Trixie Mattel may draw inspiration from the pink plastic fantasy world of Barbie, but she’s not one to sit still in a dream house. The comedian, singer-songwriter and RuPaul’s Drag Race superstar was entertaining thousands of fans on a cross-country tour until the coronavirus pandemic booted drag performers from the stage to their homes. Mattel’s quarantine plan? To pick up where she left off.
“Girl, I’m one of the most famous drag queens in the world, and I regularly get stuck places without a spotlight,” Mattel, aka Brian Firkus, quips over the phone from her home in L.A. “Drag queens, we will make a show happen no matter what. We’re not used to having nice things so we’re like, what’s one more crisis? Let’s go for it.”
Mattel has worked hard to get there, co-hosting the hilarious show UNHhhh with Katya (it even led to a TV season here on VICE), releasing three albums between country and pop since 2017, winning Drag Race: All-Stars in 2018, and starring in the documentary Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts in 2019. She now livestreams video games for charity on Twitch Tuesdays, covers beloved songs on Full Coverage Fridays, and runs her makeup company Trixie Cosmetics from home.
“Since the pandemic started, I think I’ve raised $22,000 for charity from my living room playing video games,” she says with a laugh, taking in that this sentence is possible right now. Here’s an open-book view of Mattel’s life in quarantine, what music inspires her, and ways we can both unwind and support drag.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
VICE: What does your typical day look like in quarantine?
Trixie Mattel: I wake up at about noon. I make tea, I clean my house. I usually get creative in the evenings, so during the morning I answer email. I’m still running the cosmetics company, so we’re working on product development. At night, a few times a week, I have either live performances or I’m filming content. I see my boyfriend a couple of times a month, but we try not to run back and forth too much. What else? I recently started getting into pornography with women in it, so I guess the quarantine is changing my sexuality slowly?
Right before quarantine, I was literally playing for 1,000 people a night in the middle of a 50, 55-city tour. Every single tour I have for 2020 has moved to 2021. I always work like, “What can I control?” Well, you can still make wonderful makeup. I can still make great music, jokes, drag, and videos. Thank god before all this I was very tech savvy. I’m doing a music video tonight [laughs_]. It’s for “We Got the Look,” one of my singles from Barbara_. Let’s just say I have probably 65 wigs in my house, and I’m gonna make use of every single one of those in the video.
I saw you paid tribute to Adam Schlesinger and John Prine after they both passed. This virus really sucks. How much did they mean to you?
Oh my god. I love John Prine obviously. “In Spite of Ourselves” [featuring fellow country-folk artist Iris DeMent] is one of the best duets I’ve ever heard. Adam Schlesinger literally made me want to write music. I remember hearing “That Thing You Do!” when I was a kid, the first awareness I had of like “I need to write music that people will hear in their head like stat.” His music is fabulous. I mean, the Josie and the Pussycats soundtrack, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend… I learned guitar at 13, right around the time [Fountains of Wayne’s] “Stacy’s Mom” got big. Music like that is catchy but also technically sound, and it has a sense of humour about itself.
What music is helping you unwind lately?
I’m obsessed with The Go-Go’s, I’ll put them on any time. Nancy Sinatra. Dusty Springfield. I’ve been relistening to Madonna. Because of Full Coverage Fridays, I’ve been taking a lot of songs that I’ve loved and reinterpreting them. I did “Video Games” by Lana Del Rey, “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” [by Whitney Houston], Michelle Branch’s “Everywhere,” a lot of throwback. There’s something therapeutic in Full Coverage Fridays which is it’s just me and my guitar, and I’m singing music that we maybe would’ve been hearing if we were at the club right now.
What else have you been doing to pass the time?
I love What We Do in the Shadows on FX. It’s a mockumentary-style show like The Office but it’s about a vampire who’s completely inept living in modern-day Staten Island. Rewatch The Office, it’s perfect and never ages. I love video games. I’ve been playing The Sims like you’ve never fucking seen. [On Twitch] we basically create famous drag queens and we drop them into The Sims, and the fans watch us play them. I had Sharon Needles, Alaska, and Jinkx Monsoon living off the grid in a beach town. I love Dead by Daylight, it’s a great horror game. I played the new Resident Evil game, that was pretty good.
Do you have any recommendations?
Every single hot gay person has been reaching out and saying “What’s a good starter wig? What makeup should I get?” I’m like, do not learn drag. Hot people, you already have everyone’s attention, you do not need to be dressing up, OK? Leave us creatures to be drag queens. All those people who have a guitar stuck in the closet, it’s a great time to pull it out if you’ve got nothing else you can do. Learning to play guitar was the smartest thing I ever did for myself. Even if I didn’t play guitar for a living, I could not tell you what playing guitar has done for my life, my confidence, everything.
What are the best ways everyone can support drag right now?
There’s digital drag shows multiple days of the week. The least you can do, the freest thing you can do, is watch a show online and share the link, cause you never know who’s following you. If you can’t tip a dollar, maybe somebody who you shared it to will tip a dollar. For me, Trixie, I don’t feel super comfortable encouraging people to send me money directly. I’m ok and I feel very aware of the fact that a lot of my colleagues in my industry are living more paycheque-to-paycheque. At a time when a lot of my audience is probably being laid off, I feel like I have to step up and perform for them without a price tag for a while.
How do you want the world to change after the pandemic?
We should all realize how much we work, and how little time we spend not working. It made me reflect on just working every single day for five years. Let’s get real therapeutic: what are you trying to prove to yourself? Saving as much money as you can, and working every single day, and seeing what other drag queens do, and making it your personal vendetta to do exactly what they did but bigger. Like, what’s with you? You’re actually missing out on your life a little bit. I think when I go back to work, I’m gonna go down to 100 and not 120 anymore.
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