“I never dressed up as a child. When people see a drag queen, they just assume that you want to be a girl. That was never part of my life. For me it's the fanfare of it as I got older; the packaging for me to do my job. But I never dressed up as a kid. It didn't excite me. And my sisters dressed horribly so I didn't want any of their shit. They were borderline lesbian with their fashions, so that definitely didn't appeal to a gay boy.”
– Bianca Del Rio
Guy MacPherson: How are you?
Bianca Del Rio: I am alive, so that's a good thing.
GM: And where are you?
BDR: I'm in LA right now. I just got back from London. I'm here in LA sorting and plotting and planning my life, ordering wigs and packing up to head on the road.
GM: I see your schedule. You play everywhere in the world.
BDR: It's insane, isn't it? This is my fourth tour I've been travelling with but I think the only place I haven't been to yet is Antarctica, which I'm willing to go. I'm not afraid. But that's the only continent I haven't been to.
GM: Oh, the only continent. I was going to say how was North Korea?
BDR: (laughs) I was invited back, of course. They apparently like clowns with bad wigs, like Trump. But yeah, it's been surreal. What's great about this particular tour is that it's all kind of jam-packed together. I do better with just continuing. When I have too many breaks in between, it kinda ruins the momentum for me.
GM: Do you get any more nervous in one part of the world than another, for whatever reason?
BDR: You know what's interesting, I find it harder in America because I think you're judged harsher in America for content, material, jokes, or whatever they're discussing. They're a lot more forgiving in other countries. Maybe because they only see snippets of me from either Drag Race, which is a couple years ago, or whatever content they see online. They're probably a little more excited to see you whereas in America, they're like, 'Oh, her again?'
GM: They're jaded.
BDR: Yeah, I think Americans are. Usually, on the business side, a lot of the tickets sell faster in other countries than they do in America. Americans are just lazier and slower, but yet eventually they do sell. It's just one of those things where other countries jump on it a little faster. Which explains why David Hasselhoff is a big star in Germany. It's the most random thing in the world. No one gives a shit about him in America, but Germany thinks he's fabulous! (laughs)
GM: I heard you almost quit doing drag before the RuPaul show.
BDR: Yeah. It's one of those things. At that time, I think it was 18 years of doing drag. That was old-school drag; that was working in the bars at night, hoping you had a job, between New Orleans and New York for many years. Having a day job to pay your rent and having a night job to pay your rent and hoping that you could live through this. And after a while I thought, you know, this has been a lovely run but it's exhausting and it's tiresome and it's expensive and I thought, you know what, I'll end at 40 and that will wrap things up. Then television, this amazing opportunity, came up. I auditioned and went and did the show and it shifted the whole game for me. It wasn't like, I'm done! No, it was just like, you know what, this has been a good twenty years of this; I could quit and just go live my life. And that's what I was planning on doing. And television is a powerful thing. I mean it really changed the game for me. But all of those years of working in the bars for two people a night or sometimes a hundred people I think prepared me for this opportunity. In the end, I have no regrets, but it is interesting how it all kinda played out.
GM: It wasn't in any way a curse, like, 'Oh, now I gotta keep doing this.'
BDR: No. Obviously the whole situation is better. You have bigger audiences, you're travelling the world, you actually have people that want to hear what you have to say, not drunk people that are in the bar at 1 a.m. just because they've wandered in. It created an audience. So it's been kinda remarkable on that level. I can't complain. If I complained, I'd sound like an asshole, so I really can't complain.
GM: Since when do you care about sounding like an asshole?
BDR: Well, you know what I mean. On a personal level, being an asshole. But complaining would make me sound like a complete douchebag to people with far more serious jobs than what I'm doing. So I'm grateful for it. But the travel is insane and the schedule's tight but I prefer it that way. I think I do better when I go from show to show to show rather than having pockets, as I was saying. The pockets of time off really don't do well for me. I can rest when I'm dead. You gotta keep moving.
GM: Now you're the most powerful drag queen in the world. So how much can you bench press?
BDR: First of all, that's according to some magazine, and next week they'll say I'm the worst one. None of that means anything! (laughs) Uh, oh God, I haven't been to the gym; I can't bench press shit. Put it this way: I can wear three wigs at one time and three pairs of eyelashes. That's some strength there. But overall it's one of those things, I had a lot of drag friends that were on that list, and it went on and on and on and on. Like I said, tomorrow it's going to say that I'm the worst drag queen. It's just what it is. These people just have to make up a story to put in the paper to piss people off. Everybody's a blogger now, everybody's got a magazine. They just create this shit. It really means nothing. As long as I'm working, I'm happy. I don't care what list they put me on.
GM: It sounds like you do have the strongest eyelids in the business.
BDR: I do. Yes, I do. (laughs) And I roll my eyes extensively so they get a good workout on a daily basis.
GM: I assume drag came before standup.
BDR: I think with everything, it just kind of evolved into whatever I'm doing now. It wasn't a conscious choice, like, Okay, I'm going to be a comedian. I never said, I'm going to be a drag queen. It just kind of evolved through theatre. It was like, Can you do this? Sure. Can you do that? Sure. And lots of times in drag I was the one who was the host; I would talk during the show because a lot of other performers didn't like talking. And then it was, Can you cover this costume change? So while the costume change is going on, I'm talking for two minutes. Then it became five minutes, then it became ten minutes. So it was a weird evolution into it. And it wasn't until I moved back to New York in 2005 where someone said, 'What is it you do? What is your act?' Then it became, well, I guess I'm a comedian because I'm not singing and dancing in the bars, I'm actually just doing material. So it evolved into it but it wasn't a conscious choice. I'm not opposed to doing comedy out of drag at all; it's just this has kind of been the vehicle for the past few years.
GM: You have done it out of drag, right? I imagine it's different.
BDR: Yes, I have, yeah. It's completely different. Going back to doing Drag Race, people's idea of you is what they saw on television so they see you in the makeup. It's kind of like a Dame Edna situation, who I love. Barry Humphreys, who created Dame Edna, he had done like ten different characters over his lifetime and none of the characters stuck with the exception of Dame Edna. Obviously, he's been very successful, but the one character that stood out was Dame Edna. People just ate up Dame Edna. I'm not sure if because it was a fully developed character or because it was the costume or the wigs or somebody they could relate to, like a mother-in-law or something, but it was definitely the one out of all of them that stuck. I think people like the fanfare. And it kinda lets you get away with murder.
GM: It was one of the best shows I've seen: Dame Edna. You mentioned you're like Don Rickles in a wig. I was thinking Dame Edna, Lisa Lampanelli, Joan Rivers – who, of course, you shared a bed with – and Eddie Izzard.
BDR: What I think is fascinating is five years ago I had done In Bed with Joan and I posted this thing about it and it was fascinating to read people's comments saying could you get away with any of this now because everybody's so offended? It's only been five years but you go, wow, the world has changed. So I think it's important to have people like Don Rickles and Joan Rivers and Lisa Lampanelli, who's so damn funny. A lot of people are like, 'Well, that's crude.' But look, it's not for you; it doesn't mean it can't happen in the world. Lighten the fuck up. I think that's what's missing from the world. Many people, especially with social media, the younger people will tell me, 'You can't say that!' Well, I can say whatever the fuck I want; you don't have to like it, and I'm not here to please you. Obviously I'm not for you. But I refuse to have a 13-year-old girl on Twitter tell me, a 44-year-old drag queen, 'You can't do that! I'm offended!' Go fuck off. (laughs) That's not how the world works.
GM: I was thinking that when I watched The Green Room. It was only 6 to 10 years ago, but it's amazing to see what was allowed to be said then and how comedy has changed.
BDR: Yeah. Look at the show Little Britain. Little Britain was the same thing. Genius and hysterically funny but nowadays it would be considered... 'Oh my God!' It blows my mind. I thought, were people that offended back then? Maybe they were but we didn't have social media to hear their response. So I think it's just a different world. I think people just have to post something and they have to be offended by something so they have to make a big deal out of it. It's a weird line. Luckily, when I perform, the people paying to come and see me know what I'm about so I'm not going to bother with entertaining the people on Twitter or the people in interviews because you just can't. They're going to find something wrong with it.
GM: You've been doing this 24 years. How long did it take you to find your comedic voice?
BDR: Oh, God, three drinks and a microphone and I found it! I don't really know. As insane as it sounds, standing in a wig and looking artificial but being as real as possible was just always part of the mix. That's just what it was. Because I do look so artificial, I think people can relate to what I'm saying. That's always been there. I mean, obviously it's grown over the years. It just kind of evolved. Remember, at the beginning, I was just killing time; I was just covering costume changes for people. It just evolved into this world. I think that's what's so great about now is when I'm doing a full show of an hour and a half, you can talk about anything. I just keep notebooks of thoughts and views and opinions and then it turns into content, which is wild.
GM: Do you get along with most other drag performers? Do they get you?
BDR: They could, and if they don't I don't necessarily care. (laughs) I have several friends that I love and they're funny and they're great but I don't necessarily hang out with a group or look for a group to get validation. That's insane. But I do have several friends that I do enjoy. But it varies. I think a lot of people may not like this, may not like that, or think, Oh God, I like that because he gets away with it. I just think it depends on the group.
GM: As you said, you're not in the nightly scene anymore. You're your own planet. But what did you like least about the scene and most?
BDR: When you had a bad night, it sucked. When you'd show up and there'd be five people. It was hard. And then you'd have to be at work the next morning at 8 am and this is 1 o'clock in the morning in New York. But you were living in New York so there was always a bright side to some of it. But the schlepping was a lot. Sometimes I worked three nights a week; sometimes I worked five nights a week. It depended on what was happening. Also, at the time, the gay scene had changed quite a bit because we were going into Grinder and the phone apps and all of that stuff. In my day, you would go to a gay bar and you would meet people. You would go see a show. And now everybody's on a goddamn phone. It's a different world. I just saw the paint on the wall changing and I thought, I don't know if I can do this anymore. Not because the world was changing but because I was getting older and tired of the thing, getting tired of the late nights and getting tired of schlepping to the bar and nobody cared. It was a different world. So the struggle was hard. But once again, you're living in New York so you're like, this is amazing.
GM: And was the best part that it was in New York?
BDR: No, because I met so many people and I was able to work for that many years. That was the best part. You don't realize it when you're doing it. It was just getting to work. All of it paid off in the end because it worked out for me later.
GM: You have three older sisters, right?
BDR: Yes, I do.
GM: Did you get their hand-me-downs?
BDR: Oh God, no! I never dressed up as a child. I think that's the other thing people often mistake, too. When people see a drag queen, they just assume that you want to be a girl. That was never part of my life. For me it's the fanfare of it as I got older; the packaging for me to do my job. But I never dressed up as a kid. It didn't excite me. And my sisters dressed horribly so I didn't want any of their shit. They were borderline lesbian with their fashions, so that definitely didn't appeal to a gay boy.
GM: Does your family love your success?
BDR: Of course they love the money, so sure! (laughs) I've never been one of those people that sit back and look for approval from family. You either get it or you don't get it. And they've been lovely. I mean, I think it's been a long journey. Now that I'm 44, I'm like, why am I complaining or concerned about shit that happened when I was a child? I think everything that happened to me as a child made it better for me later. So I have no complaints.
GM: Yeah, you're not looking for approval from anyone, family or not.
BDR: Well, you can't. I think that's what people miss out on. I think people spend their lives, whether it's a relationship or family, going, 'Why don't they understand me?' Why don't you just go live your life and show them that you can live your life and maybe then they'll come around. And I think that's the case. The minute you just walk away from all that craziness, they come back.
GM: You refer to yourself as a clown and a man in a wig. Is that breaking drag conventions?
BDR: I don't think there are any specific rules to the scene. If anybody says that, I think they're an idiot. I think you do whatever works for you. I just always state the obvious because I don't take myself seriously. On a business level, I take myself seriously, and being professional and showing up and doing my job. But I don't take myself seriously when it comes to all that fuckery. Some people get lost in their heads with it; I just try to point it out in advance I'm not that person because it's a little delusional on some parts. And that's the other thing, too, with social media: you can create whatever life you want and put it on display so I think it's important to just be, Hello, this is me, this is what I do, this is what it's about. I think it's almost like breaking the ice, and just letting people know I'm aware of what's going on right now. Are you?
GM: You started in theatre. I saw the trailer for Hurricane Bianca, showing off your acting chops in both sexes.
BDR: Yes, I was lucky. Once again, the power of television. Here was this great opportunity. My friend had this idea way before I did Drag Race and then because of Drag Race, obviously, it put me on a larger platform, which gave me the opportunity to create this stuff. It's been fun. So we've done two and we're working on the third.
GM: The third in that character?
BDR: Yes, the third installment. Our trilogy, so to speak. We're running up there with Harry Potter!
GM: We see you, Roy Haylock, acting, as well. Is that something you'd like to do more of?
BDR: Look, I'll do anything. I'm not picky. Who am I to say that's beneath me? No, I'm open to all of it. A friend of mine wrote it so it kinda worked out well. I just left London. I was doing a musical there in the West End called Everybody's Talking About Jamie. I was lucky enough to get to do that for eight weeks, which was lots of fun. So I'm open to all of it. It's not just exclusively to drag; it's whatever seems fitting at the time.
GM: Your It's Jester Joke tour... It's just a joke. I only now just got that now that I said it out loud.
BDR: That's it.
GM: Have you been to Vancouver before?
BDR: I have been, yes. I don't think I was there with my last tour because we couldn't coordinate a theatre at the time. So yes, I have been there but not with my last show. So I think I skipped a show.
GM: What can we expect?
BDR: It's strictly a standup show. We talk about whatever's on my agenda of things to talk about. I always tell people to expect the unexpected because each night it changes. When you're in Canada obviously things that are happening in Canada might be more relevant to you guys. You don't want to hear about Trump. So it definitely varies night by night but there is a base outline of what I do. It's roughly an hour and a half. And I also do a question and answer with the audience, which is always fun, just to find out what's wrong with people in the world. It's been this great formula that's worked out well and I'm excited to head back to Canada again. I'm surprised they let me in. I'm excited. I'm always excited when I get through. Canada and Australia do not play when it comes to getting into the country. It's pretty wild.
GM: We let anyone in.
BDR: No, you're far more strict! Canada and Australia are very strict. They do not give a shit. (laughs)
GM: What are we strict at?
BDR: The process is a little more intense. They're thorough, which is great, which is what you should have. When you go to Ireland, they don't give a shit. They're drunk; they just pass you through. They don't care. As long as you're wearing green, they're happy. It doesn't matter. That's one of the things I find interesting about travelling is airports, airport security, and immigration, and getting through, and customs and stuff. It's fascinating to see how each country operates. It's so different everywhere you go.
GM: Well I hope you make it through, then.
BDR: Yes. You're very thorough, is what I was saying. I was giving Canada a compliment. You're very thorough, which is wild when you're not used to it. 'Okay, this is serious. Okay.'
GM: Be on your best behaviour.
BDR: I'll try, I'll try.
GM: Thanks a lot.
BDR: Thank you. Great chatting with you.