Describing Lady Bunny as a drag queen doesn’t do this multi-talented entertainment powerhouse justice. Yet with her looks – Dusty Springfield meets Barbara “Jeannie” Eden meets Attack of the 50 Foot Woman – she flaunts all needed attributes. A heeled height of 7 feet 4 inches (2.26 meters) in self-designed short A-line dresses in psychedelic 60s colors that easily makes her every event’s main attraction. Among lip-synching to pre-recorded pop song parodies Lady Bunny is famous for performing with Cyndi Lauper and Britney Spears and starring music videos. Oh, and she is a sought-after top DJ, too.
So one night, sitting at my dull desk, I called her up for an exclusive interview for Qompendium talking parties, politics, and … porn, and got beamed right up to a fascinating planet called Lady Bunny.
Lady Bunny, you’ve got a lot going on right now: A stage play, a duet with RuPaul and you also auditioned for a part in a reality show …
… and I didn’t get it, so let’s move on. Well, on the one hand I hate these shows, because they are all based on competition. I’m tired of all the bigger, faster, but not better. We have had the “We’re the best, don’t fuck with us” attitude for eight long years! At the same time, if you want national exposure on television, eating insects or worse on Fear Factor is a sure bet. Even Faye Dunaway, one of the last living icons of Hollywood’s Golden Age, participated as a judge on the horrible The Starlet. Meanwhile my dear pal (and drag “supermodel”) Ru-Paul hosts the Drag Race, a quest for the fiercest drag queen. I certainly don’t blame him – you just cannot buy that kind of publicity. But he doesn’t ask me how I like the show …
You grew up f a r away from the glamorous world of celebrity, born in Chattanooga, Tennessee with roughly 170,000 inhabitants, an Altoids mints factory …
Okay, but I need a Valium first … Don’t forget that Coca Cola was invented nearby.
Now why on earth did you attend a Quaker high school in York?
There were two reasons. My parents who are very religious Quakers wanted to expose me to their belief. And there was some friction between my father and me because at age sixteen I was already developing into a queen. Some time apart seemed like a good idea to them, I guess. Instead, my time in England, from 1978 to 1980 introduced me to alcoholism because everybody over there is a drunk. I also fell in love with the androgynous looks and crazy hair styles of the New Wave and Punk kids in London where I sneaked into gay clubs. So, their strategy kind of back-fired …
In this issue of Qompendium we commemorate the first manned moon landing, Apollo 11 with Buzz Aldrin. Do you remember that moment?
No, I don’t even know what year that was. Apart from very campy, ridiculous science fiction movies like Plan 9 from Outer Space, Barbarella or Flash Gordon I’m not a real fan of outer space. I’m more interested into getting high. And that I’ve always enjoyed immensely.
It seems like you were fascinated by women’s clothing from an early age. Who inspired you and when did you first put on a dress?
In the sixties I was obsessed with Barbara Eden from I Dream of Jeannie. So in first grade my mother dressed me for a costume party in a pink chiffon harem outfit with slanted eye make-up and a turban, not yet a wig. The costume, including a flute, was supposed to be that of a Moroccan snake charmer …
Please, don’t elaborate on that, this is a serious publication and a family-friendly one too …
… but in essence I looked like Jeannie. My eye make-up now is still based on that exotic look. When I was eleven I put on full drag for Halloween and made my best friend go as my husband. I looked hideous, like a matronly ugly old woman with a short grey wig.
Years later you landed on that strange, amazing, pulsating planet that is – and especially was back then New York. What was the first thing you did?
I blew the cab driver because I didn’t have any money. Haha – no, but here’s the story: Back in the early eighties I was sharing a dump of an apartment in Atlanta with RuPaul and we were backup dancers for a band called The Now Explosion. One day they asked me to entertain them on their 20-hour car ride to a gig at the legendary Pyramid Club in Manhattan. Oh, and it amused them greatly to see me shave through my make-up in the restroom of a gas station or drug store. On a stopover in Washington D.C. I got lost. There I was, a penniless drag queen, wind blowing the wig of my head because I didn’t use pins. There were no cell phones, remember? I finally found them and after we arrived at the Pyramid we started drinking, although we had to perform that same night. I was so bombed that I fell off the stage lip-synching to I will survive. I lost a shoe, lost my wig but barely made it back when Gloria Gaynor sings “go on now, go”. The audience cheered, I became a resident go-go dancer – and never once looked back.
The first promoter who hired you to DJ was, of all people, Michael Alig who later became infamous as the “Party Monster” – involved in an axe murder!
First of all, let me say that I truly miss Michael’s parties! They were beyond wild and brought together every element of the city: foreigners who tried to make it, uptown socialites and down town drag queens, Puerto Rican hip-hop boys and high school girls. Michael’s enthusiasm and his magical flair made it all happen. Sure, that magic turned out to be quite tragic in the end, let’s not forget that.
Will New York with all the dire realities of a recession regain some of that magic?
The bohemian funkiness is probably gone for good and I feel sorry for those who did not experience that adventurous era. But at 46 I might also not know which clubs are all the rage among 22-year-olds today. My hope is that the crisis drives lots of bankers and other boring people out of Manhattan. Also: enough with the insane $ 500 bottle service at night clubs, because all the fun, crazy, talented people can’t afford these ridiculous prices anyway.
In a song from Wigstock, the legendary drag festival you organized for over two decades, there is the line: “ I saw the drag queens spraying hairspray in the sky and it made all the yuppies die”. Are you sad Wigstock folded before the banks did?
Well, we didn’t found Wigstock as a yearly event till the end of time. Back in 1984, I just thought the immensely talented performers at the Pyramid Club, impersonating the Mona Lisa while every wigged man in the country was still doing Tina Turner, deserved a much bigger audience. Then Wigstock grew and grew. We finally attracted up to 50,000 people. Then we got rained out two years in a row – a ruinous affair. So we made 2001 our last and sunny Wigstock – and barely broke even.
Now politics are extremely important to you. Do you remember what you did on American presidential election night 2008 when the African-American Democrat Barack Obama was about to make history?
I watched the coverage until the first two states were announced and one went to Obama and one, which had more electoral votes, to McCain. Then I took several Xanax pills because I could not sit there watching our country going to the dogs once more &nda
sh; and hating my fellow Americans for it. When I awoke late that night I heard people cheering and celebrating everywhere and I smiled, rolled over and went back to sleep.
Did you become a Obama groupie?
Well, I definitely wanted him to fuck me. But my first choice from the Democratic candidates was (Ohio Congressman) Dennis Kucinich, because he was the first one to promote a prompt exit out of Iraq. He also said: “I support your (gay) marriage, so please support me!” Hillary Clinton did not publicly say that! Seriously, it infuriates me that the movement for gay rights in this country is practically dead and that most gays are the shallowest people in the country.
But you’re one yourself. How do you deal with that?
I write a blog and tell them they’re shallow. And I sneak in serious bits and pieces in between my comedy act. Whenever I appear at a Gay Pride event that is held on a Sunday, I say: “It’s great to come together once a year, but the people who want to take our rights away meet EVERY Sunday in a church house! Guess who is winning?”
After re-creating yourself, giving birth to Lady Bunny, building your own brand of entertainment, do you feel fulfilled?
No! I’ve probably not even done a quarter of what I’m capable of doing. But we all get derailed sometimes in our lives. Getting over romances, feelings of insecurity, dealing with alcohol abuse … Not all of these are my own obstacles, but common ones that slow us down. I love what I’m doing, though. That’s why I said a couple of weeks ago “Fuck recession” – and designed and ordered ten new gowns, some gorgeous new wigs and jewellery. Maybe during the next Paris fashion week they’ll marvel at my outfits and ask “Christian Lacroix, who?”
(written for & published in Qompendium Volume 1, 2009; www.qompendium.com)
Foto von Lady Bunny: Sergio Kardenas