A drag legend injects comedy into a year desperate for it.
“Back in March, I sat down and wrote a ton of COVID-19 jokes to get them out there because I thought we wouldn’t be needing them in six months from then,” says the bumptiously bouffanted Lady Bunny when the coronavirus pandemic first began making headlines.
“I thought ‘let’s all have a laugh now, release the tension about it, and get it out of the way.’ Now I’m not so sure we will not be needing the COVID-19 jokes…”
With her 60’s-on-shrooms gowns, out-the-door eyelashes, and wigs big enough to snare the occasional satellite, Lady Bunny reigns as one of the most venerable drag queens in American history and a veritable celebrity in LGBTQ+ circles. More, she holds the rare distinction of achieving a level of fame outside of a gay club on her own terms. First conquering the Atlanta bar scene (alongside her roommate, a fellow up-and-comer named RuPaul), she moved to New York in 1984 and enmeshed herself into the Club Kids, a flamboyant group of hard-partying personalities that became the body-glittered lifeforce of the city’s night culture.
That same year she created Wigstock, an outdoor festival celebrating all things drag going strong to this day. There were roles in Sex and the City, the movies Party Girl and To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar, and she was one of the burners in the Comedy Central roast of Pamela Anderson. Lady Bunny even circled back to her former partner in crime and starred in RuPaul’s Drag U.
“But you are never going to catch me on tape saying I’m influential!” she declares. “It’s not what I set out to do, but it’s flattering if I am.”
Moreover, Bunny admits her professional persona is itself an amalgamation of influences. Drag is more than putting on a dress, wig, and makeup. Conscientious drag queens know it is a meticulous study of idiosyncrasies from stage and screen that others may miss, and then blending it all into a whole new presentation bigger than the sum of its parts so that the dress, wig, and makeup “werk.”
“First it was drag performers with stage presence as I was coming of age in Tennessee and then Atlanta, but I love Carol Channing, Charo, and Nell Carter. It may be taking a little thing like a hand movement or a silhouette,” she explains. Even now, with an established look, “I still take little bits and pieces from stars I like. No one would look at me and think, ‘obviously influenced by Patti LaBelle.’ But I am!”
And then there’s the comedy. While Bunny, now 57, notes that while drag is increasingly sanitized for a wider TV audience, even the tamest live show is not for the easily-triggered.
“I’m raunchy and tasteless,” she says without a hint of apology. “I cut my drag teeth in gay bars and late-night performances; we were encouraged to say outrageous, dirty stuff because that was our culture then. Off-color jokes about anal sex gone wrong was what we dealt in. And that was what our audiences liked! Sometimes performers in that mode are criticized by the PC Police now, but I live in what was/still is the epicenter of this pandemic and I am in a high-risk group. I’m going to do what I want because I may die! And I don’t want to spend my ‘last years’ doing what somebody else thinks I should be doing.”
All hail the queen, long may she profane!
Tell us what projects you are working on right now.
Well, today I deal with contracts. Or I get into drag to do a Zoom meeting with some porn stars. Sometimes I am in the studio recording something for a new comedy download; if you are not performing online these days, you’re not performing! I created a special that launched in early June called “CUNTagious,” and I have my own comedy special that is available for download on VOSSevents.com. Thirty minutes for $10. That is my work. The downside is that you can’t workshop your material in front of an audience, but the upside is that you can perform for people anywhere; they can be in a different country. But Lord, I miss audiences.
What do you do in your downtime?
I’m a bit of a news junkie, and I spend a lot of time on social media because it’s the only way I can connect with friends. A lot of talking on the phone. I go for walks, and I cook more. Day to day stuff.
Where do you like to dine?
Not fast food, but places where I can grab a bite quickly. I was never into the “full dining experience” that takes two hours and has aperitifs. That was never my style.
What are your favorite cuisines?
I love all Thai food, all Mexican food. I wish I liked less food! Chinese, Japanese, American. I’m not picky.
Which are your favorite bars?
I was always more of a club person than a bar person, but I like the Monster in the West Village where I used to DJ on Sundays. One of my favorites is Twist in Miami Beach; there’s never a cover and it’s full of extremely sexy guys! There is a pub in London, the Vauxhall Tavern. And there’s Julius, the oldest gay bar in New York. They have a grill and the best hamburgers in the city! It used to be a seedy hustler bar, but [actor] John Cameron Mitchell started monthly parties there, which attracted a hipper crowd and younger promoters followed suit. It was always fun to see the mingling of the real old-time West Village gay men and the younger set.
What are your favorite drinks?
I was always a beer drinker, and I never needed anything fancy or expensive. Whatever they had, from Miller Lite to Budweiser. It’s a real gag to see me in an evening gown guzzling a beer. Sometimes I’ll make it more ladylike with a straw.
Do you prepare drinks at home?
What is in your home bar?
I have red wine for cooking.
Have you ever been a bartender?
They tried to get me to bartend at a club called the Pyramid when somebody missed their shift. But I drank a lot, so I don’t remember much…