At 08:30, the set of RuPaul's Drag Race is relatively quiet, save for burly crew members lumbering across the show's iconic catwalk, their masculine frames kissed by a purple glow from the stage backlighting. Even in the still of a pre-shoot morning, Drag Race performs subtle acts of gender-fuckery.
A man emerges from behind a black curtain, and it takes me a minute to realize he is RuPaul. Ru's gowns and lashes are absent this morning, and he wears instead a simple black button down shirt, with dark pants and his signature oversized frames. But even in simple garb he projects every ounce of his significant charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent.
RuPaul first sashayed onto the pop culture radar when his club anthem "Supermodel (You Better Work)" became a crossover hit in 1992. Ever since, he has flirted with mainstream acceptance—today, he has risen to become one of the best-known drag queens and media personalities in America—while refusing to compromise his uniquely subversive worldview. Now, with his first Emmy nomination this July, Season 9 of RuPaul's Drag Race in production, and spinoff Drag Race All Stars 2 set to premiere on Logo tonight, Ru's rebellious worldview is poised for more mainstream recognition than ever before.
Just because the establishment has recognized The Queen doesn't mean she's drinking their Kool-Aid—Ru's beverage of choice has always been tea. And Ru was candid as ever in our condensed and edited interview below, in which he described "Hollywood diversity" as a capitalist construct, called bullshit on the gay community, and explained what we can all learn from a man named Danny The Wonder Pony.
VICE: Thank you for meeting me at the ass crack of dawn.
RuPaul: Well, this is like noon for me. I usually get up at 04:00.
Jesus—what are you doing then?
Well, first you stretch and pray and meditate, then you go to the gym and do some emails, then go on a hike, and then you go to work.
Do you have a specific meditation practice, like Zen Buddhism?
There's no real brand. Any way [I] can get it done—I quiet my brain, and I become the observer of my thoughts. That's what meditation is, it's that separation between your thoughts and consciousness. And whatever practice you can do to make that happen--whether it's Zen Buddhism or Tijuana Tango--get it going, girl! [Laughter]
Well, con-drag-ulations on your Emmy nomination! As much as we talk about diversity in TV, there aren't many exclusively queer shows on television—why do you think that is?
Well, the entertainment business is a business, and the bottom line is about money. If any group wants to have a niche in the industry, they have to buy the tickets. It's not a moral obligation that Hollywood has, it's a monetary obligation. People mix that up too much. They say, "well it should be this, it should be that." If you want it to be that, then buy a fucking ticket and you'll make it that. The industry is not a human with a consciousness—it's corporations with a bottom line.
Tell me about your personal history, specifically with famed 1980s/90s party scene The Club Kids. How did coming up in that scene shape who you are today?
Well, we all had a common starting point—we were all devotees of the Andy Warhol experience of pop culture, where you could move to New York, change your name, become very fabulous with your clothes and attitude and become a superstar in your own right. We all shared that idea of this guerrilla approach to creating a persona, your own superstar. Before [the Club Kids] you needed someone else to discover you, but with the Club Kids, you could discover yourself. You know, as humans evolve on this planet, all roads lead to "you are God." You are the architect of this experience.
Obviously, The Club Kids were a huge part of your rise to fame. But I also imagine that the gay community was a crucial part of your development as well?
With the gay community, that's a tougher question, because when you talk about community, you're lumping everybody in together. I remember thinking when I was young, "Well, I think outside the box because I'm gay." Then when I entered the gay community I thought, "No, you think outside the box because you are an outside-of-the-box thinker. And it just so happens that you're gay." I realized that a lot of the gay people I knew in my youth really just wanted to be straight people who suck dick. It's like in Orwell's Animal Farm, how the characters begin the book with the mantra "four legs good, two legs bad," but in the end, they really just wanted to be Farmer Jones. I've seen it throughout history—it's a component of human experience. It's not just gays, it's everyone. And it's a rare occurrence when people have the ability to cut their own swath.
What is drag's purpose in 2016?
It's to remind people not to take life too seriously and that this body you're in is temporary. You are an extension of the power that created the universe, and the mission statement is to experience life. It's nothing more than that. Experience it. Use all the colors, touch all the toys and lick all the candy! Do it all. There's no judgement, right or wrong.
Drag queens heckle the whole idea of identity. They say, "look, I'm a boy! Look, I'm a girl!" Back in the Club Kid days there was a guy called Danny The Wonder Pony, and he would walk around the club with a saddle on his back — and it was a fetish thing, but still it didn't matter, you could be whatever you wanted to be, no judgement. That's what it's about.
The tagline for this season of Drag Race All Stars is "Lip sync for your legacy." What do you want your legacy to be?
Well, my legacy is definitely RuPaul's Drag Race. It's launching the careers of, at this point, 100 queens. But in terms of how I'm remembered—that's really none of my business. My mission statement is: I came to this planet to have a great time, have fun, meet people, do fun things. And this body or experience isn't the beginning or end of me. I really don't care how history remembers me—I won't be here. I need to make today, this moment, the most fabulous moment ever. And that's really what it's about.
Now, you'll have to excuse me—I'm gonna go put some eyebrows on!
Follow Jonathan Parks-Ramage on Twitter.
Illustration by Lia Kantrowitz