How would I describe RuPaul's Drag Race to a person who's unlucky enough to have never seen it? It's like if America's Next Top Model was reworked by John Waters on a shoe-string budget, but more surreal than that, and with an endless conveyor belt of crying, singing, dancing drag queens. It's queer club culture buffed and polished for reality TV, and its star is RuPaul, arguably the most famous drag queen on this planet. Over the past seven years, Drag Race has transformed from an offbeat cult favourite into the kind of show that Debbie Harry, Marc Jacobs, Khloe Kardashian, Rose McGowan and Beth Ditto want to guest judge on, while still staying weird as fuck. And earlier this year, RuPaul finally won an Emmy Award for "Outstanding Host for a Reality Competition".
But RuPaul is far more than the reality show he named after himself. He's been knocking around for decades, first sashaying over to New York City to pursue the club kid dream in the 1980s where he released his first hit "Supermodel (You Better Work)", and later becoming one of the first drag queen supermodels when he modelled for MAC Cosmetics. By the late nineties, he'd launched his own talk show, The RuPaul Show, and interviewed everybody from Duran Duran to Nirvana and Diana Ross. He's basically the drag version of Oprah Winfrey, but with darker jokes, campier references, and a long line of silky wigs.
Because of all the above, we thought we should ring him up and fire questions at him from the VICE interview – luckily, he was happy to oblige.
VICE: What memory from school stands out to you stronger than any other?
RuPaul: I was not good back then, I was a terrible student. But it was when my 10th grade teacher told me, "RuPaul, don't get take life too seriously." It was the greatest lesson I ever learned in school. That same teacher I am friends with today: he's only 10 years older than me. But his words were a lesson that was so valuable – at the time, I didn't quite understand it, but boy do I understand it today.
What's the closest you've ever come to having a stalker?
Well, unfortunately very close. There was someone who actually had to go to prison for a long time for stalking me. And then there was another woman who was actually quite lovely – she's no longer here – and she would come to every event that I would go to, and sometimes she would be outside my house, which initially scared me until I realised that she was completely harmless. She had a tattoo with my name on one leg and she had Cher's name on the other leg so I was in good company.
There are quite a few people with me tattooed on them actually, and I feel a certain kinship to them. In fact I ran into someone last week who had one and I went over and gave him a hug and said, "Well, kid, it's me and you forever."
What film or TV show always make you cry?
A lot of them, but the first one that comes to mind is An Affair to Remember. Oh my goodness, it is so good – mainly because the chemistry between Deborah Kerr and Carry Grant is so perfect and you want them to be together so badly. That's why it always makes me cry. I'm not going to give any of the plot away, though. Oh, you'd love it.
What picture of you that's been taken this year do you think you look the nicest in?
You know I took a picture the other weekend of Michelle Visage and I at the Emmy Awards. I thought it was really beautiful and it really felt happy because I had my buddy with me. It felt like such a great moment in time because the two of us have been through so much together, and to have the success of winning an Emmy after such a long, long road… It's a sweet picture and it really encapsulates that feeling.
Where did you go on your first friends' holiday and what did you do?
I didn't have any money up until my early 30s so I don't remember going on holidays - it was always for work. Holidays are for people who actually have jobs! I never really had one of those.
What have you done in your career that you're most proud of?
On Drag Race we've had 100 queens and they have international careers because of the show, so I'm the most proud of the show being a launch pad for their careers. They had careers before but the careers they have now are international and they travel the world, so I'm most proud of that.
What's the latest you've ever stayed up?
I have no problem staying up – I don't need a lot of sleep. For the first 40 years of my life, I stayed up until five or six in the morning every night. But about 12 years ago, when I quit cigarettes, I started waking up at four in the morning and going to bed at nine o'clock. I love it – especially living in Los Angeles because it's a daytime town. In New York, I'll stay up a lot later. Most of my life has been spent in nightclubs, from the time I was 15, to probably 40, but not these days. Just the other weekend Michelle and I went to tons of parties and we stayed out till about midnight, that was it. We went to one party and they were playing great music but they only played 45 seconds of each song and I thought, "that's ridiculous!" I wanted to dance but I couldn't.
If you had to give up sex or kissing what would it be?
I'd give up sex – I could never give up kissing!