucking country together. I mean, think about it: you need a bad bitch who knows her shit. Judge Judy is brilliant and amazing. And it was very interesting—prior to Drag Race, I didn’t have a Twitter account, I didn’t have Instagram, and I didn’t have a Facebook fan page, so I was unaware of Ru’s love for Judy. I just wanted to do Judy because I thought she'd be good for “Snatch Game.” I was shocked to find out Ru was in love with her. I thought, Oh shit, now the pressure is on.
I liked Judy's video tribute to you at the end of the season.
I was dying! Actually, you know, it was funny, I didn’t see it at the moment because when we were in Vegas, me, Adore and Courtney were escorted out to the stage, so I didn’t see Judy's video until I got home. On Twitter I saw people saying, “Oh, a shout-out from Judy.” Then when I saw it I went, “Bitch crazy! Just crazy.” Judy's definitely on my list of people to meet.
My partner has perfected your pronunciation of “baloney!” It’s become a thing now: At least once a day, he’ll call me out on my shit and say, “Baloney!”
Hahaha. You know, you forget that Drag Race reaches an audience of all ages and all types, and I’ve been shocked by the amount of people who will quote me on Twitter and say, you know, “Don’t pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining!” or, “baloney!” They think those are my words, but those are Judy’s words! Judy’s out there. People think it comes from me. No, no—that’s Judy-ism.
Judy-ism! If you were to host your own show on television, what would you like it to be?
Oh god. Well, I’m old enough to remember Carol Burnett, and I would love a variety show type of thing. Not so much a talk show. But I would love gathering some really smart, intelligent people in a room and making fun of [things]. In general, there’s nothing better than having an audience like that, and that’s something that I would kill to do. I don’t know if it’s necessarily out there, especially with a gay artist, despite Ellen's talk show. I’m a little racier, so it might have to be on cable of some sort.
Well, there's an opening over at The View. Those broads could use some shaking up.
Oh god. Trust me. I do love Whoopi. The rest, not so much. But, definitely—we need to start that.
Besides Judy, and Whoopi, and Ellen, who in the media do you love? And who in the media needs to shut up?
Well, that’s a serious question. You know, I think that, in the world we live in, celebrities become celebrities, and I did Drag Race so that’s why I’m having this conversation with you. So, my viewpoint is not necessarily that important. But I think that, as a viewer, I wish Oprah were back on TV. Who doesn’t love Oprah? And now she's serving tea at Starbucks. She is! All tea, no shade. That’s pretty amazing. Think about it: Oprah is at Starbucks. That’s when you know you’ve made it: when you can call up Starbucks and say, “Hey, can I plug your tea?” That’s fucking Oprah, and I don’t think there’s anyone of that caliber. Who I absolutely hate, and who makes my skin crawl, would have to be someone like Sherri Shepherd. I just can’t with her. She makes me crazy. Not because she’s ignorant, but it’s just...her wigs. Her wigs bother me. And that's probably only because Elizabeth Hasselbeck left the show.
I wanted to bring up your young friend Lola. Drag Race was happening concurrently with the Michael Sam draft news and conservatives have been asking how to explain Michael Sam to their kids. My thought was that these kids—or maybe these parents—should just have a chat with Lola. I’m sure she’d do a nice job of explaining, “this man loves this man and that’s about it.”
Exactly. I've known Lola’s mother, my friend Kerry, since I was 17. We went to prom together, and we did theater together, and we worked together. Then, at 30, I moved to New York and she was a big part of my life. I stayed at her apartment, and she was pregnant. Then we were neighbors, so I kind of grew up with Lola. And that whole process was not so much about making an effort to be a role model, it was just natural. I was next door, and for Lola, without realizing it, “Roy Lady” was in her world. She assumed everybody had a Roy Lady. She grew up thinking, “This is normal. This is what it is.” No hate, no bullshit. Kerry sent me a reaction video of Lola watching the finale, and it was this crazy video with this little child, so happy and proud that I won. That’s a moment where you sit back and go, “This is an insane world we live in.” To have that and to also have the total opposite, like people fighting about the word “tranny,” is crazy, but all of it’s possible. Everybody fights with passion, and everybody has this love within each other, and it takes a minute to go, “Hey, it’s OK—we can make this work if everybody would just shut up and listen.” And this child gets it. She's eight years old and knows what I do, and who I am, and doesn’t have a problem with it. And that's amazing.
So let's talk Hurricane Bianca, which is a film you have coming up, and something I was certainly going to bring up the night we met in New York. It was storming like crazy.
[Laughs] It was all my fault. Hurricane Bianca is a film that my genius friend Matt Kugleman and I are working on, and I started crowd-funding it before I did the show. I couldn’t talk about it during the show, and we'd raised $35,000 initially, so I think that everybody thought I’d taken the money and gone on vacation and found some escort in another country or something. But now that the show is done, we’re starting another crowd-funding campaign. What most people don’t realize is that, in 29 states, it’s still legal to be fired for being gay, and the movie is based on a guy who was a school teacher, who’s kind of down on his luck, and gets fired. Then, in order to seek revenge on the town, he returns as a substitute teacher—as Bianca del Rio—and gets his revenge. It's crazy and insane. I come back and wreak havoc on everyone. It’s a comedy! We hope to shoot it by next summer.
What else are you up to these days?
The other thing is, while I’m on a plane every other day, I’m writing a one-woman/one-man cabaret show that I’m looking forward to doing in the fall, which I’ll be able to travel with. It will be a little different than the bar gigs. I love those, but this is more of a sit-down cabaret act that I’ll be doing, which I hope to start in New York and take everywhere.
I have to admit, even though you said it’s hard to do it on the fly, the biggest regret that I have about us not chatting longer in person is that you didn't get to read me. But hopefully that's in our future.
Totally. Just show up and be annoying. I’ll have a lot to say. Trust me! I always tell people, "You’d be as bitter as I am if you had your dick in pantyhose." You just gotta catch me in the zone.