By Gregg Shapiro
When I first heard that Bianca Del Rio had written a book, in true Bianca Del Rio fashion I thought, “Wrote a book? I didn’t even know she could read a book!” Cue the laughs. Undoubtedly the greatest success story that RuPaul’s Drag Race ever launched out of the starting gate, Del Rio consistently sells out concert venues for her live shows, has graced the silver screen in Hurricane Bianca and its new sequel Hurricane Bianca: From Russia With Hate (hurricanebianca.com) and now has a new book of advice, Blame It on Bianca Del Rio (Dey Street, 2018) to her name. I spoke with Bianca about the book, “insightful prying”, and Drag Race.
Gregg Shapiro: As someone who just published an advice book, what’s the best advice you ever received?
Bianca Del Rio: It was really good advice, but I didn’t take it. Which was “Don’t do drag. It’s a trap” [laughs]. I found out later, they were right [laughs].
GS: What’s the worst advice you ever received?
BDR: “Do drag [laughs]!” No. Advice is an odd thing, because you always think you know better yourself. In fairness, I think the best advice I truly did get was “Always laugh. Laugh at yourself. Don’t take yourself too seriously and keep moving. I think for me, in particular, when I was much younger I would get hung up on things for a long period of time. Now, it’s like, “Fuck it! You’ll live. Get over it! Have a drink. Life’s too short!” In the end, it’s that it’s not that serious. Or it shouldn’t be that serious.
GS: What percentage of advice column questions do you think are legit versus made up by writers?
BDR: I grew up without having social media. I’m old enough to remember that world. It’s quite fascinating to me how much of their business people put out in the real world. Whether it’s Facebook or Instagram. When I was doing this book – obviously I’m doing it as a joke to give the worst advice possible, because if you’re seeking advice from a 42-year-old drag queen, something’s wrong with you. But I’m fascinated by the stuff people would share. I don’t know if they’re doing it for attention purposes or if it was actually real. It was fascinating to see how people’s minds work. People have no shame at all, none, I must say.
GS: Can you please say something about the transition of your humor from the stage, where most people know you, to the page?
BDR: I think it’s a lot harder, as I realized when I was doing the book. There’s also an audio version. When I started to read it aloud (for the recording) [laughs], I started to get nervous about a couple of things. I thought, “This in print comes across differently than my stage show.” I think you can get away with murder on stage, in a moment, by delivery. Whereas when you have something in print and someone is reading it for the first time, it may come across a little differently. There are some things I fixed in the end where I thought, “Maybe this won’t translate”, unless you got the audiobook. My first reaction was, “Whoa, this seems too far or a bit much.” Usually, for me, it’s no hold barred. Everything is funny. But I thought, “In print, it’s a little serious.” Some things I was like, “Go with it! You asked a ridiculous question, you deserve a ridiculous answer [laughs]!”
GS: You mention “insightful prying” in the author’s note. In what ways can that be a useful tool?
BDR: I think sometimes the answer is usually there and people know in their hearts what the truth is. Of course, what I’m doing here is comedy. In fairness, there is a lot of truth in comedy. Usually the funniest stuff is what you can really relate to. A lot of people are attention whores at this point in the world and they put things out there that they know are wrong. Or they have an idea of what the truth is, but they fail to recognize it. I thought that if I could give it to them in some inspirational way [laughs], it might actually help them. If it’s a real question. You never really know. When I posted stuff saying that I was interested in doing a book of this nature and “Send me your questions”, we had several duplicates. Usually drag-related. Everything from “What is RuPaul like?” to “What color is your eye makeup?” That kind of shit. Some of them, I was like, “This is insane! The answer is right there in your question!” But I had to point it out for them because they’re probably not smart enough to figure it out themselves.
GS: Some of the more colorful and amusing parts of the book are the wonderful photos. How did you come up with some of the concepts?
BDR: Basically, the publisher said they would also like to include photos. But we live in a social media world and I post a lot of photos. Back in my day, you had to have a photo and you had to have it printed and you had to wait a week! This was a different process. I had to create new content for the book. I had to make myself appear a lot more established than I am. And also push the joke home, make it fun. Over four days, we did a photo shoot here in Los Angeles with a friend of mine who is a New York photographer and we hit the road. We thought, “What are the most ridiculous things we could do?” From that is where we came up with the captions and dialogue. I truly didn’t want to do a vanity project and write a book about myself. I thought this would be a good way to slide in my sense of humor, that I’m also making jokes of myself as well.
GS: Do you think you might have another book in you, perhaps a novel?
BDR: I am not opposed to it. Friends of mine who have read the book have looked at me and said, “What is wrong with you? You are absolutely insane!” Which I think is great. I guess that works for books. No one has ever said, “Stephen King’s a normal person.” (Publisher) Harper Collins has been extremely supportive, even discussing things in the future. I’m like, “Sure, sure, sure! But let me get through this week first [laughs]”. When I have a minute to collect my thoughts, I would totally do it. Why not?
GS: On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate the experience of your recent return as a guest on RuPaul’s Drag Race?
BDR: I would say it was a 10 for me. I filmed the show originally in competition almost five years ago. It was like going back to high school. All the feels and smells were the same. When you film on the soundstage, there’s one side where the contestants are during filming. The other side is where the staff and Ru and guest judges stay. It was interesting to be on the other side of the wall. I didn’t realize how fabulous it was until Audra McDonald was in the dressing room next door. That made up for it. My little gay heart got excited and I realized that this is some legitimate shit!
GS: What’s the single best piece of advice you would offer this season’s queens?
BDR: Oh! In seriousness, the best advice would be to be as honest and as real as you are. Even though we’re wearing wigs. Just be yourself. I think the audience, especially with a reality show, gravitate to people that are real. Knowing the pattern of Drag Race in particular, now that they’re in their 10th season, some of the most notable characters were people that were true to themselves. It’s very easy to get lost in the madness. It’s easy to get lost with cameras around you. To think, “I need to be this. I need to be that.” Shockingly, the audience can usually see through it.
GS: In addition to your first book hitting bookstore shelves, your new movie Hurricane Bianca: From Russia With Hate is opening in theaters. What can you tell the readers about it?
BDR: It’s our second feature, which I’m excited about. The first film actually dealt with gay rights and a schoolteacher who was fired for being gay, which is completely in America in 29 states, which is insane! He loses his job and then gets it back. My nemesis in the film is the brilliant Rachel Dratch. In the second film, we pick up where we left off. I ruined her life and now she’s determined to ruin mine. And I end up in Russia! So, it’s topical and fun. We have some great cameos and supporting players. The fabulous Janeane Garofalo, Cheyenne Jackson and Wanda Sykes. We were lucky to gather a bevy of talented people. I’m really looking forward to it!