After nearly 25 years of performing, drag icon Bianca Del Rio is finally ready for world domination. The “Ru Paul’s Drag Race” champion is currently in the midst of her massive “It’s Jester Joke” tour, which has already sold out huge venues all around the world. Now back in the States, the tour is hitting 40 different cities in what will go down as the biggest solo stand-up tour from a drag performer ever in North America.
When I speak with Bianca — otherwise known as Roy Haylock — over the phone, one thing is apparent: The long road to this moment has not been lost on the dynamic performer who was once named the No. 1 “Most Powerful Drag Queen in North America” by Vulture.
“It’s just surreal,” Del Rio says. “I’ve said to other people before, I think the great appreciation for any outlet or any audience is something I can’t say enough. I’ve worked being in drag now for 24 years. I’ve also been in bars where I would work a Monday night and there would be four people. So when you see anything over four, you’re always grateful! I try not to get into my head about it. I think because of social media and the fact that people ask the question, that it stirs up the emotion then. But I try to look at it objectively, look at it as it’s just another night and you’ve got to do what you know you do! And then, because I’m doing stand-up, I’m not playing a large venue with extra dancers and lighting and flips and kicks. Gratefully, I’m doing what I’ve always done, just on a larger scale. Which is wild to think about. I had no idea that this would be obtainable in my lifetime.”
While preparing for this tour, Del Rio also had another career milestone in the past year as a cast member in the British musical “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” in London’s West End. But while taking a break from her rigorous stand-up schedule, Del Rio made sure to remember which jokes were landing the hardest in different corners around the globe.
Bianca Del Rio. GETTY IMAGES
“I made sure that before I went into the musical that I had documented every joke, every nuance, and every laugh that I knew I had gotten in Asia and Australia. Because I always say, ‘Oh, I’ll remember this,’ and I usually won’t,” Del Rio explained. After all, in musical theater, there is a script and directions to follow. Stand-up, on the other hand, is a swan dive into the unknown.
“The trick with it, which I’ve found for me particularly with the way I work, is that you just need to have it in your head,” she says of returning to the road. “There’s no particular order and there’s no rhyme or reason. Because each night the audience will take you on that journey and you just have to have it in your head. It’s a little different than when you’re doing a musical, where literally there’s a cue every night. Everything is exactly the same. Whereas for me, with my solo show, it’s kind of flying without a net. Which is the exact opposite of legitimate theater [laughs].”
That thrill of building a show all by herself with just her onstage — performer, director and even costume designer — is something that acting in a big production put into perspective for Del Rio.
“I never realized the freedom I had until you are doing something else where you don’t have freedom,” she says. “What I loved about doing the musical was that it wasn’t all my responsibility. It wasn’t my material. I wasn’t the star. It was a really nice break to do eight shows a week and to be a co-star and to be committed to the material you were given. It was good material, but it was something that I was not used to…It was a great thing to have happen at 44 years old. You kind of go, ‘Whoa, this is how the other world lives!’ And how lucky to have that experience because you start to realize, ‘Okay this is fun [laughs].’ But in theory, it’s completely different than how I get to do my own show. It gives you a greater appreciation for it. I am pretty lucky there’s freedom. But then, some people are very scared of going onstage and rambling for an hour and a half, where I love it.”
Head here for tour dates to see Bianca Del Rio.