Few contestants on RuPaul’s Drag Race have become as iconic as Bianca Del Rio. Who among us has not quoted her oft-repeated “Not today, Satan!” or perhaps imitated her spot-on take on Judge Judy from Snatch Game? But the Season Six winner didn’t stop at the end of Ru’s runway. No, Bianca Del Rio has gone on to take on television, film, music, and multiple live performance tours of her own. Her latest tour “It’s Jester Joke” comes to Nashville’s Marathon Music Works on October 20th. She took time to talk to me earlier this month from New York City as she prepared to make her Carnegie Hall debut.
Will: Everyone knows you as the tart-tongued, quick-witted drag queen that we all fell in love with on Season 6 of RuPaul’s Drag Race. But you spent your life and career before that as a costume designer and performer in New Orleans and New York City. How did life before Bianca prepare you to become Bianca?
Bianca: It was a mixture of the two. I started out in theater and costumes, which led to acting, which led to drag. And then by the time we get to New York or the late New Orleans years, I was kind of doing all the above. So it’s just kind of an extension. It was the beginning of what I do now, obviously, on a larger level, and television kind of elevated that status by you getting to do the show. But it was basically just juggling all three unstable careers: makeup and hair, costumes, and drag for many years, and you just kind of did all three, or whatever you had to do to afloat to stay afloat.
And it just kind of evolved into it. I moved back to New York City when I was 30 years old and New York kind of goes through cycles of drag queens every three to four years. It shifts and then you see this one Queen that’s everywhere. Over the years, I’d worked three nights a week, five nights a week, depending on what was happening, which led up to me auditioning for Drag Race, which then just kind of changed the whole game for me.
But you’ve got to remember at that point, by the time I did drag race, it was I had 17 or 18 years of drag under my belt. So it was kind of like a last effort of “Let me see what happens,” not knowing not knowing what was to come.
Will: Tell me a bit about the “It’s Jester Joke” tour coming to Nashville later this month.
Bianca: It’s called “It’s Jester Joke” because people have lost their sense of humor. We live in a world now where Cancel Culture exists. And everyone is taking things a little too seriously online and not necessarily looking at what’s important here. There’s so much in-fighting and fighting about the ridiculousness that they have no control over when we have a President who’s horrible. So, it’s an hour and a half of laughing at everything and anything, including the biggest joke of all: myself. So it just kind of taking people and reminding them, okay, look, we can laugh.
And the magic of it – unlike social media – it’s actual people, it’s a live show, it’s tangible with human beings breathing the same air as you are in your face Hopefully we can all experience it together and just laugh and find the humor in all of it. I mean, I’m one of those people that can go to a funeral and somehow I end up laughing. You gotta find the humor in it because these are some dark days.
I’ve been traveling with the show since February from Australia to Asia to South Africa to the UK to Europe and now America. And honestly, no one is in a better boat… no one’s doing better than any of us. So we’re all kind of in the same place where we need to find humor when it’s most possible. You know, go out, cackle, and laugh.
Will: At age 37, I still live in surprise that the world I’m in now has drag queens walking red carpets at awards shows, Hollywood premieres, and appearing in very mainstream media. What’s been most surprising to you about the drag’s move out of the bar and into the spotlight?
Bianca: Drag’s been there doing what it’s always done: shifting lives and shifting people’s views, but on a smaller scale. I think social media has definitely changed the world and having access to a TV show anytime you want, apps and Netflix, and all of that stuff has changed the game for everyone. So it’s not just that drag is getting exposure. We have the Kardashians, a completely useless group of people that are self-made from a sex tape and now they’re billionaires. I mean, it’s not just drag in particular; anything and everything is out there. And I think because there’s so many outlets, they’re shoving anything they can out into the world hoping something will catch.
What I love is that obviously drag is out there and that people are appreciating it and that people are going to see shows and Drag Race is winning Emmys. All of that is amazing. But I think with everything good, they’re also some bad. Now everyone thinks they can do drag everyone thinks because they take a gorgeous photo, that they’re a drag queen.
You know, in my day (now I sound like an old person), you had to have an act of some sort, whether it’s as comedian, whether it’s dance, whether it’s singing, whether it’s just because that was our outlet was to perform live in front of an audience. So I think now, and it’s not to discredit anyone, but there’s people that are beauty influencers and people that take gorgeous photos. So I think it’s definitely broadened the game. And I think that’s great, but it is it is interesting for me to sit back and watch because I never had expected this much to happen.
Will: You know, I watch as as a Drag Race viewer and friend of some drag queens. I moved here from Pittsburgh, so I remember when Alaska Thunderfuck was playing my softball team’s fundraisers.
Bianca: Oh God yes. I say, you know, hats off to everybody involved. As I said, TV is a powerful thing, which kind of lifted all of us. And people like Alaska, people like Sharon, like Trixie have elevated the game by putting on shows, traveling and making music, and going out there. And I think it’s amazing to see their rise and success. It’s not for sissies. It’s a lot of work. And you do neglect a lot of your personal life. And that’s the position I was in at 37 doing Drag Race. And now I’m 44. Look, this is everything I’ve always wanted to do and I don’t plan to do it forever. For me, it’s enjoying the ride while I’m doing it.
Will: It definitely takes a strong character to put their foot on the gas and keep going after Drag Race. Your drive and will to succeed have been impressive to watch in the five years since winning Drag Race. Your “Not today, Satan” catchphrase has become iconic, you’ve done movies, TV, music, and these amazing live events. What’s left for you to conquer at this point?
Bianca: I do appreciate it all, but I must say that it doesn’t happen just because I want to do it. It happens because other people have believed in me and other people have helped me get to where I am. The trick is to never settle and never assume that “oh, this is it.” I started in theater. Do you want to make costumes? Yeah. Do you want to do wigs? Yes. You want to be a drag queen? Yes. Are you an actor? Yes. You know, all of that just led to that. So I never go through life with an ultimate plan. Because God knows, I wouldn’t have planned this.
It’s just been evolving with it. And I always say, as long as I’m having a good time, and as long as the audience is enjoying it, I will continue to do it. Which doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to be everyone’s favorite. It doesn’t mean that everyone likes you, it doesn’t mean that I’ve conquered all of it. I’m old enough to live in a world where there wasn’t social media. So therefore, when someone doesn’t like me, I am fine with that. I know in my heart, they have horrible taste, and they’re going to die.
I don’t get upset. Out of all of those elements, all of those wonderful things that you described, my favorite is live performance because it’s instant reaction. You can see when someone likes something, you can see when someone doesn’t like something, and it’s just what I prefer the most. So as long as I can perform live to a group of people, all the other stuff could truly go away. I don’t measure success in that. I measure success in what you enjoy doing and how many people are interested in what you’re doing
I mean, I’ve worked in bars where there were four people. As you were saying, Alaska was doing fundraisers, We’ve all been there. So I think it gives you a greater appreciation when there’s an audience or group of people that are interested in what you’re doing. It’s all kind of surreal to have all the experiences from literally this past month doing Wembley Arena in London. And then, you know, this Sunday, I’m doing Carnegie fucking Hall.
So, you know, everyone thinks, oh, you’re driving through this and you’re a competent bitch on many levels. I’m still a 10 year old boy going, “What the fuck?” As long as I can keep working on whatever scale that I’m happy with, I’m grateful for it. But I don’t rule anything out. You never know. I didn’t I didn’t plan all this. Anything can happen.
Will: I apologize for any sappiness, but what would you at age 44 tell that 10 year old version of yourself who’s standing there thinking, “Holy Fuck…”?
Bianca: Well, I think I would say (laughs) “Sit tight, bitch… there’s a lot more to come!”
I truly think – and this is something that I have only recently come to terms with – growing up, so many gay individuals and so many people have a story that is sad. The story is “I wasn’t allowed” and “I didn’t experience” and, not to negate their story, but that’s not my identity. And I find that a parent telling the boy that they can’t have a doll as a child definitely made me who I was. It taught me what society was going to do to me. And I think that all of that was just part of it that made my life better.
It was just literally taking moments out of my life to sit tight and get through it. High school: sit tight, get through it, you’ll never see these people again. And I haven’t. You kind of feel lost and the important thing as a child to know is that your instincts are always right. And that’s all I had at that time and I think that’s what’s kind of moved me into the world. So everyone saying “No” just kind of shifted me into a silent moment of going, “Okay, I’m hearing you, but I still want to do what I want to do.”
So I would tell my younger self sit tight, it’s gonna be alright. This shit… don’t sweat the small stuff, right? Because in the end, it didn’t matter. It really didn’t. But I definitely think it’s shaped my character, which is probably one of the reasons why I’m just fearless as a person when it comes to anyone telling me now – at 44 – you can’t do something. I just laugh and say, “Okay. That’s your story. Tell me how that works out.”