This queen made Mondays WORK in Brooklyn, with a long-running popular show “Mondays on Mondays” at This-N-That (TnT). With co-hosts Thorgy and Ragamuffin, MoM was an absolute favorite until the venue’s sad and shocking closure this past week. That’s okay though, because this versatile hostess has gigs all over the city, including the Duplex’s longest-running drag show and a new HK party en route. And “Mondays” might be returning soon! All hail the outspoken, unfiltered and always entertaining Ruby Roo!
Thotyssey: Hi Ruby! So, a week has passed, and so has your first non-working Monday in quite awhile, now that TnT in Bushwick has officially closed. How did that chill Monday feel?
Ruby Roo: It was a weird feeling. We’ve been doing the show for nearly three years, so the whole day I felt like I was forgetting something since I didn’t have to plan out numbers and looks and stuff like that. But we did have a party in honor of Mondays, and a majority of our die-hard regulars were in attendance. So we still made it a great night.
Glad to hear that! But still it’s sad news that TnT closed after four years of being such a vital part of Brooklyn nightlife. Were you aware that this was a possibility, or did the sale of the property just blindside everyone?
I mean, there were rumors that it might be happening, but there are always rumors like that. We really were given only five days notice.
Damn, that sucks. Your show Mondays on Mondays there, which you co-hosted with Thorgy and then Ragamuffin, was kind of like a weekday institution there in Bushwick. It was a lot more like a “traditional” drag show than lots of the other Brooklyn shows, but it was very loose and welcoming. Did you and Thorgy have an idea what the show was gonna be like when you first joined forces?
We knew we wanted to do something that had a higher production value than the other shows that were happening in Brooklyn at the time. We wanted the show to feel more like a variety show, with games and interactive segments, improv and comedy sketches, and lots of costume changes and props.
You developed quite the following over the years,which isn’t easy to do on Monday night. Was the show dynamic very different between when you were doing it with Thorgy versus when you did it with Raga?
Well, Raga was a part of the show from day one. She showed up to the first show–her first time in drag–and then every week after that. Soon after, we incorporated her into the show. So when Thorgy left, it was a pretty seamless transition. The differences were less in the format of the show and more in the content, since Thorgy and Raga are very different types of performers.
Do you think your regular audiences on Mondays were different from the “average” TnT audience? Meaning, they had different tastes and expectations?
I think they were just prepared to see something “different.” Monday isn’t a hugely popular night in nightlife, so we were able to really work on making something new, something that felt more like theater. And that meant moving away from generic Top 40 numbers, which we were able to do because the crowd was there to see us, not Britney Spears.
So, how did you meet Thorgy?
You mentioned the Brooklyn scene was different when you started your show there with her. How?
Like i said, the show was just the first of it’s kind. Like, it feels more like an episode of SNL or something. It feels like a variety show, not just a typical drag show. And Monday nights were DEAD in Brooklyn. And lots of bars tried to start Monday parties to compete with ours, and they didn’t really survive.
How was the big TnT send-off that you helped organize this past Thursday?
It was pretty amazing. I think we ended up having about 30 girls come through to perform throughout the night. Wild! Shows basically from 10:30 right up until last call.
Was everyone a wreck?
Thursday, no one was really a mess. i think we were all there to truly and joyously (Okay, that word might be a liiitttle dramatic, but hey, it’s drag) celebrate all the friendships that had been made there, and the stage that was really a home for a lot of girls.
Sounds like a good note to end things there. I hope all the displaced shows find homes again soon.
You happen to be on a very short list of queens who can kind of move seamlessly between performing in venues in Brooklyn, the West Village and even Hell’s Kitchen. Where do you think that versatility comes from–and why aren’t more nightlife performers able to do that?
There’s a few things, I think. Firstly, I’ve never worked exclusively in just one borough. From the first days of Ruby Roo, I was regularly performing at Vlada in HK, and then would end up at Sugarland in Brooklyn after. So the divide was never a thing I subscribed to, really.
I’m also pretty good on the mic, so when I’m moving from one bar to another–even if I’m crossing a bridge–I can win the audience over through emceeing.
And in that sense, knowing your audience is a big part of it, too.
The distinction between Brooklyn and Manhattan drag is generally that Brooklyn drag is more “performance art,” which often means it’s not quite as put-together or cohesive as drag that is maybe… of lower “intellectual” caliber. Or put frankly, Manhattan audiences don’t wanna see you ripping out of a trash bag and covering yourself in blood; they wanna see four girls who all know the “Single Ladies” choreography.
So with that mindset, I really try to tailor my shows to the people that will be there, and that allows me to be successful.
It’s funny, I was just watching some Our Lady of Saliva videos, where pretty much all the queens were jumping out of trash bags covered in blood, and all the queens and fans in the audience were losing their shit. It wasn’t quite performance art then though, it was just cray for the sake of having fun… I mean, Coco De’Ball set herself on fire! And Saliva was the Ritz, which–let’s face it–is now pretty much the most “Hell’s Kitchenest” bar today.
Saliva was a Brooklyn show in an HK bar, and it thrived because not only was it hosted by two amazing queens, but because it was focused on highlighting a variety of drag art. But [the hosts] Thorgy and Azraea were Brooklyn queens. They were working at Sugarland in its prime, and they brought that manic energy to the Ritz stage.
Do you think the rift between “scenes” got much wider in the boroughs since Saliva?
I think the rift has actually gotten smaller over the past few years, and I don’t sense the divide as much. Dusty and Tammy had a show at TnT for awhile. Girls from all over the city performed in Bushwig. A lot of girls are trying to cross over more often, and I think that’s really how it should be. But the most successful ones are girls who can show versatility.
It’s a shame though that Manhattan never really embraced a performance art aesthetic after Saliva ended, don’t you think?
I don’t really think its “a shame.” Different communities promote different aesthetics. It’s the same for anything. It would be a shame if a specific genre of drag vanished from the scene, but that didn’t happen. You just have to go to a different neighborhood to see it.
And New York City is founded on the intricacies and nuances of each specific neighborhood, and the people that live and work there. So I don’t think its necessarily a bad thing.
So, where’s your hometown?
I’m originally from McMinnville, Oregon, which is about 45 minutes outside of Portland.
Did you grow up in a very outdoorsy granola liberal environment, or is that a regional stereotype?
Those people exist, but my family was the church-two-times-a-week, keep-family-matters-behind-closed-doors, never-talk-about-money-in-public type family.
Oh wow… so I’m guessing you had a hard time in that family dynamic?
Well, it really informed my drag persona, I’ll say that. That’s why Ruby is such a WASPy white rich bitch. But no, growing up there was fine. I wasn’t out in high school, I was very active in extracurriculars, and I was one of the more popular kids, so I didn’t get bullied or anything. Every family has their issues, mine included, but nothing overly upsetting.
That’s good to hear. Was the drive to be a performer always there–and did you have an idea about what sort of entertainer you wanted to be?
Oh yeah, by the time I was 18 I’d been in over 30 plays or musicals. I actually wanted to go to school for theater, but then I changed my mind in favor of academics. So drag is really how I was able to perform in the city to fill that theatrical void.
Did you have any huge favorites growing up: divas, shows, numbers, etc?
42nd Street was and is one of my favorite musicals, and I saw it on my first trip to the city in the 6th grade. Like any fag I loved Wicked. I am also obsessed with 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. I loved theater divas like Barbra Streisand, Bernadette Peters, and Patti Lupone.
What ultimately got you to New York?
I moved here to go to NYU right out of high school.
What was your major?
i double majored in journalism and religious studies. But i never finished, for multiple reasons: drag being one of them.
I read an interview with you from 2011, when you were just finishing your first year of full drag. You talked about how you started as this androgynous club kid with signature giant bows in your hair. What was inspiring you to go out in those looks, and where was that aesthetic coming from?
I loved the movie Party Monster (as dark as that may sound) and was really fascinated by the club kid scene, even in its more dulled-down manifestation at the time I was going out (as compared to the late 80’s-early 90’s). So seeing all these nightlife creatures in real life made me was to infiltrate their ranks and join them.
I’m actually reading Party Monster the book right now!
I have an original copy of Party Monster when it was initially released as Disco Bloodbath.
OMG I’m jealous!
Yep. They put me in drag for the first time, and then let me guest perform at their shows pretty frequently in the early days before I had my own gigs.
How did you come up with your name? Did Ruby Foo’s have anything to do with it?
No, it didn’t. I actually didn’t even think about Ruby Foo’s till long after: the same with the MAC lipstick Ruby Woo. “Roo” is a reference to my favorite author, and “Ruby” is name that fit with my red hair and vintage aesthetic. Plus it sounds fun!
Did you have an idea right from the get-go what you wanted Ruby to be like? I know you mentioned earlier about basing her on WASPy ladies, but was that always the case?
Yes, it was!
Do you think she’s changed very much over the years?
The aesthetic has changed, definitely, and became much more broad. But ultimately, the “character” is just another part of me, so she hasn’t changed much. I think my humor and emceeing skills have evolved and become more fine-tuned, but the foundation is the same.
I didn’t really go to Vlada unfortunately, but I hear so many mixed things about the venue from folks who worked there and hung there. How did you enjoy your experience of having your show there?
Oh, that was a long time ago. I used to go to Vlada so much, and it was my first show, so i’m grateful for that. But it was a silly bar that never functioned quite like it should have. But that’s so far in the past, no need to trash talk a bar that has been closed for years [laughs]!
Do you think venue owners are more, or less, respectful of nightlife entertainment now then when you started?
That is a tricky question to answer. There are a lot of politics in nightlife, and the relationships between nightlife entertainment and bar managers/owners is always a precarious one.
I have worked for people who are more financially motivated (as most business owners are of course) and I have worked for others that truly just understand my passion for drag and want to give me a platform for my art. The best bars are the ones that see that you are making them money, and then reward you for helping their business.
So, obviously RuPaul’s Drag Race has spawned a boom generation of queens. Are there too many now? And is it weird that there are so many, when the nightlife in this city is kind of in an uphill battle right now?
I’m not sure if I would say that there are “too” many, but there are sure a hell of a lot. And that’s just fine. I don’t feel particularly threatened by the newer girls. I even give them platforms to perform at my shows at the Duplex. At TnT on Mondays, our third set was open to anyone who wanted to perform.
I was given a stage by Misty and Mocha, Thorgy and Azraea, and many other queens when I was first starting out, and that allowed me to get to where I am today. I’m a huge supporter of the idea that if you work hard, it will eventually pay off. So I welcome any girl to work as hard as I have, and start coming for my gigs. That keeps me on my toes.
I talked to Emi Grate and Blake Deadly, and they both say that you and your Duplex show co-host Elizabeth James were extremely helpful and supportive of their earliest nights out. What’s the best piece of advice you can give any brand new queen that they might otherwise learn the hard way?
As simple as it is, I always tell girls: BE. ON. TIME. It’s the best way to make a first impression, that says that you are taking this seriously and that you’re professional. if you’re trying to be a career girl you have to take it as seriously as a regular job.
How did you meet Elizabeth James?
We met at Vlada, actually: one of the first times she performed in the city right when she moved here.
You two have the longest running drag show at the Duplex: Two for the Show on Sunday.
Yep, three years last month.
Describe what you think the formula for the success of that show is.
We just have fun. It’s very interactive: we allow the audience to chose songs for us (for a price!), and then we do very comical performances. We tell a lot of stories, we make a lot of jokes.
The chemistry that Elizabeth and I have is really what has allowed that show to survive.
I was curious about your social media presence. You promote your shoes and will occasionally post a cute thing, but you don’t seem to get too involved in a lot of the drama. Do you intentionally keep your social media presence to the required minimum? And do you think it’s foolish when queens get involved in that, or is that maybe part of the job now?
Oh, I think I get involved from time to time. I’m too busy working to care much about other people’s drama. But I live for some shade, and love knowing the gossip.
But who doesn’t?
I must relish the opportunity to get your side of the story: did your life flash before your eyes when Alotta McGriddles threw the chair at you?
She didn’t throw it. she just held it over her head like a wild beast. If she did threw it, she would be in jail. That was also years ago.
Yes, I love cooking! And I think I’ve just found a space to start filming my Ruby Foods cooking show! But that’s all in the works!
You also work at popular drag restaurant Lips, which just celebrated it’s 20th anniversary. What are your nights there?
Sundays I work Super Star Sundays where I do a Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus impersonation. Starting a Ke$ha impersonation very soon.
I also work Karaoke Tuesdays, which is a hoot.
I take it it’s a great experience being there?
I like working there a lot. I’m pretty close with a few of the girls that work there. It’s definitely different than working in bars, but it’s fun!
Was Thorgy very sad when she found out about TnT’s closing?
I haven’t really talked to her much about it. Last week was a whirlwind for me, with TnT closing and trying to get the final shows together. Also, she’s in Europe right now. But we were very disappointed, because we were going to be together with Ragamuffin on Halloween at TnT.
I know! That would’ve been amazing. So, here’s the required “Thorgy on Drag Race” question: what did you think of her overall portrayal on the show?
I really thought that she would go further in the competition. She’s wildly talented (obviously). I think she may have been edited to look more bitter than she actually was. Thorgy is the first to admit that she is a complainer, so while I’m sure she was complaining enough, it was also mixed with a lot of humor that wasn’t included in the episodes.
I agree, I have to say though, I don’t know her well, but that moment where she’s working on some team project and the other bitches are distracting her by asking about her shawl, that was pretty spot on!
Thorgy is always thinking about 14,000 things at once.
How was DragCon?
It was quite an adventure! It was very fun to meet some girls in real life that I’m friends with on facebook but never knew personally. Like Trannika Rex and Evah Destruction. It was also fun to be recognized by Thorgy’s fans while they were waiting in line. Some of the kids asked if I could be in the photo they were taking with Thorgy which was a GAG.
Awesome! Any Drag Race audition plans for you in the future?
I auditioned for Season 9, but no luck. So we’ll try again and see what happens.
She has! I guess we can’t really hate on her for clipping the competition (not that Tati had a chance, but she’s probably the breakout star of the season!) And what did you think of the Phi Phi fallout? Is she right to be upset as she is/was?
It’s not something I’m trying to be too vocal about. My opinion doesn’t matter: Phi Phi works in the city, but we don’t know each other. I wouldn’t wanna burn a bridge before I’ve built one.
But I will say, she got a really bad edit the first time, and really went through it after her season aired. And the exact same thing is happening again. So, I don’t see how she’s in such shock. It could have easily been avoided by saying no to that offer.
You were nominated for a GO Magazine Award as Best Drag Queen recently, congratulations! That’s mostly a lesbian-centric publication Did the nomination surprise you?
i was very surprised! I hadn’t known that I was such a hit in the lesbian community. But I guess I did know quite of few of the women who were nominated. working in the West Village at Duplex, and stopping in to Stonewall a lot. I do brush elbows with the lesbians [laughs]! It was definitely a shock, but i’m really honored.
And did you get to do something for Bushwig this summer?
Yeah I did! I wasn’t able to do Bushwig last year because I had some other event happening. But I got a great time slot on Saturday, and did a little Dixie Chicks moment complete with dress and wig reveal!
So, I understand that you and Liz have a new opportunity on the horizon: Slay!
Awesome! Anything else on the horizon?
Well, I will hint and say that we have a potential space to move Mondays on Mondays to, so keep your ears open because its going to be major!
God willing! So, last question: what’s the best thing about drag for you… and what is the worst?
The best thing is getting to decide what kind of girl I want to be on each day. I am really a collector of clothes, and getting to put together outfits and decide on looks that can be so jarringly different from one night to the next is really fun, and keeps it entertaining.
The worst part? I guess it would be how time-consuming it all is. from prep time to long hours, and staying late at bars: it really takes a toll on you. But you just have to find time for yourself. but I often wish i had more time for my friends outside of while I’m in drag.
I hope you get that time soon… but in the meantime, enjoy the gigs, girl!
Ruby Roo works and performs at Lips restaurant on Sundays and Tuesdays. She and Elizabeth James co-host “Two for the Show” at the Duplex on late Sunday nights (midnight), and will soon also co-host the “SLAY” party at Hardware, starting October 15th (10pm). She’ll host the viewing party of the “RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars” finale at Easternbloc on Thursday, October 13th (8pm). Ruby can be followed on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter & YouTube.