Bianca Del Rio’s self-proclaimed “erotic clown” look is on point.
Her shimmering red ball gown hugs her with just enough va-va-voom as she struts back and forth across the stage, alternately shocking and delighting the audience as she barks out her signature straight-talk.
“I’m a man in a wig who stuffed my dick in pantyhose and you came to see me,” she tells the audience at the taping of her comedy special, Rolodex of Hate, which premiered on Vimeo last Wednesday. “Get a sense of humor! You know what I mean? It ain’t so serious.”
“The only thing worse than being a porn star and a hooker is drag,” she self-deprecates later in the set. Then, after one joke that elicits more gasps and pearl-clutching than most, the two words that become her anthem for the night, and also maybe life: “Fuck you!”
The morning Rolodex of Hate is to be released, Del Rio, who is best known for winning RuPaul’s Drag Race last year, slides into a table at Cook Shop in Chelsea.
The look is less “erotic clown” that morning than it is “Roy,” as in Roy Haylock, the 40-year-old New Orleans native with the slight frame and cute dimples, who has gone on to become arguably the most visible and successful drag queen in America since the icon who minted her, Mama Ru.
Rolodex of Hate isn’t just Del Rio’s first-ever comedy special, it’s Vimeo’s first original one as well, adding a certain significance to an up-and-coming standup performer’s exposure.
Piggy-backing off Del Rio’s inclusion in Variety’s list of 10 Comics to Watch for 2015, it’s the first platform of this magnitude for a drag queen standup comedian. (Many male comedians have done routines in drag before, but this is the first time a gay man known for his drag has been given a special.)
But the fact that’s in on Vimeo, a platform that most definitely is not LGBT-specific or -targeted, exposes Del Rio’s act and art form to a potentially huge new audience.
“Outside of the gay world, I don’t know how many people know me,” Haylock says. “The great thing about Vimeo is that you’re doing your thing in this world that isn’t just doing it on Logo [the network that airs Drag Race and other gay-centric programming]. It’s more than gays who can watch it.”
(Full disclosure: The Daily Beast and Vimeo are both owned by the same company, IAC. But anyone who knows me or has read my entertainment coverage is well aware that I don’t need a special reason to be excited about interviewing a drag queen.)
Haylock looks both exhausted and refreshed, stretching the limits of what could be called a “break” from his roughly 90-engagement Rolodex of Hate tour to do a whirlwind of press for the special, but pleased to have been spared the hour and a half of prep it would’ve taken to get into drag if he were doing the interview as Bianca Del Rio.
Is there a difference in doing an interview in drag or without?
“Not for me,” he says. “But I think for them there is, depending on who you’re dealing with. Sometimes if you’re dealing with straight interviewers they’re a little more excited if you’re in drag: ‘Oooh! Aaaah! Eeeee!’ But if you’re just sitting there out of drag, they think you’re just a bitter queen.”
As candid and occasionally salty as you’d expect after watching Del Rio read, slay, and werk her competition on Season Six of Drag Race—and as warm and generous, too, if you watched her heartwarming mentoring of fellow contestant Adore Delano that season—Haylock is anything but the bitter queen.
He’s got the harried exasperation of a performer who’s been doing this for two decades now, only to come into real fame and success after winning a reality show at age 38, and the impatience of a veteran who is forced to deal with the egos and entitlement of twenty-something nitwit queens he’s often forced to perform with because they gained exposure through the same outlet.
“They think it’s all about a split, it’s all about a twirl—and there are people who do that beautifully,” he says. “But that’s not all it’s supposed to be. Click a couple of buttons and you can find a whole world of great performers out there who came before them that they don’t know anything about.”
It’s become en vogue in the world of drag to not simply lampoon divahood, but to approximate it as well, as The New York Times said in its profile calling Del Rio “The Joan Rivers of the Drag World.” Del Rio, in contrast, is of the old guard: Borscht Belt-meets-dance belt, a performer with deafening personality, wanton ignorance of the phrase “politically correct,” and indiscriminate in the topics and people she’ll put on blast when giving a read.
“I also have to remind people that they can’t make me a saint, because I’m not the first person to do what I do,” Haylock continues. “It’s more than being in a bar and doing splits for me now. There are other things I want to do.”
Haylock had been working for 20 years by the time Drag Race came around, first in New Orleans before finding a modicum of local fame in New York City, where Del Rio hosted a night at the club XL. Drag was a night gig. He worked as a costume designer for theatrical productions and Broadway shows during the day.
His upbringing gets a lot of play in Rolodex of Hate, which is true to the Del Rio and Haylock we met on Drag Race: brutal, no-holds-barred, and raunchy as hell, but also surprisingly tender and real. He talks about the first time he made a dress and hid it under his bed as a teen. He talked doing hair, makeup, and making a dress for his prom date.
He talked about his sexual relationship with his uncle.
“Most humor comes from truth,” Haylock says with a shrug. “In the end, if I can laugh about it, who cares? People are like, ‘You shouldn’t talk about this.’ ‘Pedophilia is too much.’ Fuck you! It’s like I said in the show, ‘If your uncle didn’t fuck you, you’re ugly.’ It’s simple.”
There’s the unapologetic Bianca Del Rio we know and love (and are occasionally scandalized by).
Haylock had actually planned to quit doing drag by the time he turned 40, which he did in June. “It had been 20 years in a wig in a bar,” he says. “I dealt with enough drunk queens. I’m done. It’s been a good ride, you know? But then all of it shifted for me at 38”—when he signed up for Season Six of Drag Race.
“I’ve never been a dreamer,” he cautions, swearing that he never thought he would win the ever-more-popular reality competition. “I saw less talented queens who were friends of mine go on there and get great exposure. If anything I thought I’d get exposure.”
It was one of the most talent-rich seasons the show had produced, with runners-up Courtney Act and Adore Delano continuing to rival Del Rio’s fame and success. But it was clear from the start that Del Rio was going to win. She worked at a level different than her competition, whether it was crafting impeccably made dresses or exploding with personality and polish where the younger queens lacked.
“What was shocking to me is that it ended up being a great experience for me on a personal level,” Haylock says. “I didn’t expect to like people. I didn’t expect to have a good time. I didn’t expect it to mean something to me. At that point I was 38 and hated the world, and it did shift things and make things better for me.”
Haylock has now surpassed that age-40 cutoff date when he said he’d retire, and he’s hustling harder than ever—a virtue that so many of his younger contemporaries don’t seem to grasp, he says early in our conversation and often.
Entering the world of standup is both a reckoning with that, a scary new adventure to justify continuing a career in drag, and a byproduct of a bit of bullying by his manager to do something that would transcend bar gigs and hosting nights (and therefore make more money).
Plus, “I already had 20 years of being in a bar,” he says. “I can’t listen to, ‘Yaaass, twirl!’ all night anymore.”
When I ask what’s next, he even gives me a bit of a read: “That’s my favorite question. You’re standing there opening night and there’s that asshole reporter asking, ‘What’s next?’ Bitch, can I get through tonight?”
The Rolodex of Hate tour raps up later this month. A movie, Hurricane Bianca, comes out next summer. He’s writing a new show and “other opportunities are lurking.”
The Vimeo special, in the meantime, tackles everything from Haylock’s childhood to a progressively graphic description of a gay sex act gone wrong—“I was like, ‘Take those sheets and run!’” is the only preview we’ll give you—that is rather groundbreaking in a comedy landscape overwrought with straight comedians parlaying their own sexual escapades for shock-value laughs.
But even more transgressive: there is America’s most famous drag queen Bianca Del Rio, in a dress, doing standup comedy for a sold-out audience, and now an even bigger one on the Internet.
When he started the tour, Haylock says he wasn’t sure if anyone would turn up.
“I assumed it would be 10 queens that I knew from around the corner,” he says. “I didn’t expect it to be girls and young gays. I find it fascinating. My show, there was a 12 year-old boy in heels and makeup whose grandmother brought him to the show, just having a kiki. Good for you! You know? Good for you.”