RuPaul talks about 'Drag Race' and the global takeover of drag
"RuPaul's Drag Race" creator and star RuPaul shares about the making of the UK version and the impact of drag globally.
Now, that phenomenon went to the UK, how does it feel to be do an abroad season?
Well it felt so good to be in England, you know when the show was conceived ‘wow we thought this is going to be a no brainer for the UK’ but it’s taken so many years to get here.
Of course kids in the UK have seen the show because of streaming devices but the UK version is its own special monster because it has the British sensibility and sense of humour and the edginess that England has always been known for.
Would you say you knew the UK drag scene well?
I’ve worked in the UK for many years and I would say I know the UK drag scene very well.
Although in the past ten years, I haven’t done clubs as much as I used to. I used to travel around the world with my nightclub act, but in the ten years we’ve been doing 'Drag Race' I haven’t’ been able to do that.
So I get my information about the drag world from Michelle Visage who tours the world with the Drag Race tour and so I get, inside information from her.
How was filming?
I have had such a great time, I think this is actually my favourite time in England. This is the longest period of time I’ve ever been in London and it’s actually become very normal for me now.
I still haven’t quite got used to driving on the left hand side of the road – I don’t think I ever will! It just seems counterintuitive. I would think that, there would be some parliament measure to say ‘okay enough with this craziness, let’s drive on the right side where we belong’. You know (laughs).
How would you say our British queens are doing compared to the US version?
Well the British queens, they do a lot of tongue and cheek. And they can be very (laughs) very cutting but in an intellectual way. It’s going to be interesting for audiences around the world to try to decipher some of the lingo.
That’s been hard for me too. The other day one of the girls said that she had the ‘mouth of a navvy’ - I didn’t know what that was. I asked her, she said a ‘navvy’ is someone who works on the roads. Still makes no sense to me but you know, I’m married to an Australian so I’m used to a twist of a phrase and word abbreviations.
Some of your phrases have been around for most of career, how do you reflect on that?
You know I learned a long time ago, when I started my career, that you needed a platform, you needed a dogma, a domain; you needed something that was uniquely you. And I learned that from David Bowie, and Diana Ross and Dolly Parton and Cher that you had to brand yourself.
I gathered a bunch of phrases early on that have stuck with me. Like, ‘if you can’t love yourself how the hell are you going to love someone else?’, ‘you better work’ and you know, so my mother actually collected sayings. She would say them all the time.
Some of them I still don’t understand what they mean. But she would say them all the time, she used to say ‘blind Tom said, sight beat the world and we shall see’. She’d say it all the time – ‘blind Tom said, sight beat the world and we shall see’.
Now, no idea, I can guess, I think it means that you have to have faith because if blind Tom who could not see says sight beat the world, I think meaning, sight will… we will all see eventually. I think it means, the truth will be revealed. I think that’s what it means, I really don’t know.
Speaking about Drag Race why do you think it’s caught the hearts of so many?
I think this day and age where we’re being overrun by this sort of virus of populism. We need a release; we need a place where people understand what this life is about. I learned early on in high school, my teacher told me, he said RuPaul, ‘don’t take life too effing seriously’. I didn’t understand then but boy do I understand it now. It’s the most important lesson I learned in school, it’s probably the most important lesson you can learn in life – is to not take it too seriously.
And I think our show Drag Race which is filled with these incredible, courageous, beautiful drag queens, these beautiful like little boys who were put down, have found a place, have found a way to navigate this life. A little paint, a little powder, a twist of a phrase, a shake of a hip, and that’s really what it’s all about because the truth is, we’re all in drag. You were born naked and the rest is drag. We’re all doing it.
Not everyone knows they’re doing it, but by knowing you’re doing it, walking into it knowingly it says to the universe ‘I get it, I get the joke’. I have this concept, what I think what happens especially with sweet, sensitive souls, there are these levels of recognition that you go through, you come into this world, and say oh, okay I’m here.
What do I do? How do I fit in? What’s going on? And then, you realise, I don’t fit in, okay well then so how will if in?
Well you do this and that. You fit in this way. What happened to me is I realised that the matrix was a hoax. And I got angry about it initially. My first level was I got angry that this was all an illusion. And then I became cynical. That was the next level. The next level after that I was bitter. I was bitter.
You know, there’s no Santa Claus, this isn’t real. And most people get stuck in that bitterness and cynicism but the next level of that is the most important phase of this recognition. And that is, the fun of it, the joke of it, it’s an illusion, now that frees you up to have so much fun!
And our show represents that fun. The queens who step out on this runway understand it. They get it. Have fun with it. Paint some rouge on your face. Twist a phrase. Shake your bum. That is what life is all about. That’s what children do. And unfortunately sometimes it gets too heavy for people and they want to, they say check please! It’s like – don’t ask for the check yet there’s several courses to come. Joan Rivers used to say, save your spoon, dessert’s coming.
Your tribe is taking over the world isn’t it?
It’s an interesting time. I feel that we are at this change. I’ve said many times, when a butterfly makes it metamorphosis from a caterpillar, it’s a very violent undertaking, and it’s really not pretty. I feel like culturally, that’s where we are right now.
What’s happening is this metamorphosis and the old way of thinking is fighting back in a big way. It’s almost like a thought virus. This old way of doing things but I believe our show 'Drag Race UK' is helping to facilitate a new consciousness, a new conversation, that will help this metamorphosis become realised.
It’s very political in a very easy way, Drag Race.
Drag Race is very political in a very easy way, in a way that is not political. It’s political on an emotional level. I feel that the changes that need to be made in this world are going to be made on a human emotional, personal level. It’s not through legislation, it’s through the individual. And I think this individual revolution is taking place on the runway.
Finally, you know ‘if you don’t love yourself…’ that was way before Drag Race. That started way before then. Is it from when you were a supermodel/popstar?
I started saying ‘if you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you going to love somebody else’ probably in the early 80s. Probably around ’83 I started saying that. I don’t remember exactly where I got that but I’ve always been a seeker and even in the 70s I used to read all those self- help books which were really popular in the 70s. You know, I’m okay, you’re okay, my mother, you know, all those things.
What I took away from those books, was your job is on this planet is to love. It’s simple, it sounds so cliché but you start by loving yourself and that’s an ongoing this, it’s not like you learn how to do it one day then you’re done.
I always say my tail grows back in the morning, and I have to sort of shave it down again. I have to remind myself it’s like Groundhog’s Day the movie.
You have to remind yourself of who you are and who you are is God’s gift to the Earth, God’s gift to the world. What is God? We don’t know we don’t care, it doesn’t matter; it’s just knowing you’re a part of it.
* "RuPaul's Drag Race UK" on BBC Brit, DStv channel 120, from Tuesday April 21 at 9pm.