Sasha Velour is one of the most distinctive performers to use RuPaul’s Drag Race as a career-elevating platform. Her perspective is intellectual, leftfield and pretty high-end, but also incredibly good fun. When she portrayed legendary German actress Marlene Dietrich on Snatch Game, she told us flirtatiously that “teutonic bisexuals make the most forceful and unforgettable lovers”. Sasha Velour is simply incapable of being basic.
An alumnus of the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont, Velour is also an accomplished artist and author who wrote this year’s The Big Reveal: An Illustrated Manifesto of Drag. Next March, she will bring The Big Reveal Live Show! to venues across the UK – expect the audience’s preconceptions to be dismantled at the same time as Velour’s elaborate stage costumes.
In the meantime, Velour remains booked, busy and beyond industrious. Alongside fellow Drag Race favourites Jaida Essence Hall, Latrice Royale and Priyanka, she has recently finished filming the upcoming fourth season of We’re Here, HBO’s hit reality show that brings drag magic and wisdom to small towns across the US. As she tells us during a characteristically warm, thoughtful and funny interview, it was an eye-opening experience that highlighted why drag and LGBTQ+ activism are more vital than ever.
So, pour yourself a cup of something hot and caffeinated, and prepare to be fully covered in Velour …
1. Where are you right now? In my office in Brooklyn.
2. What is the most Brooklyn thing about you? The number of houseplants I obsessively take care of. As of yesterday, I have 20.
3. What can we expect from The Big Reveal Live Show? Of course, I have to live up to the title, but I’ll be going beyond the wig and costume reveal to discover reveals of an esoteric and historical nature. With a special guest in every city to keep me on my toes.
4. Where does your urge to perform come from? I’m kind of a shy person, but the stage gives me permission to share my ideas and my voice.
5. What’s on your rider? Just paper towels, water and a mirror. But I also like it to be 18 degrees Celsius because I get pretty sweaty with all the costume changes. Last year I performed on a gay cruise and the whole audience basically turned up in their underwear. They were shivering the whole show, but what can I say? The queen decides!
6. What is your favourite thing about performing in the UK? I love London because I can wear something bizarre without being stared at.
7. Where do you like to write? I appreciate a change of scenery, so I like to take my laptop to a coffee shop or public library.
8. When do you feel most creative? Late at night after my show’s over. Sometimes if I’m sleepless I’ll start coming up with new ideas.
9. What is your first memory of seeing drag? I remember seeing RuPaul in an episode of [90s sitcom] Sister, Sister, but I didn’t register that she was a drag queen. I just thought she was some kind of gigantic, beautiful supermodel.
10. What is the purpose of drag? Freedom – it lets us express ourselves without the restrictions we face in everyday life. When it’s been in nightlife spaces that are more secretive, it’s to bring joy to the queer community. And when we share it on a mainstream platform, it’s to share that joy with everyone else, because it turns out that it speaks to everyone.
11. What is the enemy of drag? Fear of difference, and the way that always leads to intolerance.
12. How would you describe the Sasha Velour look? Highly impractical and boldly designed with an element of alien: something beyond gender and out of this world.
13. If I could give you store credit for any store, which would it be? The trimmings store where I buy the feathers, fringe, stones and crystals for my outfits – those embellishments are costly!
14. What is the premise of season four of We’re Here? We’re spending a little longer in each place. Because there’s so much backlash around drag, we’re trying to help our drag daughters in the communities that we step into cope with that. Drag is meant to do good in the world, so we have to figure out how to do that in the current climate.
15. Was it more intense than you expected? Yes. Previously, I have only really encountered anti-drag and anti-trans sentiment online or at a distance across a parking lot. But there’s a moment in the show where we encountered it up close – right in our faces. I really felt my heart beating, but I stood up to them.
16. What’s it like when you, Latrice, Priyanka and Jaida get together? Really fun. We all have different styles of drag, but we all love what we do, which is very inspiring to be around.
17. How can we push back against the current wave of anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment? I like the theory that this backlash is happening because more people are accepting than ever before. But at the same time, the backlash is ferocious and hard to deal with. I think the best thing we can do is keep saying why we love our culture, why we love our queer friends and why we love our trans family. I know that we’re not going anywhere.
18. How would you describe the concept of gender to an alien who just landed on Earth? As a kind of language that we filter our bodies and our ways of talking, behaving and dressing through. I would also explain that the categories of gender have shifted and changed over time, and continue to shift and change. That way, they might have more tolerance than the average human.
19. What do you do when you have a day off? Go hiking in the mountains with my little dog and my partner Johnny. When I’m out there, my mind wanders to life’s bigger picture.
20. Where is your happy place? A bathtub. Give me a candle and warm water and I feel absolutely at peace.
What is the enemy of drag? “Fear of difference, and the way that always leads to intolerance“ – Sasha Velour
21. What do you do on a transatlantic flight? Sleep. But with a scarf over my face, so no one has to see my open mouth.
22. What new skill would you like to master? I’m trying to do the splits. I’m still quite far off, but we’ll see if I can get there by next summer.
23. What is your most surprising passion? Disco music. I love to dance freely to it in a way I would never do in drag.
24. Do you believe in God? I see life as a kind of spiritual force. But I would say I’m agnostic.
25. Do you believe in love at first sight? Yes, but I believe in love generally. Love is easy for me and should be for everyone.
26. Do you believe in life after death? No, I believe in the finality of death. But we live on in memory and history.
27. And on the internet? Oh God, not there!
28. What’s the best compliment you have ever received? One time someone catcalled with: “Sasha Velour, you have a fat ass!” It’s the best moment I’ve ever had on stage.
29. What is the best advice you have ever received? My mom’s wisdom to me before she passed: “You don’t have to worry about all the things you want to do. Just focus on how you want to spend the next 15 minutes.”
30. What would your parents like you to have done for a living? My parents were hippies, so they were very open-minded. But my grandma wanted me to be a performer. She was an immigrant who dreamed of being an actress, but her accent was too strong and she would get panic attacks before auditions.
31. What did you learn growing up in Illinois? How to make things happen for myself. I would put on shows with my friends in empty stores at the local dying mall. And I was often the only queer person I could see anywhere, so I learned how to survive.
32. What did you learn at the Center for Cartoon Studies? Everything, but especially the power to share your words and ideas with the world immediately. And also Photoshop, which is such an important tool for drag.
33. What did you learn from hosting your own drag show Nightgowns? I found my drag voice, which is combining storytelling with theory, a little history and the stupid humour that a late-night drag show requires. I also learned how to be respectful of each performer I was introducing.
34. What’s the last thing you changed your mind about? For years I said I hated AB crystals – the ones that have the Aurora Borealis colour. But I’ve recently been convinced that they’re actually more sparkly than other crystals, though I’m not quite ready to put them on my costumes.
35. Who changed your mind? My friend Zoe Ziegfeld, a burlesque and drag performer here in New York. She bombarded me with photo evidence until she won me over.
36. Are you an introvert or an extrovert? An introvert who created an extrovert character.
37. What is your star sign? Cancer: a water sign, which may explain my love of the bathtub.
38. Which drag queen from history would you encourage us to Google? Coccinelle. She was one of the first public trans drag performers in history and quite an activist in the way she shared resources for other trans women.
39. Who is your ultimate queer icon? Sylvia Rivera. She amplified a certain way of talking about the Stonewall Riots and the necessity for LGBTQ+ activism to look at all people, particularly unhoused trans people, people of colour and people who are incarcerated. She amplified the voices that are sometimes forgotten when gay activism focuses on being respectable rather than just on equality and liberation.
40. Who would you play if you did Snatch Game again? Greta Thunberg or Elizabeth Taylor. We’re owed an Elizabeth Taylor at this point.
Who is your ultimate queer icon? “Sylvia Rivera ... She amplified the voices that are sometimes forgotten when gay activism focuses on being respectable rather than just on equality and liberation“ – Sasha Velour
41. What makes Marlene Dietrich, Marlene Dietrich? Her boldness and freedom with gender – she would perform half her show in a tuxedo to show that any kind of stories and narratives were open to her as an artist. She’s also the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen.
42. Whose music could you not live without? Shirley Bassey. I love the way she chews her words and the emotion she puts into telling stories. It’s just delicious to listen to.
43. What occupation do you put on your passport? Performer, because I like to be vague. But then they always ask “what kind?”
44. What are you reading at the moment? A punk comic called the Enlightened Transsexual Comix. It’s just amazing.
45. What book would you want to read again for the first time? Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City. I had never read a pulpy gay, queer, trans story before, and it was the most fun ever.
46. What for you represents true decadence? Truly lavish theatre and opera, where all the sets are dripping with detail and there’s a new costume for every scene. Drag is very modest in comparison!
47. Of everyone you have met, who had the most star quality? Rihanna. Truly I felt like she had an aura of light emanating from her.
48. What song would you like played at your funeral? Something yet to be discovered, but I know if I don’t specify, someone will put on So Emotional. So I’ve got to figure it out.
49. What do you want people to picture when they hear the name Sasha Velour? Me on stage, under a spotlight, performing my heart out.
50. Finally, have you enjoyed this interview? I’ve loved it. You kept me very surprised.
Sasha Velour tours the UK in March 2023 with The Big Reveal Live Show. Tickets are available here.