During any given Drag Race season, the question of "what is the future of drag?" is considered with nothing short of Kierkegaardian earnestness. Well, the future is now and it is irrefutably Bianca Del Rio. Since winning season six in 2014, the insult comic-cum-drag queen has starred in a feature film, had her own comedy special and toured the world. It shouldn't surprise that the 41-year-old New Orleans native was a favorite of the late Joan Rivers, given her gallows humor and breakneck comedic timing, so who better to star in a Christmas special (or two!)? Tonight at 9 PM on Logo, Del Rio premieres the first half of her two-part special "Not Today Bianca," which is a Love Boat meets The Comeback meets Carol Burnett style Christmas extravaganza with appearances by Ross Matthews, TS Madison, Kristen Johnston and of course, RuPaul, among others. We spoke with Bianca about what it's like to officially relocate to LA after a decade in New York— less Joan Didion Goodbye to All That and maybe more Melrose Place—trotting the globe on the heels of Drag Race fever, and, most importantly, working with Charo.
What was the idea to do the specials or how did you get started?
Well, I was doing the pre-show of the Season 7 finale of Drag Race in LA, just shooting the shit with the audience and the head of Logo was there and the next morning they called and were like, "We want to do something with you." Which was very nice and flattering. We decided to create a hybrid reality situation which was a lot of improv. Then World of Wonder came on board to produce and it just kind of all clicked. We filmed it over four days earlier this year, at the end of summer in LA.
Were you looking at any other old-school Christmas specials from the past? Sort of like boondoggle-y with fun guest stars?
We knew we wanted a modern day Love Boat feel with great guest stars…but there really wasn't a lot of time. It was kind of a blur! It was like—-get in drag at 7am, show-up…and there's Charo! It was such a hoot. That was the one who I loved the best!
I think my favorite was Kristen Johnston as the Sue Mengers-y agent..so genius!
Yeah, she was an absolute riot. I was quite scared because I had heard stories about her, she's a pretty strong character, and we had never met. But she came into the makeup room right before we filmed and we cackled through every one of our scenes, which was a total riot.
Needless to say your costumes throughout are so amazing. Do you still make them all? I know you have a strong history in costume making on Broadway.
I still make them all. But for this, because there was so little time, I just chose from what I already had. But making the clothes is still my favorite, it's still a big part of me and I do miss that side of work. It's my passion, so to speak. When I was traveling with my stand-up show going to 29 different cities this past year, I went to every vintage thrift store I could. So I got tons of stuff while I was traveling and have been hoarding all of this drag while I was away….so now my goal is to go through all of that to alter it for myself!
Now I have to ask, truly how long did it take TS Madison to climb up that fire escape? Honestly the suspense…
HA! Only about three days. No, she was such a hoot and so much fun. I've known TS forever and she was an absolute riot. We were dealing with a skeleton of a script and had to create moments…I mean the bloopers and the outtakes are probably more entertaining. She was lovely and took direction well.
She is such an untapped resource I think!
Now an important plot point is that you're trying to get on Jimmy Kimmel…what was that about?
Ha, well, the Jimmy Kimmel show is literally down the street from where we were filming. He's one of the only ones that shoots in LA anymore, and that whole set up was to be a fish out of water, and understand LA and how it works…he was the obvious choice because of the location. But I love him, I'm supposed to say I love him!
So you moved to LA recently after being a New Yorker for many years. How has that gone?
Oh, it's totally different, but in a good way. I never thought I would be in LA really ever. What's great about it for me is with this crazy schedule that I have touring, you always go back and it's consistent. It's always stunning, and there's a pool! And I don't have to deal with the issues I have in New York. No crazy landlords, no leaky radiator, no snow. Though I think we figured out this past year, with Christmas, it will be a total of maybe a month and a half that I've been in LA, fully. But it's working for right now.
What do you have upcoming in New York?
This Friday I'm doing a Christmas show at Stage 48 with Alaska, Latrice, Willam, Chad Michaels, Yara Sofia, and Lady Bunny which should be really fun. And the rest of the week while I'm here I'm just caching up with friends, going to my New York dentist!
Oh yes, I would still come to NYC for my dentist!
Yes, I love my dentist here…HATE my dentist in LA! I'm actually going away this weekend to the Bahamas with some friends for a quick vacation before I come back next week and get my wisdom teeth pulled!
Oh my God!
I know! 41 and dealing with wisdom teeth! I thought I had them all out…who the hell knows. It's nuts.
Quickly, maybe a little more serious: Ru has talked about in the past how the pendulum of the culture in the last ten years or so swung in a way to make a space for drag and Drag Race to flourish and find an audience that it didn't have before. Do you feel like the pendulum now is maybe swinging back in the other direction? And how does that register with you?
Listen, I've experienced the huge following of the show first hand getting to travel the world, Australia, Brazil, London. And me being a big fan of Ru's for many years it's amazing to see the global impact of Drag Race. I thought my friends in LA, New York and New Orleans would watch and that is it. But it's become so much bigger. It was great when Ru won the Emmy, very deserving and brilliant…but in my mind I was thinking that it was kind of sad that it's taken this long for someone who is openly gay and a fabulous drag queen to win an award like that. You try to do a movie or a Broadway show without a gay person and you're fucked! Honestly, if you don't have a lesbian doing the lighting and a fag combing your hair, you're pretty screwed. When I was growing up Ru was on VH1 doing the talk show but it wasn't the same as it is now. And people have taken a chance to watch the show and the majority that watch are straight (women). I think people's perception of what they thought drag queens were has changed…Which is amazing to me, since i've done this for 21 years, so to get this golden ticket at this point in my life is really unreal. And it wouldn't have happened without the show.
Do you ever go back and watch your own season?
When it was airing I would watch it and host some nights in clubs where people would come to watch. But I have not revisited it since. I'm not watching it every night in my hotel room, I'm not Norma Desmond!