"You Can Get Away With Murder When You Wear a Dress": Lessons on Being a Man from Drag Queen Bianca Del Rio
The Emmy award for Best Reality Competition Program went to RuPaul's Drag Race this year. It’s an extraordinary feat considering the competition show featuring drag queens, which is currently airing its 11th season, has only recently broken through mainstream pop culture, despite increasingly liberal views in modern-day America.
Of the dozens of queens to emerge from the show, arguably the most well-known is Bianca Del Rio, who won the sixth season. While many other contestants go on to record an album or film a music video after their stint on the show, Del Rio harnessed her popularity to launch a successful career as a stand-up comic. Her brand of comedy has her throwing withering, very un-PC insults against everybody, from political and entertainment personalities, to her fellow contestants from RuPaul’s Drag Race, to almost everybody else within striking distance. There are people who don’t like this particular style of comedy, but for her legions of fans, Del Rio is as hilarious as it gets.
In addition to her stand-up career, Del Rio has gone on to do three world tours, has starred in two full-length movies that are now streaming on Netflix (Hurricane Bianca and its sequel), has written a book, and has even launched her own line of make-up remover.
This year, Del Rio is on her fourth world tour called It’s Jester Joke. For the first time, she stopped by Manila to perform for her Filipino fans. Esquire Philippines booked one-on-one time with her where she let loose her trademark wit on everything, including the ridiculousness of social media, whether she’d ever do her comedy outside of drag, and what she really thinks of that tie in the latest season of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars.
ESQUIRE: You must have had Filipinos messaging you for years to come here.
BIANCA DEL RIO: Through social media, yes, but I think what’s interesting is you don’t always trust social media, because I don’t know if it’s really people or if it’s a computer or a robot saying, ‘Please come.’ But it has been interesting to see globally. It blows my mind that this many people even know who I am or even care to see me. And so I am extremely grateful and appreciative for the opportunity.
ESQ: You’ve only been here a few hours, but what are your impressions so far of the Philippines and Filipinos in general?
BDR: Everybody was nice when I came to the hotel. My room is quite lovely, the airconditioning works. And room service was delicious. That’s all I’ve been experienced. And then I got into drag—well partial drag—for you today. So far, so good, everybody seems very nice.
Now if they’re assholes I’m gonna let you know tomorrow. I’ll let you know if they’re rude.
ESQ: Do you think people are a bit more triggered these days? They get so much more easily offended?
BDR: I don’t necessarily think that people are more offended. I think we hear more people’s thoughts because of social media. So people feel the need to put it online. Back in the day, the Internet didn’t exist. We were discussing things and it was more or less, you have conversations with your friends. My gay life [back then] was, you would go out to the bars to meet friends. We didn’t have phones. Like if you said we’re going to meet you at 10 o’clock, you had to meet them at 10 o’clock. So your life was completely different.
So I think, it‘s not so much that people are more offended, it’s that people feel the need to say something because it’s social media. Like even with my close friends that are on Facebook, and I read stuff, I’m like, why are they putting this online? Why are you telling me a recipe? I don’t need a picture of your spaghetti. I don’t give a shit. But this is their life. And that’s what’s exciting to them. So I think people, out of boredom and also the pressure maybe to seem exciting online, they just lash out and talk about all this shit. But it doesn’t necessarily mean anything.
ESQ: But you keep saying that you don’t really care about all the hateful things people think or say about you…
BDR: Well you can’t care. It does affect you, obviously. You are aware when someone is going out of their way to be impossible. But I think that you can’t allow it. So I wouldn’t say don’t care. I would say that you shouldn’t care. Why should I care about a person I’ve never met that has a problem with me. What do I care?
ESQ: What have you learned about being a man by dressing up as a woman?
BDR: Oh, that you can get away with murder when you wear a dress. (laughs) No, you should try it! Obviously, everybody does drag for different reasons, and for me, it’s strictly about the comedy or the act of it. Something like this is always weird for me to do. When I’m onstage, I’m used to it, but on a personal level, I’m me, I’m the same person. But I think they do cross because I have the same sense of humor.
Now, as I was saying, I do have friends that do drag for different reasons, and they’re a different “act” when they’re in drag, or different voice even. And I don’t do that. So I think they’re different compartments to it. I think I kind of learned that the more that you’re yourself, the more fun and accepting it is. I know that sounds crazy because I’m sitting here in a wig, but it’s just what I am and what I do. And you can’t be “on” 24/7, so it’s a lot of pressure to do that.
ESQ: Would you ever consider doing your comedy out of drag?
BDR: I have! When I lost my luggage and I had no choice? 'Cause we always say, what’s a drag queen without their luggage? A man. (laughs)
So yeah, things like that have happened. I don’t rule anything out. I don’t know what’s to come. I’d say yes to everything.
ESQ: Would you recommend straight guys try drag?
BDR: I say why not? Usually it’s straight women. People often ask, ‘Can there be female drag queens?’ And I say, do whatever the fuck you want. If you want to put this shit on, put it on. It’s hot, it’s miserable. I think that straight women and straight men would be as miserable as we are. I think they should. Why not?
ESQ: What’s your opinion about the tie that happened on the last All Stars season?
BDR: I don’t care! I don’t care because at this point I can’t even pick apart who’s who. I mean, I’m so old and I’ve lost touch 'cause it’s been so many seasons that I don’t know the difference…like, to me, she looks like Detox and Bob the Drag Queen’s sister. So I don’t even know. I’m kidding, I do know the both of them.
But I think in general, it is what it is. And I think the show is a great opportunity for anyone if you look at it wisely, if you use it wisely. You don’t have to win [the show] to win at life. Some of the best people on the show didn’t actually win—Latrice Royale, Willam, Shangela. I mean sure, it changes the specifics if you win, but I think if you have talent, and you’re smart about it, you don’t have to win. Just use the opportunity.
So if she (RuPaul) picked two people, perfect, now we get two people to celebrate. It’s senseless to fight about who deserves it and who doesn’t. Because it’s an endless battle. Someone’s going to disagree, that’s just how it is.
People think I shouldn’t have won. Fine! Fine! I don’t care. And I have to tell people, like they say, oh, ‘Adore (Delano) should have won,’—no one ever says Courtney (Act)—but they say Adore should have won, I go, okay, and they hate me and love her, or love me and hate her. I go, if we (Adore and I) are friends, and we respect eaach other, why the fuck are you upset?! I never understood that.
ESQ: This confidence and self-assurance, where does it come from? Have you always been like this?
BDR: Liquor. (laughs). No, I think it comes with age. I think I was lucky when I was younger to have some really amazing people around me that kind of set me straight and kind of told me, this is how the world works. Obviously not on the level of social media and how insane it’s become. But I think those skills early on truly helped. And not to get lost in it. Not to get wrapped up in it. This is make-believe here, you know. This is not real life. I mean it shouldn’t be.
ESQ: A lot of people would probably kill to be in my position right now, to meet you and to be talking to you. Is there someone like that for you? Who’s someone that you would love to meet in person?
BDR: Oh you’re recording this (speaks into recorder in a robotic voice). I love RuPaul. There is nobody better. (laughs)
I don’t know at this point…
ESQ: You’ve probably met everybody…
BDR: Not really. Oprah! I would probably shit my pants if I were sitting next to Oprah. I do love Oprah. It is interesting, one of the things that I have experienced through social media, and being on Drag Race, is people commenting on things and people that have showed up on the show and you’re like, ‘Wow, what the hell!’
Like Harvey Fierstein is one of my favorite people in the world. He has written Kinky Boots. He’s written La Cage aux Folles on Broadway, and he was also in [the movie] Mrs. Doubtfire, he was the uncle that did his makeup. I knew who he was and respected him and loved him, and the fact that I have his phone number now, I can chat with him—it’s surreal! Like when I’m in New York and I’m doing my show, he shows up. And Wanda Sykes, who I love dearly and who did Hurricane Bianca 2 with me, someone that I’ve known for a while in New York. It’s surreal. The reach that [the show] has.
So yeah, Oprah’s in my list. Gotta get Oprah.
ESQ: You famously never lip-synched when you were on your season. But if you had to, what song would you want to lip-synch to?
BDR: That is a stupid fucking question! (laughs) I’m not a lip-syncher, so it doesn’t gravitate to me on that level. It was weird, because I learned every song. They give you the songs when you’re there [on the show] and so you learn all of them and you don’t know when you’re going to use them. So basically, on your off time—which is just a few hours because you’re really on set from 12 to 16 hours a day—you don’t have much time to do all these songs. So we had to learn all these songs.
But there was one song we all learned, it’s called “Fancy.” Reba McEntire did a cover of it, but we had to do the original version and it is the wordiest fucking song. And we all learned it and they never fucking used it! And I still have “Fancy” IN MY HEAD, FOR NO REASON! So yeah, I would do “Fancy” 'cause I gotta let it out.
Bianca del Rio's "It's Jester Joke World Tour" continues tonight at the Samsung Hall of SM Aura, BGC, Taguig.