‘Drag Race’ victor Bob the Drag Queen, on confidence, comedy and redefining drag
On reality competition shows, viewers usually have to wait until the finale to know who won. But aficionados of RuPaul Drag Race had some clairvoyance during Season 8 — they knew who won by Episode 3: That’s when Bob the Drag Queen owned the challenge — RuCo’s Empire, a spoof of the nighttime soap — like no queen has ever done. We mean ever. You weren’t watching just drag; you were experiencing an artist in full control of their medium. The remaining episodes were merely busy-work until the crown was awarded.
It wasn’t like it was easy, either: Bob defeated viewer fave ChiChi DeVayne, bombshell Naomi Smalls and conceptual makeup master Kim Chi to take the title — not with better costumes, or smoother lip-sync, or great verisimilitude, but by the sheer force of talent. Bob had “star” written all over him. And he knew it.
“I always thought I would be around for the long haul,” he admits. “I don’t think I ever thought I was the best [drag queen] there, just that I was the ‘most qualified’ for the job at hand — in terms of what they are asking or, I think I rose to the occasion the best.”
Confidence might be Bob the Drag Queen’s secret weapon, but it wouldn’t mean squat without the chops to follow through. “It’s one of those things as an artist: You have to believe in yourself to expect people to pay to sit in a room a listen to you talk for an hour,” he says. The wild card appearing on Drag Race was being apart from a support system. “You do think, ‘What if I messed up on that one?’ because you don’t have my network of people to bounce ideas off of. It was a little bit nerve-racking.” (In fact, he didn’t know he was in the Top 3 for sure until about a week before the episode aired — they film multiple ejections with each queen sashaying away.)
All of this excitement has happened just in the past year; since he was crowned, Bob has continued to expand his profile: He has released a video with Todrick Hall (“Wrong Bitch,” with nearly 2 million views on YouTube) and toured, currently emceeing A Drag Queen Christmas, featuring fellow contestants Naomi, Thorgy Thor, Milk and more. (It comes to Dallas’ House of Blues on Wednesday.)
That’s a great career arc for the 30-year-old, who only got into drag after watching the Season 1 of Drag Race.
“I was really inspired watching the first season — I thought Bebe Zahara Benet was beautiful and elegant and funny,” he says. “But I was also influenced by non-drag performers like Whoopi Goldberg and Chris Rock and Carol Channing — more as a performer than a queen.” Indeed, Bob sees the title of “drag queen” as the beginning of the conversation, not the end of it.
“Saying ‘I’m a drag queen’ doesn’t really say what you do — it’s like saying, ‘I’m an entertainer.’ There are visual artists and dancers and comedy queens and performance artists. Drag is just [starting the conversation] by blurring gender lines.”
But Bob isn’t simply using drag as a gimmick; he’s committed to a long career in and out of stilettos.
“Without sounding corny, I really just wanna be Bob the Drag Queen — to create something new and not imitate what someone else has already done,” he says. “I don’t have any intent of quitting drag because I’m really good at it — it suits me and I have fun doing it. But I just did a show on HBO out of drag because acting is also a passion. Sketch comedy is [also] one of my loves, and my standup comedy [which, he concedes, has become more political since the election]. Making people laugh is one of my favorite things ever. And I really enjoy making music, which sort of surprised me.”
Bob the Drag Queen might be the only one surprised — his fans have known he had it all in him, whatever he wanted to do. Stars are like that.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 16, 2016.