The RuPaul’s Drag Race winner with a “Rolodex of hate” talks about her comedy special, her current tour and what she thinks about insulting your way to the presidency.
Your new show Not Today Bianca had a very 80s sitcom sensibility, with broad reactions and over-the-top characterizations. Is that something you were going for?
Bianca Del Rio: Totally. Logo said they wanted to create this opportunity for me, and I was in good hands with World of Wonder creators. We went back and forth about maybe doing a talk show, but that’s all been done to death. If you ever want to laugh, Google who’s had a talk show. Everybody and their mother has had one, and they’ve all failed. I wanted to do something a little more scripted. They gave us an outline and we went and filmed it and made it happen. Rightor Doyle plays my nephew and Marissa Jaret Winokur plays my makeup artist, and that stability is what made it so much fun. We filmed all this madness, both episodes, in two days, which was kind of nuts.
You had a ton of guest stars too.
How lucky were we to get all those people? For me, a little gay boy, to be able to say that Charo is in a scene with me? I was beyond excited.
Coco Peru makes a very memorable appearance in that first episode. How long have you known her?
We worked together on a cruise once. (We do gigs anywhere.) We didn’t know each other, and at first it was like West Side Story, eyeing each other up. Coco wears that one wig and that one dress, and the gig was her hosting something on the deck of the boat. I’m watching this wind start and her wig is flying, it’s a mess. She looked at me after and said, “All I heard was you cackling the entire time I was on stage. And for that, I love you.” So we became friends and she was someone that I wanted to become involved when I initially got the opportunity. She was in my list of demands.
People like her and Hedda Lettuce, who were prominent before Drag Race, are not as known as some of the contestants. It seems like a shame because they’re such talents and pioneers.
Jackie Beat, Peaches Christ and Varla Jean Merman too. You need to know your history. People are living life where they’re on their phone scrolling but they don’t know the backstory. There are tons of queens who are successful and who are still working, doing their one-woman shows. It takes a lot to talk for an hour or to sing for an hour, to create this world. They’re the shit. I always say that if I’ve got $5, we’ve got $5, so anything I can do to work with them it’s always a treat and a pleasure.
I’m sure you’ve seen the Joan Rivers documentary, A Piece of Work. In it, she’s jokingly resentful that Betty White is having a moment and stealing Joan’s thunder. Do you ever get heat from queens, wondering why it’s you who’s successful and not them?
I’m sure, but never to my face. You surround yourself with good people, and if you’re talented you know better than to think like that. Lady Bunny is so rotted, and she’s my favorite. The good thing about working with queens like her or Sherry Vine, it’s like, You’re human. You get it, you get my sense of humor and it’s not a competition. I often ask myself, Why does Bianca get this?
When I was 17 I met Chita Rivera, who basically was a goddess. I spoke to her after she performed, and I asked her how she did it. She told me, “Every night, you have to prove that you deserve to be there.” She is the most humble, gracious woman, with a 50-year career on Broadway. That’s what you aspire to be.
You’re known for your quick tongue. Who is on your level in terms of being prepared with the comebacks?
There’s so many people. But I have to say, for me, one of my favorite moments ever was doing In Bed With Joan Rivers. I had this opportunity with her, and then I killed her. That’s what happens when I get in bed with a woman. She dies!
Seventeen minutes was supposed to be the cap on the interview, and we did an hour of us cackling and talking shit about everyone. I remember saying something hateful and watching her laughing and putting her head down, and I’m thinking to myself, That’s magic. Nothing compares to that—no amount of money, no love, no boyfriend. To have Joan Rivers go, “I can’t!”
Where does “Not today, Satan!” come from?
I used to have this friend of mine in New Orleans, and his mother was very religious and we could not curse around her. He never wanted to go to church so he would hide his good shoes. His mother would come and ask where they were and he’d say he didn’t know. She would say, “Not today, Satan! I rebuke you! We’re going to find those shoes to get to church!” That became one of those things that I’ve said for many years.
For decades, drag has been very transgressive. Do you think Drag Race is a bit more sanitized than, say, club performances that are often very raw?
It’s television. The show is like boot camp, we film it back to back, it’s pretty intense. It’s like five weeks of my life that happened in a blur and you don’t realize what’s going on and you’re not privy to information about other contestants. The whole time I was filming I had no idea what was happening. You’re in the moment. It’s pretty raw and insane in that sense.
Then you go away for nine months and it starts airing, and then you start to see the narrative and understand what’s going on with everyone else. We were secluded and could only speak to one another on camera, so it can mess with your head, which is why people go crazy. For me, getting to do Not Today Bianca is not as raw and dirty as my stage show but you also have to be true to what you do. So I’ve been fortunate enough to travel and do my standup act, which is crazier than some people would expect. But there’s a time and a place for that.
I think it’s great that Drag Race is mainstream. Eighty percent of the show, we’re out of drag, so the audience sees us as human beings and realize it’s not about gender identity. It’s us being people who happen to wear wigs for a living. I think for many people, they think that being in drag means you want to be a girl. Being trans and doing drag is completely different.
It’s weird how so many people think drag is basically crossdressing or some sexual fetish.
Have you seen me? There’s nothing sexual about that clown.
At what point did you realize that you had it in the bag?
I didn’t. When you film it you don’t know the story. So despite what you’re feeling you don’t know what’s going to be portrayed. The entire season I thought Adore was going to win, and rightfully so. She was amazing and lovely, but also she struggled. The ups and downs, and she cried and I didn’t. I thought I didn’t have that great of a story, but I was grateful to be part of the process. Seeing it unfold on television, then I saw the story and I also saw what was going on with other people for the first time. But I still didn’t know I was going to win.
What’s it like on Drag Race when you’re incommunicado from your friends and family?
Oh, it’s fabulous. You take a nap, you read a book. I was fine, my rent was paid and my dogs were taken care of. No complaints about it.
How long did it take you to get into that living disco-ball look for the Season 7 finale?
I did the preshow at about 5 p.m., which was me as my normal self. That’s how I got my special, the head honcho from Logo saw me and said he wanted to do something with this clown. Then I went backstage. They start filming the actual finale at about 7. At 11 is when I came out.
I was backstage, and there was this awkward moment where I thought I would put glitter on my eyes. Then I told my assistant-friend that I wanted to cover my face with glitter, and he said it wasn’t a good idea. But I started. From 7 until 11, I was backstage applying it. When I got back to my hotel it was like an episode of Silkwood. I was trying to get this shit off of me, which was quite intensive since I’d used surgical adhesive to keep the glitter on—which is really good for television, but when you go back to your hotel, you’re screaming. I was in the shower forever.
You must have been rooting very heavily for Bob the Drag Queen this last season.
I love Bob. He’s a great friend of mine. I thought his portrayal on the show was a bit of a disservice—he’s far funnier and more brilliant than that.
Did you watch All Stars 2?
I saw that episode with Adore and that was the end of it for me. There were two reasons I couldn’t watch anymore: I know all of them, which made it awkward, and I hate them.
Is Adore right? Are you a hooker with a heart of gold?
Completely. We’re very close and that was the amazing thing about getting to do Drag Race, obviously aside from having this great experience. Courtney, Adore and Darienne—my favorites—have this group chat that we’ve had since we’ve finished filming, which is three and a half years now. They’ve been kind, genuine and my friends. To be in their company is amazing.
Was there drama after the show aired with Laganja Estranja?
We’re great. In the moment, I hated her and she drove me nuts. But we became friends after the fact. We were secluded and trapped, and people handle it differently. I’ve seen her do interviews since and she says, “Bianca was a cunt, but it’s what I needed to hear.” She’s a great performer, amazing dancer, and I love her.
Have you read Willam’s book?
I haven’t. I read the foreword, which Neil Patrick Harris wrote for the audiobook since he wasn’t available. I have a book coming out with the same people, Grand Central Publishing. They sat back and said, “Oh, this works!” It’s due in June and it’s going to be out by next fall. It’s about my philosophy and approach to world and pop culture, not about my life. I don’t have a title yet. It’s not a self-help book—if you want to commit suicide, read it. I’m the Dr. Kevorkian of drag.
You’re currently on tour, too.
I’m going to Europe in February, and then I do 15 more dates in the United States in the spring. It’s my favorite thing to do. Television is a powerful thing. You’re unaware of the global impact. I started the tour in Australia, and the shows were sold out before I even got there. Two-thousand seat theaters in Australia! For that I’m eternally grateful. I wanted to quit drag at 40, and now I’m 41, so it all started happening for me later in life.
Everyone always wants to know what the differences are between different countries, and the difference is three drinks. Three drinks for them, three drinks for me, and we all laugh at the same shit. Except Brazil is crazy. Go to Brazil!
Do you miss the small club intimacy?
There’s a bar here in New York called the Ritz that hired me and took care of me for many, many years. You’d have four people or you’d have a hundred show up. They were very good to me and paid me no matter what. Once I won Drag Race I came back and told them I owed them. They said they couldn’t afford me, but I told them I owed them a couple of nights. So I went back and did it.
People have different levels of sensitivity. There must have times when you’ve insulted someone where you’ve really hit them in a place where they didn’t want to be hit. How do you handle that?
It’s one of those things where, it’s not coming from a place of me thinking I’m better than you. I’m the biggest joke there is. If I didn’t wear a wig, I’m called a nasty fag. I wear a wig, they call me hysterical. So it’s the packaging to get away with murder. The jokes start with me, self-deprecation. I laugh at myself on a daily basis. Also, consider the source. If you’re paying to come see me, you have an idea what it’s about.
There’s actually a moment on YouTube where someone confronts me “on behalf of the Hispanic community.” What he failed to realize is that my mother’s from Cuba and my dad is from Honduras. I didn’t even know someone was filming my response. I did it, got on a plane and didn’t know what was going on. All of a sudden the next day it was all over the web. At the time, I hadn’t gotten the money from Drag Race yet and I thought, Oh god, they’re going to be mad at me. Courtney is finally going to win! But yeah, people are stupid. Do your research! I am Hispanic, and I do get it.
Do feel like we’re getting more and more PC? Several comedians now refuse to perform on college campuses now.
I think that people are a little too sensitive. For instance, someone like Amy Schumer. She’s brilliantly funny but also she’s trying to be a white girl doing movies and making money. I think she’s an asshole when she cracked a joke and goes, “Oh, I didn’t mean that!” She did SNL and made some joke about the Kardashians. The next day it was obvious that her publicist and everyone around her told her she’d better apologize. You made a joke about people who fucked black men in a video and became famous, and you’re apologizing to these cunts? No! If it was Michelle Obama, I would understand. But it wasn’t even that bad of a joke. We’re talking about Khloe fucking Kardashian! That’s what’s wrong with the world. That’s what you need a Joan Rivers for, to say fuck it. Do what you gotta do, but don’t sell your soul. You should never be apologetic when it comes to comedy because everything is funny.
I performed in Theater Amsterdam, and the Anne Frank show was there as well. Anne Frank was on Friday, and I was on Thursday. So I’m there, and Anne gave me her dressing room. I thought that was real sweet because you know how she is about her space.
Do you get a lot of heat on social media?
Sure. Who doesn’t? But do I care? No. I don’t know these fuckers. It doesn’t matter. I lived before this. I had a phone that you could only use at home. It was connected to the wall. I don’t care what a 13-year-old girl who’s fat and in Arizona has to say about me. You don’t like it, don’t watch it. Go fuck yourself. Try suicide.
When you are in an argument with a friend or boyfriend, are you vicious or do you rein it in?
I think it’s sweet that you assume I have a boyfriend. Shockingly, I’m pretty normal. But at this point in my life, you have to sit back and go, I do what I do but it’s not my identity. In the moment, I try to be fair and responsible. I mean, I think things in my head, about killing them, but I don’t always voice them.
When people are quick with their tongue, they usually were bullied growing up.
I’m quick with my tongue because my uncle told me to lick his ass, and that’s worked out well. Then he told me I was better at it than my sister.
You’re an insult comic. Coming from that perspective, what do you think of Donald Trump in terms of his ability to insult?
He’s insulting, but he’s not even clever. I have a problem looking at him. Have you ever taken a can of biscuits and popped it open? That’s his face in a shirt. It’s just horrible and nasty. I hate the sight of him, I hate his face, I hate his teeth (veneers), I hate his coke-dry mouth. I hate him on many levels. But it’s fascinating to see America think that he’s genius. He had some good lines during the campaign, but to say it’s brilliant would be silly. I think he talks out of his ass and there’s no filter. I mean, first it was a wall and then a fence and now it’s Maybe, if I have time…It’s like, you’re acting like the Mexicans you’re trying to keep out. You’re not doing your job.