The ‘Clown in a Gown’ talks death-drop disdain, bachelorettes in gay clubs and why she’s done with ‘Drag Race’
Bianca Del Rio is in Stockholm on her It’s Jester Joke comedy tour, still subject to the fraught human realities of traveling despite her top-tier queen status. And packing – don’t remind her. “As a drag queen, you travel with so much shit,” says Del Rio (aka Roy Haylock).
Famous for her tart candor, the Louisiana-born stand-up comedian’s success is a result of saying what she thinks and not caring what you think. And you, of course, already know this if you witnessed the self-proclaimed “Clown in a Gown” reign over the other crown-pining contestants during season six of RuPaul’s Drag Race in 2014.
Five years later, Del Rio, who has written a book, Blame It on Bianca Del Rio, and starred in her own film, Hurricane Bianca, is still coming out on top. In June, New York magazine named Del Rio one of the top 100 “Most Powerful Drag Queens in America.” Just before bringing her worldwide comedy tour stateside, Del Rio called to defend bachelorettes who celebrate at gay clubs, predict an inevitable Lizzo backlash and roast Drag Race queens who use emotional manipulation to get ahead in the competition.
What is the one thing you absolutely cannot leave home without?
I’m a drag queen – there are so many elements. I definitely need makeup. But a razor, I would assume. The problem is, with drag you have to travel with so much stuff. You have to bring size 12 shoes, extra eyelashes; you can’t really find that stuff just anywhere. Definitely not in Stockholm. So I have to pack a lot of stuff. A lot more than I usually would like to admit.
How many suitcases do you travel with?
Four suitcases. Three of those are drag, one of them is what I call my “boy bag.” It’s just to have options. The airport struggle – the security, the baggage, all that shit – really does start to wear on you.
And imagine if you went through airport security as – well, maybe you do go through as Bianca.
I’ve never had to fly in drag – thankfully!
As a self-proclaimed expert on nothing who has an opinion on everything, I need your take on John Travolta nearly giving Taylor Swift impersonator Jade Jolie a VMA because he mistook her for the actual Taylor Swift.
(Laughs) I mean, it’s hysterical. Obviously he’s got delusion problems. He’s not dealing with a full deck right now. He also is a Scientologist, which goes to show it. And he had that Adele Nazeem moment. Either he’s a drunk or he takes a pill or he just doesn’t fucking care. I was just glad to see he was not wearing a wig. There’s a rarity! So, you know, he’s embracing his non-wig self. Next he’ll admit that he’s gay.
That he confused them – was it a compliment to Taylor or to Jade?
To Jade, because she’s a Taylor Swift impersonator. I think it’s great. I think it’s an honest mistake, because to be fair I can’t tell any white girls apart.
As Bianca, do you ever confuse people?
I do meet-and-greets, and when you have meet-and-greets, people are always like, “Oh, I just saw you in Stockholm!” or “I saw you in London!” and I have to really think. You do 150 people a night as part of the meet-and-greets, so it’s very hard to remember. There’s usually some characteristic that gets me there, but on occasion I’ve been like, “Have we met before?!” And they’ll say, “No.” I’m like, “Oh… OK. Thought we did.” So it can fuck with you, with that many people a night. But I really haven’t mistaken anybody for anybody of importance, no.
If John Travolta met you, who knows who you might be mistaken for.
Who cares! I’m not interested! He’s not high on my list.
Who is high on your list?
I think every gay man would say Dolly Parton. She’s that rare one that is almost like some mythical creature. She’s just one of those who I love not only because she’s Dolly Parton and I’ve grown up with her, but also she’s just so fucking funny.
Some people might describe you as a “mythical creature” too.
Emphasis on the word “creature,” yes. But mythical? No. (Laughs)
This is very controversial in gay bars, so I wonder if this translates to your shows. But do you let bachelorette parties come to Bianca shows?
Oh, I don’t care. Whoever buys a fucking ticket, I don’t give a shit. Gurl, listen: I think people have lost their minds. The gays don’t even wanna be in the gay bars anymore! They’re all on a fucking app anyway. Nobody is even paying attention. And look, at least somebody’s in the bar. Somebody has to buy a drink to keep gay bars open. You can’t rely on gay men to do that. So look, let the girls come in, let them have a good time. Not like I’ve never told a bitch to shut up. You can do that, but you can’t be offended. Who cares! As long as they’re there having fun, fuck it.
Isn’t the point of coming to a Bianca Del Rio show to be offended?
First of all, it’s important to laugh at ourselves. I laugh at myself, and I laugh at everything that I could possibly laugh at. But I think we’ve lost that because there’s so much with social media warriors constantly saying, “You can’t say this” and “I’m offended.” Well, then, fuck off! If you’re offended by me, then don’t come and see me. It’s very simple. I don’t like Kim Kardashian, but I don’t spend my life watching her on fucking TV or writing all over her Facebook or Instagram or Twitter saying, “I hate you, you’re a piece of shit.” I just don’t care. You can live a successful life with someone not liking you.
Have you always been the kind of person who says what some people really want to say but are too scared to say? Has that always been your style?
Always. Yeah, yeah.
As a kid?
Yeah, as a child everything was always funny to me, and I would always try to find humor in all of it. It’s just what you have to do. It was just my survival skills. Imagine being different, being artsy, being gay. All that definitely can either turn on you or you can find a way through it, and that was just my way through it, which is being blunt and upfront. And the people who got it – usually the smart ones – understood it.
When did you know you could get away with more if you put on a costume?
When I got paid. I always said it, but it wasn’t until the packaging came with it. And it’s not so much that I can get away with more – it’s just what’s easier for people to accept. For instance, with drag in particular, the average person would think, “I have nothing of interest with a drag queen.” But when they see it, they’re kind of fascinated by it. So, for me, it was just this evolution into it. I mean, I could totally live my life without being in drag and I probably will. I’m not doing this forever.
What do you think your post-drag life will look like?
That’s the stupidest question! I have no idea! I know I don’t want to be schlepping around the world in a wig and heels at 60, I can tell you that. It’s one of those things where I’m like, look, it’s been 24 years so far, I’m all right, but I know it’s not forever. And I have no idea. I didn’t plan this far. So I don’t know what the fuck I’ll be doing. But it’ll be something fun, that’s for sure.
You once said it’s important to know your limits. What new limits have you set for yourself at 44?
I said I didn’t want to do drag at 40 because at the time I think I was 37 and it was right before Drag Race, and so I was working a regular job in New York City during the day making costumes for Broadway and then at night working in a club. So at that point, 18 years of working in the clubs and trying to stay afloat – and the bars were fading, not many people were coming out like they used to, so New York nightlife completely changed and I thought I could wrap this up at 40 and be OK. I’d had a great 20 years and that would’ve been that. But then at 38 – well, 37 is when I filmed Drag Race – it shifted everything, it elevated everything, and I was ready for the challenge. But I don’t think I want to stay in that particular game. I mean, no one should. No one should stay in something just because you’ve been doing something. You have to trust your instincts and move on. I definitely know this is not something I want to do forever on this level. It’s demanding – and by no means am I bitching about it. I’m being realistic here. Options! (Laughs)
After your controversial remark during Montreal Pride about Drag Race season 10 contestant Blair St. Clair in 2018, did that have you reconsidering how far to push the envelope?
First and foremost, I have a problem with when you’re watching a drag show and everybody has an ailment or an issue or loves to tug at your heartstrings to try to get people to like you. That’s what I was discussing (during her set, Del Rio said, “You got the one going ‘Ugh, I’m fat.’ Then you got the other one going ‘Ugh, I’m a black queen,'” referencing season 10 contestants Eureka O’Hara and The Vixen. She then mentioned Blair St. Clair opening up about being sexually assaulted: “Then you got that other bitch, ‘I was raped!’ No, fuck you…”). I was discussing someone being left at a bus stop, somebody being sick.
All of that is part of the nonsense of being part of a reality show. And I’m entitled to an opinion when someone’s about to lip sync for their life and they start pulling out all this fuckery. There’s a time and place to discuss serious topics. So my joke was about people that find any way to bring up their heartache and pull on heartstrings, that’s what I was discussing.
And so no, I refuse to change anything that I say and do because, like I said, the people who like it, like it, the people who don’t, don’t. But as they can have an opinion about me, I can have an opinion about the ridiculousness of a drag show. It’s my take on it. And I’m living proof that you can get through the show without fucking crying in every episode, for cripes’ sake!
I laugh at the fuckery. I laugh at the stunts and gimmicks. It’s no worse than somebody doing a death-drop. It’s been done! Just fucking be entertaining! I’m so sick of all these sob stories! That’s what that’s about.
I’m guessing that even though you were named one of America’s most powerful drag queens, it’s not true that with great power comes great responsibility.
I think that’s absolutely ridiculous. There’s a list that says I’m No. 1; there’s another list that says I’m the worst drag queen. That’s just how it works! None of that means anything. And what’s this responsibility? I’m a fucking man in a wig making a living. I’m not a fucking superhero. And don’t put me on a pedestal because I shouldn’t be on a pedestal, because they love to put you on a pedestal and then tear you the fuck down. You cannot fool me. They love to say you’re amazing. Like, look, this girl Lizzo is the one everybody loves right now. Just give her a year and there’s gonna be something someone is gonna bitch about and pull out and say “she did this” and say “she did that” and CANCEL her. That’s how they are. That’s just the world. So look: I’m not looking for that type of acceptance. And you shouldn’t be putting faith in fucking people that are on reality shows, for cripes’ sake. That’s ridiculous. People that idolize me or Snooki have problems.
Referring to the way the queens are depicted on Drag Race versus their actual persona, you said recently, “I’ve been behind the curtain. And when you’re behind the curtain, it’s kind of weird to watch.” Do people get a better understanding of who you are from your shows than they did from Drag Race?
Yes and no. The thing is you can only be yourself when you’re on television, and of course if you say something they’re going to use it. So the people that say, “Oh, it’s the editing”? Well, if you didn’t say it, they wouldn’t have the footage. I’ve accepted responsibility for everything I said and everything I did, and sadly a lot of people don’t do that when they leave the show. They have to blame someone, and it won’t be themselves.
If you could have been on a different season of Drag Race, which season of girls would you have wanted to compete against?
I don’t care. I don’t have an opinion. (Laughs) I can’t even remember who was on what season when! It’s that much of a blur. It was six years ago, and I never watched the show when it was airing. I would watch marathons, but I would never watch it weekly, night after night after night. I never followed. The only seasons I’m familiar with are four and five; the rest of them have become a blur. And, I mean, a lot of them are my friends, but I can’t remember which season they were on. I’m also a firm believer that it happened, it was great, I had a great experience and a great moment, but I wouldn’t change any of it.
So if an “All Stars: Winners” season ever happens, would you be interested in competing?
Nope. Why? Would you go back to high school?
As editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBTQ wire service, Chris Azzopardi has interviewed a multitude of superstars, including Cher, Meryl Streep, Mariah Carey and Beyoncé. His work has also appeared in The New York Times, Vanity Fair, GQ and Billboard. Reach him via Twitter @chrisazzopardi.