Comedy Editor and Scotland Editor James Macfarlane sits down with RuPaul's Drag Race royalty Monét X Change to discuss her debut Fringe show Life Be Lifein', why audiences today are drawn to the art of drag and the advice she'd give to queens thinking of creating a Fringe show themselves.
I'm not worried about being cancelled here as much as I would be in America!
Monét X Change – hello! How are you doing today?
I'm doing very well. The weather's nice today. Well, it's not pouring rain. That’s a step up! And the sun was actually up this morning a little bit, which is very nice as well. Yes. It's so good.
How are you enjoying Edinburgh so far?
I'm enjoying it a lot. I didn't know exactly what to expect. Jinkx [Monsoon] raved about her time here last year. I’m enjoying all of the arts, seeing all the entertainers who are out there promoting the shows and seeing all the posters everywhere. I didn't realise how much the Fringe really engulfs the entire city. It's very nice to see all these artists here just doing their thing, whether it be comedy or singing or whatever it is. It's really cool.
What's your favourite part been so far?
My favourite part is the food! I love the food trucks here. I used to live in Portland, Oregon and food trucks are very big there, so it's kind of like being back in that world – the mac and cheese, the churros, the burgers. It's all just really great. Terrible for you, but it’s only once a year!
First of all, can you tell us a little bit about how you started in drag and what motivated you to pursue as a career?
I started doing drag at college. I was singing professionally and then Season Two of RuPaul’s Drag Race was airing and a friend of mine, Jasmine Rice, and I were in an opera programme together. We started going out to the bars in New York like five nights a week and I finally got a gig. That gig led to another one, which led to another one and then before I knew it, I was doing drag full time six nights a week! Then I got on Drag Race! So, drag has been my career for the past eight years and I’ve been on television for the past six years. It's been amazing to do something that I really love and have it be the thing supporting me. Being able to support yourself with your art is something that a lot of people don’t have the privilege of doing, so I'm very grateful that I get to do that.
For people who are maybe a little unfamiliar with your work, I've listed a few highlights from your career so far: Drag Race Season Ten Miss Congeniality, All Stars Season Four first joint winner, first non-white queen to be inducted into the Drag Race Hall of Fame, Pit Stop host, co-host of Sibling Rivalry podcast with Bob the Drag Queen and host of your own TV show The X Change Rate, among other successes. Could you imagine this success for yourself when you were just starting out in drag?
I wouldn't say I saw it for myself, but I've always been a go getter. I've always been of the mind of trying until you get the thing. So, I didn't know what success would look like for me, but I knew that I would be successful, if that makes sense. I’d never be one to think ‘oh, that didn't work’ and give up on it. I've always tried really hard to envision things in different ways and imagine them in different ways to get to the goal that I want. So, did I know that success would look like this? No, but I knew that I would be successful.
I think with anything creative, you always have to have that sense of ego. What are your thoughts on that?
Ego comes with a little self-assurance and it gives you drive. I think ego and self-awareness are important. You can’t have ego without self-awareness. I think those two have to exist together. To have an ego without self-awareness is terrible, but to have the two together is something that can work positively.
Let's talk about the show! You're embarking on your first Edinburgh Fringe show Life be Lifein’ from 2nd-8th and then 10th-15th. How are you feeling about it and why did you decide that this year was going to be the year for your Edinburgh Fringe debut?
You know, I'm feeling really good about the show! Years ago, after Season Ten of Drag Race, I did a one woman show called Call Me By Monét. I did it completely by myself and that was my first little dive into the world of one person shows and I'm so proud of that. Life Be Lifein’ is so different. There’s a mixture of comedy, storytelling and music. BenDeLaCreme directed the show and she's been my creative partner in the process of bringing the show to life. It was such a cathartic experience to talk about all these stories that are in the show. It’s so intimate, funny and raw – to have this experience at the Fringe is amazing. I'm really proud of it and the past few nights have been amazing: standing ovations every night, reading people's messages after the show, saying that they loved how vulnerable I got and that it made them emotional. It's a fun show and I'm really happy to be doing it here.
So, speaking of the kind of vulnerable reaction you've got, how was the writing process for you? Was that a cathartic experience?
Yeah, for sure. When I was writing some of these stories, there was a lot of discovery in those things that I had already put away. I wasn't really thinking about what it would be like to relive them. It was definitely interesting and beautiful to think back to a lot of those same emotions that I felt in that time. It was lovely.
Is the Edinburgh Fringe something that's always been on your radar?
If I’m honest, I didn’t really know much about the Edinburgh Fringe. I had been to a festival in Australia with some other drag queens. We went to the Fringe in Australia and it was such a fun experience! We walked in on this one troupe doing nude mud wrestling while doing poetry – it was wild! But I had never been to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I had heard of it, but didn't know just how massive it was until about a year ago when Jinkx told me she was doing her show here. I looked into it after that and realised it was a major event in the world. I've been doing stand-up over the past year and a half and I wanted to do a new one woman show. I wanted to take these new skills that I’ve been crafting in stand-up and the amazing skills I already have in storytelling and mix that with some of my operatic shit and come to Edinburgh! It's been a great decision. I'm very happy that I have the chance to be here.
What's the kind of the main difference between a UK audience and an American audience?
I think that the UK audiences are more irreverent. I think there are some jokes, and I make a joke about this in the show, that I make that in America where people would be like, ‘Oh my God, I can't believe you said that!’ whereas the Brits are like ‘Oh, that's good.’ So, I think that's one of the major differences. I'm not worried about being cancelled here as much as I would be in America!
What else can audiences expect from the show?
I think they can expect beautiful storytelling. Maybe keep a tissue in your pocket in case you tear up a bit at one of the stories. I think they can expect some real emotion. I think when people hear that a Drag Race queen is doing a show, they’ll expect lip-syncing and whatever – it’s none of that, it’s not that at all.
Last year, two of the bigger queens we had performing were Bianca Del Rio and Jinkx Monsoon. This year, we have so many kings, queens and drag artists. What do you think it is about the art of drag that audiences gravitate to?
I think audiences have always loved drag, it’s just now that they’re getting the opportunity to see it. Before Drag Race, drag was this thing that existed in the nightclubs after 10pm and before 6am. A lot of people didn't get the chance to experience drag. I think that people are realising that it is such a beautiful art form. From our point of view as queens, you are the director, the writer, the producer, the singer, the seamstress, you are all these things. I think that people are really enamoured by how one person can do all of this. I think that people love that pay off. They love going to see a queen and knowing that that person is in charge of the whole thing and they sat in their shitty studio apartment and they put his whole thing things together for you to enjoy.
Have you had any advice from people like Jinkx or your director BenDeLaCreme?
Jinkx told me to have fun. Ben and I spent a lot of the past two months together getting the show on its feet and she said ‘girl, you're just so good at this, you know what to do.’ It's just really about trusting your instincts and then that's a big part of it: trusting your instincts and knowing that they're right and that you will reap the benefits.
I interviewed Bianca Del Rio last year and we spoke about how the comedy landscape has changed, especially since the pandemic, and how that potentially makes a performer’s job on stage more difficult. What are your thoughts on that?
I think the comedy landscape has changed a lot, but I don’t think it makes my job any different. When I’m on stage, I tend to be an external processor a lot. So, if I say something that might be a little taboo, I will talk about it in that moment and I will make a joke about something that I just said. I think part of my brand and my humour is acknowledging those things with the audience in real time and not leaving any question marks about how I think or feel about something. Let's talk about it, let's make a joke and let's move on. I think that, yes, the landscape is different but I don't think different is bad. I think that as we're becoming more socially aware, and we are more conscious of the segments of our community that may not respond well to things that we may say, I think not talking about it is the problem. I think addressing it, talking about it and making a joke about it and moving on is how you make everyone feel comfortable.
If another Drag Race queen was thinking of bringing a show to the Fringe, what advice would you give them?
I would tell them to speak honestly and write down whatever they think is funny. If they think toothpaste is funny – I don’t know – there may be comedy in that! I’m sure someone at this festival could do a show about fucking toothpaste! So, I would tell them that there’s not idea too wacky or too weird. Just do you.
We have some really talented queens here this year in Edinburgh. Do you think you’ll be able to catch some of their shows?
Yes! Anita Wigl’it came to my show last night and I'm going to try to catch hers. I know Baga Chipz is here and I want to see Lawrence Chaney’s show. I also want to try and catch Danny Beard’s show while they’re here.
Finally, any other non-drag shows that you’re excited about seeing?
Oh, well I saw that Mike Birbiglia is here. I saw his show The Old Man & The Pool in New York which is fabulous. Bronwyn Sweeney’s show Off-Brand I want to see, as well as Showgirls and Spies which sounds really interesting.