One thing that everyone who knows this drag queen will tell you is that she is Professional. She werks and she WORKS, and she doesn’t suffer your shit, but she’s always there to help a sister out. She has a great time performing, and we all have a great time watching her. She can laugh at herself, she WILL be laughing at you, and we all will be laughing with her either way. Cuz she’s Bootsie LeFaris, bitch, and Thotyssey’s got the T!
Thotyssey: Bootsie, I appreciate any second of time you can give to this, because you are possibly the busiest drag queen in NYC right now! I count seven weekly shows, but you always seem to squeeze in an extra gig or two every week. Are you really doing this all yourself, or are there, like, three or four Bootsies out there?
Bootsie LeFaris: As far as I know there’s only one Bootsie. Well, besides someone’s grandma or auntie, there’s just me. I do work a lot, and that’s only because I love the challenge, as well as the ability to share my stories and artistry with those around me!
How much of your downtime is dedicated to non-drag activities?
Minus the hours I’m sleeping and not scrolling through Seamless, I’d say probably about from Sunday night to Wednesday afternoon. That’s only if I don’t have an extra gig in between. I do enjoy hanging out with my friends in the park, going to wine tastings, attending the theatre and trying to be a normal celebrity!
A Bootsie street sighting is always very exciting!
Why, think you so much!
So, are you from South Carolina?
Yes originally from a small country town called Chapin, South Carolina. Your typical “everybody knows everybody, everybody calls you Fag!” That’s a country song with a few extra lyrics!
You experienced a lot of homophobic bullying growing up?
Absolutely, I was constantly bullied from fifth grade throughout my sophomore year in high school. Always called “faggot,” my backpack was stolen several times… just constant, constant abuse, verbally and physically. I was a theater kid, so I was constantly the odd man out, the weirdo, the flamboyant one, and it really took a toll on my self-esteem.
But thankfully, the clouds parted and I was accepted to the South Carolina Governor School for the Arts and Humanities, and I got to move away from the abuse, and I got to study theater on a residential campus my junior and senior year of high school.
I’ve always thought that you were very thick-skinned. I guess that’s a skill you learn when you’re growing up in that kind of a situation?
Absolutely. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? For a little while. maybe I was an angry person. However, I chose to turn on to positive energy and love my natural self. If at times I do seem harsh and thick-skinned, it definitely stems back to those hard times. It’s just important not to dwell on the past, and keep moving forward and grow from the times you thought you could not.
I don’t think you come off as harsh, I just think that everything kinda rolls off you, and you also have a good humor about yourself. Like, you love posting pics where you’re making goofy faces, and you even make memes of them sometimes, i.e. when you and others were putting that one pic of yourself on Kari Kerning’s E.T. and other creatures a few months ago. And you seem genuinely amused whenever anyone makes “horse” jokes or big nose jokes at your expense.
[Laughs] What can I say? I love to laugh, I love to be a goofball! I think laughter can heal! You have to find the funny things in life, there are too many bad things going on to not stop and giggle at the things that are funny.
Sometimes I see other drag queens and artists that are so afraid to mess up, and always have to be perfect. However, I think that if you can make me laugh… you are perfect.
You also love to post (and repost!) early beat pics of you and your drag sisters when your beats weren’t totally refined yet. Your girl Holly Dae probably hates it when you do that! But I guess it’s kind of a testimony to how far you all have come, right?
Oh, I think it’s hilarious. You should never, ever forget where you came from. Growth is so key to life. I sound like a scientist. Science rules!
Whenever you’re having a bad day: to feel real bad about yourself, go back and look at a picture from you five years ago…it could always be worse!
You’re basically the premiere Celine Dion drag impersonator of NYC. Did Celine always play a major role in your life?
That is very flattering, I appreciate it. You know, it just kind of fell into place. Honestly, I’ve always loved her music. And I’ve always had a connection to her lyrics and her ability to tell a story, as well as her ability to genuinely become one with the audience. It’s not enough to just stand on stage and have a pretty voice. It’s when you can affect someone through music and performance that makes you a true artist. That’s what I believe my good girlfriend, Celine Dion, is, and certainly what I try to be! It’s truly magical.
Poor Celine has been through it lately.
Poor Celine! She certainly has!
She’s going to have a free concert for the Today show next month. Will you be there?
I really am thinking about it! I’ll have to stay in drag and go get in line after the gig! I’ve never seen her live, so it would be a great opportunity. If anyone has an oxygen tank I could borrow, it would be much appreciated, cause bitch will be on the ground I’m sure! Hashtag overwhelmed, it will go down.
You also have your banjee side, with a lot of dirty hip-hop and country in your repertoire. Were you always into these genres as well?
Hunny, there’s a reason they call it the dirty south. I love so many genres of music! R&B / hip-hop has always been one of my favorites. I grew up listening to it. My crew and I were definitely in the club, poppin’ and twerkin’ before “twerkin” was a thing. We were, and still are, the baddest bitches!
So, when did you become Bootsie?
Believe it or not, I’ve actually been Bootsie since the age of 17. I’m 28 years old now. My first gig was in Columbia, South Carolina, so I have been getting paid to do drag for a little over 11 years.
After high school, I went to college at Otterbein outside of Columbus, Ohio, where I continued to do drag with Nina West, Virginia West, Deeranged, and a gaggle of the most talented and kind drag queens I’ve ever worked with.
Wow, so many queens are either from Columbus, or have wound up there with Nina West. It must be quite a scene!
I had so much fun there, and grew so much as a person and as a drag queen. Let’s just say, Bootsie’s look has come a loooooooooong way!
Did you move to New York specifically to pursue drag gigs?
I’ve always done drag, and I always did musical theater–that’s what I get my degree in–so I moved to New York in 2010 to do musical theater and not wait tables.
I did a couple of boy gigs: Disney Cruise line, Hello Dolly and Legally Blonde, regionally. but I was also doing Bootsie. About two years into my “residency” in New York, I looked around and said “shit, I’m doing drag and musical theater both 50%. I must do 100%.” I chose drag and I was booked, booked, booked. Thank God she can pay her rent. Not necessarily on time, but she can pay it, By George!
You did the Disney cruises with Holly & Sutton Lee Seymour, right? I’ve heard tales.
Yes, I was on contract with Holly, and worked a bit with Sutton. We played the three old hags from Hercules!
What’s the origin of Bootsie’s name?
As a young lass, I would always wear boots with my jeans tucked into them. Needless to say, I looked really gay! The local drag bar PT’s 1109 was doing an American Drag Idol amateur contest, and I decided that I would like to participate. So, all my friends named me Bootsie–because that was my nickname–because I was really really gay. I was a hit and won the contest, and the rest is history.
I’m sure that bar is a national landmark by now! You have a tight group of drag sisters, and I’m guessing you all more-or-less came up in the biz around the same time: Holly, Pixie Aventura, Brenda Dharling, Tina Burner, Logan Hardcore, Bianca Del Rio, Bob the Drag Queen, and the former Ms. Dallas Dubois. Drag queens sometimes get a bad rep for being catty and backstabby, but in reality the opposite is usually true, right? It’s like a big sisterhood.
Here’s the thing: I try to like everyone! I don’t set out to hate anyone, I don’t set out to try to tear someone down because of the way they look, or if their drag is not my preference, belittle them. Every step of the way, someone has helped me and encouraged me, and has in turn made me who I am today. I am so grateful for that.
All of those names you just mentioned have helped me in some way, as well as my drag sisters in Columbus, Ohio, and my drag family, including my drag mother Paris Lefaris, in Columbia, South Carolina.
If you give me a reason to dislike you, that’s your fault, and then I will act accordingly. The times I’ve been a “mean girl,” it’s because someone gave me a reason to. Other than that, you do what you do, I do what I do, and I’ll meet you at the gig!
I was gonna ask you about a drag mother. Is Paris still active?
Yas Mawma! She’s still working and tearin’ up the south!
So, how far along was RuPaul’s Drag Race when you were first coming up in drag–I’m supposing you started a little before it began–and how much of it was an influence on your looks and your early career?
I did start a bit before it began. I honestly didn’t even watch the first couple of seasons. I appreciate the show because it shows the world who we are, and we are not going anywhere. That’s all I’ll say about that!
Got it! Well, I’ll have ask you just a little bit more about Drag Race in a bit, but for now… what was your first gig in NYC?
I actually went out to every and any amateur competition, including Star Search, when Mimi was hosting! I went to every drag show in midtown, and introduced myself to anyone and everyone. Dallas and Bianca both let me do a number here and there, and I started booking little cameos here and there. I was fearless. I didn’t even let Bianca scare me! I walked right up to her and said “Whuts up, I’m Bootsie!” Shequida gave me a chance as well! I’m very grateful.
And what was your first big pageant win?
I’ve never been much of the pageant kind of gal. However, I did Miss’d America [in 2012] and I placed top three, [then placed top five in 2013] and won Miss Hell’s Kitchen [in 2013]. I applaud the pageant girls! That’s a whole different ballgame! Kudos!
You’re hosting this year’s Miss Hell’s Kitchen pageant, right?
Yes, I will! I’ll be hosting with Mr. Jarvis Derrell!
I saw your win for Fire Island Entertainer of the Year, also in 2013. The performance you did was a very beautiful and graceful dance number with James Wells, very stripped down.
Thank you! That is one of my favorite numbers I’ve done! It’s always a pleasure working with my BFF, James!
Is it hard to express that side of you in the world of bar queens, where you’re expected to be high-energy and funny all the time?
It is difficult, only because I’m naturally drawn those kind of visceral, meaty numbers. I often find myself choosing those kind of numbers for a show like Queen at Industry, where the majority the time all they want to see is a kick-kick-turn, high-energy dance number. However, for my sanity and my artistry, I have to do something different, something out of the box, and something real, as opposed to “typical drag.” Give me a microphone and a piano…I’m set! Give me a black box theater to tell a fully-realized story that affects people on a different level than in a bar–I’m happy!
PS: all these things will happen!
So, as far as your weekly gigs go, I wanna start with Queen at Industry on late Thursday nights, which is the biggest and most successful weekly drag revue in NYC. Holly is the current showrunner, and the other regulars include yourself, Pixie, Brenda, Monet X Change, Skyla Versai (when she’s in town) and Terra Hyman. How long have you been a part of Queen now?
I actually have been a part of Queen since Shequida hosted. However I didn’t perform then, I was a mere stagehand: opening and closing the curtains, stage managing, doing the lights, that sort of thing.
And now you’re a star! How often do you gals rehearse for the show these days?
We rehearse at Industry the day of the show, from 1 PM to 4 PM. We come and bang out choreography, and light all the numbers.
How do you think Holly Dae is different from the other queens who have directed the show in the past?
She definitely is a team player. She really does care about the show, and I think that’s apparent by the product that we put out every Thursday.
Do you have a favorite theme from Queen?
I really love doing the Graffiti show. It’s fun, and very, let’s say, urban, which I love. Everything on stage glows in the dark, which is real trippy! It’s more of a concept show, which I enjoy!
In addition to Queen: you, Holly, Pixie and Brenda also comprise the Distorted troupe (founded by ex-Queen showrunner Dallas DuBois), which has been doing themed shows on most Fridays at the large Laurie Beechman Theatre for a few years now. That’s a very different crowd than your usual bar audience. I had the pleasure of seeing you guys once, and it was a large, very mixed group of gay/straight/male/female, and everyone was going absolutely apeshit with every joke and every cooter slam. Does it sometimes feel more rewarding to perform in a venue like that, and get a reaction like that?
Absolutely. We’re in a theater, people pay to sit down and watch us perform. They don’t come to get drunk, they come to see a fully-realized show. It’s definitely rewarding, and we’re obviously doing something right, because we are in our fourth year!
You ended Distorted Diznee (where you and the other queens parody Disney movies) this past week for the season, and this Friday you debut Distorted Pride, which will play through June. What can we expect from this run?
We are giving you all your favorite divas, gay movie and TV moments; basically anything gay. That’s why we name the show:” THAT’S SO GAY!”
Sounds great! Now I wanna talk about the Voss Events drag brunches. First of all, did you ever think drag brunch in general was ever gonna become so hugely successful?
I honestly didn’t. To me, drag brunch kind of became successful overnight. Suddenly everyone wanted more drag queens…while they’re eating breakfast. The real alcoholics come out there at drag brunch. It’s quite a different crowd! I love me some day drinkers!
So, the Sunday Drag Brunch at Señor Frogs in Times Square has become a huge deal. The cast right now includes you, Sugga Pi Koko, Jada Valenciaga, Ebonee Excell, Aquaria and Shequida. Shequida is now hosting until Epiphany gets back from suntanning.
That’s another huge, mixed crowd, tourists and locals from all walks of life. That can get wild, as I’ve seen. Do audiences really lose their shit at Frogs more than elsewhere?
I would say people there are more wild, just because that’s what you do at Senor Frogs! It’s reputation speaks for itself.
Yes, Brandon Voss has definitely found a way to get an audience to brunch!
How has it been, overall, performing with them? Are they easy to work with?
So far, all of the girls have been very nice. Some are more quiet than others, but for the most part I really enjoyed meeting all of them. Chi Chi was a blast! Naomi was very sweet! I love me some Detox, so we had a little Kiki!
Derrick was actually very nice to me. She didn’t seem like a diva at all. A little quiet, but friendly. I guess Derrick and Tiffany know each other, so she was in the audience watching the show and we got her up onstage! Overall, it was really fun, and that girl has some big old titties!
What do you think of Trinity K. Bonet’s comments about bar queens owing their careers to Drag Race queens? Phi Phi O’Hara certainly gave some harsh words back to Trinity, but I interviewed Vivacious recently, and she kind of agreed with Trinity.
I absolutely 100% totally disagree with [Trinity’s] statement. I have been doing shows before Drag Race started. I know hundreds of queens that had careers before Drag Race started. Drag Race definitely elevated it. However, we do not owe any of our careers to a show when we already had careers to start with.
This also goes back to the age-old question: what defines a career? I work all over Manhattan. I’ve had the opportunity to travel, I have performed on cruise ships, I perform in Fire Island. I have been featured on TV shows and movies. I’m able to pay my rent. I’m able to be artistic. I’m able to go shopping and spend money, I’m able to splurge… is that a career? If so…Drag Race got me none of those gigs. I did.
And now back these brunches! On Saturdays this summer, Voss Events has another drag brunch at the Blue Whale at the Fire Island Pines, which includes most of you Frogs girls. You have two Friday gigs the night before. I assume you probably sleep for about a half an hour before you’re on that ferry Saturday morning?
Yes. I actually have two gigs! I have Distorted Pride and then I host at Hardware bar till 2 AM. I run home, wash off my mascara, pack up, sleep as much as I can and take the 7:45 AM train to Fire Island.
Oh my gawd, that’s cray. But I guess when you’re done with the brunch you can just chill and watch the shows at the Island, right? or do you just rush home and sleep for a little bit?
No ma’am Pam! I come right back to the city to do my show at Pieces at 10pm! Is trying to win the lottery easier!?
You’re usually off Mondays and Tuesdays, but I know you do a lot of guest appearances and private parties during those days too. Is it generally fun to perform at private gigs, like weddings or corporate events, or is it a mixed bag?
I love performing for private events! They pay really well, they feed you, it’s free liquor. And they paid you to be there, so they want to have a good time, they want to enjoy you!
Wednesday nights is a solo show, BRL at Posh, where you’re open to a lot of audience requests. Can you always make a lip sync work even if you don’t know the words, or if somebody asks you to do some crazy shit you never heard of do you just pretend you don’t hear him?
Girl, I try to make it work as much as possible. I also try to do every number they request! It’s fun, it’s a learning experience. I’ll be like, “Oh, that song actually works,” and I add it to my show! I enjoy the unknown because it lends to improv and making things up as you go! #knowyourlyricbye
In general, how do respond to rude audience members who are disrupting your show to have their moment? Is it kind of fair game to do or say whatever to put them in their place and get things moving?
Well, I certainly do! I just don’t tolerate rudeness and ignorance! When I perform, I’m doing a job! I had a heckler a couple weeks ago that insisted that I was racist and I hated Mexicans, even though my grandfather was full-blooded Mexican. If you can’t take a joke, then you can leave the bar. If you are mean and violent, you can leave the show. Or at least wait till I leave, because bitch ain’t got time nor patience.
Thursday nights, right before you have to head up to Industry, is Boots Scootin’ Bootsie at Boots & Saddle. That’s your two hour solo show which runs 8pm to 10pm. Two straight hours is a long time to perform in drag; do you have the pacing down to a science now?
A science is right! I break my show up into sections. I’ll do Broadway, country, divas, and then usually end with a hip-hop/R&B/ghetto section! It’s a fun night.
It must be so much more pleasant to perform in the larger, newer Boots venue (a year old now) then it was in the old Christopher Street venue, which was intimate to say the least, right?
New space is wonderful! It’s definitely more theatrical! If you don’t like the show, you can go hide in the bathroom, whereas the other location I watched you go to the bathroom, and heard you using the bathroom!
Friday nights, between Distorted earlier that evening and the Fire Island Brunch Saturday morning, is Pop Fridays at Hardware! What goes down there?
It’s with my good girlfriend, DJ Michael Borowski! I host, which entails meeting and greeting everyone, creating a fun and exciting atmosphere. Oh, and drinking a lot!
I feel like your Sinful Saturday at Pieces is your Big Show. You have a new guest performer every week, and there’s always a big turnout. It also seems to be a favorite show of a lot of drag queens; there are always several in the audience when I’m there. What do you think it is about this show that’s so special?
I love doing that show! I started there around three years ago, hosting karaoke twice a month and doing a show here in there, and I begged the owners to give me my own show, and they agreed! So here I am now, two and a half years later, with a different guest each week, putting on shows on shows on shows, and the bar is packed.
I think it’s my favorite Bootsie night. You used to bartend in drag at Pieces. It always seemed like the hardest/worst thing to do in drag, but I’ve spoken to some queens who enjoy it. Do you miss that at all?
I did bartend there, and I got the job with no experience [laughs]! I was really, really nervous at first, because the only thing I knew how to make was a Bud Light bottle! I did learn, and enjoyed it. However, the timing wan’t right, so I just started drinking the cocktails instead of making them. I don’t miss it, per se. However, if the opportunity arises I wouldn’t turn it down.
Any more gigs coming up?
I’ll be starting my new show on Monday nights at Port Authority. Cocktails are served in the third stall from the right!
There’s a lot of competition for that gig, congrats! You’re very social media savvy, and you do Facebook Live a lot when you’re getting ready for a gig. Do you ever worry about giving away your makeup secrets in this kind a forum?
Oh girl, I’m not trying to hide anything! The worst case scenario for me is I help somebody else! I do it because it’s a way to connect with people. It keeps me entertained, and just another way to promote my brand. It’s funny, too, because people actually enjoy it!
It is kinda mesmerizing. So what do you think, are there too many drag queens now? Is there room for everybody?
You know… [laughs] everyone is a drag queen these days. All I got to say is…if you’re going to do it, just do it well.
Would you be happy to be a drag queen forever?
I don’t know what the future holds, but what I do know is: I love to be on stage, I love to connect with people, and I thrive off of art. If that is what drag is, I will certainly be doing it forever. Cheers to that.
And finally… if you saw Celine Dion in a Starbucks tomorrow, what exactly would you do?
Pass out, cry, throw up, poop my pants, and order an iced grande Hazelnut coffee with a shot of espresso, please leave room for milk.
Thank you so much Bootsie! Enjoy your gigs!
Bootsie LeFaris’ weekly gigs: Sunday drag brunch at Senor Frogs (first seating 12pm), Wednesday night at Posh (9:30), Thursday night at Boots & Saddle (8pm) and later with Queen at Industry on select nights (11pm), Friday night for Distorted Diznee at the Laurie Beechman Theatre (10pm, Distorted Pride debuting June 10th) and later at Hardware (midnight), and Saturday for drag brunch at the Blue Whale on the Fire Island Pines (12pm) and later at Pieces (10pm). She will co-host the Miss Hell’s Kitchen 2016 pageant on July 17th at the Manhattan Movement Arts Center. Bootsie can be followed on Facebook and Instagram.