It’s always a kind of bittersweet experience to submit the last of my contributions to Seattle Gay Scene each year for Seattle PrideFest. The very act means that the culmination of months of work is finally upon us, which as any Event Producer will tell you causes an equal parts mixture of: nerves, excitement, relief, PANIC, adrenaline, and finally…depression. Like the greatest night out EVER, with the hangover to match the next day. ☺
SUPER pleased however, that I get to end my interview series this year with the incomparable Lady Bunny. Another absolutely legendary drag queen that I have always adored. A while ago, when she was out here for the Mark Finley Roast, I had the pleasure of being asked to DJ. It was Bunny’s time to go on and she had this “Laugh In” style number. I played her track and she did the number, which honestly seemed a bit sped up. However, I thought that was part of the act. Boy was I ever wrong! As soon as the number was done the first person she roasted was the DJ. Me. It was one of the best moments of my DJ life! One I will never forget. Until this hilarious interview…..Check it out!
LAK: I first came to know of you as a young drag queen obsessed lesbian when some friends turned me on to Wigstock. You were the creator and emcee for Wigstock for 20 years. What inspired you to create Wigstock?
LB: Alcohol and drugs! I was working at a drag queen-owned and operated club in NYC called The Pyramid. Having just arrived from Atlanta, I was blown away by the level of talent of not just the NYC performers like Wendy Wild and John Sex, but also by the many rock bands regularly booked by the Pyramid. This was a gay-friendly mixed club which featured a wild combo of live music and drag queens. And the queens didn’t just lip-synch. They did everything from opera to poetry to interpretive dance to recording original music. Atlanta drag had primarily been lip-synch and most of it was polished, pageant drag. While I love that kind of drag, too, the queens at the Pyramid were more likely to impersonate Janis Joplin or Yma Sumac than Tina Turner or Cher. My goal was to showcase all this talent to a wider audience in the park across the street. The Pyramid only held a couple hundred people, but many of us lived in the area so it was a combination of concert and block party. The best part was that many audience members came in costume, giving it a carnival feeling.
LAK: You hosted so many who were legends at the time, but also exposed so many queens who are legends now. What is it like to look back on your career and see the effect you’ve had?
LB: Sometimes queens will introduce themselves and say that they do drag because of me. I usually look at their drag skeptically and joke “Don’t blame ME for THAT atrociousness!” I don’t take myself that seriously and certainly don’t run around patting myself on my hairy back. I hope that I’m still providing entertainment and not resting on my laurels, even though Wigstock was definitely my main claim to fame. However, it is very touching to hear people tell me that they brought their mom or dad to Wigstock and came out of the closet to them at the festival. I assume they wanted to show their parents that gays were fun people who knew how to throw an incredible party without a hint of shame, and that there was nothing sick about it. Actually, some of the performances were actually quite twisted. But we were proud to be freaky!
LAK: There are some who’ve said that Wigstock was the original “drag race”, and I tend to agree. What do you think?
LB: I have to say that I completely disagree. Both feature lots of fun queens, but RuPaul’s Drag Race is a competition which like most reality TV seeks out train wreck behavior and cat fights. Wigstock was a celebration of sisterhood, drag and the joy we all felt from being in NYC at a time when creative people could still afford to live there. My goal was to bring people together and let the many different kinds of queens shine in their own way–never to compete or backstab. Drag Race uses “creative” editing to negatively misrepresent many queens I know personally to be great performers and sweet people.
LAK: Speaking of RuPaul’s Drag Race: what are your thoughts on how it has impacted drag culture?
LB: The show de-emphasizes talent. While it has introduced many fun queens, some of these queens have never even performed prior to their audition tapes! That’s a slap in the face to all the queens nationwide who have honed their craft but who aren’t cast on the show because they don’t fit some narrative. Can you imagine going to a regular drag show in a club and introducing a queen by first showing her out of drag and then saying she has HIV, she’s been to prison, her parents don’t know she does drag or her mother abandoned her at a bus stop. I don’t care about what their personal storyline is—I want to see queens perform their acts in drag—not see two queens doing the same number at the same time and have it be a song which they’d never ordinarily perform. And why would you make someone like Jinkx or Bianca lip-synch? That’s not what they do.
I’m from an older generation which isn’t as keen on reality TV. So “Drag Race” could be the best reality show ever and I might not understand it. Ru is an old friend and I’m glad she has a hit show on her hands. As far as the show’s impact, through the show we’ve met a ton of great queens from all over the country. Some aren’t good performers but they are talented make-up artists or simply very pretty and stylish. Or some have charming on-air personalities. These have brought great joy to fans. However, the show has also created a ton of despair among both drag and trans club performers. It’s hard for many to get booked or paid well unless they’re cast on the show. Queens that have worked their asses off and spent a fortune to perfect their craft, done every AIDS and gay marriage benefit and built names for themselves locally aren’t cast on the show because they don’t have a sob story to reveal accompanied by sappy music. Or because they aren’t cute boys. As I say, the show de-emphasizes talent in favor of cat fights, drama and challenges.
LAK: Because I am so Wigstock obsessed and beating it like a dead horse here – I must know: What is your favorite memory from Wigstock?
LB: The festival grew really huge and we began to attract nationally known dance acts. As a dj and lover of great vocals, I was thrilled to have many incredible vocalists on that stage. Debbie Harry and Boy George are nothing to sneeze at. But one year at the piers, Cece Peniston performed her hit Finally and the place was grooving so hard that I thought that the pier was going to break off into the water. That was phenomenal!
LAK: Ok, one last Wigstock related question, I PROMISE! Ever think of reviving the old girl? Seems like it would be a real hit to take it on the road. I know at least one promoter in Seattle, eh hem, who would love to help make it happen here!
LB: Send me that promoters name, because we are starting to get the bug again after a 20 year hiatus! I’ve loved working with many established Seattle queens like Dina Martina, Sylvia O’Stayformore and Mark Finley–speaking of dead horses. Then Seattle has this whole new crop like Jinkx and Ben De La Creme—so Seattle could be the perfect spot for Wigstock West. Last year, we had a Wigstock-themed one day cruise and it instantly sold out. So we got a bigger boat and then it sold out. The only issue was when I wore spiky stilettos and punched a hole in the hull of the ship. So we’re doing it again this year on 8/21 as part of the Sea Tea series. I think you need to slap your wig on and experience it!
LAK: Booked! I will e mail your agent as soon as I finish this interview! You’ve done so much touring and performing all over the globe. One of the people that I think it would be a hoot to have seen you with was Charo. What was it like working with her?
LB: You certainly know your vintage divas! I worship Charo. She, like Dolly Parton and Millie Jackson, is one of the few performers who combines comedy, sex appeal and genuine musical talent. I worked with her as a judge on RuPaul’s Drag U and we hit it off. But I think she’s so charming that she hits it off with everyone everywhere. I don’t think it’s an act—she’s just very bubbly. She made a video you can find by googling “Charo shout-out to Lady Bunny.” In it, she says “Lady Bunny is the biggest puta and pendeja and beesh in the whole world. It’s one of my most treasured moments! It is also the gospel truth!
LAK: You eventually made the leap to television. How did that happen? What was that like for you?
LB: World of Wonder, which produces “Drag Race”, actually had me sing back-up for their band in the 80s. So we go way back. And of course, Ru and I are even older friends. I know that “Drag U” wasn’t the hit that Drag Race was, but it was the only TV show I appeared on for 3 years and I loved the experience. I adored getting to know the queens from Drag Race. Jujubee, Mariah, Ongina, Latrice, Tammie and I are still friends today because of it. What I like the most is that unlike Drag Race, the queens were booked on “Drag U” as talent—not competitors. So it was a very friendly set without bruised egos or tension. And I got to work with some of my idols like Chaka Khan and Lynda Carter (aka Wonder Woman.)
LAK: On top of everything else, You DJ. Which is crazy to me because how many tricks can one Queen have in her bag? But, here you are. What led you to start DJing? Who are your inspirations?
LB: Michael Alig (aka Party Monster) gave me my first dj gig at a club called Panty Girdles. Club music had become so tripped out and techno that I made a name for myself by playing more “musical” music as opposed to heavy dubs. I like songs with song structure and great vocals—pretty much anything with soul from any era. I like to feel the crowd out and play what they like, but I definitely am more likely to play Jennifer Hudson or Whitney Houston than Taylor Swift or Kelly Clarkson. I’ll be spinning and performing at Pride in Seattle so please check out both. I might need to bring some alternative rock for you folks up there!
LAK: You’ve been to Seattle many times before, but never for PrideFest. What can attendees expect from Bunny this time that they haven’t seen in the past?
LB: My memory is not the strongest, but I think I was there maybe 10 years ago. I worked with a fantastic black queen who was a great emcee. Trust me, I have tons of new material from Adele, Bruno Mars and Katy Perry parodies to tons of new Laugh-In style zingers. Can’t wait to party with you!
Please check out gorgeous new Bun-Bun t-shirts with an illustration by Michael Economy on the newly revamped http://LadyBunny.net !
And Bunny’s latest musical collab with the super-groovy Ursula 1000 called Blast Off. On iTunes now! https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/voyeur/id1027923109
PrideFest is bringing Lady Bunny out this year for a two day engagement. She will headline the Main Stage for our Capitol Hill Pride event at the new Light Rail Station and Denny Way on Saturday the 25th, then perform live on the Seattle PrideFest Main Stage at Seattle Center on Sunday the 26th. Mark your calendars – it’s going to be FANTASTIC!