As one of the world’s preeminent drag performers, Lady Bunny is hard to pigeonhole. Onstage she’s a seasoned pro of scatological humor and raunchy song parodies, blessed with the gift of inciting belly laughs since the mid-’80s, when she founded the New York festival Wigstock. Out of drag, perched at his keyboard, he’s a politically aware citizen who’s quick to pounce on any politician presenting lip service to the LGBT cause — Democrats included. Few queens in history can boast that sort of compelling reputation, marking Lady Bunny as a true outlier among her bewigged peers.
This month sees Lady Bunny embarking on a tour of California with her latest stage show, Trans-Jester!, which will then be followed by a stint in Europe. It’s a show that challenges the quick-to-outrage, overly politically correct masses through comedy and song, already well-received by audiences and critics alike on the East Coast.
We caught up with this drag legend to discuss the new show and her need to break free of New York’s cold climate. Bunny also sounds off on the trouble with Trump’s new America, the problem with giving Democrats a “pass” when it comes to securing LGBT civil rights, and a brand-new single, “(For You) I’ll Wait,” which is itself a return to an age of music we’ve long since abandoned.
First things first, how are you coping in Trump’s America? Are you surviving?
All I know is that Trump had better not try to grab my pussy. He’d need bigger hands! (Or a baseball glove.) The thing is, my pussy is a little further back than most, and it’s kind of a shitty model. But if you grab it right, look out for that oversized clit!
You’re bringing your latest show, Trans-Jester!, to California on what looks like a road trip of all the state’s gay havens — L.A., Palm Springs, San Francisco. You’ve lived in New York for so long, do you enjoy your stints on the West Coast?
I do. NYC is home, but I’m liking L.A. more and more. I have many friends in L.A., and when I come to town, they’re like “Bunny’s in town! Let’s get together.” In NYC, this doesn’t happen as much. Is technology eroding people’s need to physically be with each other?
I also planned all of these California dates to get some much-needed sunshine. In New York, March comes along and you’re beyond ready for the weather to warm up. Yet it still sometimes snows in April. And after months of dry radiator heat, I literally have two humidifiers going and am forced to use foot creme to moisturize my red, irritated hands.
Tell me about the show. I know it’s coming off of sold-out performances and extended shows on the East Coast. You’re combining monologue with lip syncs and live performances?
It’s almost all live, but I still lip sync to my own voice for the Laugh-In joke routine. I used to lip sync to my own voice for parodies, but that’s only because many drag venues that primarily feature lip sync shows don’t have crisp microphones. So if you are changing the words to a popular song and singing them live into a dead mic, the audience is puzzled. Jackie Beat busted me about a decade ago for lip syncing to my own voice. But in a cabaret setting where there is decent sound and monitors onstage, I sing live. Many have been surprised that I actually close the show with two show tunes. I’ve never exactly been a theater queen, but these two Sondheim chestnuts really fit the bill and have been showstoppers!
There is a monologue in Trans-Jester! that goes through many of the newer politically correct terms, from cisgender to heteronormative to little people. I call this section “the lecture,” and it’s punctuated by jokes so that it never seems like an actual lecture. Many people claim it’s their favorite part of the show because so many of us are forced to walk on eggshells and are uncertain about how even to begin discussions on certain topics. Look at the jackass in the White House. Clearly we need to have more discussions in this country, not less. Even the uncomfortable ones.
From what I’ve read the show is an “assault” on people’s overly politically correct sensibilities, which is a line you often tow. Some might get the idea you enjoy triggering people!
I see it less that I’m triggering people than people are now looking for triggers. If you’re looking for enemies, you’re sure to find them. And if you think that RuPaul or Bianca Del Rio or I aren’t friends to the trans community because we occasionally use few choice words as greetings or in a comedy show, you’re ignoring your real enemies who seek to destroy your rights and/or bash you.
I cut my drag teeth with RuPaul in Atlanta, where we knew most of the street trans hookers by name and hung out with them. We worshipped them, mimicked their speech because we thought they were incredible, and occasionally even tried to snatch their husbands! But some of these militant trans activists seem to get their periods before they get their pussies! There is just no pleasing them.
One bunch tried to ban a Brooklyn screening of Paris Is Burning because the promoter accompanied the screening with “white” bands. So the same trans community that gripes about there being no positive portrayals of trans people in Hollywood seeks to shut down the screening of the one film about trans people of color starring actual trans people? The cult film that made many fall in love with Dorian Corey and Octavia St. Laurent? These activists are so militant that they’re shutting down their own movies while griping that no movies get their experience right or even cast them. Cuckoo!
On every ticket sales website I put a disclaimer stating that this show is raunchy and offensive and that’s the whole point. So if you’re prudish or overly PC, don’t come see it. You’d hate it. But for those who like to laugh and aren’t so precious, it’s a load of laughs, which can even be thought-provoking if you have an open mind. And whatever happened to the idea that if you don’t care for a certain type of act, you simply don’t go see it? Why do people feel the need to shut down entertainment they aren’t keen on? If you hate it, don’t tune in.
You just released a new dance single called “(For You) I’ll Wait,” which I’ve found is one of those tracks perfect for getting motivated at the gym. It might be favorite track you’ve ever released, and I’m loving that you’re doing more in the music space. Tell me about the track, and can we expect more?
Thanks! Making music doesn’t pay my rent, but it is something I need to express. Producers often send me tracks, and if there’s a nice groove that inspires me, I’m decent at writing a song to them. I’m a better writer than singer, so I’m always looking to write for other singers as well as myself.
“(For You) I’ll Wait” is written with the same producer who produced my fave mix of my 2013 song “Take Me Up High,” True2Life. I’m also writing to the instrumentals of some crackerjack session musicians who are some of the best in the industry — they’ve played for both Prince and Parliament. While there may be remixes of these songs, I love that they are all real instruments played live in real time in the studio. So there is more musicality to them that what most producers now offer — one guy producing everything on a laptop. With these new live tracks, you benefit from all the expertise of whoever plays each instrument.
If you think about it, you don’t often listen to many of today’s songs and think, “Wow—I really love that solo!” Because there aren’t many solos. Think of the intro saxophone line to George Michael’s “Careless Whisper” or some of Sade’s sax solos. If the music is great, then I can write something great to it — that’s the goal. Even if the music industry is in such a tailspin that artists are giving their music away for free.
One of the things I love most about you, Lady Bunny, is the juxtaposition of your raunchy song parodies and occasional bathroom humor with really smart, well-thought-out political diatribes on social media. Those seem to be the two sides of the “Lady Bunny coin.”
Occasional bathroom humor! The whole opening medley of Trans-Jester! is so scatological that it even includes a gerbil singing Adele’s “Hello” from my ass.
My drag persona is very raunchy and silly, but the world is in a mess. So I try to figure out what’s going on. I shunned politics in my youth, as many do. I was a silly twink more concerned with alcohol and dick than world affairs. But after seeing the second tower at 9/11 fall, I was forced to take a look at what’s going on. Not just from a sense of what’s right, but from a personal safety perspective.
While everyone else was asking “What do we do?” after 9/11, I was asking “What have we done to make people hate us so much?” We have military bases in 30 countries worldwide. They aren’t handing out lollipops. The rest of the world considers the U.S. to be a dangerous bully. I say the best way to support the troops is to stop sending them into wars that make no sense — like the Iraq war we were tied into, or Hillary’s misguided “humanitarian bombing” of Libya, which she orchestrated as Secretary of State. In both Iraq and Libya, the chaos which came after our bombing campaigns created hotbeds for ISIS to develop. So we are creating more enemies.
So is perpetual war our goal? Many people feel we should be spending less money on war and more on helping people in this country. Hello — poisoned water in Flint, Michigan?
I do not trust Trump to call peace. But when he said in a debate that Hillary’s, Obama’s and George W. Bush’s unsuccessful bombings of the Middle East for decades cost $6 trillion — which could’ve rebuilt this country twice over — that’s the truth. We always have money for war, and both parties green light the budgets for it. I think people in both parties agree that we need to build up this country and stop destroying others for murky reasons.
You’ve always been quite vocal about politics. Has America’s current political climate made you alter the show in any way? Has the show itself become more political, either consciously or subconsciously?
Eighty percent of Americans came out of this election feeling disgusted by politics. So Trans-Jester! is a way to provide some much-needed laughter. Except for a few one-liners, the show shies away from politics because we’re all sick of it and battle-scarred. This show focuses more on gender politics and political correctness than D.C. politics.
It seems like these days fewer queens than ever use their voices politically. Is that something you’ve noticed, and what do you think about that?
Fewer gays use their voices politically. We got so comfortable under Obama that we made few demands on him. He had nothing to do with the passage of gay marriage and claimed he “evolved” on the issue. How about getting it right and fighting for us — not evolving? Obama did pass an anti-discrimination measure for LGBT federal employees, but he was not a leader on gay issues. In fact, many gays were stunned by his choice of the fundamentalist preacher at his first inauguration. Do we not realize that religion is often the fiercest enemy of gays? Without Bibles, homophobes would just be bigots.
I was horrified to learn that Obama, like every president, speaks annually at The Family’s (a right-wing “Christian” think tank) Prayer Breakfast. The Family helped Uganda craft it’s “Kill the Gays” bill. Why are American politicians concerned with that? Is Uganda like an out-of-town tryout for bringing a “Kill the Gays” bill here to the United States? No true leader on gay issues breaks bread with The Family or anyone else who seeks to kill gays anywhere. To his credit, Obama did criticize them one year.
Democrats are given a pass by gays because unlike Republicans, Democrats pay lip service to gay rights. But their idea of supporting us seems to be not actively attacking us. For the HRC to endorse Hillary over Bernie Sanders — who had a far superior record on gay rights than Hillary — was a slap in the face to gay activists. Much like Hillary’s wrong-headed attempt to praise Nancy Reagan for starting a conversation on AIDS that she never actually started. Gays were outraged by this attempt to throw gays under the bus to court fans of the Reagans — who are conservatives who don’t value gay rights. In fact, Ronald Reagan famously ignored the spread of AIDS, never even saying the word as it became a full-blown, worldwide epidemic.
Sadly, gays have a history of this. When Obama, Clinton and Dennis Kucinich ran against each other in the Democratic primary, there was a debate on Logo. Kucinich said something to the effect of “I support gay marriage, and I hope you’ll support me.” He didn’t need to evolve. But did any gay support him? None that I knew!
I heard something from The Young Turks’ Cenk Ugyur that I wish I’d never heard, but I believe it to be true: Democrats use gays in the same way Republicans use evangelicals — to get them to vote for them in a block. Democrats, who are increasingly corrupt centrists, can make themselves seem more progressive by not attacking gay rights. In truth, it is no skin off the noses of the banks or the military/industrial complex if gays are allowed to serve in the military or be married.
I am as concerned with income inequality as I am marriage equality. And as an oppressed gay, I feel the need to fight all oppression — of women, unarmed blacks killed by police and the Muslims we bomb for no reason overseas. How can gays ask for compassion for themselves when many support (and pay for) senseless wars?
Tax time is coming up. A huge percentage of the money the government takes from us goes to wars we don’t understand, or that our government admits were mistakes. Yet we stay in those wars. Obama campaigned on withdrawing from Afghanistan in 2013. We’re still there, and it’s now the longest war in U.S. history.
Yes, Trump is awful. But the Democrats aren’t so hot either.
Let’s end with a game of “Fuck, Marry, Kill”: Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway. It’s a tough one, I know, but you must do it for the sake of humanity.
Nice knowing you, humanity!