Bianca Del Rio may not be the first name that comes to mind when you think of holiday TV, but on Dec. 15th Logo premieres Not Today, Bianca, a pair of back-to-back specials starring the RuPaul’s Drag Race champ. The half-hour comedies follow the New York transplant as she tries to take over Hollywood, spreading a little Christmas shade along the way. Ms. Del Rio busted out her rolodex of hate to recruit a who’s-who of fabulous guest stars, including Kristen Johnston, Coco Peru, Tori Spelling and Charo. Queerty caught up with Del Rio to chat about her new hybrid reality-sitcom, doing stand-up post-election, and how many times a queen can get away with grabbing Tori Spelling’s tits.
How is Hollywood treating you?
When I’m there it’s great. It was one of those things where it wasn’t a conscious choice. It wasn’t like, Well, let me take over Hollywood! I was living in New York, living in a studio apartment, and then Drag Race kind of threw my life into a frenzy. And traveling in and out of New York was pretty intense and my lease was up, so I just went, Ok, you know what? I’ve been to Los Angeles, it’s been fun. There’s space there. I can breathe there. My dogs will be happier there, and I’ll try it for a year. And now it’s been a year and a half. It’s been quite lovely. When you’re traveling the world, you come home and it’s always sunny!
When I heard that you had a couple of comedy specials coming up, I was expecting stand-up.
Well, the reason why it’s called a “special” is because we didn’t want to call them episodes. I was concerned initially about people assuming [it would be stand-up]. I’m currently traveling with my show, Not Today, Satan, which I’m gonna film in Canada next year. But it wasn’t a conscious choice not to do stand-up. We were like, Let’s create a new situation for me to be in. Also, this was something that’s a little more PG, as opposed to my regular stand-up which is a little more racy.
These “specials” kind of play like back-to-back pilots.
Yes. You know, Logo has been amazing to me, they’re very kind, and they’re the ones who were interested in doing something with me. We spoke several times about what we thought we could do. I didn’t want to do a talk show, because I think that’s been done to death. And also it’s too censoring. You have a guest and you have to be nice to them, so that’s kind of awkward. But here was this creative idea that came up once World of Wonder got involved. They said, “Why don’t we just do a play on your life?” You know, my life heightened to an extent. We never make reference to me out of drag, we never deal with me out of drag, so it’s not autobiographical. It’s a lot of poking fun at myself and everyone that’s around me. If it works there’s the possibility of more to come.
I’m surprised you didn’t want to do a talk show.
Well, first of all when you’re dealing with something like Logo, when you’re creating a show like that, to do something live, to do something every day obviously is a lot more money and a lot more time consuming. If it were HBO or Comedy Central maybe it would be different. But with Logo I was interested in doing something that I thought would be totally fun and once World of Wonder came on it just made everything a lot easier. I think with their programming, it’s something they can air more than once. And a live talk show is pretty intense.
The format is interesting. It’s like a mock-reality show and there are some interviews as well. What were your models for the kind of show you wanted to make?
Well, none of it was really scripted. It was all outlined—they call it “hybrid reality.” And for us it was just being thrown into a room with this idea. Which is one of the things that I enjoy most, just pulling things out of my ass. It’s fascinating for me to watch it now and see how much of what was not scripted became part of the show. There were pivotal things that I had to say to keep things moving, but it was fascinating how much of that was cut and yet it just kept the stupidity that I brought to it. But really there was no model. I was in very good hands with the brilliant John Hill and Tom Campbell, who’s one of the main creators of Drag Race and a voice within. I met him many years ago and he gets me. So we were just in a room and all of this madness just evolved. There were no rules. We knew we wanted it to move quickly and just wanted it to be as random as possible.
So it sounds like improv played a big part in the show.
Yes, that was the whole point of it for me. It’s pressure and time and being in the moment. We knew what we had to get across. We knew we had to get from point A to point B, but that was the freedom of it. Also, working with very funny people, you’re in the moment with Marissa and with Ryder, who are both brilliant actors. Things would happen and that became part of the story. We would just shoot all of this madness within four days and it became what it became.
How many takes does it take to get what you need when you have that kind of freedom?
Well, when they’re laughing, and you can see everyone behind you [on set] laughing, that’s what I enjoy most. It’s also just a group effort. Everybody’s brainstorming, and that’s the magic of it.
Do you ever just want someone to tell you exactly what to do?
Yes and no. You’re dealing with time, you’re dealing with lighting. How can we make this happen quickly? But I try to be the least problematic. That was one of the funny things about doing this. On set they were like, “Can you be ready, in drag by 7am?” And I go, “Yeah, you’re doing a TV show for me. I can be ready anytime. Whatever you want.” You try to be as prepared as possible, but you never know what’s to come and that makes it magical.
Besides Drag Race, what you’re most known for is your stand-up, but have you had a lot of improv experience?
Well, 90 percent of my show is improv. You have an outline and you go with it. But I enjoy and audience. This January is 21 years of doing drag, so I’ve dealt with four people in the audience or I’ve had 2,000. It’s been a crazy opportunity for me, but it’s where I’m most comfortable. Most queens do an album, they want to sing (and they shouldn’t). Whereas for me, it was always interacting with people. That’s what I love most and that’s why I’ve been traveling with my stand-up show as much as I have.
Well, what has it been like transitioning from performing for a live audience to performing for the camera?
It’s interesting because you don’t get that immediate reaction when you’re filming, obviously. You don’t get the immediate laugh from people, but it’s also fun. It’s like walking a tightrope. Here we go! Let’s do it!
So, do you consider the version of “yourself” that you’re playing on the show a character?
Well, yes and no. We chose for the show not to be my real life, so it wouldn’t be me as myself—as far as me getting into drag and all that madness. We didn’t want any of that. We just wanted to establish the character: this is Bianca, and this is Bianca’s life. It’s what I deal with, but it’s also ridiculous and campy and fun—which is what I think is probably what people think my life is. But, you know, when I have the opportunity to be in a wig, comedy happens. That was the appealing part of it.
I guess that’s a weird thing that’s particular to drag. When you’re in drag you’re in this persona that is partially you, but you’re not really yourself.
I mean, what I’ve always said is that if I don’t wear a wig, I’m called a nasty fag. I wear a wig and I’m called hysterical. It’s just the packaging.
How did you get so many boldfaced names to make cameos?
This is one of those things, when you live in a bubble you don’t really realize how many people watch Drag Race. I was most impressed by the roster of people that came in, but also how many people are fans of [Drag Race] and were very happy to be a part of it. The fact that they even knew who I was was a huge compliment! That’s the magic of World of Wonder.
Also, because a lot of [the guest stars] live in a world where they deal with a script and they deal with structured material, they could play and have fun, which was a total hoot! Kristen Johnson was one of my favorites because she is all over the place and wild and so much fun in the moment. So her part just kept getting bigger and bigger.
Who were you most surprised to find out was a fan of yours?
Charo! I remember being a child, because I’m old enough to remember watching The Love Boat and seeing Charo play her guitar on the show. It was fascinating to be in the company of Charo. She is such a fuckin’ hoot! The outtakes of what took place are even funnier than what’s actually in the show. It’s one of those things where, it’s someone that I’ve seen on TV for many, many years and to see her in person, it was just insane to me to actually be in the moment with Charo.
How many times did you have to grab Tori Spelling’s tit to get that scene in the car right?
[Laughs] I think we only did it once! It was like, get in the car and roll! But she was quite fun. I have to say, I had preconceived thoughts about what she would be like, but she totally made fun of herself and was a riot. I think it’s a side of her that people don’t normally get to see.
You mentioned earlier that you’re touring with your stand-up show. Has it changed much since the election?
Oh! Well, I was traveling before the election, and I had one date after the election, so I was flying to Texas when the actual day was happening. I had no Internet on the flight and I was losing my mind and then people behind me just started screaming. And you don’t want to hear people screaming on a plane! And that’s how I found out.
So I went and did the show, and it was awkward because I did have a few political jokes. But it was interesting to see what a different world it was literally in a matter of hours. But I try to stay away from politics in general because you never know who you’re offending. There have been moments lately with Amy Schumer and Wanda Sykes which I thought were pretty fascinating, to see people turn on them because of their views. I’m kind of in a separate category: You know I’m a drag queen, you know I’m gay, you know what you’re getting into. I don’t like to alienate anybody, but there are a couple of jokes about [the election], a few that I’ve added since.
Have you noticed a shift in the way audiences react to you?
Not necessarily. I’m an acquired taste, so they know what they’re getting into, I think. If you watch Drag Race, you get it. If you follow me, you know what I’m doing. But it’s been great to get to work and be funny in this world that’s so fucked up!