The first Halloween Bianca Del Rio can remember, she dressed up as a vampire.
“I made the cape out of a trash bag,” the drag comic said by phone recently. “I wanted a long, flowy cape, and look where it got me. Shocking, this is how it ended up. But I was a glamorous vampire, I must say.”
Well, naturally. Even then, the performer known offstage as Roy Haylock had a gift for making the unnatural look divine. More than two decades after rising through the New Orleans drag world, Del Rio is a bona fide drag superstar, a winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race and one of the show’s most popular contestants ever.
This summer, New York magazine named Del Rio the most powerful drag queen in America, with an ever-expanding resume of stage shows, books and screen appearances. Earlier this month, she headlined Carnegie Hall; the month before that, London’s Wembley Arena.
And on Thursday, Halloween night, she’ll headline the David A. Straz. Jr. Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa. Her “It’s Jester Joke” tour is a proper comedy tour, a night of brash, cutting standup from a comic with almost a quarter-century of stage time. The only difference is that, well, Del Rio doesn’t look like most other standups.
“Literally the first 30 minutes is about me and the insanity of my life, of being a 44-year-old man in a wig, looking like a damn clown," she said.
Del Rio called from her tour bus before a gig in Boston to talk about cancel culture, offensive comedy and more. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Do you feel like you’re always Bianca? Or is she pretty distinct from who you are when you’re not glammed up on stage?
Well, she pays my bills, so I’m fond of her. But for me, it’s not much difference. This is basically what’s been presented to the world, and it’s just kind of stuck. But I don’t have an identity crisis, no. I don’t sit backstage and light candles and go into a moment where I’m trying to “become” her. Wearing as much makeup as I wear, wearing the shoes that I wear, you just become a bitch naturally.
You’re pretty blunt as a standup. You don’t seem too concerned with offending in your act. Are you?
No. That’s the problem with a lot of people nowadays. Someone’s going to be offended by everything you say or do if you allow yourself to fall into that hole. It’s a slippery slope. But look, I’m not looking for everybody to like me. If you get it, you get it. If you don’t, you don’t, and that’s okay. But because of social media, there’s so much static and so much noise from everybody, where they want to pressure you. They love this “cancel culture” thing. They love to put you on a pedestal and take you down. That’s what they do to everyone.
So how do you react when you see comics — mostly male and mostly white, but not always — complaining about woke culture, or comedy getting too PC?
For each person, it’s different. There are several comedians that I think are hysterically funny. There’s people that I don’t think are funny. I don’t necessarily know who is right and who is wrong, but it’s a level of taste. But also, in a world with social media, it’s a slow news day, everybody’s an interviewer, everybody’s a blogger, everybody’s got a YouTube account and wants to say something exciting to get clicks, so that’s what it becomes. And all parties are guilty of that.
Since you were on RuPaul’s Drag Race, the last five years encompass cancel culture, the #MeToo movement and also your experiences with a global audience. How has it changed how you write comedy?
I haven’t changed it. And I think that’s the key to it. There’s a time and place for people to be advocates and to discuss serious topics and to be the Norma Rae of the drag world, sure. But I’m an entertainer, and I’m up there laughing at myself first. I’m not your elected official. I’m not your councilperson. I’m not your mother. So if you don’t like it, just turn the f--k away, bitch. It’s very simple.
This show in Tampa is on Halloween. How will that change what you normally do?
Look at me. I don’t know the difference between any days at this point. It’s interesting, because many people have asked me what I do on Halloween, and I usually say, “Be a man! I don’t want to dress up!” But I’m technically working, so I guess I have to dress up. I’m looking forward to it. I hope people show up dressed up, so I don’t look like the only foolish one there.
What costumes do you want to see in the crowd?
Oh, anything. People often ask me, can anyone do drag? F--k yes. Who am I to say what you can and can’t do? Put a wig on if it makes you happy. I can only imagine living a 9-to-5 in a cubicle, and a little wig at a drag show’s going to make you happy? My god, you deserve it. Put it on and come celebrate.
IF YOU GO
Bianca Del Rio
$50 and up. 8 p.m. Thursday. David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N MacInnes Place, Tampa. (813) 229-7827. strazcenter.org.