Asking for it: "Drag Race" winner Bianca Del Rio has questionable advice for you

Salon talks to the author of "Blame It On Bianca Del Rio" about providing insulting solutions to problems

By Melanie McFarland

Published May 30, 2018 3:00PM (EDT)

"Blame It On Bianca Del Rio: The Expert On Nothing With An Opinion On Everything" by Bianca Del Rio (Harper Collins)
"Blame It On Bianca Del Rio: The Expert On Nothing With An Opinion On Everything" by Bianca Del Rio (Harper Collins)

Surely common sense would dictate that the last person you'd want to ask for advice is an insult comic. Yet enough people sought Bianca Del Rio's questionable counsel for her to create a book full of terrible counsel, titled "Blame It on Bianca Del Rio: The Expert on Nothing with an Opinion on Everything."

Bianca, the alter-ego of Roy Haylock, channels the spirit of festive abuse perfected by the likes of the late Joan Rivers and the very much alive Lisa Lampanelli into a stage persona that resembles a clown version of Lucille Ball. After claiming the season six crown on "RuPaul's Drag Race," the performer has been touring non-stop in addition to creating two films, "Hurricane Bianca" and "Hurricane Bianca 2: From Russia with Hate." Life post-"Drag Race" has kept the performer so busy that she's famously had to miss a few reunion events. "Drag Race" producers hired a clown to stand in for her in an episode featuring previous winners.

Writing a book is all but an inevitability under these circumstances. But an advice book? Why not.

"We live in a world where everybody's an expert," Del Rio says. "Everybody's doing a YouTube video. Everyone's doing a tutorial of what needs to happen. As I say in the book, Dr. Phil [McGraw] is this fucking swollen ass walrus who sits back and gives advice and he's not even a real doctor. I'm not a real woman. Who gives a shit?"

True. And thanks to the runaway success of "Drag Race," there's also a market for this kind of self-help literature, especially in the realm of parody. More people are viewing drag queens as boundless sources of inspiration thanks to the show's host, RuPaul Charles. Long before he brought his uplifting competition series to television, RuPaul embraced inspirational literature in his 1995 autobiography "Lettin' It All Hang Out," and he's since followed it up with "Workin' It," published a year following the inaugural season of "Drag Race" in 2009.

Del Rio, however, is very clear at the beginning of the book that the advice contained within should not be taken seriously. Plus, the letter writers are presumably in on the joke; she solicited letters while touring and through her fan site. Also, chapter titles such as "I Found a Lump (Health & Grooming)" and "People Who Hold Your Hair When You Vomit (Friendship)" pretty much establish the tongue-in-cheek nature of the content.

Just in case, though, the names of the respondents featured within were changed, and much of the content of the letters has been combined from multiple responses that were similar. Salon chatted with Del Rio on the phone about the book and whether she'll appear on the finale of season 10 of "Drag Race," currently airing Thursdays at 8 p.m. on VH1. This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

ince “Drag Race” first debuted, you’ve probably been busier than any other contestant. You've put out two underground movies, and it sounds like you’ve been perpetually touring. Now you have a book out. Did "Drag Race" propel you to this level of work, of output? Or is this something that has always been a part of you? Are you looking at other contestants and saying, “Come on, keep up”?

Work was always a part of my life. . . By the time “Drag Race” came around, it was very beneficial for me because I was 37 or 38. I thought, “Well let me take a chance.” It was my first audition, my first chance of venturing into it. If I wouldn't have gotten on the show, I wouldn't have auditioned again. And I wanted to quit drag at 40; I thought “It's been a good 20 years. This has been a lovely ride; I don't need to pursue it any further.”

Then it all changed. Once it happened, thanks to the power of television, I realized, this is it. This is my chance to run with it and do what I've always wanted to do. It wasn't like “Okay, now I'm going to calculate and make a movie.” We had something already on the burner and I was like, “Let's do it.” The fact that we could do a second one? “Let's go.”

I'm a yes person. I've been approached to do a book a couple times . . . Harper Collins was wonderful and they said “Do anything you want.” I'm like, “Okay, great.” They have faith in me, which is why I did the book. How often do you get these opportunities? As you were saying, there's 130 queens from “Drag Race” that have been on the show. It's really what you make of it. Now is not the time for me to sit back and say, “Oh, I'm tired.” You have to go out and hustle, which I love. I love the hustle of it.

You just brought up something interesting that goes with the concept of the book — and we’ll get to that in a moment. But a lot of the self-help and advice industry, which your book is lampooning, revolves around people who are thinking, “Oh, it's too late for me. How do I start over?” Our culture views middle age as an impasse. But I think that the actual story of your career is quite inspirational.

In theory, I have never been a person to sit back and think about the past or think about the struggle, or even bring it up 'cause sympathy is not part of my drag aesthetic. Things in life just happen and then you make the best of the situation and you keep moving.

...I didn't go, "I'm going on this show and I'm determined to win." I don't dream. I'm not a person who makes a list of things that need to happen in my life. It just evolves, and you roll with the punches. That's been my motto, just evolving with whatever's in front of me. All of it's a test. As long as I'm laughing, as long as I'm enjoying it, I'll keep on doing it. But, I don't plan to do this my entire life. I mean I don't want to be a 90 year old drag queen. I can't do that.

All right, on to the book. I've read the preface and everything that you said in terms of asking fans to send in letters. It does seem to me a little bit odd for an insult comic to be asked for advice.

I don't mean to be crass, but I hope you'll appreciate this: It’s almost like asking someone to kick you in the cootch or something.

When I was asked to write the book, I did not want to write a book about myself. I did not want to write anything that's too egotistical. It's far too ridiculous to say, "I'm a 42-year-old drag queen. Let me tell my story." No one gives a shit. If you're asking a 42-year-old drag queen about advice, then you deserve the ridiculous response I give you.

I think it stems from social media, 'cause I get a lot of questions I don't get to answer. A lot of people comment on a photo and ask, "What color is that lipstick?" Or, "What brand of eyelash is that?" Or, "Why were you born?" All these questions I thought should be addressed in a certain way. I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to be fun and also exploit the ridiculousness of self-help. This is a perfect set up for me, without going into serious relationship issues or anything about my life. No one cares. No one wants to read that.

Do you think that the way people approach drag queens has changed since “Drag Race” started airing? Specifically, I’m referring to the stories of overcoming hardship that are revealed in the work room. Have you found that people look at drag queens as these fonts of wisdom nowadays more than they did before the show became a hit?

With “Drag Race,” there's good and bad. Obviously, it's changed my life and gave me the opportunity to do the things that I'm doing now. For that, I'm eternally grateful. But on the other end, there's the other side of it that's really annoying.

As I said, it's specifically not part of my drag aesthetic, and it's one of the reasons why I never thought I was gonna win because I didn't have this ridiculous story of abuse and neglect. That's lovely, but that's never come up in a conversation in a dressing room with me and other drag queens.

You get to a point with a reality show where it gets a little blurred. It's very hard for me to watch occasionally, because I either know the queen already and I'm like, "Oh, why's she going down that tunnel?" It's the type of thing that it puts me off in general, because I know that's not life. That shouldn't have anything to do with what you're doing on stage. We're men in wigs, for Christ's sake. It's not that serious.

It's great that it's bringing drag to people's televisions and into people's living rooms. The downside of it is that I don't want sympathy, and I don't want people feeling bad for me. It's like, don't feel bad. Celebrate your life and have a great time. But, I do understand the television aspect of it.

The one thing that is great about it is that it humanizes drag queens. I think a lot of people were afraid of drag queens in the past, or thought we were all just hateful, catty bitches 24/7. So it does humanize us to an extent. I just don't feel it should go that far all the time.

Are you watching this current round?

No! I've caught a couple of episodes. But I'm not home enough to catch up with it. Now that [it's] on VH1, it's challenging, 'cause if you're traveling and you're in a hotel room and you're trying to catch the episode, they don't always have the channel.

And, especially in my off time, the last thing I wanna do is watch “Drag Race.” Drag queens in HD. I can't! I can't do it. Not in my off time! I don't wanna look at makeup or lashes or wigs. I want a glass of wine and an Ambien.

So no, I haven't kept up with it. But nowadays, you don't even have to watch it. You just watch social media, and they tell you basically everything that's going on.

Are you going to appear in the finale?

No. I'm not in town. I'm in Norway the week that they're filming that. I'm not gonna be there. This season I was able to make a cameo on an episode. But it wasn't because they haven't asked. It's usually just a scheduling issue, and being in L.A. long enough to film it 'cause they film everything close together, and the finale is filmed separately. They're filming it in a couple of weeks, 'cause they're narrowing it down on the show. But I won't be here in America.

Okay, so are they going to walk a clown down the runway in your place again?

Maybe. Maybe. The funny thing was with that, it was fascinating because a lot of people on social media were being negative and saying how disrespectful I was. But I was called two weeks before. At the time I was filming the first movie, in shoots in Texas. I can't let 100 people who are working on the crew down to fly back to L.A. for one day to do one bit and come back. It didn't make sense. That's what happened with that.

They've been trying to get me back for a while, and we were able to work it out this past season, on season 10. Sometimes, it's just planning.

But I loved the clown! That was better than me being there.

I'm gonna walk back to my initial estimation of you. I think you actually are a good person to get advice from.

It's true, because I think there is a lot of truth in what I do. I think truth is in comedy. Something that's really funny is always truthful. I have no filter.

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Melanie McFarland

Melanie McFarland is Salon's TV critic. Follow her on Twitter: @McTelevision

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