In a Bianca del Rio show, one must leave their ego at the door. And in order to actually enjoy the show, consider taking up a cheap seat. The drag performer and season six winner of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” has become renowned for her insult comedy prowess, and she will make a meal out of her audience in every show. Del Rio herself describes it best: You don’t sit front row in a whale show without expecting to get wet.
Despite the clear warnings, it hasn’t kept audiences away. Del Rio returned to Manila this October to do the last leg of her “Unsanitized” tour, a stand-up comedy performance that she’s been doing since 2021. Her Manila shows — a second show was added due to popular demand — mark her 124th and 125th performances of “Unsanitized.”
This is the fifth solo tour she’s written and performed since winning “Drag Race;” her 2019 show “It’s Jester Joke” made her the first drag queen to headline at Wembley Arena. The Palm-Spring based Del Rio, whose real name is Roy Haylock, is an entertainment veteran. She is a book author and an accomplished costume designer, having worked as a costumer for operas, ballets, and musicals in New Orleans and New York City.
Her sixth season run on “Drag Race” introduced global audiences to Del Rio’s “Clown in a Gown” humor: witty, sometimes offensive quips that always hit the mark. She bulldozed the competition each week with her comedy and tailoring abilities, and has famously never had to lipsync for her life before winning the crown. “Not today Satan, not today,” Del Rio once said in a “Drag Race” confessional. That line has since been a part of the zeitgeist as a certified meme and popular design on phone cases, T-shirts and just about anything else you can find on Etsy.
If Bianca Del Rio is so awful, why can’t audiences stay away? In her last visit to Manila, I asked Del Rio how Filipino audiences respond to her humor — a country with a big tradition of insult comics within the drag and LGBT community.
“There’s a few places that get my sense of humor, which would be the UK, here, and also Australia,” Del Rio said. “I was fortunate when I did “Drag Race” eight years ago, a lot of people understood my personality. It was a turnoff to many, but there were the ones smart enough to get it, to understand what it’s all about… And as they say, it’s good to take a piss out of yourself. You gotta find the humor in all of it.”
That perhaps is what Del Rio does best, and she makes it very clear that this is what she’s set to do. Dressed in glamorous clown drag, the comedian reminds us that life’s a little too ridiculous that it’s actually kind of funny. And a good way to roll with the punches is to take the punches as they come.
In an interview with CNN Philippines Life, the drag comedian sits down to talk about the appeal of drag to straight audiences, uncomfortable truths, and the question she once asked Trinity K. Bonet: — what the hell does Bianca Del Rio do successfully?
How are you doing?
I’m good! I slept last night, which was amazing. I got in yesterday morning, pretty early here in Manila, and I slept yesterday. So I’m ready to roll tonight! Sleep is the one thing you really don’t get much of when you’re on the road.
I’m sure. I wanted to know — why did you come back to Manila?
Because there’s an audience! (Laughs) Honestly, what’s been great is Lauretta [Alabons, director of LA Comedy Live], who’s been producing the show when I come here, always reaches out to see what’s going on. And I started this tour last year in August in America. So I’ve been trucking along for quite some time, and we were just trying to figure out when would be the best opportunity for me to come back over. So it’s never a question of where I don’t want to go. I never think, “Oh, I don’t want to go here, I don’t want to go there.” It’s really about scheduling. So we’ve had a pretty tight schedule. Actually, you guys are getting my five last shows. I’m getting two here, and one in Singapore. My last two are gonna be in South Africa. So that will wrap up all of it. Tonight is my 124th performance. It’s been a long run.
What do you look at when you look at the audience and try to make a connection with them?
Well, we do have a few spots in this particular show where I will get to… I do get to talk directly to the audience. We do lift the lights. But overall, I don’t see much, which is good, because I’m easily distracted by everything. Like all of this shit that’s going on right now, I’m thinking, “What the fuck is he doing? What are they doing?” So when I’m doing a show, I don’t get to see much, which helps me, because if not I will go on a tangent and totally lose focus of what I’m doing. ‘Cause so much stuff happens, and I can easily drift off some place else.
How structured is the show? How much of it did you freestyle?
Well, there are pockets. What happens is there is a script, and there are many things I do structurally in the show. But there are pockets of time when I can then banter with the audience, which is one of my favorite spots. And that can be around three minutes to 10 minutes, depending on what you’re doing. The order changes each night, because the rhythm of it could be different, or something over here could spark this when I’m talking to someone else, it might lead me to this. I’m always able to pull back. That’s the fun part for me.
These changes are something you just decide on the fly.
Yes, I have to. That’s what I love to do, that’s the whole point of a live performance. It’s not a literal let me sing this song, let me talk about this thing… it’s literally getting to do what you like.
It’s such a fortuitous time to be in Manila, because the first “Drag Race Philippines” finale is happening tomorrow.
Yes! And ten of the girls are coming to the show tonight.
Have you had the chance to see the show?
I have not. Aside from the production photos, aside from seeing some things on Instagram, I haven’t seen much. So I’m looking forward to meeting all of them.
Have you been able to see any Filipino drag performers?
Sadly, the only two that I’ve seen have been Manila Luzon and Jiggly Caliente. And if that’s any indication, we’re fucked. (Production crew laughs) They’re both friends of mine so I gotta rag on them. Everytime I come here they say, “Oh why don’t you bring me, why don’t you bring me?” ‘Cause they want to see talent! Not you! No, I do love them, and we’re friends who go way back. Actually, we go way back. But what’s crazy is that I just appreciate anybody who has talent, and it’s great that “Drag Race” is here now to give this platform to the performers who are here. So it’s amazing, and look what I’ve been able to do for the past eight years. It’s kinda wild.
Something that we’ve noticed in viewing parties of “Drag Race” episodes here and even drag performances, there’s been a lot more straight women who watch them. Is that something you’ve noticed in your own shows?
Have I? 80% of the audience that I have is straight girls. Which is crazy. And they always bring their boyfriends, and the boyfriend gets nervous thinking I’m interested. It’s like, “Honey, I’m gay, but I’m not recruiting.” So it is a different world when it comes to that many different people, but I do appreciate it. And the fact that they’re in it — even women — and they’re a huge part of the industry, as far as buying albums, and getting out there, and they know what’s up! I just appreciate the fact that they’re coming to see us. Because there was a time too, when I started drag, when you couldn’t see a drag queen outside of a gay bar or a small cabaret space. It’s so nice to see that it’s global, to see that many people are interested. I think it’s fabulous.
Do you have any idea why they flock to drag performances?
Because they have good taste! And I think it’s also the entertainment value. They’re not threatened by it. It’s not disturbing to them. It’s fun. There’s nothing better than people having a good time, and I think they get it. I think a straight man might be a little hesitant because it might be gay or it [might] be too awkward, it makes it easy.
You’ve done a lot in your career already. What’s something you haven’t done that you’d like to be able to do?
To perform in Antarctica. I haven’t done Antarctica yet, I’ve been to every other country. The penguins need entertainment! No, I don’t know. You know the thing is, I never really had a plan. I never planned to do it this long. And actually, in January, it’s gonna be 27 years of doing drag. Which is insane. And to think basically after, what, 37, my life changed. So you just never really know what’s around the corner. So I don’t make those assumptions, and I don’t have those dreams. I just go along with it.
You once asked Trinity K. Bonet, “What do you do successfully?”
So if you had to answer that question, what would you say?
Wait, did I tell you the backstory about that? So I asked her what does she do successfully because of this awkward moment… and you know, she’s done a lot of stuff successfully. She went back to do “All Stars” and was successful. She also, sadly, I had to eat my words, she went to Las Vegas and performed as Beyonce. I was wrong! I had to go online and tell the world I was wrong, and I even sent the bitch flowers, going, “Okay, I admit it.” I think what I’ve done successfully… oh, that’s weird. How do you measure success? I’m just grateful to get to work. I’m grateful to have a schedule, especially after this crazy pandemic that stalled our lives. We were all wondering, will we work again, will we all go outside again? Is everybody gonna forget about me? So for me, the journey of being able to still do what I do while I’m still enjoying it even though my body is falling apart, I’m grateful to just continue what it is. And as long as there’s an audience, I’ll still go around and be as hateful as possible. They can roll me out in a wheelchair, they can roll me out in a stretcher, they can roll me out in a casket, and I’m fine. I’m good to go.
What is something that the world might not be ready to hear, but you think they should hear?
That’s interesting… the truth that they should hear: That everything is bullshit! (Laughs) From religion to politics, it’s all bullshit. It’s all crazy, crazy, crazy. I don’t think people are ready to have that conversation. We live in a very crazy world. Let’s be honest, and it’s easy to be wrapped up in it, with 24-hour news and social media. Everything now is not what it appears. You’re looking at me right now, and you’re thinking, “Wow, look at that gorgeous successful bitch.” I’m a man under here. A man! A man with a stubble, a man who’s had to go to the chemist down the street to get a razor because I missed some spots. So that goes to show you, everything is not what it appears. So don’t get lost in the fanfare of it, especially on Instagram and Twitter. None of those people have it together. None of them.
Thank you so much, Bianca. Could I have a photo with you?