Broadway Baby's Comedy Editor, James Macfarlane, chats with Drag Race Royalty, Bianca Del Rio.
Remember that you can’t take yourself seriously because God knows I don’t!
Bianca Del Rio! How are you?
I am alive! I am making it through Scotland, I must tell you this is all new to me. To answer your question, it’s this crazy thing, I was home in the pandemic like everyone else, losing my mind, wondering if I’ll ever work again, what is going on in the world? We are doomed, we are fucked, the end is near! Then I started working! And I haven’t looked back since. So even when I’m having a moment at the airport, when my eyelashes aren’t sticking or when my feet are killing me, I think “It could be much worse”. I’m just grateful that there’s people out there and that for some reason there’s audiences that are so hungry to be entertained! I’m grateful for the people that have been out and currently here at the festival. Last night was my 107th performance of this show, so I’ve been trucking around since last August. It’s been a wild journey and, for me, I will keep trucking as long as the people are there to see me. Beyond grateful I should say.
That’s fantastic! You can always rely on an Edinburgh audience to show you a good time.
Well, the best thing about Edinburgh is that everybody’s drunk, so I just go around unnoticed! It’s brilliant! Listen, I’m from a place called New Orleans, Louisiana where we’re drunk all the time as well, so I can totally relate! The accent is slightly different but other than that, it’s always a good time.
You’re feeling at home here, though?
Oh, without a doubt, yes! For the past two years, I’ve been living in Palm Springs, California, so it’s nice to see elements again! Literally yesterday I had spring, fall, winter and summer all at the same time here in Edinburgh, so you never know what’s going to happen. I’m not mad about it!
So, the show this year is called Unsanitized. Why did you pick the name?
Oh god, it’s so crazy. It’s always the hardest thing picking a show title. I have several friends that are in showbusiness of some level and they always pick a specific title and then they’re stuck with it. Then, you can only talk about whatever that is. For me it was challenging because, like I said, I started last August and so much has happened in the world. I always try and pick the vaguest title that gives me scope to basically talk about everything so this is kind of like a little pun, if you will, towards the whole Covid thing by being unsanitized and also, it’s to let people know that I’m an unfiltered cunt! So that’s the balance.
It’s your first Edinburgh Fringe show, but you have performed in Edinburgh before. What made you think that this was the right time to come to the Fringe?
It’s literally about timing. It’s never worked out in my favour. I have several friends who perform at the festival – Jinkx Monsoon and Myra DuBois – and they were always saying “Why aren’t you doing it? You should do it! Consider it! It would be fun!” It just never worked out for me in terms of timing. I had already been here earlier this year with a show in a different theatre and AEG who handles my tour in the UK and America basically asked if I’d be interested in doing it and I thought “Why the fuck not?!” It just seemed to work out. What’s also enjoyable is that it takes me back to when I started. I was in much smaller rooms with a bunch of people and this kind of takes me back to that time which is amazing. The energy is a little different than when you’re on a larger stage with a larger room, so it’s taking me back to my roots. Well, to say roots would mean I still have hair! But I enjoy it, because this is where it all stems from.
How’s the reaction been from the shows that you’ve done so far?
So far it’s been great! I mean, I’m always fascinated I guess and there is extra pressure because there’s so many other people here performing that you do wonder “Is it up to par? Is it everyone’s taste? Do people understand it? Do people get me?” But so far, it’s been great and I’ve been cackling with the rest of them. But with each night you never know what’s going to happen, especially with what I do. Of course, you have an outline of what you’re going to do and you have your scripted material but each night is different – where you place it, where you put it, how it works in the show and usually the other element to the show is the audience. If you have a live audience, you need to use them.
So for those of us who are maybe not aware, what can we expect from a Bianca Del Rio show?
(laughs) Forgive me as I cackle! I always say to expect the unexpected! Just as I was telling you, in this particular show we discuss everything from politics, the world, my experiences during Covid, drag and RuPaul’s Drag Race. All of that gets touched on during the show and then I also do a segment of the show which is Q+A, which is always one of my favourite parts because the audience has the opportunity to write me any questions they like prior to the show and then we answer them at the end of the show. It’s always funny how brave they get with the questions when I’m not there and the when I call them out, the whole show changes. That’s a favourite part for me as well, but I say come to have a good time and remember that you can’t take yourself seriously because God knows I don’t!
Have you had a favourite question so far from the tour?
Oh my god, there’s been so many! One of my favourites was “Who are you and why am I here? What the fuck is going on?” It was someone’s husband, so I thoroughly enjoyed that one. But you know, there’s a huge range. Last night I had a question asking “At what height do you need to be at to throw an elephant and break all of its bones?” So random! I’ve been thinking about it all day! I also get people saying “Will you marry me?” Shit like that. So it’s a range of things, but those are definitely the highlights.
Since the pandemic, there’s been a lot of change to everyday life and to society as a whole. Do you think the comedy landscape has changed too?
Oh god yes! I think within the past few years with social media, things have definitely gotten heightened. I think I share this view, like many people who are comedians, which is that there is no context anymore. There is no context, there is no nuance, it becomes a punchline or it becomes a tag without the set-up of what it’s about. That’s one of the most annoying things, I think, about social media is because of course you can pick apart anything. They do it with politicians all the time where that becomes the headline or that becomes the screengrab of what they think is going on without the context leading up to it. So that I think has definitely changed the game, which makes it a little awkward with social media because you feel the need to try to explain yourself, which I refuse to do! If you don’t have context or nuance, it can totally become a different line or a different reading of something. I think that’s the issue there. Not so much audiences – I think obviously there’s an audience for it and people do enjoy it. I’ve been grateful enough to get to work. This is my fifth solo tour. It’s the game of ‘find your audience’ and those people will get it and the people that don’t like you or the people who are not interested by you will always find something, always. I remember once, I was at a party and there was a blogger there – one of those – that came up to me and said “Hi Bianca! Nice to see you!” and I thought “Why are you talking to me? You don’t like me at all. You never fucking have anything good to say. So why bother?” He goes “Honey, don’t take it personal, I have to write something every day.” And that’s when it clicked for me! Oh you want a headline! Oh you wanna say “Bianca said this! Bianca did that!” – with no context! So that exists in our culture, but I can’t be bothered by it because the people that get it, get it, and the people that usually get it are smart people!
With this change in the landscape, does it make your job on stage more difficult?
Well, I think it’s fifty-fifty. If you walk on stage and you say that you’re careless, I think that would be a lie. And any performer that says that – you do have your own angst, you do have your own questions, you want everything to land, you want every night to be a good night obviously. But there is something that happens. I was just talking with my friend Myra DuBois about this. When you’re dealing with an audience, five minutes before I go on, I think I’ve forgotten everything under the sun! Will I remember the script? What did I do? What am I thinking? What am I saying? And then you get out there and it happens. There’s something about the ‘sink or swim’ vibe. That’s usually where I live. So it’s never a question of “Everything’s going to be perfect!” or “Oh my god, I’m doomed!” It’s a nice mixture of both! I also think that you have to be completely honest with yourself. There are some nights that are better than others. But you have to acknowledge that and be realistic with yourself and know that tomorrow’s another night and that you have a chance to fix it. There’s nothing you can do about it. Once it’s gone wrong, or once it’s not on that level. But if you don’t have the bad nights, you would never know you had a good night. And regionally, jokes that I would use in America don’t necessarily translate here, and things used here wouldn’t work in America. You find that out by doing it! In America, if I’m discussing something about Trump, obviously it gets a bigger response. But if I’m here, they just wanna hear shit about Boris! So you have to find the balance of what you’re doing.
So am I right in saying your show is a slightly shortened version of your full tour show?
Yeah, on the road it’s usually about an hour and a half, but here, obviously there are time constraints. But I am on last at my venue which is good, so I don’t have to get out as quickly. It’s not so much that I shrunk it down it’s just that I’m being respectful of the time that I’m in. I don’t wanna piss the Fringe off! That’s what we agreed to, so that’s where we are. But you know me, once I start talking, anything is possible!
Has it been difficult to cut down some of the material?
No, the thing is you always start out with more material than you need. I’m really bad with documenting everything, so we record the show vocally at least three different times during the American run and through that I get it transcribed into a book because it’s just easier that way. I’m not good with “Here is the joke”, it’s one of those things where you set things up, you say it, I move things around so I can never really truly remember on paper what I did. By having it transcribed, I have the book as source material to keep with me. I can then create a whole list of things that would work for different regions. For example, I’m going to Australia next, then Asia, then South Africa so there’s things that I’ll be using in those particular places that we’ll fill in. Then what ends up happening is like last night, for instance, I was backstage and I was fumbling through my book of things and I thought “Oh I forgot that! That’s a whole thing I used to say! And what about this?” So it just varies on the night and where you are. For me, I’m always finding something new and as I said before, an audience will give you so fucking much, especially the people sitting in the first two rows here at the Fringe. What’s crazy is having that energy and having those people there that are ready to laugh and have a good time and that are ready to be rotted and hateful like I am! It’s just magic! It becomes more about listening and seeing where they are going to take you that helps with the spontaneity of the show.
How much has the show changed from your first performance to where you are now?
Oh my god, I don’t even remember what I used to say! As I said, looking at that book last night, I was like “What the fuck, I forgot all about this or moved on from that!” Also, I’ve had little pockets of time in between the show where I was doing America and then I had a little break and did Everybody’s Talking About Jamie on tour and then in Los Angeles. Then I went to Canada and Brazil. It is interesting to see what people enjoy and what they can relate to. Obviously, when you’re in Brazil, they love everything Drag Race and they’re extremely passionate about the show and drag, so it’s funny how you get a different reaction for different things in different places. It shifts all the time. Who knows, I might look through the book tonight and have a whole new set, I have no idea!
So it’s interesting every night?
Yeah, I think because of the way you present it. It’s not presented as “here is this set up for a joke and here is a light cue”. It’s literally me, a table and a spotlight – if we’re lucky! That’s about it.
This year at the Fringe, we have acts like Jinkx Monsoon and Karen from Finance. A few years ago, we had your Season 6 sister Courtney Act. Do you think that there’s a growing popularity for drag queens to come to the Fringe and festivals as a whole?
Well, I think it’s great for the talented queens! It’s great for the ones that have a show! Karen, Jinkx and Courtney all come from a theatrical background so I get it. I think some people would probably assume “Oh, well I don’t want to be bothered with doing a small space during a festival” – then you’re a fucking idiot! You need to bring yourself to an audience and, to me, an audience is an audience whether it’s 2500 people, whether it’s 13,000 people, whether it’s 50 people – it’s an audience! I think all of the people you mentioned have respect for an audience and they also have a set of skills that works for theatre. As anyone would tell you, theatre is not glamourous by any means! We’re not sitting backstage eating bonbons. You’re lucky if you have a dressing room, you’re lucky if you have a light in the dressing room! You really have to have a love for theatre and performing and I think that’s what great about everybody you mentioned. They are performers. You do the best of what you can and the best thing is having that audience. I didn’t know what to expect coming into the Fringe. I’ve been here once before to see Courtney’s show at Underbelly a couple of years back and I enjoyed it, but I just didn’t know what the set up was going to be. Once you get here, you’re like “Oh my god, this is amazing!” Everywhere you can go, at any point in time, you can see some amazing, fantastic theatrical event and I mean from a cabaret show to a fucking circus show. Where else can that happen but here? I think it’s an amazing place and an amazing platform.
One final question, do you have any hot picks for acts that you’d like to see this year?
Well, I’ve talked to Myra DuBois and she’s said “You’ve got to see this, this and this”. I said “Let me get through my first two days!” We’re going to lunch this afternoon to plot and plan our next thing, so I haven’t gotten my full list yet. I’m overwhelmed by the number of posters and events that are going on at the same time. I met someone yesterday who said that they have a show at 1:30pm every day. What the fuck!? At 1:30pm? This is amazing! I’m going to get my set list after lunch today, but I was adamant to get through my first few shows and then we can talk about what I can go see. There’s so much to choose from, I don’t even know where to start, so I asked for a senior advisor to give me a heads up on where I should go. Of course, everybody’s got recommendations, everybody just seems – and I know it’s going to seem cliché and corny – like a family! I got a note yesterday from a girl who’s sharing the dressing room next door to me that wanted to say hello. She didn’t want to bother me. I’m like “Girl, come by! Say hello! Have a drink!” That’s what it’s about! You know, when I’m on the road doing night after night in a different venue, I don’t get that type of treatment. Usually, I’m just one sad clown with a suitcase! This is nice to have the camaraderie around and also just to experience so many people, so I’m looking forward to my remaining shows that I have left. Also, whatever shows I can squeeze in during my day time. I’m speaking with my ticket accountant today, Miss Myra DuBois, to figure out where I need to go and what I need to see, so she’s got all the dirt for me.