BenDeLaCreme is no bitter Benny. The RuPaul’s Drag Race season six and All Stars season 3 contestant has kept herself busy since her headline-making self-elimination, writing, directing, starring and now producing her own theatrical work.
Beyond her obvious talent (she won 5 of the 6 maxi-challenges on her All Stars season!), she is a seasoned performed with strong, thoughtful and articulate opinions about drag, both as a vehicle for reality television and an ever-evolving art form.
Never one to keep her poignant opinions on Drag Race, the fandom, and the cottage industry that surrounds it to herself, we decided to give BenDeLa a ring, to hear what she’s been up to, get her thoughts on All Stars season 4 and learning the power that lies in saying no.
It's been a minute since you were on our small screens but you've kept yourself incredibly busy. What have you been up to in the months since All Stars season 3?
Oh man, it’s been pretty crazy. I have been continuing to focus on my theatrical work. I have continued to tour my solo show — the last one that I wrote, which is my third one — around the United States and through the UK. I’ve been working with Peaches Christ to do more of her productions with Jinkx Monsoon. I have been continuing to put up the first play that I have written and directed and star in, which is here in Seattle. We just did our second month-long sold out run this fall. And then I produced and and co-starred in a new Christmas tour with Jinkx that we ran throughout all of December. Jinkx and I have been friends for over a decade but that was our first time collaborating. It was my first time as a full-on producer of a tour. I’ve been really kinda getting my fingers out there artistically and I’m becoming a business fish. It’s exciting.
Sounds like you haven’t been up to much. You have this unique opportunity to get to see many swaths of our community in many different regions of our country as a result of touring. What has that been like for you?
It might change for the super younger generation but most of us have been through the struggle of just figuring out whether or not it’s okay to be us. And finding community and peace for ourselves. So while all of my shows are campy and high comedy, that’s always kind of the underlying current. And I find that everywhere I go there’s a relationship to that. [With] queer audiences, this is a universal thing that people respond to, which is great because when you’re first taking work on the road that’s been successful in a smaller microcosm you don’t always know. Everywhere I go I have a lot of people who are like “that was so fun and funny” and I also have people that are like “oh wow that really meant something to me.”
And I love that you understand the nuance of those responses being similar but not the same. It was really exciting to hear you on Race Chaser. I loved having the surprise of your voice as a part of my familiar routine podcast experience. Have you ever thought about exploring this medium more?
Y’know I had never thought of it until I did Race Chaser which was so much fun. I’d done a few podcast interviews here and there, but that was the first thing where I was chatting about a subject. I think it’s definitely a possibility that I would do more of something like that. Maybe I’ll start conceptualizing something new because it’s fun to have that immediate way to connect to people that’s not live performance.
Do it! Now let’s talk about All Stars season 4. I don’t know about you, but for me there seemed to be some fatigue at the end of season 10, having come immediately after All Stars season 3. And that could be less about the show and more about the fandom. But I’m curious for your thoughts on season 4 and whether the extended break between seasons helped?
Certainly I feel reinvigorated watching season 4. We certainly got an amazing cast, and I think that’s a huge part of it. I think we’ve seen Drag Race shift so much from a bunch of queens who mostly had been pursuing this art form for a long time and before it was a thing that would make you rich and famous, when a thing that actually guaranteed you wouldn’t be. And now we’re to a point where there are all these queens who have started drag after this point where they know that it’s potentially going to open up this huge world to them. So I think any time we get an All Stars where there are those queens that bring that other perspective, I think it lights a fire under everybody and reinvigorates the artistic aspect. Of course the drama is always there, but for me that’s so much of what’s appealing about this season.
You and I chatted at last year’s DragCon about your now-iconic and incredibly meme-able exit from All Stars season 3. Now that you’ve had all of these months away from it, and perhaps you’ve reflected a bit more on it all, where do you position season three of All Stars in the overall canon of the show?
It’s hard for me to have a perspective on any season that I was on. I’ve heard people talk about how All Stars season 3 was lackluster and I’ve heard some people say it took a turn after I left, which I’m like … great, I’m glad you felt that way. [laughs]. With my experience there, I had this opportunity to really show my skillset which of course is awesome and I feel very proud of but also had a very much profound personal experience in real time that has continued to affect my life very positively. I think a lot of the reason why I’ve been able to harness the energy of All Stars and funnel it into the projects that I’m passionate about is because on All Stars I really learned the power of saying no. What that means when you say no to the things that you don’t feel as passionate about is that all these other doors open up for you to say yes. Saying no and setting boundaries is a super hard thing for everybody but because I had this moment of doing it so publicly I think it really set in for me. So my All Stars season 3 experience both in the confidence that I formed in doing so well and then this other personal experience continues to be a pivotal experience in my life.
I want to talk for a minute about roasting. It’s a challenge that often some of the funniest queens have trouble with on the show, for example Alyssa Edwards and Trinity. How do you explain the difference between being funny on reality television and being a funny comedian?
I think there’s overlap between reality TV funny and bar/hostess or show emcee funny. Like, those are a little more stream of consciousness. Like you can just talk without ever stopping on reality TV and they’re going to pick out the gems. They’re editors, that’s what they’re there for. But when you’re doing stand-up or a roast you have to edit yourself beforehand which is why it takes so much more preparation. Certainly being a successful improv comedian is a really valuable skill but you still have to go in there with a really strong plan. It’s a separate skillset that requires understanding the form of a joke and what makes it successful.
Increasingly as the show goes on there are more contestants outsourcing elements of their drag, whether that be joke writing or garment design. And there’s a faction of the audience that’s going to assume everything they see from a queen is a product of that queen. Do you see anything troubling in that?
The credit issue is hard because what many people don’t know is that at some point you just sell a person a product, whether you’re a writer or a costumer or whatever, and you have to let go and let God. Personally I really value when people know that I wrote something because I do pride myself as a writer. Knowing what isn’t your strength and outsourcing is actually a smart thing for any businessperson or any artist. For me personally, I no longer make any of my garments. I haven’t made them since before season 6. And sometimes people assume that I do because they assume that that’s a drag queen’s skillset. Writing is something that I feel very passionately about and I always do feel a level of respect for queens that write all of their own material. But it’s not for everyone and I, for instance, am a terrible business person so I outsource all of that. Trixie, for instance, is super savvy and she does a lot of it herself.
I want to end by asking a question from a fan of yours. This question comes from @high_key_mikey who asks: “If we consider Drag Race an imperfect (but beloved) venue to showcase drag art and queer voices to the masses, what in her opinion would be a more perfect way of bringing the joy of drag to people around the world? Obviously seeing local queens live, but I'm talking mass media.”
Oh my God I love that question. It’s not always that the viewers of Drag Race are able to step back and view the broader scene. I think the concept of even being able to talk about Drag Race as imperfect without speaking about it negatively, because of course it’s imperfect, is really smart. There’s this black and white thinking where people either want to worship Drag Race as their ultimate God or they want to tear it down. And the reality is, that’s not a super useful way to think about anything.
I would just like to see in general the focus to get off of this stereotype of the bitchy queen and queens being catty with each other. Because while some people may think that that’s necessary to keep reality television entertaining, I’ve never seen it in a dressing room, or very rarely. Queens behind the scenes are so supportive, so eager to give each other advice, pass on a gig, lend a bobby pin. My focus is on the art and I want to see so much more of it. I hope that more and more audiences who become interested in drag through Drag Race use the tools that we have so readily at our disposal to learn more about the history of drag and the queens that came before Drag Race, the people that inspired me: Varla Jean Merman, Coco Peru, Jackie Beat, this entire generation that grew up alongside Ru. If you love the art form, then check out where it’s been ‘cause it’s been going on for centuries.