Oh, the power of television. Five years ago, Roy Haylock had spent almost 20 years in bars doing drag. The grind—and Grindr—was getting to him. He was all set to hang up his gowns and go straight—or at least be his regular gay self, without all the accessories.
“At that time, I think it was 18 years of doing drag,” he says over the phone from his home in Los Angeles. “That was old-school drag. At the time, the gay scene had changed quite a bit because we were going into Grindr and the phone apps and all that stuff. In my day, you would go to a gay bar and you would meet people, go see a show. Now everybody’s on a goddamn phone. It’s a different world. I just saw the paint on the wall changing and I thought, ‘I don’t know if I can do this anymore.’ Not because the world was changing, but because I was getting older and tired of the late nights and schlepping to the bar and nobody cared. After a while I thought, ‘This has been a lovely run but it’s exhausting and tiresome and expensive,’ and I thought I’ll end at 40 and that will wrap things up.”
And then TV came calling. Haylock auditioned for RuPaul’s Drag Race, eventually winning it all in Season 6, and hasn’t looked back since. Now his stage persona, Bianca Del Rio, is—according to Vulture, anyway—the most powerful drag queen in America. It’s not something he trumpets.
“Next week they’ll say I’m the worst one,” he says with a laugh. “They just create this shit. It really means nothing. As long as I’m working, I’m happy. I don’t care what list they put me on.”
Just how powerful is she? “I can’t bench-press shit,” Haylock says. “Put it this way: I can wear three wigs at one time and three pairs of eyelashes. That’s some strength there. And I roll my eyes extensively, so they get a good workout on a daily basis.”
The self-deprecating performer—who also deprecates everyone else—has called his Del Rio character “Don Rickles in a wig”, “a clown in a wig”, and “a man in a wig”. There’s absolutely no pretence with this insult-comic diva. She’s a combination of Rickles, Lisa Lampanelli, Joan Rivers, and Dame Edna.
“I just always state the obvious because I don’t take myself seriously,” Haylock says.
Del Rio has toured every continent except Antarctica. This year alone, Del Rio either has already been or is going to Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Hong Kong, the Philippines, South Africa, nine countries in northern Europe, the U.K., and Ireland. That’s in addition to a 45-date North American tour, which hits Vancouver on Friday (July 19).
Haylock moved into comedy by volunteering to kill time while other performers had costume changes. Two minutes became five and then 10. Now, Del Rio does 90 minutes and you can’t shut her up. Haylock found his comedic voice, he says, right away. “Oh God, three drinks and a microphone and I found it!”
On Del Rio’s ever-changing tour, she talks about anything and everything with practically no filter. She accepts offence as part of the job.
“A lot of people are like, ‘That’s crude!’ Look, it’s not for you; it doesn’t mean it can’t happen in the world,” Haylock argues. “Lighten the fuck up. Younger people will tell me, ‘You can’t say that!’ I can say whatever the fuck I want; you don’t have to like it and I’m not here to please you. Obviously, I’m not for you. But I refuse to have a 13-year-old girl on Twitter tell me, a 44-year-old drag queen, ‘You can’t do that! I’m offended!’ Go fuck off. That’s not how the world works.”
Bianca Del Rio’s It’s Jester Joke tour hits the Orpheum on Friday (July 19).