Bianca Del Rio is a quick-witted drag clown who’s funny as hell. Her sixth season win of RuPaul’s Drag Race propelled her career and has since opened so many new doors of opportunity. Sitting down with Bianca at the Producer Entertainment office in Los Angeles, Queerty’s Tim Winfred had a one-on-one chat with her to discuss her controversial comedy, RuPaul’s recent Emmy win, Grindr, and her upcoming movie and comedy tour.
From the outside, Bianca’s sharp tongue is intimidating, but sitting down one-on-one with her reveals her softer side. She’s genuinely sweet (just don’t tell her we told you that) and smart as hell.
Queerty: You’ve been doing drag for a long time.
Bianca: Yes, 20 years!
How do you keep coming up with new ideas?
Uh, well if you’ve seen me, it’s the same dress [Laughs] and more lashes. It’s not necessarily new ideas. I think what’s fascinating is that so much has happened in these later years there’s a lot more to talk about. I’ve been working in bars and theater for quite some time, but this whole Drag Race thing kind of shifted all of it around for me, which is pretty crazy that it opened it up to a new audience. It’s really like living the dream. I can’t complain. If I complained, I would sound like a total douche bag, so it’s been a great ride.
I have to work harder now than ever because there’s more people out there and more people that want to see you so a little more time and prep and planning goes into it, but it’s an unbelievable golden ticket and I try to keep it as fresh and true to myself as possible. It’s not going to be everybody’s cup of tea. I learned that at an early age, so you either like it or you don’t.
You were called “the Joan Rivers of drag” by the New York Times.
Which is a huge compliment! If you really think about it, wasn’t Joan Rivers in drag? [Laughs] She was kind of a drag queen. I think it’s a huge compliment because I admired Joan.
She’s a very controversial comedian. And you are as well.
I think it comes from a place of honesty. People don’t like honesty. Look at this election. Look at what’s happening right now. What’s interesting is that someone can say about the opponent, “Oh, they’re saying hateful things,” other people say, “Well, he’s just saying the truth.” It’s just a matter of how you want to take it. I think there’s a time and place for it and for me in particular, when I’m in a monkey suit and dressed up like a clown, I’m the biggest joke there is, so by no means do I think I’m better than. I’m aware of the fact that I’m a joke. Bring it. I make fun of myself as well as everyone else, but some people are extra sensitive.
I think that’s the problem with social media. Not that people have more opinions, it’s that we’re exposed to hearing more of people’s opinions because they’re keyboard warriors; they can write whatever they want. No one will ever or has ever said that to my face, but they’ll certainly type it, so why give it any thought?
You mentioned that RuPaul’s Drag Race did a lot for your career.
A huge uplift. Huge. And she just had a great moment. She just got an Emmy. Congrats Ru!
What have been some of your favorite moments since your time on the show?
Well, definitely getting to do In Bed With Joan. And truly, honestly, it’s the live audiences. I was fortunate enough to travel with my show last year, Rolodex of Hate, and do 93 performances all over the world. Now, I’m going to be traveling with this new one, Not Today Satan, which is a tighter schedule. The path actually makes sense. [Laughs] It’s not like: London, Kansas, Florida! [Laughs] It’s a nice route. My favorite thing is dealing with the live audience. It’s quite amazing when you’re in a space of 2,000 people in every city, and it sell out. That’s insane!
In Not Today Satan, I was able to start it in the spring, in Australia, which is great. It’s a little overwhelming and daunting in the beginning, because you’re thinking, “Oh fuck, how am I going to piece this together?” The way that I work is that everything is on a Post-it note, and I would lay all of the Post-its out on the table and then try to marry them into a form or an outline for myself. Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, it’s the fun of having a live audience.
And also getting to meet the people! I love meet-and-greets. Each night have 200 people, at least, that come through that I get to meet and hear their stories, find out who they are, what their life’s about, and we get to take a picture and schmooze. Fortunate enough for me, they then become the first few rows of the show, so I know them and can use them later during the show. They then become my enemy, which is great!
RuPaul, with the Emmy win, has kind of set the bar for drag and, even though he said, “It’s never going to be mainstream,” that’s mainstream. That’s as mainstream as you can make it.
Well, I think it is. I think he was being honest with it before and you’re supposed to say, “It’s an honor to be nominated,” but what I appreciate about Ru is that it’s truth talking. Here was someone that’s been doing this longer than I have, and having every opportunity. Ru had a talk show on Vh1, Ru had a Vegas show, Ru has done, you know, everything you could possibly do with drag and done it well. And this particular show, what’s fascinating to me, as I was saying when you travel with live audiences, a lot of it is a straight audience that comes to see the show. What I was most impressed by is that the academy, so to speak, was willing to give him an award. I thought that was pretty amazing because when you think about theater, or you think about Hollywood, and you think how the hell could you put on a movie or make a play without a gay person?
Gay people make everything happen, let’s be honest! But it was great to see them acknowledge someone of his stature, and someone who’s worked very hard. I thought that was great, and it’s a huge milestone. I think it was surprising. Because even though it’s well deserved, you don’t think they’re going to give it, and I think that’s where he was coming from. I can’t speak for him, but I definitely think it’s probably given him a huge pep in his step, and he’s going to be one rich bitch now. But I think that says a lot about the show, and the show humanizes drag queens. They get to see us as ourselves. And you realize that we’re not crazy monsters all the time, that we are human beings.
That’s a big credit to World of Wonder, who creates RuPaul’s Drag Race, and Logo, who broadcasts it and makes it happen.
Your mindset about drag must be so different than when you first started. Now that RuPaul won this Emmy, what are your biggest career goals?
I don’t rule anything out. Originally I wanted to quit drag when I was 40, like if I’m 40 and I’m still working the bars, I’ve had a nice run. That’s good. And I just turned 41, so anything is possible now, which is kind of queer and sugary to say, but I really, truly feel that because, with social media and the way the world works and the way that everything is instantly in people’s hand, you have to have a product to offer then. I’ve been fortunate enough where I spent a lot of time having something to offer that I hoped that people wanted. It’s a race, it’s a race to stay out there. So with this my new movie, Hurricane Bianca, and my comedy tour, it’s exciting! And another secret project that’s happening before Christmas that I can’t talk about. [Whispers] When I can, I’ll let you know and will give you the inside scoop.
It’s all quite exciting, and it goes to show you that people’s minds are opened up when they have the information.
You hosted one of the Battle of the Seasons tour dates in San Francisco a few years back. Real talk: Was it you that I actually saw on Grindr?
It could have been, I don’t know, yeah!
I was hoping it was! [Laughs]
It was, I guess! [Laughs] Sometimes when we were all together on a hotel floor, it would be me, Detox, Adore and everything, and we’d all end up start talking to each other, just in conversation. I’m like, why are we on Grinder chatting with each other and not texting or in a room! We’re all on the same fucking floor of the hotel.
When you travel like we do, insomnia is a fucking bitch, so you just sit there and keep scrolling for absolutely no reason.
Well, you’re in a creative job, so you’re constantly coming up with new ideas, so I could only imagine you not being able to sleep.
You have to have something to do and there’s only so much Xanax you can take. [Laughs]
Do you keep a notepad for ideas by your bed like Dolly Parton?
Always. I write everything down. Even my calendar is written on an actual calendar. I don’t like the phone situation. Everything from my grocery list, to my to do list. I’m a list maker. Nothing gives me more job than scratching something off.
You’re very comfortable in your own skin, which is something you learn to do. RuPaul preaches, “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else?” How did you learn to be so self-loving?
Well, I never thought of it as self-loving. I looked at is as watching people and interacting with people and seeing where people are coming from. I think that’s a big thing: to understand where someone comes from. And instead of so negatively approaching something, “She’s a cunt,” think about who they are and what might have brought them to that to give you a chance to empathize with them. Not everybody means to be rude. Not everybody is going to be perfect every day. And for that, it’s kind of worked in my life. I’ve tried to think about that and do a meet and greet, and when I sit there and think about how these people just paid money to see your ass, the last thing you need to do is be a cunt, you know? I’m not working in an office 9 to 5. I’m not in a cubicle. I’m a very lucky bitch.
You have to kinda check yourself. You also have to lead by example. You don’t want to be that horrible person. I think that we lose sight of that because we’re in a world with technology where people just type things and don’t think about it. In my day, if you said something hateful to somebody, “I don’t like you,” bitch you got punched. [Laughs] And I think that’s what a lot of people need. People need to be fucking bitch slapped and punched for the shit they put out there. And they think it has no repercussions. And there is!
I just became comfortable with myself, as I sit here with makeup, by just being real and looking at it objectively for what it is. You can’t get wrapped up in all that madness. I lived without Twitter and I lived without Instagram before. It doesn’t make or break my world. It’s helped my career and I enjoy it, but I don’t care this shit you gotta – you don’t like me? Don’t read it. You don’t like me. Don’t by a ticket.
I don’t care for the Kardashians, so I don’t bother with any of it. I’m not going to go blow up her fucking page and say, “I hate you.” I don’t care! Someone likes her. She’s making money. God bless her ass – her fake ass. If I don’t like it, I don’t do it. People lose sight of that and they spend so much energy on that where you could just be thinking about things that make you happy, you know? And drink! Drinking helps. [Laughs] It’s true – a little cocktail every now and then makes you comfortable.
Especially if you’re Sharon Needles.
Oh yes, she loves to drink. Oh girl. You know how many bars I’ve left her in? Ugh. [Laughs]
Hypothetically speak, say you had some really great news: You got cast in something exciting, or whatever. Who would be the first person you call? Would it be Lady Bunny?
Well, it depends on what it is. Bunny and I talk, but you know she’s one of those people who you never know what you’re going to get with her. You never know what time of day it is with her. She might physically answer the phone, but mentally might not be there. [Laughs] I like having spans of time of not talking to her, so when we get together it’s a good two-hour phone call. I mean like old school phone call. Not even face time.
On your landline? [Laughs]
Yep! On a landline. At a payphone.
Rotary dial? [Laughs]
Rotary dial. Iced tea in hand. We talk on the phone, which is so rare because people don’t do that anymore.
No matter where I’m at, if I see Lady Bunny is calling, we stop and we talk. And if I’m in the car with somebody, it goes on speaker and cackle for I don’t know how long. Because sometimes she has something really serious to talk about, or it’s just her trying out new material. [Laughs] She’s always a treat to talk to. One of the few that actually talks on the phone still. She can’t text with her little hooves, her little pig feet hands.
You got to work with a really great cast on Hurricane Bianca: Joslyn Fox, Rachel Dratch, and Willam, right?
Yes! The great thing was that’s all in part to my brilliant friend Matt Kugelman, who wrote, directed and produced the film. His philosophy has always been “It doesn’t hurt to ask,” which has opened my eyes to lots of things because through it we got Ru to make a cameo, Alan Cumming, Margaret Cho, Rachel Dratch – who’s genius – Joslyn Fox, Shangela, Willam and Alyssa Edwards.
Matt was in charge of casting, and not me, which was in particular because I didn’t want to deal with people going, “Why didn’t you cast me?” It’s his movie and I was grateful to be in it.
Rachel Dratch is one of the funniest fucking people you’ve ever met. It was great to work with Willam and Shangela one on one because everyone thinks that once you do Drag Race you all hang out and drink tea, but I really hadn’t worked with them before, and they’ve both had experience in theater and film, so it was great to have that moment with them. We had a blast!
Is there going to be a sequel?
I think so! I think there’s a possibility. I was surprised that we got this to happen. It was a long road, but it was my friend Matt who said, “Let’s make it work.” So I’m hoping!
Hurricane Bianca will be available on September twenty-third on iTunes and Amazon and Vimeo. And on the same day, globally, you can go to wolfevideo.com to find out all the information on how to get it from there.
You’re doing everything! What’s next?
I don’t know! I mentioned my secret project that will be happening closer to Christmas. I’ll be touring in Europe in February, which I’m excited about.
You never know – what’s been magical about this whole process is that you turn around and something else comes my way. I’m a lucky fuckin’ twat, and trust me I’ll try and do anything because why not? You don’t know until you try is, so all things right now I couldn’t ask for a better situation to be in.
I know you’ve been in drag all day, so thank you for your time.
Thank you! I appreciate it.