Possessing an unforgettably unique sense of style, a razor sharp wit, and a heart of gold, Bianca Del Rio has proved episode after episode why she deserves to still be in the running to claim the title of “America’s Next Drag Superstar” on season 6 of the reality TV world’s darling, RuPaul’s Drag Race. We were able to have a chat with this fiercely funny queen about her journey to the competition, her spot-on tribute to Judge Judy and how to make it as an insult comedy queen. Read it all in our exclusive interview!
Socialite Life: Before we get started, I just wanted to thank you so much for chatting with me. I’m a huge fan!
Bianca Del Rio: Well, before we go any further, it’s obvious that you have impeccable taste and for that, I’m grateful!
SL: How did you first get interested in drag? I know you have a theatrical background…
Bianca: Well, in high school, I started doing costume work and my drama teacher at the time was working on an outside project at a dinner theater – and they needed help with costumes, and I went and worked there and moved on to (working with) wigs and makeup for the opera in New Orleans. So, I had all the makings of a drag queen without actually doing drag.
And then, in 1996 or 1997, I did a show called “Pageant”, that’s based on beauty pageants – and the 6 contestants are men – and I was doing the wigs, makeup and costumes for that. I think I was around 20. There was a small role at the end of the show and the director asked if I was interested in doing it because “you’re already here and it’s a small bit”. I kind of knew that I was a chatty, outgoing little gay boy, so the part led to a lot of ad libbing and covering time for costume changes for the cast. So, the bit got longer and longer, and some people who ran one of the local gay bars in New Orleans saw the show and asked if I’d be interested in performing there. It started out as one guest performance, which led to one show a week, then 2 shows a week and I eventually worked at that bar in New Orleans 5 days a week for 10 years.
SL: I recently saw you epically take down a heckler during one of your performances. You’re obviously fast on your feet and are quite skilled as a comedian. Have you had any improv or comedy training, or are you just naturally funny?
Bianca: No, I’ve never had any training. I think the “training” for me has been all of those shows that I’ve had over the past 18 years. An audience trains you quicker than anything. They all haven’t been doozies or amazing…it definitely becomes a question of knowing your audience, but more importantly, knowing yourself and being aware of your surroundings – and being fearless. I don’t get nervous about things – which can be good and bad – but I’m definitely most comfortable on the stage. And, if it does seem to be a little exciting, I thrive off of that. I thrive off of not knowing and I think that’s where some of my best moments have come from – when you just don’t know.
But, you have to take risks when you’re there – knowing that if you’re going to start something with someone, they may be able to say something back – which you counter by having the right response or just laughing at people, like, “You know what? That was a good one!” - and there have been those moments where people have had some really good comebacks. Now, it’s the only one they had, but it worked in that moment. And I always tell people that’s the trick of it – for insult comedy, it’s not so much having something good to say, it’s knowing when to use it and being able to deliver it in the proper moment to make it work. There’s people who are brilliant writers, but aren’t good performers. I’m a bad writer, I prefer to perform. I don’t think of funny things on a daily basis, but when I do, I write them down. Anything I’ve said has come out of a situation at some point.
SL: So, when you started performing, did you want to go in the direction of insult comedy, or did you just fall into it?
Bianca: As with everything, I’ve just kind of fallen into it. I’ve always been “Sure, I’ll try this” or “Sure, I’ll try that.” I didn’t plan to do Drag Race, I didn’t plan to do drag for 18 years, but it just kind of ended up being what I was most known for, what I was most comfortable with. I started out lip synching like everybody else (well, not everybody else), but I did theater and stage and all of that has evolved into what I do now and it’s what I prefer to do. Some of the stuff I hadn’t done in years, and that was what was great about Drag Race is that it’s a test of all your skills. So, having that background did come in handy during the show.
SL: I was going to ask you how beneficial your costume experience was for the show…
Bianca: It was. I mean, up until recently – because I’ve been traveling so much, I had a full-time job with a Broadway costume company here in New York. That was my day job and at night, I’d work at the bars and do shows. That alone was a balancing act for me, but that was my passion, it was what I enjoyed doing. Some days were harder than others – I’d have a bad show or an early sitting, but luckily I worked with people who were amazing and worked around my schedule up until recently where I’ve been traveling and can’t really commit to the hours it takes to get stuff done when I need to. I took a leave for a moment.
SL: You’ve acted, you do comedy, you’re an accomplished costume designer and you’re a fantastic drag performer. Is there one thing you have a special affinity for or do you enjoy it all equally?
Bianca: I think I enjoy all of it equally at different points in my life. I’ve never been a really big dreamer, I’ve never said “Oh, I really want to do this” or “I really need to do that” – it’s just kind of been my passion at the moment. I never know what to expect, which is kind of the way I’ve lived my life and I’m grateful for all of the opportunities and the journey that it’s been. And I think in retrospect, it’s more interesting than it was at the time because I was just doing what I was doing.
There’s never really been a definite “this or that”, so now with the show and the exposure, it’s fascinating to me because, when I started, there was no Facebook, Twitter or Instagram – where everyone now has instant access to you and your body of work and all of that. It’s overwhelming – in a good way – but I am now looking back over many years of footage or situations that I might have forgotten or just moved on from and I think it’s interesting that everyone has an interest in it now.
As for what I still want to do, it’s not a conscious thought of, “Oh, I want to do this.” There’s other projects I want to do, but the amazing about this journey is that I can only handle what’s in front of me at the moment. I’m currently writing a one-woman show that I want to do in the fall that I’m just trying to write out when I have time, like when I’m on a plane or in another city and have time to do some brainstorming and throwing out ideas.
SL: As the season of Drag Race has evolved, you’ve become mentor to some of your fellow queens. What’s the best advice you got when you were starting out in the business?
Bianca: The best ever was “Never let a bitch see you sweat”, and it’s one I apply all of the time. I think in the drag community – and even working as an actor – it’s very competitive. I live in New York City and I see several of my friends who are geniuses that aren’t on Broadway and want and try and audition and work their asses off but because it’s heavenly populated and there’s so many people here, it can get questionable in your mind. You can doubt yourself or become insecure or think “Why this, why that?”. Like I said, I was acting and then I went into costuming and then I went into theater and then I went into drag, so for me it’s been limitless, but I think a lot of people start to question themselves, like “Oh, I did drag because I couldn’t be an actor.”
I like all of it, but the only reason I’ve been able to do it is because I understand what my abilities are and know you’re not going to be everybody’s cup of tea…and never let a bitch see you sweat! I may not be the best dancer, I may not be the best singer, and I’m not going to let that show because it just doesn’t help you at all. So I’m always trying to tell people to be confident in what you know you can do – be open to other things as well – but know yourself before you question yourself about it. You can always do it and say “Well, I shouldn’t have done that” or “It wasn’t my favorite”.
SL: Have you gained any knowledge from working with RuPaul and Lady Bunny?
Bianca: What’s interesting is that I’ve never worked with Ru, and it’s funny I don’t know RuPaul on that level at all. My first exchanges with Ru have been on the show. Is Ru a friend of Bunny’s? Yes. Is Bunny someone I’ve worked with in New York? Yes, but we don’t have that type of relationship. We don’t hang out, we don’t have lunch, I don’t know what she’s doing prior to the show. Of course, I knew who she was as a performer for many years, but it was never that type of relationship at all. I mean, the first instance of having a conversation with Ru was on the show. Bunny and I do a weekly show together in New York, and we’ve been doing it for the past 2 years, she’s a hoot. But I think that the great thing about people like that – and Bunny is someone I admire and I totally get – her sick sense of humor is hysterical to me and sometimes it’s not always in her show – sometimes it’s a phone call in the middle of the day that I’ll be laughing at for hours because she’s insane – in a good way! Whether it’s going to lunch to talk about costumes or rehearsal – she does make me cackle. It’s not that I don’t admire Ru, it’s just that we don’t have that type of relationship. I would give anything to exchange Bunny for Ru, that would be great! (Laughs)
SL: As far as this season of Drag Race, what do you feel has been the most difficult challenge for you so far?
Bianca: I think they all were tough, because if it’s something you don’t know, you’re scared by it, if it’s something you don’t do regularly, you’re scared by it. If it’s something you do well, you’re going to be scared by it as well. For me, the comedy challenge was difficult as far as where I was going to go with it because – everyone, and even Ru, mentioned to me in the episode “Oh, well, everyone knows you’re funny, so this will be a piece of cake” and I’m like, “No, you don’t know”, because I don’t know what other people do well. They may not have a funny personality or be as opinionated as I am, but I didn’t know what they were going to pull out.
The advantage for the situation was – I’m a really bad writer, I don’t write well and I don’t write literal jokes, and I wrote a lot of stuff, because that what I was supposed to do and, fortunately for me, I was able to go last and I saw what was working for other people and what wasn’t working – and then I just said to myself “Screw, it, just do why you want to do”. There are 3 setups in front of you, 3 jokes that will work – yourself, the judges and the audience. And the audience they gave us was an elderly audience – and that’s a joke within itself. If you know what they know, it makes that work – “know your audience” can attest to that. So if that didn’t work, you had the judges to make fun of band that was your only chance to say whatever you want to say to them which you couldn’t – and probably should’t – say any other time on the runway in jest, knowing that you’re the joke, it’s a joke and funny is funny. So that was a very hard challenge because it was dissecting what to do – do I try new material that I’ve never tried or do I adapt to what’s in front of me and make that the joke? It comes with risks and it was kind of scary. It was familiar territory but it wasn’t an audience at 12:00 at night in New York City. The studio audience was elderly people and maybe they wouldn’t get it, maybe it would be too much for them, so I think that was the hardest for me.
SL: I thought your Judge Judy impersonation in the “Snatch Game” episode was spot-on. Did you really not know that RuPaul was such a big fan of hers?
Bianca: Let me tell you this, the funny thing was that everyone said that Ru tweets about Judge Judy and constantly has something to say. I was not a Twitter person until I got back from the show, I never was on Twitter, I had no Twitter account, I was unaware. Now, I don’t read and study everything “end all and be all” Ru and I didn’t know. Everyone on the show told me that she tweets about it constantly, because it’s the best show. Now I know that because I didn’t have a Twitter account then – I’m “old school”, I had a regular phone and I didn’t have Twitter, Instagram or a Facebook fan page until then, so I didn’t know the seriousness about it until she mentioned it and then, when I got home and followed her on Twitter, of course, I was fascinated with all of the information. We filmed the show a while back and I didn’t have all of that information on hand at that moment.
I just thought Judge Judy was a good person to do for “Snatch Game” – and I’m surprised no one did it – because you have to find a character who lends herself to those questions and make them funny and, to me, Judge Judy seemed like an obvious person to use – and also a fitting person for me to do with my personality. But, yet again, when I was in the room and Adore said she was going to do Anna Nicole Smith, I had no idea how genius it was going to be or even Ben DeLa Creme, who said she was going to do Maggie Smith. I thought, “What are you going to do?” and when she did it, I thought she was hysterical. So, it’s interesting, but I thought it was what was obvious for me and I guess that was what was obvious for them, but they delivered it impeccably and I thought it was really funny and they were genius to watch. I felt like I was in good company with them – I was peeing while I was there, especially sitting next to Adore. I was dying – and that was one of those moments when Adore and I just clicked. I went from not really knowing her to respecting her and thinking “This bitch is genius.”
SL: Was there a guest judge on the show that you were really excited to see?
Bianca: Well, of course Neil Patrick Harris, who I adore, he’s such a sweetheart. He and his boyfriend David were dolls and, of course, Paula Abdul – come on! I grew up with Paula Abdul cassettes! So, I adored her. One judge I was surprised by – and I didn’t know what to expect – was Khloe Kardashian. I thought she was lovely. She was very into it and interested and knew her shit when she was there. I really enjoyed her as well.
SL: I love your eye makeup. What is the key to making such a dramatic look?
Bianca: Well, you’re one of the few! (Laughs) Everyone has a definition of what drag is supposed to be and I think that’s kind of the interesting thing about it. Like I said, it’s been an amazing journey, but it’s also been interesting because with the good comes the bad. There’s no right or wrong way to do anything, you do what you want to do and I think what’s funny about it and I’m glad this experience has been happening to me at 38 as opposed to 23 because I’d probably be influenced or back down or lose myself over what someone’s opinion is. And even on the show, the judges have their opinions of what they think you should do, not that they’re to the point of saying “Something you’re doing is wrong” but they’re saying “Try something else.” So, it was interesting for me because I’ve done my look for a very long time so I usually didn’t steer clear of that, I didn’t stray from the path. So, with the show, you had to try other things because that’s what’s required for the show. I’m still my same self, but they’re like “Try a lighter lip” or “Try this”.
So through it, for me, I like makeup, I’m not afraid of makeup. I know what I am, I know I’m a clown with makeup and I’m not going to be this natural beauty that Courtney Act is or Joslyn is. With my aesthetic, I also don’t wear bikinis, like they do. It’s a different aesthetic and I think to each his own. I like a lot of makeup, I like a lot of lash and I have to distract from my nose, so I have to put on as much eye makeup as I can and bleach my teeth every second I can. That’s pretty much my thing, it’s just layering. I like color and I like to look fake. I like to look like a cartoon! It was one of those things too, experimenting when you’re there – you’re kind of influenced by the other people. When you’re in that room with everybody else, you try other things because you’re like, “Oh, wow! She does that?” – it’s kind of “boot camp-y”.
SL: What’s the best thing you’ve taken away from your experience on Drag Race?
Bianca: What I’ve taken away from it is that at 38, you don’t know everything – and that came at a great time in my life. As far as thinking I knew everything and getting to experience that and working with amazing people who generally have your best interests at hand is kind of cool. It’s a humbling journey that you go on and it’s opened a million doors for me. I’ve gotten to travel and to see other people in a positive way and that the show brings out good and bad in everyone in different moments but with each episode someone hates someone or loves someone our whatever. You’re seeing an hour of it as opposed to our journey when we were there. It’s been amazing to feel more grounded and be grateful that I’ve been able to do this as long as I have and to see that it still works and to see its so widely accepted by people. It’s just been nice for that – but knowing the work isn’t over, it’s just the beginning of the next phase, which is great. You’re looked at in a different way – some good, some bad – and that’s okay. You’re not going to be everyone’s cup of tea and some people are overzealous and love you to death who didn’t know you 6 months ago – it’s just pacing yourself and realizing it’s a great journey.
I was recently in Tampa and it was wonderful. I had a great time, I went on stage and people started giving me money and I was like “I haven’t even done anything yet! I’m appreciative, but let this just happen. You paid a cover, I just got up here, let’s just have a good time.” It’s not all about that, there’s more to it. Live in the moment. When I was on the show, I was in a bubble, I had to make choices that were in front of you and that’s what I’m doing now as well.
SL: You mentioned you were working on a one-woman show. Do you have any other upcoming projects?
Bianca: Well, I have a very good friend of mine named Matt Kugelman, who is a brilliant aspiring filmmaker and we had this idea for a movie that he wanted to make and we started fundraising for it. Through Indiegogo, we raised like $35,000 – right when I was about to leave for Drag Race. So, we had to stop fundraising because I was gone. The project’s always been on the back burner and once I’m done with this ride, it’s something I would like to do soon – hopefully sooner than later. And the great thing now is that there’s this interest in what I’m doing – and one thing about the fans of the show is that they want you to succeed and they want you to do well and they want to support you, which has been great. When it happens, it will happen – hopefully sooner than later, like I said. But that’s something I definitely want to do – and my show, that’s all I can really wrap my brain around at the moment.
SL: Any last words for your fans?
Bianca: Well, someone said recently – I think it was on Twitter – that I don’t have a name for my fans. Well, I do, actually…it’s called smart! (Laughs) I’m appreciative and I appreciate the people and the outpouring of kindness that’s been there – and it’s been overwhelming. As I said, I didn’t expect any of this – even while you’re filming and they’re trying to prep you for what’s to come, I had no idea. I had friends who had been on the show who told me out was overwhelming and I had no idea. I’m a very lucky individual to get to do what I do and meet the people I’ve met in the cities I’ve been to and people that I chat with on Twitter and Instagram – I couldn’t do any of that without them. I appreciate their support more than anything because I was wanting to quit at 40. I’m going to be 39 in June and I thought, “You know, it’s been a 20 year ride, it was great” and I didn’t expect any of this – much less to do the show and meet all of these people – so I’m ready to go into the next phase of it all and I’m excited. By no means was I prepared for all of the kindness from people I didn’t even know. I didn’t have any of this when I started – there wasn’t this instant world where people had access to you and everything about you. Someone has an Instagram account called “Bianca Facts” – every day they put up a new fact about me and I’m like, “Are you kidding me?” I did have to correct them on one – they said I had one dog and I’ve really got 2, but it is kind of fascinating to see the interest. I’ve gotten the most amazing artwork from fans too – no other word can describe it but “amazing”.
Watch as Bianca and the remaining queens fighting it our for the crown on an all-new episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race, airing tonight at 10pm EST on Logo. Get all of your Drag Race news, exclusive clips and previous episodes at LogoTV.com.