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AMPLIFYING BLACK AND LGBTQ VOICES: BOB THE DRAG  QUEEN

Denny PattersonDENNY PATTERSONJUNE 29, 2020

If you ask any true fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race, they will tell you that Bob the Drag Queen is a force to be reckoned with. The Season 8 champion immediately won our hearts with his quick wit, sickening runway looks, gut-busting comedy, and ability to take the stage “purse first.”

Post-Drag Race, the New York City queen has never been busier. On top of multiple comedy tours and gigs, Bob is the host of the Drag Race recap series The Pit Stop, stars in MTV’s Drag My Dad, where he helps bring families closer together through the magic of drag, and records a podcast called Sibling Rivalry with Monét X Change where they discuss current events and other topics.

Think that’s enough? Guess again. Bob also released a brand-new comedy special titled Bob the Drag Queen: Live at Caroline’s, which is now available to watch on Apple TV and Amazon Prime Video and can be seen alongside Shangela and Eureka O’Hara in HBO’s new show We’re Here, where the queens visit small towns across the country to help people discover their inner fabulousness. We’re Here was recently renewed for a second season.

Bob may be using his platform to provide entertainment and laughs to audiences, but he is also using it to educate us on why the Black Lives Matter movement is important and how racism is very much prevalent in today’s society. A fierce social justice advocate, Bob wants to ensure that the oppressed will no longer remain silent.

I would like to ask about your new comedy special that is now available for streaming, Bob the Drag Queen: Live at Caroline’s. Without giving too much away, can you tell us more about it?
It’s funny! Bob the Drag Queen: Live at Caroline’s, I am really proud of it. It’s my second comedy special, and honestly, it’s objectively—I’m not saying it because it’s mine—it is objectively funny. I am really proud of it, and I am also the executive producer of it.

How does this special differ from Suspiciously Large Woman?
It is certainly different because I had a lot of time to grow as a comedian since then. It’s been three or four years since my last special, so I have just had an opportunity to hone my craft better, and you don’t have to watch up on Drag Race to get the humor to see why it’s funny.

Has comedy always been a passion of yours?
When I was young, I always wanted to either be a public speaker or a comedian. Like, I remember being inspired by both MLK and Chris Rock. They are really quite remarkable, and I do take my activism pretty seriously as well as my stand-up comedy.

Which came first, comedy or drag?
Technically, the comedy came first, but I never did stand-up; I was just writing it. Then, I decided to perform my first stand-up; it was also my first performance as a drag queen. So, it kind of came at the same time.

Your career obviously skyrocketed after winning the eighth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Why did you want to be on the show?
Well, it is my favorite TV show. At the time, it was definitely kind of the pinnacle of what drag is. I never considered myself a pageant girl, but I thought to myself, if there’s one pageant I could win, it’s this one.

And you have taken on several projects since Drag Race, one being HBO’s We’re Here, which recently wrapped up its first season. How did you get involved with We’re Here, and can you tell us more about the inspiration behind it?
And we got renewed for a second season and nominated for a Critic’s Choice Award, which is exciting. I got a phone call, like a cold call, from a number I didn’t recognize saying they had a show they would like me to be a part of and wanting me to like go to a meeting at their hotel because we couldn’t talk about it over the phone. I was like, what is going on? This is like a super secret mission. It was Steve Warren, one of the creators of the show, and I am so glad that I said yes to it. I’m not a born-and-raised New Yorker, and I have definitely taken on the skepticism that New Yorkers have. I mean, I was skeptical. Like alright, we’ll see.

We’re Here explores different LGBTQ experiences in small towns. What have you taken away the most from this experience?
Even though I am from a small town and moved to the big city, I didn’t realize how much community there was regarding queer people in these small towns. Like, full community. And I know because I didn’t have a queer community when I lived in Alabama, Mississippi, or Columbus, GA, which is a bigger small town. I didn’t have that in my circles, so I was shocked to realize that there are such vibrant, queer communities in these small towns.

Drag has become more mainstream and is changing thanks to shows like Drag Race, especially in big cities. How is it evolving in smaller communities?
I think drag is on such an international stage; it is just elevating the art form in general. No ifs, ands, or buts about it, drag queens are just really fucking good at doing drag nowadays. Like, really good. Not just drag queens from TV and young queens, but even queens who are seasoned like Jackie Beat and Sherry Vine are finding new ways to explore what it means to be better. Even though they are already legends, they have stepped it up even more.

I would now like to switch gears and talk about your social activism, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the national protests. What are your overall thoughts on the situation, and have you participated in any protests or marches?
Yeah, I have gone to demonstrations, and I unintentionally participated in a really great demonstration where people go down to the police station to receive their friends coming out of jail but also make sure those coming out know that people stand with them in solidarity. I ended up participating in that by going down to pick up my friend from the clink, and I didn’t even know this was happening. It was really beautiful.

Can you talk more about these Black, queer town halls you had with Peppermint?
So, Pep and I have been having these discussions on my YouTube page. Pep and I talk all the time, and we have these discussions on the phone anyway, so we were like, “Well, if we are going to have these discussions, we might as well let people hear them.” We started recording them, and then I just mentioned that I wanted to do a Black, queer town hall, and then it got picked up by NYC Pride, so it became an official NYC Pride event, which I am really proud of, and it is in conjunction with GLAAD.

We had some amazing talent with us like Todrick Hall, Alex Newell, Monét X Change, some great names attached to it. It was a three-day event consisting of panels, performances, fundraising opportunities, and just a way to celebrate the joy that is Black queerness but also take a moment to mourn some of the losses that we have had in our community as well.

Did you ever think we would still be fighting for justice and equality in 2020?
Oh, yes, for sure. One hundred percent. I mean, I think if I was, like, a cisgender, white dude, I would be like, “No, we got it figured out; we marched; I’ll say Marsha P. Johnson’s name out loud every June, and that is my contribution to the queer diaspora.”

I think that would be a mischaracterization of where we are as a nation because I think that most Black people probably experienced some form of microaggression over racism on a weekly, if not a daily, basis.

Some cities are pushing to defund the police. What are your thoughts on that?
Yeah, I want to talk about defunding the police. A lot of people hear that and think, let anarchy reign. No, that’s not what it means. What we are saying is, the budget for the police department is a little bloated. It’s a lot. Basically, the police department has so much money, and that money can be reallocated to different places.

Also, when people say dismantle or defund the police, it’s a call to have police departments to be completely reevaluated. In my honest opinion, this is a job that needs a lot of training, more than what we are actually offering them right now. Not only that, but in my opinion, go ahead and start from scratch. I mean, I think that the standards need to be changed for what it means to be a police officer, and the people who have those jobs need to reapply.

If you are going to be given a gun, like an actual gun, a deadly device, and be put on the street, then you need to be well-trained. More than well-trained—you need to be insanely trained. You need to be the best of the best.

There are a lot of Black Lives Matter deniers splashed across social media platforms who say things like “all lives matter,” or “racism doesn’t exist.” How do you respond to these people?
Well, the best way I can put it, there have been people on TikTok who actually said this really great idea of someone who has fallen and their legs are broken. They look at someone and say to get help because their legs are broken; then you say, “Well, what about my legs? Don’t my legs matter?” Yes, but your legs aren’t broken. In the midst of this, instead of helping the person whose legs are broken, you want to take this time, where we could be helping this person in distress, discussing whether or not your legs matter.

Have you ever been racially profiled or approached by the police in an aggressive manner?
Yes, for sure. One hundred percent.

You have been vocal in the past about the toxic racism within the Drag Race fandom. Have you ever experienced racism from a fellow drag queen?
I have certainly experienced microaggressions from other drag queens. One of my jobs here in New York City, I used to work at a bar, and I ended up quitting because I felt like the host of the show was really taking the opportunity during Black History Month to uplift her white voice. I remember thinking to myself that this doesn’t feel good, and it’s taking an opportunity to stifle Black voices. I remember thinking to myself that I can’t do the show anymore, and that’s just an example of some of the stuff.

I mean, drag queens are all human beings, so if you find racism in the world, you are going to find it within drag queens, too. Drag queens are just a microcosm of the real world.

A lot of people are upset with Ru for not using her platform or being vocal about the situation. Do you feel the same way?
I think if people are upset because Ru hasn’t made a statement, that’s people’s prerogative, but it’s also not the job of people who basically tone RuPaul’s shows. Like, for example, there’s a line of reasoning why Kanye West had not posted anything about Black Lives Matter, but there was one time he actually donated millions of dollars to the families of the deceased. So, I don’t know what RuPaul is thinking.

How do you think those who bear the title of America’s Next Drag Superstar can help the movement?
That’s such a good question. I know what I did, which for me was about being a visual representation of what I consider to be a form of Black success. Now that we have another Black, Drag Race superstar, I think it is really great that the franchise has listed a lot of Black voices and has given opportunities to me, Peppermint, Jaida Essence Hall, Monét X Change, BeBe Zahara Benet, Monique Heart—the list goes on of people who have been able to make change in their communities.

How can white people be good allies?
That’s a good question I have been asked, I think, more than any question. Like, white people are asking, what can I do? I think uplifting Black voices and not trying to make the movement about you. I know how very tempting that is to do. I love attention, and I love making everything about me. Trust me, there is not a person on this green Earth who likes attention more than I do.

Rest assured, but you know, also take this opportunity to show that you are actively anti-racist, not just non-racist. Not just being like, I don’t do racist stuff, but do you also call out racism when you see it? Do you advocate for queer people and voices? That is an opportunity for you to be anti-racist, not just say out loud that you don’t do overly racist stuff.

Any words of encouragement for other Black, queer people who are constantly feeling lost, sad, and hurt?
Yes! There was a recent time where I felt really defeated and destroyed, but look at the progress we’re making. I called my mom; she was pretty upset that I went to protest, and I said well, one of the reasons I can go to protests and not be gunned down by water hoses or be bitten by dogs is because someone did it in the 60s. Yes, maybe there’s tear gas and stuff going on down, but because we are doing it now, maybe parents won’t have to worry about their children later on if they are going to be hurt by the police.

What’s next? Are there any other upcoming projects we should be on the lookout for?
As of right now, I have been working on my play for a while now called Harriet Tubman: Live in Concert. So, I am working on that, and that’s probably more than a year out, but that is the next thing I want to work on.

To stay up-to-date with Bob, visit bobthedragqueen.com.