Two drag queens stomp into the green room in the downtown building where AOL’s BUILD interview series is filmed. It is...chaos.
Yekaterina Petrovna Zamolodchikova, better known as Katya—or, when out of drag, Boston-born, West Hollywood-residing Brian McCook—is the first to enter. She asks me my astrological sign, and immediately storms out again upon learning I’m a Leo. She comes back in and re-introduces herself. It’s a bit. I think.
Charging in right behind her, fussing with a sky-high blonde wig that would make Dolly Parton blush, is Trixie Mattel, another Brian: Brian Firkus, his journey from Milwaukee to West Hollywood. She whips off said wig immediately, unzips the back of her handmade psychedelic pink muumuu, and plops onto the reclining couch, gazing up confusedly at the random chandelier that hangs from the ceiling.
By the time Trixie is settled, Katya has traded her own wig for a designer baseball hat, because she’s insecure about her baldness. ”Dolce and Gabaldness,” she quips. Her mod dress is pulled down to her waist, bra and torso exposed.
“I have to to remind myself that it is absolutely inappropriate to grope you,” Katya whispers, adopting the husky Mae West-style rasp she slips into routinely. “She’ll do it, bitch!” Trixie shrieks dramatically from her lounging position. “She’ll grope the shit out of you!”
She caws with what could be named the “gay cackle,” a high-pitched “ha!’ that mixes laughter with a squeal—delighted affirmation for a joke well-told. It will be the chorus of our conversation.
Both are in full makeup: A smokey look for Katya—“like a clown slut!”—and an ornate, cartoonish kewpie doll signature look on Trixie. Both are in various states of drag, belying a discussion that nimbly navigates seriousness and outlandishness as we talk about the upcoming watershed in their careers.
Their new TV show, a deranged yet remarkably insightful talk/sketch show hybrid called The Trixie and Katya Show, will debut on Viceland November 15th. There’s much talk about diversity and visibility in the talk show genre. Trixie and Katya will be the first drag queens to host one since their mentor RuPaul hosted his VH1 series from 1996 to 1998.
Suddenly taking stock of their partially clothed states, Trixie, like a restless Kate Winslet constantly shifting positions on her chaise waiting to be drawn like one of Leo’s French girls already, starts laughing.
“This feels like Untucked,” she says, referring to the confessional after show of the Emmy-winning reality competition RuPaul’s Drag Race. “And you’re the twisted, slimy producer trying to throw the curveball!” Katya says, throwing her finger up, j’accuse! style.
Both performers have made pit stops on RuPaul’s Drag Race, first in Season 7, where they met, and then on separate All-Star seasons. Katya was the runner-up on the recent All-Stars 2. It was just announced that Trixie will compete on All-Stars 3, which she shot in between filming episodes of The Trixie and Katya Show for Viceland.
The show was born out of a YouTube series the Brians decided to collaborate on in the busy, opportunity-heavy, fruitful, yet confusing aftermath of their Drag Race experience. “UNHhhh,” as it was called, launched its first episode in March 2016. They’ve filmed over 60 installments since. The premise was simple. As they explain in the first episode: “Welcome to the show we talk about whatever.” “And in whatever way we want to.” “Because it’s not your show.” “It’s ours.”
The ethos carried over to The Trixie and Katya Show, in which every episode is themed to a topic—death, God, sex, porn—and the duo essentially just riffs.
It’s the Brians’ real thoughts on these topics—spoken through their drag queen alter egos—ripe with stories from their dramatic pasts. It’s all wrapped up in a madcap sense of humor that is singularly theirs, and of the brand that’s sure to please Drag Race fans: “I don’t call it dying,” Trixie quips. “I call it going to play Sega Saturn with Brittany Murphy.”
But it all has a breezy universality that might surprise those skeptical about tuning into a talk show hosted by two men in dresses. “Is Elton John gay music?” Trixie says, at this point having briefly put on Katya’s wig to see if she’d notice. She does not. “You know what I mean? So why would you think this is gay comedy? So it’s good to open that up for people.”
Or, as Katya says, “The world is falling apart! Why not listen to two goons in dresses? You could learn something!”
Still amused by the circumstances of our interview, Trixie leans towards me. “Have you ever talked to people like this?” I’ve interviewed drag performers in full drag, and drag performers out of drag as men, I explain. But never this state in between. Rubbing her shaved head and batting her spider-like gargantuan fake eyelashes, she demurs, “So never, like, a drag queen who looks like she’s in late-stage leukemia?”
I ask if they prefer doing interviews in or out of drag. Without missing a beat, Trixie says, “I prefer over the phone, but here you are!” Then, again, that cackle. “Do you mind if I wander?” Katya asks, quickly glaring at me and scolding jokingly, “Stop staring at my breasts!”
Trixie hoots. “You have little titties, girl.” Clutching her padded bra, Katya puts on a little teenage girl’s voice, adopting yet another character: “I don’t have titties. I have a little ballerina body. I haven’t gotten my period this month yet. I have no body fat. OK?”
Trixie shifts her reclined position again. “We tend to talk the whole interview and ask you questions,” she says. Right on cue, one of the verbal ping-pong match of escalating one-liners that define a good episode of The Katya and Trixie Show starts to take to place in real life.
Katya: “What are you measurements? And be honest.”
Trixie: “Do you measure your dick from the base, or from the back of your neck like everyone else?”
Katya: “Have you ever shaved your balls?”
Trixie: “Do you ever find fingers in you and you don’t know how they got there?”
Katya: “Do you ever find fingers in me and you don’t know how they got there?”
Trixie: “Have you ever used a lima bean as an ear plug?”
Katya: “Did you know if you scream ‘Plug it up’ 16 times in a mirror Sissy Spacek will come and grab you?”
That triggers the biggest cackle yet, and an end to the rapid-fire volley. And, I think, the semi-official start of our interview, in which we discuss the significance of a TV show in which two drag queens are chatting, the toll the profession takes on a person’s psyche, the insanity of fans, and how two performers from vastly different walks of life can end up being one of the most appealing duos you’ll see this year on TV.
I was pleasantly surprised that Viceland doesn’t mess with the formula of the web show. It’s the same spirit, with the two of you chatting about whatever you want, however you want.
Trixie: Sidney Prescott said it best in Scream 4: “Don’t fuck with the original.”
But so often they do fuck with the original. Were you surprised that they kept the fabric of the webseries through to the TV show?
Katya: I’ll believe it when I see it, mama. It hasn’t aired yet. I still feel like this is a prank by fucking Ashton Kutcher.
Trixie: Fucking thank you, bitch. I still feel I’m at the point that until it’s on TV, I don’t believe it’s happening. It doesn’t feel like crossdressers who are on YouTube deserve a TV show. Who deserves TV shows, though? I don’t even know what that means.
Are people surprised that, because you don’t represent the same kind of drag aesthetic, there’s so much simpatico chemistry between you?
Trixie: I think if you’re uncomfortable with drag and crossdressing, you’re uncomfortable with the sexuality aspect of it. So I think if you’re close-minded that I would actually be easier to handle than her because in some ways she’s very sexual looking.
Katya: Catch me at the right light at the right angle, I look like a slut. That’s hot. Guys like to fuck hot sluts. Because a hot slut makes their dick hard. But if that hot slut also has a dick, their whole world is fucked up.
Trixie: I think that at least with me sitting there too, it’s clear that we’re not trying to make you sexually confused.
Katya, you’ve talked on RuPaul’s “What’s the Tee?” podcast about how being on Drag Race helped you evolve. How so?
Katya: It’s like dog years. In two years I grew up more than I did in 20.
Katya: Are you kidding me? I was a wallflower. I never talked to anybody. I was so afraid of people I never said a word. Now you can’t shut me up.
It goes without saying that when you’re doing a show that talks about sex and death and porn that it requires openness. What does it take to get to that point?
Katya: I have no boundaries. I have nothing to hide. I have nothing to be ashamed of. And I love to talk about the things that I am ashamed of.
Trixie: I think her openness encourages me to be more open. Sometimes I’ll come home from filming with her and think, “I’m so embarrassed that I just willfully said that.” I joke about the worst parts of my life. So I never want to hurt the other people involved.
Katya: We don’t want to hurt anybody. I love challenging people. Ugh, that sounds so patronizing.
You talk about sex in drag in one of the episodes.
Trixie: One of them? (Laughs)
What do you make of the fascination with sex in drag?
Katya: Tell me something that is more fascinating! A hooker, sex clown, stripper having sex with men who don’t understand their own sexuality? There’s nothing more interesting than that. Human sexuality is already fascinating, then you’re going to add a stripper clown costume to it?
You haven’t done it, Trixie?
Trixie: We lie on opposite ends of the spectrum.
Katya: That’s like her bank-telling uniform, in a way. It’s not sexualized. You don’t feel like a slut? I feel like a slut!
Trixie: I feel gorgeous. I feel otherworldly. I feel like a parade float. I feel beautiful, but I don’t feel sexy. I don’t feel gender either. I feel like a toy, like a plaything. I feel like a wind-up toy. I feel like a creature.
Katya: I feel like a wind-up slut who needs to get her pussy pounded by the dick of the world.
Trixie: Let’s say I have a husband and he was like, “I want a hand job real quick.” If I even smelled like perfume I couldn’t do it. I need to not be in drag at all.
Katya: I fantasized about getting fucked by the devil when I was a Catholic. Now I love the idea of getting fucked by God. God’s cloudy dick.
Trixie: That’s what makes our show so good. I have zero relationship with religion, and she was raised religious. She’s slept with everybody in drag and I never would.
Katya: I’m a huge drug user and she’s a drunk.
You have very different relationships with your parents, too, right?
Trixie: Mine are completely absent and hers are supportive and perfect.
Katya: I think if some obsessive fan wrote out all the traits, they would reach such a bizarre level of symmetry.
Is that why you think the partnership works so well?
Trixie: I think it works so well because we have absolute transparency and honesty. She’s my favorite person. If I had a vote that I could take five people, I’d kill four of them to feed her.
So you get each other, and what you’ve been through in your drag careers?
Trixie: We have a similar career trajectory, in that we were on TV at the same time. So she’s one of the people I can be honest to if I feel over it.
Katya: I have to restrain myself when I want to bitch and kvetch about the fact that I’m tired and overworked. Because I was giving blowjobs behind a dumpster, basically, for 100 bucks. So this is pretty sweet. But it’s hard! We have all the trappings of being a quote-unquote “famous person,” but none of the benefits. We’re not rich.
Trixie: And by the way, when you see Sharon Stone, you don’t run up to her. You don’t scream at her.
Katya: Yeah, you run in horror and go hide your kids. (Trixie cackles.)
Trixie: Whereas when people see us, it’s instant touch.
Katya: Touch and also pull your hair off your head.
Trixie: Also whatever trauma you had in your life that they know about, they need to tell you theirs immediately.
Katya: It’s also in the bizarre context of a meet-and-greet where they’re allotted 20 seconds, if you’re lucky. Many times, if not most times, it’s a very poignant heartfelt thing that is incredibly important to them, and they have this teeny tiny time to do it, so the result is the absurd interaction. There’s no human way to navigate it. It’s like, (takes breath and talks fast) “I used to cut myself but then I saw your video on YouTube!” It’s like, “Ah! Get away from me!”
Trixie: By the way, if you were going to kill yourself but a YouTube series stopped you, you were never really going to do it. “Oh I was going to kill myself and then I found Animal Planet.” Like, no.
Katya: Though to be perfectly honest Cirque du Soleil’s show in 1993, Saltimbanco, was the only thing keeping me from the noose.
Trixie: Besides the fact that you don’t have a rope and low ceilings in your apartment. (Cackles.) That was a joke. But like on Drag Race I talked about abuse in the home, so the first thing someone will say to me is, “I got your face tattooed over these cuts because my dad used to fuck me.” I’m like, it’s 1 a.m. at a gay bar in Panama City Beach, Florida.
Katya: When I talked about being afraid of stuff—I don’t know if I used the word anxiety, but Ru did—that opened up a whole shitcan of things. Everybody’s fucking afraid of something, right? Queer folks and marginalized people, and the general glaze of fear that gay people have. Or at least I had when I was young.
Trixie: Everyone knows we’re outsiders. But the most you can hope for is being a beautiful outsider, and what are we other than the most beautiful outsiders you’ve ever seen?
What changes now that this show is happening and it’s another thing removed from Drag Race?
Katya: Hopefully we’ll add another zero to the bank account, Bob.
Trixie: When people say they love you from Drag Race they mean they loved you as this small part of a big puzzle. When people say they love our Youtube series, they’re saying they love this thing that we made. It’s so much more your own work.
What is the value of the two of you discussing this stuff? You have interesting insights!
Katya: The world is falling apart! Why not listen to two goons in dresses? You could learn something!
You actually can learn something.
Katya: I think so. I’m dressed like a clown because I’m a clown slut and don’t want to take myself too seriously. It’s a survival mechanism. But I have great advice. I’ve lived the wackiest, weirdest life. I know shit.
Trixie: I’ve always been interested in doing the kind of work where you can make people laugh and cry in the same 10 minutes. Drag lets you do that. To watch us dressed up talking about death? Do you want to see us outside of drag talking about death?
Trixie: I’ll be reentering the Hunger Games of Drag come January.
Katya: That’s big news. I’ll just be adding to my vision board of Madeline Kahn.