If you’ve seen the film Wigstock (and shame on you if you haven’t!), we have a trailblazing drag superstar named The Lady Bunny to thank for it. If you read a bio of the Tennessee-born, big-haired blonde, you’ll realize that she has been a part of many causes near and dear to the GLBTQ community. That doesn’t mean that she’s tactful and PC — far from it!
Travel to Tucson this Saturday for Wingspan’s Gay West ’09 celebration and you’ll get the pleasure of seeing the full range of Lady Bunny’s comic talents. I had the opportunity to ask the drag icon her views on life (... but forgot to ask her if she’s offended that Lady Gaga was clearly channeling her on American Idol):
NC: You've been described as Dusty Springfield-meets-Don Rickles, but I get more of a Barbara Eden in her prime. Who was your inspiration for Lady Bunny, and whose sense of humor do you love?
LB: Well, you are incredibly sweet! (and quite possibly blind!) I do idolize Barbara Eden! I got to meet her once at a Michael Alig party at the Limelight and she said, "I wish I could get my hair to do like yours!” I told her that every wig I ever wore was inspired by her looks on I Dream of Jeannie. I also loved Elizabeth Montgomery as Samantha Stevens on Bewitched. I think I was just so bored growing up in Chattanooga, and desperately longed for some magic — and false eyelashes with big hair — to whisk me away from it all! As far as humor, I love Lisa Lampinelli, Sacha Baron Cohen, Amy Sedaris and Dame Edna!
NC: You'll be bringing your brand of fabulousness to Tucson, and I just hope Tucson's ready! What should people expect?
LB: My act is fairly raunchy comedy, but not all of it. I do a lot of song parodies like “All That Jizz” and “Don't Let Your Son Go Down on Me,” but I also sing a few less insane songs. And I'm a little bit country, so that always comes out when I play in the south and west ... (and I) do a little stand-up and a fairly R-rated, Laugh-In style joke routine.
NC: I'm impressed that you'll be honored along with Cleve Jones (creator of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt) and Patricia Field (Sex and the City's costume designer) by AMFAR this June. What causes are most important to you? What pisses you off most these days in general and in the gay community?
LB: I'm most concerned that we the people get involved in our government. We are politicians' bosses, yet we seldom exercise our own power. We did when we reversed the direction of the country's policy by electing Obama, but that's not nearly enough. Obama himself urged us to get involved, so let's stay involved.
I'm disgusted by the American people for sitting back and allowing Bush to steal one, maybe two elections and murder innocent Iraqis with my tax dollars. How does a supposedly Christian nation forget “Thou Shalt Not Kill” and create turmoil in a country that never sought to attack us? If that doesn't bother you, then you are disconnected from the process of government. We're supposedly fighting to spread democracy in the Middle East, yet it's been taken from us here in our own country.
Of course, it doesn't help that corporate interests run the country’s news, so we rarely hear the truth. How does a news anchor who is sandwiched between a commercial for BP and another oil company claim that the war is in Iraq is for oil? Their sponsors tie their hands. Why would a news anchor report that the rich have gotten richer in the last few years while the rest of us experience a recession if their bosses were among the filthy rich? It's a clear conflict of interest and our news is not telling us the truth.
NC: Your humor is so raucous and bawdy (and hilarious). How hard was it to develop your stage persona? Have you ever gotten in trouble for anything you've said?
LB: A religious group in Richmond, Virginia tried to press charges after I appeared at an all-ages Pride fest there. And footage of me on ecstasy in San Francisco Pride parade in the ’80s was used by a documentary in fundamentalist churches to show how far gone the homosexual lifestyle can become. I was high as a kite and flapping the wings in a fairy costume! I'm SO proud to be in that video!
NC: As the creator of Wigstock, you have definitely seen your share of drag performers. What do you think of the state of drag today? Did you follow RuPaul's Drag Race, since I know you've done a duet on RuPaul's new album?
LB: I am saddened that today, drag performers seem to think that it's the height of fierceness to recreate a video — choreography and all. In fact, Drag Race did just that with Beyoncé's “Single Ladies.” Where is the imagination in that? Before videos, queens like Hot Chocolate were tearing it down with their own, genius choreography, not mimicking a video. Why would anyone want to watch a video on TV all day and then see it recreated at night by a queen? I can't think of anything more tired. Overexpose the already overexposed? How about creating something new?
As far as Drag Race, Ru is one of my oldest friends and former roommates so I wish her all the best with the show. But elimination shows are not my cup of tea and I can't identify with this country's preoccupation with who is the best model, chef, drag queen or singer. Take for example the challenge in which Bebe Zahara Benet had to rap on Drag Race. Since when does any successful drag queen need to rap? Yet people are living through these meaningless "challenges." I prefer to focus on real life challenges like getting out of a recession and a war we claimed to have won years ago. We need to focus on getting our country (and the whole world if you count global warming) back on track. That is deserving of our undivided attention. Whether a drag queen can rap or not isn't. On a side note, Bebe did prove that not all black people have rhythm while trying to rap!
NC: I never knew you DeeJayed! What drew you to doing that? How were the Bravo A-List Awards, and how’d you get on with Kathy Griffin?
LB: I don't really spin the latest circuit sounds — I like to mix up everything from disco to contemporary R&B and dance classics like Deee-Lite and Crystal Waters. And I managed to sneak in a duet I've written and recorded with RuPaul called “Throw Ya Hands Up” on Ru's new album, Champion. I've met Kathy once and she could not have been more chilled out and sweet.
NC: You just won an AVN (Adult Video News) Award for best non-sexual performance. What was that event like, and what do you hope comes from the award?
LB: I actually don't follow porn, so I didn't even know I was nominated! But Michael Lucas is a friend and so he asked me to do a demented cameo (in his movie Brothers Reunion). I'd like to parlay my win into some sexual roles — on and off camera! But I might wanna lose a few of my own rolls before I attempt that! OINK!
NC: You keep a pretty crazy travel schedule. How do you manage to keep sane and keep those gargantuan wigs looking so fierce?
NC: You've said you're pretty political, and I am more than happy to give you a bullhorn, so to speak. What's on your mind?
LB: It's the 40th anniversary of Stonewall, the birth of gay rights. And somehow we've lost our fighting spirit. We need to get it back somehow. I just performed in Connecticut and Massachusetts on two consecutive nights. They now both have legalized gay marriage! Which proves that you can get what you want if you fight for it. But no one is going to fight for you. So stop bitching unless you're ready to organize and do the actual work. Showing up and getting drunk at a glitzy benefit once a year is not activism.
NC: You're taking part in Gay West ’09 in Tucson on almost the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. What does gay pride mean to you, and how has it changed over the years?
LB: I've really enjoyed seeing gay events in smaller cities over the last few years — the diverse elements really seem to celebrate and enjoy each other. We all know that the primary image within our own gay publications is of a young, buff, white male, and we are so much more varied than that. Unfortunately, NYC's parade is all about advertising, with straight go-go boys hired to dance on floats hawking lube, some nightclub or some booze. It's important that we come together one day a year to show that there is no shame in our game and to feel our strength in numbers.
But one day isn't enough. Our enemies meet in a church 52 times a year, so the odds are 52-1 that our gay agenda will be advanced by going out and getting drunk wearing rainbow outfits. I love a party too, but where is our fighting spirit? Where's the organization of our movement. Did you go and cry, as I did, when watching Milk? Well, where are the new Harvey Milks? I see most young gays as the shallowest generation I've ever encountered.
Interview by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.