While 2016 has most unkind to many of us, for Bianca Del Rio, it’s been a professional boost. The sassy-mouthed, raccoon-eyed drag queen rose to prominence as the winner of the sixth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race in 2014, and hasn’t stopped since. This year alone, she’s released the stand-up special Bianca’s Rolodex of Hate, the feature film Hurricane Bianca, and now has not one but two specials —both titled Not Today Bianca — premiering on Logo TV tonight.
Locally, Del Rio has partnered with San Francisco’s own Peaches Christ to present live action re-imaginings of the films Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and Beetlejuice. The latter, which ran at the Castro last month and featured Del Rio as the titular Sheetlejuice, showcased all of the reasons she has become of the most popular drag queens around. With a Don Rickles-like ability to shut down anyone (including herself), Bianca revels in the faux-hate of her drag sisters — although even in Drag Race spats with contestants like Langanja Estranja, there is also a sweet side buried deep below the mascara.
Speaking by phone from Los Angeles, Del Rio dished on her new specials, trying to avoid politics in her stand-up, and improvising with Tori Spelling. This interview has been condensed and lightly edited.
You have not one but two specials premiering tonight! Are you excited?
I am excited, and I never get excited. I’m so old and jaded.
You’ve done so much this year. Not Today Bianca is coming out the heels of you releasing a film and a stand-up special. You’ve been everywhere. I feel like you’re one of the few people on this planet who actually had a decent 2016.
Yes, it has been lovely. I mean personally, it hasn’t been the best, but definitely professionally it’s been kind of unreal. I’m grateful for all of it.
As you were putting all of these projects together, did you have a vision that they would all come out in the same year, or did it just work out that way?
It all just kind of happened. Different groups of people were involved in each project. As far as the movie, my friend Matt Kugelman wrote and directed it. I just had 18 days of being in every scene. We didn’t know when it was all going to work out, but I was very happy and grateful to get to work with so many wonderful people, like Rachel Dratch, RuPaul, Margaret Cho, and Alan Cumming. They couldn’t have been sweeter. I was just glad I finally was able to do it.
I was still traveling around with my stand-up show when Logo reached out to me and said, they wanted create a television show for me. I thought, “All right, great!” Since one of the episodes deals with Christmas, I knew it would air before then. So there really wasn’t any planning behind it. I say yes to everything. I’m not picky. At all.
With Not Today Bianca, was it a mutually creative process where Logo came to you with the initial idea and then you made it your own? These specials are definitely a bit different from what you’ve previously done, but they’re also still pure Bianca.
Yes and no. The head of Logo was like, “I’d like to do something with this clown,” and that was lovely. One of things we consciously chose to do was that it would be Bianca as Bianca. We don’t even mention that I’m a drag queen, or that I’m a man. It’s just the idea of my life in Los Angeles — because in real life, I did relocate to Los Angeles, but we thought it would be a funny fish-out-of-water situation. L.A. is very different than New York, so we wanted to play on all of that.
The specials are like the ups and downs of my life and also how nothing ever goes well for me. Everyone hates me, which is genius, and I get to play with so many wonderful people. It just started as this one little idea. They are the magicians that made it all happen, which is the best part of it. C’mon, I get to be in a scene with Charo. How do you even wrap your brain around that? Fucking Charo.
Speaking of being in L.A., of course your special has to have some celebrity cameos. For the people that appear in these new specials, was it the more the merrier, or were you targeting specific names that you felt would most enhance the project?
I wish I could say I’m that fabulous, but no. I was grateful for anybody who knew who the fuck I was and was interested in showing up. The advantage to it all was shocking to me, because I didn’t realize so many people were Drag Race fans. Kristen Johnson was like, “I watched your season. I love you!” That’s pretty amazing. You don’t think about it on that global level. I’ve been traveling the world, working, but then you have Kristen Johnson saying she knows who you are, and Tori Spelling saying “I want to do this! It’s so much fun!” The impact that the show has on the world is insane. So it was definitely the more the merrier. You’re only as good as the people you have around you, so I was very lucky to have any of them show up!
Your specials are also largely improvised. I assume that comes pretty naturally for, given that as a drag queen, a lot of what you do on stage is informed by what’s going on in the moment?
I live for it. That was the great thing about it: there were no rules. We were given an outline, and then we could just play and do it. Some scenes were longer than others in the end because of the fact that the improv was so wild. Tori Spelling’s scene, I think, was initially going to be much shorter than it ended up being, but she was so fabulous and so much fun. It was something I didn’t expect from her, but she was willing to make fun of herself. There’s nothing better than self-deprecation, and it just made it even better.
I’ve also had the distinct pleasure of seeing you perform here at the Castro Theatre in several of Peaches Christ’s shows.
Oh fabulous. I love Peaches. She’s wonderful and so much fun. She does all this hard work of rewriting the show and getting everything together and having all these fabulous cast members and I come in and ruin it.
Was there was any hesitation on your part the first time she asked you to do one of those movie spoofs? I know it’s not exactly what you usually do.
Whatever Happened to Bianca Del Rio was the first one. We had worked together on Drag Queens of Comedy, and we were backstage shooting the shit and we talked about specific movies that we loved. I’ve always been a huge fan of Peaches and she asked if I’d do something together. I was like, “Let’s roll!” We discussed Baby Jane, and I think it was Jinkx [Monsoon] who suggested Beetlejuice, and said that I would be a good Beetle, and that just snowballed into what it became. So no, I never hesitated. No complaints whatsoever, and I would gladly do anything she asked me to do.
In light of recent events, who’s an easier target: Donald Trump or Langanja?
Well honestly, I do stay away from being political, especially about Trump. It’s just one of those things. There are a couple of jokes in my show that I do about him, and when I was doing the show prior to the election, it was a really good laugh then. You’ve got to be careful when it comes to that. For instance, Amy Schumer and Wanda Sykes both had situations recently where they were bashing Trump and the audience kind of turned on them. For me, it’s treading lightly, but I’m a little more of a specific type compared to Wanda and Amy. Most general, normal, racist, white people don’t come to see me. They know what they’re getting into, that it’s a man and a wig, and that she’s a clown.
I try to tread and lightly when it comes to Trump, but Laganja is always been a target. She’s absolutely lovely now. She’s gotten her act together, and she’s in a much better place. I recently saw an interview with her where they showed her a photo of me and they say “What do you think?” She’s like, “This bitch gave me a hard time and I hated her, but it was the right thing to do.” At least she gets it now. We’re on great terms, and she can make a joke about herself. C’mon, doing Drag Race is quite the experience, and it brings out the worst in people. Look at Alaska. You never know what’s going to happen. Everybody’s like “I love her!” then they watched All Stars and now it’s just snake emoji, snake emoji, snake emoji.
Given our political climate, and the potential for dark days ahead, we need drag queens more than ever now. Do you promise not to go anywhere?
Oh I ain’t going anywhere. You can’t get rid of me. I’m here. Honestly, it’s so insane. I still sit back and go, “No this is not happening”. Until the inauguration, I think I’m still going to be unsettled by all of it, but you can’t get rid of me. You can’t kill bad grass. I’ll be around, trust me.
Not Today Bianca premieres Thursday, Dec. 15 at 6 p.m. on Logo TV.