In between a tight travel schedule for her biggest comedy tour yet, Unsanitized, shade queen Bianca Del Rio squeezed in a natter with Hannah Collins about post-pandemic comedy, if she got the All Stars 7 call (spoiler alert: of course!), and her unexpected love of Greggs.
How are you, Bianca?
I’m good – I’m finally back home, which is not a bad thing. But your like, ‘Oh, I’m going to be home, I’m going to sleep’ and your body’s like, ‘Oh my god! Shit to do! Shit to do! Shit to do!’ So that’s what I’ve been adjusting with.
Whereabouts are you at the moment?
I’m in Palm Springs, California but I just come from many months in Canada, then Brazil, Mexico City, Buenos Aries, and all of that. I’m home for a week and then literally leave to come to you guys in the UK right after this.
Oh, wow. That’s a lot.
It’s a good life. Before this, I sat at home for a year and a half so I really have nothing to complain about.
Very true. So, the tour is called Unsanitised, and I think we can all guess what that’s a reference to. But in terms of the subject matter, is this going to be how Bianca Del Rio spent lockdown or is it a wider range?
Oh, it’s a wider range. I usually go with a pretty vague title, mainly because I never know what I’m going to talk about and when I started this tour, originally, it wasn’t even named Unsanitized because it was prior to the pandemic and balls were rolling for me to start it and then the pandemic happened. During the pandemic, I thought: what’s the best way to describe something that’s culturally happening, and also describe myself?
I think when we were all home, we had a long time to eat, be happy, drunk, upset, cheerful… All of that is what played into the show and there is so much more to talk about, but also it gives people fair warning that it’s not going to be politically correct and that we’ve got some shit to discuss because the world is fucking crazy! That was basically the reasoning for calling it Unsanitized – warning people in advance. It’s not for the faint-hearted.
Do you find it hard to find the funny side and things like COVID or do you think that no subject is off-limits in comedy?
I don’t think things are off limit but I do think you have to find the funny in it. I mean, look at the world as it is: you can turn on the TV and be completely depressed with everything that’s happening or you have to find the humour in it. But that’s always been my outlook, period. So, despite having my own issues and questioning what’s happening with the world, what’s going to happen with entertainment, what’s going to happen with my career – that’s being very selfish, but I mean, in those moments you do question, are people ready for this again? Are people ready for entertainment? Am I able to travel and perform? And shockingly, the response has been astounding.
America went really well, which is interesting because we don’t have health care. Anytime they’re happy, it’s a shock. And then we went to Canada, which was a great crowd and out of the five solo tours, this has been the largest and the most shows that I’ve ever done. I think people are interested in getting out of the house and trying to find the humour in it and if I can provide that… yay.
Some comedians have been saying recently that audiences have been more raucous and even a bit ruder coming out of the pandemic. This was just before all that but there was even a comedian over here who had a bread roll thrown at him because someone didn’t like his material [Nish Kumar, 2019]. Have you experienced any of that?
No, I haven’t experienced that in my life. I mean, I’ve done some really shitty gigs in my life but overall, I think because people know that I’m a man in a wig they know my sense of humour. I’m pretty lucky on that level. But I think that if you try to appeal to mass audiences or if you’re dealing with an audience that doesn’t know you, so to speak, or if you’re Chris Rock, you’re fucked, because anything can happen. But no, I haven’t had any of those moments lately but it is shocking to see the behaviour and the madness of it all.
Do you think that you can get away with saying things in drag that maybe you couldn’t if you weren’t?
Yeah, I think it’s more of a show. For instance, when you watch someone like Dame Edna, Barry Humphries is a straight man who puts on a wig and becomes Edna and then all of a sudden, it’s believable. It’s funny. I don’t think Dame Edna would be as funny if he was just Barry Humphries. So I do think that it adds to it and also, Barry was a gifted performer and a very talented actor who created many characters. It was shocking that Dame Edna is his most famous character there. I think that people do enjoy the theatricality of it.
I obviously enjoy drag. I mean, I’ve done drag now for 26 years, so I think it’s kind of the packaging for it, and it’s more of an event. You see most comedians are wearing sneakers and a little jacket and some jeans. Well, that’s not what I would wear. I think it’s just a different presentation of it all. I don’t think anything is less funny or funnier or that someone’s doing it wrong, I just think that’s just how I’ve chosen to package myself and that’s what people go for.
Can you see yourself doing this in your, well, RuPaul years?
[Laughs] That’s funny! To be very honest, RuPaul and I are not that far apart in age. 10 years, maybe. I didn’t plan on doing drag this long, to begin with. It was one of those things where I was ready to stop after 20 years, and then I did Drag Race. I was 37 or 38 when I started filming it, and my life changed. So I think as long as it’s evolving into something I enjoy doing, great! At that time, I didn’t want to work under the same circumstances: I was working in the bars ‘till 3 am; it was a different world then – I had gotten older and I had a day job and I was working at night and it became a little taxing so I thought I could hang up my heels at that point. And then I did this little television show…
You’re known for roasting people. In fact, people often request that you roast them because you’re so good at it…
I’m a kind person, I even roast people that don’t ask.
[Laughs] I was wondering, is there anyone who you wouldn’t want to roast? Anybody that you’d be intimidated by? Or just wouldn’t want to say anything like that to them? And is there someone who you’ve always wanted to roast but haven’t had the chance to?
I just love anybody with a sense of humour. I would even roast Queen Elizabeth, and she has a sense of humour. I love Queen Elizabeth, don’t get me wrong – she just had a birthday! Also, I have a sense of humour about myself. By no means do I think that I am perfect. I find in truth there’s always the funny. It can’t be funny unless it’s true. So I welcome all of that – I’m attracted to anybody with a sense of humour, whether it’s Queen Elizabeth, my own mother, or RuPaul – who has a great sense of humour, I must say – it’s just like, bring it on. Let’s do it. Let’s cackle, let’s laugh. So I would say none of that, especially considering the current climate in the world. We all need to laugh.
I would love to see you at the next Royal Variety Show.
Wouldn’t that be nice? I’m just waiting to become a dame.
You’ve starred in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie both over here and in the US. How did that all come about and what was the experience like?
It was amazing. I was called a couple of years ago by the director, Johnny B [Jonathan Butterell] who asked if I was interested in playing this role, and what was interesting is that prior to me going into the show, Michelle Visage of Drag Race fame had gone into it and successfully done a turn as Ms Hedge. That was the first time that they put someone in the show that was what they would call ‘stunt casting.’ So then they reached out to me and said, ‘Would you like to come in?’ And I immediately thought it was to play the same role. But they said no, the elderly drag queen. That’s when it clicked. I’m like, ‘oh shit, that is me.’ But Johnny B – who is an amazing director, choreographer, and now I can say one of my dear friends – said ‘I would like you to play this role and I will not take no as an answer.’ So I couldn’t turn it down. You know, it’s the West End and as an actor and performer, you don’t say no to an opportunity like that.
It’s something that’s very close to my heart and it was an amazing opportunity to work with people like Leighton Williams. It’s very nice every now and then to escape my own world and get to do things with a group of people because usually, I’m travelling alone doing my solo shows.
It’d be remiss of me not to mention the cast of Drag Race: All Stars 7 – aka the all winners season – was recently announced. I know you’ve said before that you didn’t think that you’d “survive” another season of Drag Race, but I have to know: did you get the call to go back on and if you did, would you have reconsidered?
Yeah, I was. The format is the same format from 14 years ago so I wasn’t interested. And I was very open to other options – I even gave other suggestions – but it just didn’t work out for me at the time.
Also, I’d never cancel tour dates to go film a television show. I’m not that person. When I commit to something, I commit to something. I’m grateful for the experience that I had but I’m a 47-year-old man and I just wasn’t interested in doing it with the same format, so I just politely declined. And listen, there are enough winners for them to do whatever they want to do and some people really wanted to go back – I was not one of them. And they understood that and were very sweet.
I still always enjoy seeing you pop up unexpectedly on the show.
Yes, but to be a contestant again would be a different world for me now because I’m old, a little set in my ways. As I said, I had a great time and met some amazing people and had amazing opportunities and I’ve become very close friends with Adore [Delano, runner-up to Bianca on Season 6] and Courtney [Act, also a runner-up to Bianca on Season 6] and we still chat weekly. So anytime I’m invited to come back, I do, pending my schedule.
But I do wish all of my friends a great time – Jinxx [Monsoon, Season 5 winner], Monet [X Change, All Stars 4 co-winner] and Raja [Season 3 winner].
You’ll be with us in Cardiff next month, and I know you’ve been to Wales on previous tours. Do you get to see much of it when you’re here and have you got any favourite spots?
My favourite spot to go is the theatre with an audience. But I don’t get to see much and I think that’s a shame. That’s the deceiving part of social media. People see that I go everywhere but I really don’t get to see much [of the places I go to] because of the travel schedule, which I prefer to be tight so I can get more dates in. I usually recognise where I am by the airport and dressing room.
I am looking forward to going back as the UK has always been so welcoming to me and like Australia, you guys totally understand my wicked nasty hateful sense of humour!
So, in terms of favourite spots, it’s Cardiff Airport, St. David’s Hall… and that’s it?
[Laughs] I will be travelling by bus, this time, which makes life a lot easier but that gets even blurrier because you really don’t know where you are. You’re usually confined to the theatre, your dressing room and a Starbucks. That’s about it.
I’d recommend Costa while you’re here.
Greggs is something that Myra Dubois has introduced me to. A sausage roll from Greggs because I’m very fancy.
Thank you, Bianca, it’s been a dream talking to you!
Let me tell you, you need better dreams.
Bianca Del Rio: Unsantised, Mon 9 May, St. David’s Hall, Cardiff. Tickets: £38-£113. Info here.
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