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Lady Bunny drag queen artist
Lady BunnyPhotography by Stephen Menendez

50 Questions With the One and Only Lady Bunny

As Wig receives its UK premiere, Nick Levine calls Bunny at home for a hilarious and gloriously plain-talking chat

Lead ImageLady BunnyPhotography by Stephen Menendez

Lady Bunny is no mere drag queen – she’s a drag empress. After sharpening her teeth in Atlanta drag clubs in the early 1980s, where she formed a lifelong friendship with one RuPaul Charles, she moved to New York City in 1984 and became queen of the scene. The following year, she co-founded Wigstock, a legendary annual drag festival that’s the subject of a riveting new documentary film, Wig, which has just received its UK premiere.

Featuring contributions from Blondie icon Debbie Harry, RuPaul’s Drag Race alum Willam, and Neil Patrick Harris, who helped Bunny to revive Wigstock in 2018 following a hiatus of more than a decade, Wig is a fascinating insight into a grassroots event that put drag on the map long before that TV show. As Bunny notes, part of Wigstock’s charm lies in the way it can accommodate slick, ultra-glamorous dance-pop performances and more experimental, “low-rent” fare like “a drag queen lip-syncing to some old recording of a female having a bad acid trip”.

When I call Bunny at home several months into the lockdown that’s hobbled her beloved club scene, she’s every bit as hilarious as her reputation would suggest. She’s also warm, thoughtful and gloriously plain-talking. Sure, she made a guest appearance on Sex and the City back in the day – but does that mean she’ll pretend to like the show? Of course not!

1. Where are you right now?

New York City. I live right between Greenwich Village and Chelsea.

2. How have you kept sane during lockdown?

I’m happiest when I’m busy so I’ve had some video projects and a few virtual gigs. I do enjoy cooking and with no income, one does like to save money. I’ve also been talking a lot more on the phone with family and friends. My sweet mother calls me every day and says she loves me and all that kind of stuff. I’ve tried to really keep in touch with people – especially older people who are more susceptible to Covid. So, in other words, I’ve been talking to myself a lot.

3. What have you learned from this strange time that we’re living in?

Well, when you live alone like me and you’re no longer socialising at work, you tend to spend a lot of time on social media. And I’ve learned that people on some of these platforms have some really crazy ideas. I mean, someone showed me a photo of a guy whose ass cheeks were spread and the caption was “don’t like politics much, but I’m concerned about Black and brown people dying at the hands of the police”. I was like, “I’m glad you’re concerned, but I’m not sure that showing your asshole is the help that people of colour need in their plight”.

4. What are you missing most about nightlife?

Sex with strangers. Large amounts of drugs. And dancing – dancing for sure.

5. When you’re DJing, what song fills the dance floor every single time?

Hideaway by Kiesza. It’s a pop song but house-y enough to get people who love club music dancing too. And it was never such a huge hit that you could say “oh, it’s tired”.

6. Is New York City nightlife still the greatest in the world?

You know, nightlife everywhere has taken a hit, although I hear the greatest things about Berlin – I hear it has the wild bohemian vibe that New York, which is now very corporate and slick, used to have. And from what I understand, Berlin is affordable. New York City is no longer affordable to an artist just moving here, and that was a big part of what made the club scene so fun.

7. What separates a New York City drag queen from a drag queen from someplace else?

We tend to form our own characters rather than impersonate celebrities. Performers like Joey Arias, Kevin Aviance and Lypsinka, they are their own stars – they’re not doing someone else’s.

8. What’s the true essence of Wigstock?

A big end of the summer party with great dance music singers and all kinds of crazy drag queens. I’ve always loved that mix of really slick performances – Crystal Waters brought all these amazing dancers – and drag queens who were inspired but, shall we say, extremely low-rent. Including me and RuPaul before she made it big.

9. What’s your favourite ever Wigstock moment?

When CeCe Peniston was singing Finally and that bassline kicked in – I thought the pier was going to break into the water because people were dancing so hard.

10. If there is a Wigstock in 2021, who would be your dream booking?

Grace Jones. She is outrageous. I saw her perform at the Hollywood Bowl during an eclipse and she managed to eclipse the eclipse.

11. What are you most proud of in your career?

That it’s lasted this long. When I moved to New York, I did have a nine-to-five for about three weeks and I’m totally unequipped for that type of work. I need more freedom and I need to set my own schedule. And I need to determine everything from the material to the wigs to the costume. You know, I’m just not meant to be bossed.

12. Who would play you in the movie of your life?

Susan Boyle – she looks exactly like me. Oh wait ... she can sing though.

13. What is the greatest compliment you’ve ever received?

Is this a magazine that frowns on dirty stuff? Well, I used to have this regular hook-up and the last time I saw him was probably 20 years ago. But he will still email me and say: “I miss that mouth.” Some girls like chocolate and champagne, but you know, that’s good enough for me because I loved being with him too and I love that he remembers Big Bad Buns.

14. What’s your biggest regret?

This interview.

15. What is the most important lesson that you’ve ever learned?

Before I go off on someone and criticise them, I try to determine if this is actually something that bugs me about myself. Because that’s when I’m the most critical. I’m not saying that I’ve completely learned it – but I don’t fall into the trap nearly so often.

16. If pushed, how quickly can you get into drag?

20 minutes. I mean, that’s assuming the wig is already styled. You know, the other queens make fun of me for doing the same make-up for 25 years. And I always tell them: “If and when you find a look that works for you, stick with it, baby – but you gotta find it first.”

17. What’s the one thing you could never do drag without?

Lashes. They completely change your face. I mean, many would say a wig but you can always go get a towel and make a turban out of it.

18. How often do you clean your wigs?

Not often but I don’t sweat much, which other queens hate me for.

19. What is the secret ingredient that turns a good drag performer into a great one?

Crystal meth. No, I would say a spark of uniqueness. Because there are a lot of copycats these days that just try and imitate something they’ve seen on Drag Race. You’re always gonna stand out more if you’re not doing what everyone else is doing.

20. Has Instagram done more good for drag or more bad?

I think bad because it shifted the focus from performance to appearance. And people are now being hired on the basis of how many Instagram followers they have, rather than how much talent they have. Listen, I can sit and “ooh” and “ah” over beautiful make-up and styling and whatever. But what happens when you walk out on stage looking beautiful and cutting-edge and do something totally not cutting-edge like lip-syncing to a Lady Gaga song? To me, it’s just odd.

Who would play you in the movie of your life? Susan Boyle – she looks exactly like me. Oh wait ... she can sing though”

21. What’s the enemy of drag?

It used to be hardcore feminists who would claim that drag queens were misogynists – that was common in the 1970s and 1980s. Now it’s conservatives who are calling drag “Blackface for women”. This is becoming a right-wing talking point because the popularity of drag has spread. They’ve taken the left’s outrage over Blackface and applied it to drag: they’re actually trying to say that drag is as offensive to women as Blackface is to people of colour.

22. Do you think drag can ever be fully mainstream?

I think it already is. Drag Race has totally brought it into the mainstream. I mean, we’re seeing drag in Super Bowl commercials now. My question is this: Now that it’s mainstream, is it still good?

23. Who is the most underrated drag performer you know?

She lives in New York City and her name is Sugga Pie Koko. She’s hysterical – look her up.

24. Who’s shadier: you or Bianca Del Rio?

Bianca says I am. I think it’s probably because she has a larger platform. There are some things that she’s stopped saying that I haven’t.

25. Is there anything you should never make a joke about?

I like to push it as much as I can, but I would never use the N-word. You know, I also feel that honey, I may die soon – I mean, I’m right in the epicentre of the Covid here in New York City – so it’s really not time to change who I am.

26. How do you deal with hecklers?

You know, I haven’t had that many. I’ve had a harder time with audience members who were just too wasted to know that their conversations were so loud that they were disrupting other people’s enjoyment of the show and my ability to think. While I have a few clever lines up my sleeve to hopefully shut them down, if they’re that far gone where they’re not going to listen to reason, then honey, they just gotta go.

27. Do you ever get stage fright?

Yes, if there’s a mirror near the stage.

28. What’s the core purpose of comedy?

I mean, it’s great if you can get some social or political commentary in there – or even some real wisdom. But basically, it’s just to make people laugh.

29. What’s the funniest thing you’ve ever seen or heard?

There’s a video of drag performer Jackie Beat doing Roseanne Barr’s make-up on YouTube and it’s hysterical. Jackie has written for Ross Mathews and a few TV shows and she’s just a riot.

30. What’s the best way to get hold of RuPaul in a hurry?

Email. A lot of times the stuff I send Ru is just exciting news about drag queens or trans people we came up with. Like, a trans performer who did drag just put out a book, so I sent Ru a link because we were always slightly obsessed with her back when we lived in Atlanta.

31. What did you learn growing up in Chattanooga, Tennessee?

That I was meant for bigger and better things. I had a wonderful childhood though. I really lucked out in the parents department.

32. What did you learn when you briefly lived in York, England as a teenager?

That your education system is far superior to ours. And also, that I never want to eat the wretched kippers or black pudding for breakfast ever again.

33. What most characterises British drag in your eyes?

Going back to the days of [iconic Camden drag venue] The Black Cap, there were a lot more live vocals. I used to love watching Dave Lynn do a really great pop song like Delilah because she’d always get the crowd singing. There were also a couple British queens I loved called Maisie Trollette and Jimmy Trollette. Their drag was somewhat suburban – they’d wear short secretary wigs and the sort of dress a woman would wear to a nice restaurant at night.

34. Who’s the greatest pop diva of all time?

Diana Ross. I’m talking in terms of having so many great songs over so many decades and such a gorgeous image too. You know, those were the decades I was coming up in so I’m sure there’s a lot of nostalgia involved. Sometimes people will say that Beyoncé is the Diana Ross of this era, but honey, I’m sorry. I know she’s popular, but are Beyoncé songs like “to the left, to the left” going to be appreciated like Diana Ross songs in decades [to come]?

35. What was the last film that made you cry?

To Kill a Mockingbird. It was always a tear-jerker, but I just watched it again and it definitely has some personal parallels with my own family.

36. Who do you call when you really need a good time?

A drug dealer.

37. What’s your finest quality as a human being?

I’m a very loyal friend. Do I expect loyalty in return? Oh, completely.

38. What’s your worst habit?


39. Who’s your favourite character in Sex and the City?

You know, I did not care for that show – and I didn’t have the channel it came on. But I guess if I had to choose, it would be the blonde. Actually, what I did like about that show is that they objectified men and weighed men up based on penis size. As a gay man, I could definitely relate to that. And it made for a nice change because normally it’s the women being objectified. 

40. What’s the best ever Blondie song?

That’s impossible because there are so many. But Denis is the first one I fell in love with. Actually, can I say Fade Away and Radiate?

Is bigger always better? Yes – when it comes to wigs, jewels and penises”

41. What’s the most overrated thing in the world?

Reality TV.

42. Is bigger always better?

Yes – when it comes to wigs, jewels and penises.

43. What’s the campest thing you’ve ever seen?

H.R. Pufnstuf, which is a kids’ TV show I grew up with that was clearly inspired by adults on acid. It is truly insane.

44. Are you a tidy person or a messy person?

Oh, messier than any frat boy.

45. What’s your most treasured possession?

Well, I have a rubber bunny holding a toilet plunger that Debbie Harry gave me for Christmas one year. I guess it’s a bathroom ornament. I must love it a lot because it was white when she gave it to me and it’s now, well, quite patchy and old.

46. Of everyone you’ve ever met, who had the most star quality?

Charo. She is just something else – still.

47. What makes a legend most?

You gotta start with talent. You know what I mean? You can have the glamour and you can have the great material written for you, but if you don’t have the talent, you won’t become a legend. Don’t tell Madonna.

48. Who’s the most rebellious person alive?

There’s an Australian journalist called Caitlin Johnstone who gives incisive analysis all the time. I’d love to know what her educational background is, but maybe she’s just naturally brilliant.

49. How would you describe the Lady Bunny look?

Loud. Actually, a lot of people say I look like Dusty Springfield, which was never my intention, but we do share the same heavy reliance on lashes, large blonde wigs and fashions – in my case, I use that term loosely – from the late 60s and early 70s.

50. And finally, what do you want people to think when they hear the name Lady Bunny?

She’s a hoot!

Wig is available to watch now on Sky Documentaries and NOW TV. You can follow Lady Bunny on Instagram @official_lady_bunny