We sat down with Willam Belli to discuss his hilarious new book Suck Less, Canadian potato chips, and yes, RuPaul.
Observer: What’s the one question you’re sick of answering?
Willam Belli: Anything about RuPaul.
One of the things that I found interesting about Suck Less is that when you are doing your YouTube videos and things like that, you are very polished in your persona. But there were some moments where there were cracks in your character and we got to see a more vulnerable side of you. Can you talk a bit about what it was like growing up, and being this heavy gay teen?
I’m not a persona, and I’m not a character. I’m always the same person. Being a fat kid—FFK, former fat kid—helped round me out, no pun intended. I’m a better adult because I wasn’t treated well as a child. I had to find a way to be treated well by other people, which is by being funny or bringing something to the table that wasn’t there just on sight.
In the book you’re frank about struggling with bulimia.
I didn’t struggle with bulimia. I struggled with spelling it. I’ve never been bulimic.
I was kind of surprised by how X-rated the book was. Was this a problem with the publisher?
No. They’ve met me. They knew what they were in for. I’ve fisted people on stage; I’ve butt-chugged. They’ve seen my act. There’s tons of dicks in the book. They let me be me. They’re a great publisher. The only thing they didn’t let me do was put a sticker on the back of the book that said “Inside: Willam eating out of Caitlyn Jenner’s old box!” They signed Caitlyn Jenner’s memoir a couple of months after they signed mine, and there’s a picture of me eating cereal out of Bruce Jenner’s old Wheaties box. The picture is still in the book but they just wouldn’t let me put the sticker on the back.
Drag was always looked at as a stepchild, and I wasn’t willing to sit at the kid’s table anymore so I took what’s mine. You can’t depend on other people to give you what you want; you have to take it.
One of the things you mention in the book is that when Logo started they didn’t want to have anything to do with drag queens and that you were on two pilots that were rejected.
One was called Viva La Diva and it was Queer Eye for the Straight Guy but with drag queens. It was rejected soundly and wholly with the comment, “We don’t want anything with drag right now. It’s too alienating to what we are trying to do.” Drag was always looked at as a stepchild, and I wasn’t willing to sit at the kid’s table anymore so I took what’s mine. You can’t depend on other people to give you what you want; you have to take it.
One of the things you discuss was being emancipated at a young age. That seems like something that would take a lot of courage.
I feel bad for my parents for having to raise me. I was crazy. I was done with school at sixteen. The natural progression is that once someone is done with school they go out into the world. It just so happened that I was younger than most people. The only way I could do that was to get emancipated so my parents drove me to court. The judge asked them if it was cool. I mean, I’d been working since I was twelve so they were fine with it.
You ran a stripper business out of LA with a huge stable. How do you think that affected your worldview?
It’s LA. Beauty is a commodity. It gets you a seat at the table. So I figured, why not, if I don’t have a seat at the table offered to me since I’m not a musclebound generic gay, I’m a drag queen with a mouth, let me create a niche where there was no niche before, being a stripper wrangler/monger. I created a niche and filled it and now I get my niche filled whenever I want. I still run it. I’ll never give that up.
I heard your song “RuPaulogize” before I heard the song “Apologize,” and I thought, Wow, they’re covering Willam! Does that make me an idiot?
Ha! A lot of people hear songs of mine and then they hear the original and then they’re like OMG. People were saying my song was in Bridesmaids and I’m like “No, that’s definitely not me…” Ooh, my friend just brought me ketchup-flavored potato chips from Canada! I love my life.
You’re a man of simple tastes if that’s what it takes to get you off.
Fuck yeah, dude. I got laid last night and now I have my favorite chips. I’m done. And now I’m going to the Christian Louboutin sample sale! It’s like “Party in the USA.” I got off the plane at LAX, got in a cab, and now I have manna from the gods in the form of Lay’s ketchup potato chips. Do you know Canada is better than US in potato chip flavors? Health care and potato chips. They’ve got this shit called “all dressed,” it will end your day. It’s like vinegar and salt and a little bit of sugar.
Wow, I was just in Montreal too.
Montreal is great because there’s like four strip clubs in a row. There’s one for jocks, there’s one for muscle, there’s one for leaner guys, college-aged. It’s really good.
So what’s the best city in the world for strippers?
Right now, if you’re a gay guy, it’s Dallas. There are four or five of them, it’s in their little gay bar strip.
If you advertise that you take money for sexual services, that’s what makes you a hooker. So I like a stripper who goes into the situation knowing that an organic opportunity might be something good for everybody.
In your professional opinion, what makes a good strip club?
Strippers who know the difference between being a hooker and being a smart businessman. If someone offers you money for sex and you take it, that doesn’t make you a hooker. If you advertise that you take money for sexual services, that’s what makes you a hooker. So I like a stripper who goes into the situation knowing that an organic opportunity might be something good for everybody.
Was there anything you wanted to put in the book but left out for some reason?
I would have loved to put so much more. I had 80,000 words and they cut it down to 60 just because there was a lot. I would have loved to have talked about something that happened on a television show five years ago a little bit more, but I’ve already been served with legal papers once and I’m not trying to fuck with people so that’s why I just put in a quiz. There’s a lot of stuff that I could do to make the Drag Race brand look bad, but it wouldn’t make me look much better. Like if I said one of the producers from the show fucked me the last day of production in the bathroom of a club, that would look really trashy on my part—and also on his, because he was also married.
Yes, oh of course. And if they walked down the street and acted like they didn’t see me a couple of weeks later, that would be a douchebag move.
Let me ask you my one Drag Race question: What did you think of Phi Phi’s meltdown on All Stars 2?
I’m not familiar.
Um, no. I told her before she went on that a reality show all-star season is basically there to take already established characters that the fans know are polarizing, and then show those people in the same light again. The only reason they had Roxxxy in the bottom six different times was because they wanted her to snap. She wasn’t the worst. Just like Phi Phi wasn’t the best when she was in the top two. But she was there because she added to the story.
Phi Phi knew she was going into a situation where before it had caused her to react poorly. She should have kept herself in check even more but for some reason the cat got out of the bag. Those producers took her to lunch before and told her, “This is your redemption. This is your shot.” She believed a false bill of goods. It’s not her fault that she’s not versed in this industry. It’s not her fault that she doesn’t have a manager who will protect her. It’s not her fault that her manager also manages Michelle Visage, who is one of the judges, which is a clear conflict of interest. But that show is incestuous and horrible. They told some girls that they would be filming in June, they told other girls a week before they left in August. Viacom told World of Wonder, “Listen, Alyssa gets to leave during the show and go perform with Miley Cyrus” because Viacom takes precedence over Logo, the little fag network. That happened. That’s not fair, Alyssa being allowed to leave to do that. So a show is either 100 percent fair or not fair at all.
I’m sorry I’m kind of going off on a tangent but I’m passionate because these people are my friends. Their lives are being altered by decisions that they made because they trusted the wrong people. People whose job it is to make good television, not people whose job it is to tell the truth or be your friend. Look at that show Unreal.
‘Drag Race’ could be a show based on talent…But it’s so much better and juicier when there’s all this stirred shit. I love it, it’s a great show to watch as a viewer—except when some of my friends get their feelings hurt. But we’re big boys in wigs: Move on.
It’s unfortunate because you have these talented people who are pretty much marginalized, who just want to perform, and the next thing you know they’re getting death threats on social media.
No, no. No, don’t do that. It’s their own fault. This was their chance to do something good, they were lucky to be chosen. The editors can’t use what they don’t give them. That’s why Roxxxy rocked boring, because she didn’t want to give them anything. It’s better to come off boring than bad. These people that are “marginalized”—don’t give it that much power. It’s reality television. They knew what they were doing going on and applying, they knew the risks, they knew what an editing button can do to people. And the girls that did it again? For All Stars? I have no sympathy for that devil. Drag Race could be a show based on talent, that would be enough. But it’s so much better and juicier when there’s all this stirred shit. I love it, it’s a great show to watch as a viewer—except when some of my friends get their feelings hurt. But we’re big boys in wigs: Move on. Everything that they show, you did. I’m an advocate and a critic.
What do you think you learned about yourself while writing this book?
Always get the money first.
You knew that beforehand!
Yeah, but this really cemented it. After I got the advance, I was like, “Oh, when do I get photoshoots for the book and my clothes?” They were like, “You have to do all that.” Fuck, I’d already been spending the money. I had no idea. Also, I think it’s important to have a good team around you. The reason RuPaul is successful is because she found World of Wonder and they became a partnership. I don’t have anybody. I’ve been doing it on my own. I’m as far as I can go on my own now, alone. I produce my own shit, I have my own ideas. I got a book deal. How many drag queens can have a #1 self-help book on Amazon? I’m kind of proud of it, and it made me realize that I was finally enough that I could do this. I’m my own force of nature and that’s a lovely feeling. I don’t rely on other people. I also learned that I can’t spell. There’s at least twenty-one typos in the book. I learned that.
That’s what copyeditors are for.
That’s what I thought too.
How do you think you’ve improved over your YouTube career?
I’ve gotten better lighting and better editors. And better drugs. I used to smoke indica and now I smoke sativa.
I saw that chart in your book where you compare the two types.
Welcome to education 101 with Willam. I teach people shit they didn’t even know they needed to know.
Who would you say you learned from when building your career?
Chris Hardwick. He’s an actor, he’s a host, he’s a musician, he’s a stand-up, he invented Nerdist. He created something where there was nothing and made it into a thing. I did Rock of Ages with him a decade ago. That’s what I want to do with my brand, the whole Suck Less brand. Definitely also RuPaul was an inspiration from a young age, but she’s not anymore. I really, really, really love Lady Bunny. She was nice to me when she didn’t have to be and that showed a lot about her, character-wise. Alexandra Billings is an amazing actor who inspired me a lot when I wanted to give up. I managed to create a career after fifteen years in Hollywood. I was on shirts for American Apparel but if I applied for a job there they wouldn’t have hired me.