Lady Bunny interview: 'It's weird Drag Race are choosing contestants who can't perform'
As one of the best-known and oldest comedy queens comes to London’s Soho Theatre with her solo show, Trans-Jester!, transferring from the legendary Stonewall Inn, New York, the foul-mouthed glamour-puss and drag legend that is Lady Bunny sits down for 21 questions with Attitude…
Bunny - you got a great reception with your show Trans Jester earlier this year at the Soho Theatre - how does it feel to be bringing it back?
Well, I don't come around very often, so that's a lesson to learn - stay your arse home for a while and we might be there when you come back! But I love the fact that Drag Race has opened up the comedy tours, I'm going around Cardiff in September, I've never been there!
Have you spent a lot of time in the UK?
I actually took my A-levels in York at a Quaker boarding school. My parents are Quakers, they became Quakers when they met an English couple who when my family was living in Africa because they got a teaching scholarship to Ghana, which was a former UK colony. My whole family are Anglophiles, my parents come over all the time. But I have a terrible habit of imitating British accents which tends to drive my British friends crazy, especially when I get it all wrong. I have five or six accents within one sentence, from London to Yorkshire.
What are your favourite things about British culture?
For such a small country the impact that the UK has had on music is phenomenal. Whether people like Adele, Amy Winehouse, the Beatles, or Discohouse Producers like Johnny Negro, or the guys over at Horsemeat. My first time in a big city without a parent was in London. And I went to Adams and I went to Bangs, and I think I met Princess Julia - the DJ from Vauxhall. I really became who I am as a result of my time in England in '78-'80, with Disco, Nu Wave, Ska - I was all about all of it. That's when I liked Annie Lennox - when she was with The Tourists! That's who shaped me and made me feel like I wasn't just from Tennessee, I was a citizen of the world. Oh and I do love Little Britain - and I like the League of Gentlemen. That’s hilarious.
And it must be good to get out of America with everything that's happening politically?
People were left behind by a democratic party who used to represent working people and unions but now does not - but if a billionaire can come out, and his TV catchphrase is 'you're fired' do you really believe he's going to bring jobs back? Come on... Trump could not have painted himself as a populist if the Democrats had not failed working people to sum extent. And I don't see much sensible discourse coming from the same news media that created Trump. If you're saying 'Mexicans are rapists', 'I'll punish any woman who has an abortion', calling this reporter ugly, when that reporter has a disability... OK, those are all shocking, but at what point does it not become shocking? He's a jackass.
Have you always been outspoken?
I have a viewpoint and I'm not afraid to express it, and it comes from years and years of living in this community, but at the same time, I'm not so old that I can't remember my youth. Listen, older people have tales to tell. Could young people benefit from hearing them sometimes? Sure. But is it the nature of young people to be rash and not give credit and take things for granted? Of course it is. That's the way I was, so I can't be too hateful about that.
And you're in London just in time for Pride this year.
Yes! But I get very nostalgic - or sad - when I hear young gay people say that they go to straight clubs, and they don't need to go to gay clubs and that they would never go to any gay Pride march. That stings a bit because I'm like, 'you know what babe? You know when you go to that straight club and you get a little drunk and you come onto the wrong guy and get your ass whooped? You'll be at that gay community centre looking up the anti-violence number and be glad that you have a community, and that you're allowed to go into communities freely'. May we be even more free! I lived in the South where there were places you couldn't go without being killed.
It's a wonderful thing, gay Pride day. For the young people who've grown up getting nasty messages from their families, church, school - whatever, and then they see this city bursting with people like them... It's a strength in numbers that gives that 'aha' moment and it is something I think young people still need. You stick together when you have a common enemy.
What do you make of the current season of Drag Race?
It's weird that they're choosing people for the show who can't perform. Or if they refuse to lip sync on the show... I said something about Valentina and everyone was getting upset about it. But honey - if you're on a show where you have to lip sync for your life, and you don't - and try to put a mask over your face, then what do you expect? If you go on American Idol and refuse to sing - do you win? To me that is wild. But I've seen Valentina lip sync before, not on the show, and she was good! She has a magic about her and she's gorgeous.
And how do you feel competing with the Rugirls for bookings?
This is a business where if you're not doing Beyonce live in concert lip sync, or if you're old or not gorgeous or not thing, then... well, let's say there's a lot of ageism in the gay community. But as a drag queen you're not experiencing all of it, because you're not putting yourself out there as a man, you're a performer, so we don't experience it as much - but it sure still exists, so I feel lucky that I'm able to do what I want to do.
Your show Trans-Jester! has been controversial - is that intentional?
Well, I'll say that my vision has got nastier and nastier over the years, as you've seen this show is about political correctness, so as one reviewer said, 'I push so many buttons I could run a stationary store!' My next show is not going to be that nasty, it's going to be flashy and fun but not setting out to go into forbidden territories. But the real reason I wanted to do this show is because I used to think there wasn't any friction between the trans and drag world and now there is. So what has changed? This is totally different from my experience.
You're one of the world's most legendary drag queens. Do you like reflecting on your legacy?
I don't mind reflecting. I've been so lucky to do what I love doing for so long. I tried to work an office job when I moved here, it was a complete flop, I was drawn to nightclubs, I consider myself to be a late bloomer. I didn't have a show that was this together 15 years ago. I was an alcoholic, for decades. I feel like I'm getting to do my work all over again and be conscious of it. And you know, working with a writer which I've never done before. I'm playing the Soho Theatre in England - it's great!
Have you always been a born entertainer?
I always assumed I would perform in some way but I always thought I would be an actor. Then I realised that actors are just a pawn, they do what the script says and what the director tells them to do, and they don't get to make choices. But with drag, I think - I'm going to make this dress, I'm going to make this track, I'm going to change these lyrics, I'm going to do this choreography... When you're a drag queen you are your own script and you are you own everything. So that to me is fun because there is a vision.
What's coming up in the next year for Lady Bunny?
I do write dance music, and I have been working on some music with these studio musicians who worked with Prince and the punk band Parliament, so that's something I'm excited about. I'm writing for other people too. And I have a record out that's with a UK producer called For You I'll Wait, his name is True2Life, so.. listen it's not got a tonne of juice behind it, it's not got a major label behind it or top stylists knocking out a video, but I did a song called Take Me Up High which I think went to No18 on the Billboard Dance Charts, so I've always done a little bit. And I've done a couple of duets with Ru, but it's never been what pays my bills. It is something that I want to focus more on because I've got so much stuff and it's ready to happen!
ady Bunny’s ‘Trans-Jester!’ is at London’s Soho Theatre from Mon 12 June – Sat 1 July, 9.30pm. For tickets click here.
For more great deals on tickets and shows, visit tickets.attitude.co.uk.
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