Katya and Grindr's New Podcast Asks: 'Who's the Asshole?'

Katya and Grindr's New Podcast Asks: 'Who's the Asshole?'

By Joan SummersFeb 07, 2024

It’s not every day you get to interview an icon in their underwear. Well, unless you talk to drag queens for a living.

Katya Zamolodchikova is a magnet for interesting stories. Over a brief half hour, Katya talks enough to fill at least the opening pages of a memoir. It’s no wonder the queen has become an almost household name in just about every corner of the plane and is a New York Times bestselling author to boot. Personality, talent and an expert at talking about every nook and cranny of his life? Of course, Grindr would poach one half of the infamous Trixie and Katya drag duo for a podcast about love and sex.

Katya is set to host Grindr’s latest media venture, Who’s the Asshole?, a podcast that dives into queer dating culture with guests that range from Orville Peck to Trace Lysette and even Saucy Santana. “I bristle at this notion of being in an era,” Katya says, “but I'm in my Katie Couric era.” I suggest there’s probably a wig for that, and he launches into an aside about how one isn’t allowed to smoke in Grindr’s corporate headquarters — even if they’re a world famous superstar.

Below, PAPER caught up with Katya on tour in Mexico to talk everything from sex work to Corporate Erin and the lost art of cruising.

Hey Katya, how are you?

I’m in Mexico in sunny Monterey. I just finished a workout and I only have panties on. It’s so inappropriate.

Oh, that’s totally fine. It sounds beautiful down there, meanwhile it’s freezing on the East Coast. So you got this new podcast with Grindr. It feels like, with your career, you’re perfectly suited to talk about love and sex, and everything in between with total strangers.

Thank you, that’s a wonderful compliment. I guess they thought so. I mean, I bristle at this notion of being in an era, but I'm in my Katie Couric era.

You're gonna need to get a little wig for that.

“I'm in my blank era.” [Laughs] But I was terrified to do it. Terrified, because it took place in an office with horrible ventilation on the top floor. You couldn't smoke, there were no windows, it was very corporate. It was like Corporate Erin was looming in the distance. I got my one-on-one. But it was really, really cool, because I got to talk to people that I probably would never have the opportunity to talk to.

Well, some of them are friends of mine. And funny enough, friends like Orville Peck, whom I know quite well, was like, “Go on, girl, give us nothing.” He would hate for me to say that, of course, so maybe I shouldn't say that. I fell in love with Jordan Firstman, even within three sentences. I fell in love with Trace Lysette about 45 minutes into the interview. I mean, the things that I was able to pry out of these poor people's — not poor people's, but these people's — mouths was really cool. I'm not gonna lie, I got paid very well. But it was a lot of work, and it was fucking amazing. Like, I met Saucy Santana. And I, for the first time ever, listened.

It's hard to imagine you being nervous about doing a project like this, but I guess so often, you're in drag, you're in front of studio cameras and in your own space. Maybe being in a corporate environment makes it feel more realistic?

I only realized on day two, oh, wait a minute, they wanted to hire me. I'm the one they wanted. Why do I just default to this adversarial relationship with work? Like, it's always me against them. And I'm like, what is going on with my mind? So the second day I went in, I brought a Bluetooth speaker. I was like, this is a weird corporate environment and we're gonna have fun, no exceptions, because you hired me, this weird sex clown, to do this podcast. If there's all these corporate drones — love them, they're all lovely — but the people who populate this world oftentimes don't exactly have access to F-U-N, capital letters.

So you brought a Bluetooth speaker... were you gonna play music on that speaker? Were you like, getting yourself ready with something on, maybe a podcast?

I was, but then I just ended up playing sound effects. Moaning noises.

Do you get ready with moaning noises often? I wonder if there is a white noise machine for sex. Feels like something Grindr should jump on.

Don't, don't, don't, don't. You gotta sell that idea. From your lips to some corporation's wallet.

Okay, my people will be in touch with your people and we can cut a deal on the backend.

Your people need to be in touch with the bank and you need to get rich from that.

So your podcast is called Who’s the Asshole? Have you ever had to be the asshole during sex?

Yeah, I have. I’ve had to be the villain. Villain era. Villain moment. But here's the thing I find about sex: it's one-on-one. Are you familiar with corporate Erin?

Absolutely, of course.

I feel like when you have sex it’s like, “Thank you for coming to this one-on-one." Unless you're in an orgy, of course.

That’s just like a group zoom. It’s awkward. Everyone’s like, “Can I raise my hand now?”

“Should I mute myself? Should I mute myself?” When people say things like, “I’m a good kisser.” It's like, well, I'll be the judge of that, you know? I'll be the judge of that because you're gonna be kissing me. This isn't a kissing booth. There's no judging table. If people say, “Well, I have been told by 3,640,875 people that I'm a good kisser,” then I'm like, “Okay, well, that's good information. Again, I'll be the judge of that.” But when it comes to being a villain, or being a bad lay, I'm sure I've been bad to others. But I've had a lot of experience with transactional sex, you know, sex work, and on both sides. So that is, to me, the most interesting one-on-one you can have. It may sound corny, but I feel like it's almost a sacred relationship. It’s the oldest profession in the world, but it's also like customer service. There's deliverables.

Not to tell my business in front of you, but I tell people all the time that when you've been offered money for sex, it changes your relationship to sex, even with the people who are not paying you. It's like a curtain gets lifted.

Agree 100%. The thing that I always tell people is that there was never an ounce of coercion. The power dynamics were very reasonable. It was never threatening. Looking back, I had kind of big balls, like brass balls, to kind of do what I did. But thankfully, I never got hurt.

With sex, it's like, as my accountant said, “You pay them to leave, honey.” That's kind of grim. But it's true. To me, that relationship is so special. I believed that I was always a great sex worker, because I had a passion for it. And it was an extracurricular activity. I had clients who I would give cancellation fees to. I got in drag to do it at 11 AM.

You’re like, “We need to break even on these two hours of prep.”

When they canceled at the last minute, it’s like, “Well, great. Is there a drag show at noon?” It was so disheartening.

I always think of that iconic Alyssa Edwards story where she talks about kicking someone out during sex, and she’s like, “Bitch I threw that towel on him and I said, ‘Bitch you don’t want to fuck nobody, get out of my house.’ And turned and walked off like Joan Crawford.” I think about it all the time.

[Laughs] I heard a story on tour once, about a queen I won’t name who was being driven to a gig in full drag. She’s in the car, and she looks into the rearview and the guy is staring at her. She’s gorgeous, and he’s staring, staring and staring, and she says: “Don’t you look at me unless you’re gonna come back here and fuck me.” The diva! He rolled the partition up.

I’m actually going to think about that for the rest of my life. When I get an Uber later, I’m gonna have to say the exact same thing.

Well, maybe not to Uber. They’ll give you like, a one star rating.

Gotta keep my rating up. So, you interview many different people for this podcast. Was there a common theme or experience across your conversations that jumped out to you?

No, actually, it was difficult to find a through line sometimes, because there were so many different types of people. We had Orville, the man behind the mask. We had Jordan Firstman, who is so fucking funny and so sexually free. So down for whatever, I couldn't believe the rapport that we developed within seconds. And Trace, who is distressingly beautiful.

What a woman.

Mama, she’s a post-op transsexual with a Bangkok pussy. Her words, not mine.

Wow, me.

I’ve known women, not of her caliber, but of that variety from way before Drag Race, off camera. The rapport and banter between gay men and showgirls is rotten. It was tough to get to that level because I was very self-conscious about offending her, but by the end of it, my god, I was so in awe of her. Across the interviews, distilling the commonalities was challenging, but I think it will come across in the podcast.

Now, with all the stuff you’ve got going on right now, do you find it hard to even think about love or dating? I know it sounds flippant, but a common theme I find with the queens I talk to is that between touring and projects and being so public, it makes the experience that much more challenging.

Well, finding time to have sex is not a problem. But I was talking to my sister. My sister has been married for 10 years now and my brother has been married for quite a while as well, and my parents have been married for 45 years. I've never had a long term relationship, and the longest relationship I've had was maybe like three, four or five months. I don't know who wants to date someone who's on the road eight months a year. But I am currently heavily courting a flight attendant that I just met three days ago. And certainly that's a blast. I love my life. I've undone all the indoctrination the Hollywood romance fantasy machine has tried to instill in me, and I certainly don't subscribe to a straight paradigm in any way because I've never thought that that was applicable to a queer lifestyle. I also see the tumultuous nature of all the monogamous or open relationships with my queer peers and I'm like, “No, thank you.”

With open relationships, I don’t want someone in my house like that. It’s too many people in my house.

No, no, no, no, no, no, get out of my room. My yoga teacher I’ll never forget, she said, “Sleep or death.”

When I was in my early twenties, my best friend’s mom wasn’t married, and I’d ask her when she’d get a boyfriend and she’d say, “I don’t want a man in my house.”

Period. I want a man next door, maybe down the street. Maybe in the next town? I don't know. But I have lots of friends. I've got people all over the world. The best thing about being on Drag Race is that you can achieve a level of fame, if you're lucky, that allows you to enter any metropolis on the planet and make three friends in about 15 minutes.

And thankfully, I’m pretty sure Grindr’s everywhere.

13 million users. 13 million users and they still haven’t given me my free subscription yet.

Do you ever think about the time before Grindr?

I loved it, Joan. I loved it because I know how to cruise.

The lost art of cruising.

This is the okay Boomer moment. But sitting next to a park bench staring into each other’s phones and having a conversation on Instagram is cruising now.

Is that something you’ve done?

No, this is what I see people do. They’re on Grindr, they’re chatting with a guy across the bar. I’m like, “Oh, can you speak? Interesting.” I know these guys in West Hollywood. It’s a band of guys in their forties who are the most devastatingly handsome people you’ve ever met in your life. It’s like Calvin Klein models, like Tom of Finland. They would stroll through West Hollywood and have sex with people. Cruise guys. They would go into an alley or make out with them. They would go out and pull right off the street because they were so beautiful, So sociable, so enviable, so affable. I really looked like Gollum following them. It was breathtaking. That doesn’t happen anymore. It’s the lost art of eye contact and smiling. They think you’re a serial killer now.

I’m so sorry for quoting Drag Race at you, but it makes me feel very, “Big girl walking down the dirty street. Walking down and all these dirty feet.”

I don’t even know where that’s from.

Oh my god, Katya, Darienne Lake in the rapping challenge.

Oh, yes. That rapping challenge was so awesome. That season fucking rocked.

Photos courtesy of Grindr