Courtney Act and Shane Jenek: Nice Gays! (Interview)

Courtney Act RuPauls Drag Race Capital Pride
Caption: Courtney Act loves this photo by Garrett Mathew. She calls it ‘Icononic-looking.’ She says, ‘He genuinely is talented at capturing live performance moments. Image credit:

Author: Deborah Nelson

Nice Gays Do Finish Third – And Stay Happy

So Courtney Act is nice. She is not a bitch. She is not catty. She is sweet, she is funny, and polite. She kind of giggles. It was the only drag interview I have ever done where the person being interviewed and I did not call each other gurl, not even once. Neither one of us swore. I don’t know if we each motivated the other to be on our best behavior or if that’s just how she is, but it felt very adult!

At least this is how she was in boy persona, Shane, who is the side of her I actually spoke with. When someone answers the telephone, “This is Shane,” then it’s really hard to keep up the pretense that you are interviewing a girl named Courtney. But nonetheless, Courtney is the one who was on Australian Idol, and Drag Race so Courtney is the one this article is about. I must say, however, Shane is zen, calming and positive, and welcome to hang with me for coffee anytime!

Courtney Act RuPauls Drag Race Capital Pride backstage
The author’s photo of Courtney Act backstage at Capital Pride. Image credit:

I had actually met Courtney at Capital Pride in DC a few days before we spoke, which she totally remembered. “It’s funny. I do all of these interviews with people and I don’t know who they are or what they look like, but I’ve met you. So now I can picture who I am talking to, which is nice.”

Okay, bonus two points for Courtney! I had met her backstage at DC Pride when, unfortunately, I had lost my voice and was basically unable to speak (fml) so we didn’t really talk, but I took some photos and posted them on Instagram. I mentioned to Courtney that she had gone on my IG and “Liked” them. Not only did she remember the pictures exactly but she remembered my comments!

All right, now we were at ‘plus ten’ points and the interview had just begun!

Courtney is on top of her social media which is something that we in the business completely respect, since it’s what we do all day. Not only that, but fans love feeling connected with stars they literally idolize and social media is the only way most can do this. When RuGirls are responsive on social media it shows their respect and love for their fans.

The night before we had spoken Courtney had posted that she was only 99 people away from getting 100,000 followers on Instagram. That number in itself is a reflection of her huge international popularity. It’s part of the notoriety that left Joslyn Fox drooling on the workroom floor during episodes 1-3 of RuPauls Drag Race, Season 6.

The cute and humanizing thing was how genuinely excited Courtney was to hit that number. She explained,“I kept hitting ‘refresh’ throughout the night and then at one point I was like ‘It happened!’

Courtney Act RuPauls Drag Race white feather mohawk
Courtney wearing the white feather Mohawk she once wore to Syney Mardi Gras.

Courtney, as it turns out, is a Pride nut! I asked her if it gets old having to go to Pride event after pride event and her answer was an emphatic ‘NO!’ She said that Capital Pride was especially fun because she got to see her castmates and friends perform, as well as several musical acts. Because of a last minute scheduling switch, there was about a four hour interlude between Courtney’s performance and the next girl up – Adore. Instead of going back and hiding in her hotel room, Courtney chose to change into a more comfortable number – still staying in drag – and hang out, socialize and wait for Adore to perform.

“We never get to see each other perform because we’re always backstage. I’m like what am I gonna do? Go sit in my hotel room? I mean come on! Pride is on guys. This is where I want to be! I went around the front (by the stage) and Betty Who and Bonnie McKee and I were all rocking out watching Rita Ora perform. It was one of those moments where it was like – that’s what I want to do! Seeing Rita Ora with her band. It was so good, really inspiring.”

Courtney will be appearing at NYC Pride this weekend and is super psyched. “Prides are kind of my favorite time of year. In Australia the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, which is one of the biggest pride festivals in the world, is really important to me. People count the year by birthdays or Christmases and I honestly count the years by Mardi Gras. Like ‘Was it the year that I was wearing that big white feather Mohawk?’

Just this year Courtney was named the official ambassador of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras and could not be more proud. “They’ve never had an official ambassador before, although I kind of felt like I was.”

Courtney Act Shane Jenek with scarf on city street

In addition to bringing goodwill to gay pride events, Courtney has also made efforts to help others find the happiness that once eluded her.  In 2011 she (and Shane – who also appears) made an “It Gets Better” video.  In the video Courtney discusses ways to focus on positive things instead of dwelling on the negative. This is something she touched on briefly in an episode of Drag Race. Though her zen came across as somewhat insincere on TV she truly is ruled by her inner peace, although that was not always the case.

[quote]All through my twenties I was always looking for answers and it really didn’t seem like the world made sense. I felt like there was something missing. There were always some people who I felt knew something I didn’t. And I couldn’t put my finger on it. After ‘Australian Idol’ life was really crazy and dealing with it being 21. At that point Idol was like the biggest thing in Australian history. We were on tour doing 14,000 people a night in arenas. It was so much fun but also the pressure and expectations really kind of got to me. I remember having struggles between Courtney and Shane and I was angry at Courtney.

“I remember looking for answers and reading books and look for things that would make me happy and I stumbled across this particular style of meditation called Vipassana. It’s a silent retreat where you go into the mountains and you don’t talk for 11 days.  You meditate for 11 hours a day. And that was kind of life-changing.

“At first I was a little skeptical. I was like what is sitting around trying not to think going to teach me? I thought surely to learn something you had to read a book or talk to somebody. And it was so weird because when you stop the thinking of your head and just focus on the feeling of your senses, all of a sudden all of this other stuff comes, like intuition and things like that.

“Ever since then I just have this sense of peace and things just seem to make more sense. I practice my meditation every day in the morning. I also have a gratitude journal like I talked about in the ‘It Gets Better Video.’

“I just realized that I had a conscious choice in how I reacted to the world, because in my twenties I think I was just very reactive. And when I realized you could put a gap between something happening and your reacting to it, and in that gap you could make a choice about how you wanted to react. It’s such a powerful thing and it molded the way my life unfolded.”[/quote]

Courtney explained how her zen and peace might have not played well on TV:

[quote]It’s interesting because on Drag Race my making a deliberate choice to be happy or to choose to not be frustrated was kind of taken as almost a bad quality. The way it was edited it made me seem conceited or detached.

‘I remember Adore saying ‘Are you scared?” And I was like ‘No I’m not scared.’ At that point I was in the top four. And I was like ‘I’m excited to be here. I’m not going to spend my time freaking out. I’ve been through this once before, many years ago and I wasn’t present enough to enjoy the experience. And this time I’m gonna be there. I’m not gonna be worrying about what may or may not happen. I’m just gonna be in the moment and enjoy it as much as I can.’

‘Sometimes that attitude came across as if I was a bit conceited or a little shallow.  It’s interesting to know who I am and then to see how it was represented on television. It’s a really stark contrast.

“I think that perhaps it was the reality TV format in that genre where you need to have villains and you need to have heroes. I was hoping that they would  take my story and my character and say ‘This is Courtney. She’s not wrapping herself up in the drama.’ Showing something that you don’t really see on reality TV, which is someone who is just having a good time and comfortable being there. But they kind of were like ‘She’s pretty. Let’s make her the mean girl.”[/quote]

So many times when I interview Ru girls I am pleasantly surprised by how different they are than how they came across on TV. Okay Bianca was Bianca, full on. Adore was Adore. And they were great. With Courtney though, I didn’t really know what to expect but I had a hint that we might be on the same wavelength because of her response to Michelle Visage’s now infamous Drag Race runway comment of “Stop relying on pretty.”

On the show, while unwinding,  Courtney was a visibly a little stung by the read. She said, “Everyone else is relying on ugly, why can’t I rely on pretty?” I thought this was hilarious and exactly what I would have said in the same circumstances.

After sharing a laugh with me, Courtney elaborated: ‘That whole ‘Stop relying on pretty story line – I found it really confusing. We’re drag queens. We’re visual artists. We’re all relying on our aesthetic.’

Courtney also thinks that  maybe her Australian sense of humor didn’t work on American TV, perhaps due to editing.

“There were a lot of times when I made jokes that were received well in the room. Everybody laughed and got that I was joking. And then on TV – no.

“The perfect example is when Joslyn and I were doing the Color Revolution challenge and she said to me ‘Courtney we could do a Before and After and you could be the Before.’ And I was like ‘But no one will ever believe you will be the After.’  In real life we laughed and I think she said ‘You’re not even that pretty!’ And we started cackling to each other. But on TV they just cut to a shot of Joslyn looking sad, like I’d hurt her. And I was like ‘Ahhh – that’s not what happened!'”

Courtney Act glowing purple closeup

I wondered if Courtney felt that maybe Drag Race just wasn’t the best place for her to show her fierceness and sense of humor?

“I went into Drag Race and I knew it wasn’t going to be the perfect vehicle for me but I’m such a fan of the show. I love watching it. And I was like ‘It would actually just be fun to do all of that stuff, even if it wasn’t on television!’  I really wanted to be on Drag Race and I had so much fun when I was there. When you’re a drag queen you don’t get to wake up every morning and do what you love to such a high level.  All of the challenges were such fun and so creative.”

Oh by the way, I actually met Courtney for 10 seconds at a club the night before Pride. I had just finished interviewing Adore Delano and was introduced to Courtney on the way out of the backstage area. I told her I was from Dragaholic. Her response? “Oh, I love Dragaholic!” Okay so we really started the interview at plus 100 points – I just didn’t want to tell anyone ’til the end!

Purchase all your Courtney merchandise  at her online shop and buy her music on iTunes.

Courtney is performing her cabaret show “Boys Like Me” at the Laurie Beechman Theatre from July 29 – July 31,  and throughout August. Tickets are available at 212-352-3101 or

Watch: ‘It Gets Better – Shane Jenek & Courtney Act’