When New York nightlife star Bob the Drag Queen (née Kitten Withawhip… that name change was controversial at the time!) didn’t show up for her Boots & Saddle Drag Lounge gig one 2016 weeknight, word spread like wildfire that she was cast on the eighth season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Even though everybody in the scene was immediately abuzz with excitement about the prospect of seeing one of the city’s most recognizable and effortlessly hilarious queens on TV (Thotyssey was born from that excitement), the one thing that we all universally understood was that she would clearly be the winner. And we were right! But not content like other past winners with just a regular presence in that franchise, Bob–now based in L.A.–would cement herself as a popular live performer and standup comic, an actor with several stage and screen credits and the star of a critically praised HBO docuseries. But soon Bob returns to NYC for one of her favorite gigs: hosting the GLAM Awards! [Cover photo: Jacob Ritts]
Thotyssey: Hey Bob! First thing’s first… I’ve seen your new hair and bearded look… fetching! But why the change?
Bob the Drag Queen: Because I’ve been out of work! I got surgery on my throat performed. So if I’m not performing, I usually don’t shave unless I have to. So then I was like, “Well, I’ve always wanted to see what I would look like with hair again.” This will all be gone by the New Year!
How does it feel to have your new voice? Does it seem stronger?
Well, not yet. I’m still in my recovery phase, but I can talk. I haven’t tested the limits of my voice yet, to be honest… and I’m a little scared to.
So you’re not going out to do a long-form standup set anytime soon, I guess.
In January, I’ll be back at it. But as of right now, I am just writing. I’m taking it easy.
Let’s talk a bit about We’re Here, the popular HBO docuseries that follows RuPaul’s Drag Race alums Shangela, Eureka and yourself as you travel to less-metropolitan cities and towns across the country and see how queer people, their allies and families function in those regions. The three of you include them in a live show held in their towns at the end of each episode. It’s very educational and super fun, but often very emotional as well. That show has massive crossover appeal; I have family members who had no interest in my work or Drag Race suddenly asking me a million questions about you three and if the way you all do drag is “accurate!” It’s cool that you’re connecting to a whole new audience now, right?
Well, listen to me–there are lots of families that watch the Drag Race as well. So I’ve been able to have this experience through time, where people are telling me they watch me with their families. It feels really lovely.
While filming these past two seasons of We’re Here, you must have learned so much about the art of drag while seeing it in the context of these rural towns and small cities, where you wouldn’t expect to see it.
Yeah. It’s been really lovely, just travelling the world and doing drag and getting to experience queer people from all around the world, and amplify their voices, and help tell their story. It’s been really, really rewarding.
When you go out and you shoot the show, do the days feel very structured, or do you feel like you don’t always know what’s going to happen that day?
Well, we have activities, as you can see. We’ll go flyering, or we’ll go meet people, or we will go bowling or something. So we have activities. We’re not just walking around. Me and [my co-stars] Eureka and Shangela were planning our own days. But, of course, actually, [things happen] that happen are organic. Those are all very real moments.
Of course, the episode when you guys were in Selma was very emotional and timely. When you find yourself in a very emotional situation like that on camera, is that something that you get nervous about people seeing, or you just kind of forget the cameras there?
I’ve been in front of the camera for a little bit now. So I don’t forget that it’s there, but I don’t let it affect my performance, or my ability to interact with other people. I just think of it as an opportunity to help tell stories. And I think that whenever the drag kids get to see us being comfortable, it encourages them to be comfortable as well.
A joyful moment of that same Selma episode, though, was the wig reveal during your live performance. You were wearing this tremendous hair, and it seemed to fall off in an “awkward” moment… only to be revealed to be a small human being, i.e. your niece! Then you got to do a dance number with your own wig, which was everything. But did that hurt at all at first? Like, was she sitting on your head?
She was just sitting on my shoulders. And she was like, 90 pounds!
Oh, now I get it… that’s not so bad, duh! Another memorable person you all encountered, Pastor Craig Duke in Newburgh, Indiana, was recently dismissed from the United Methodist Church after appearing in drag for you’re show’s episode in that town. Do you have any new information about him?
It really is very telling of the queer experience, and what it means to be even adjacent to queerness, in certain spaces. Proximity to queerness is enough to put someone in trouble, which is really upsetting. He wanted to do this because it meant a lot to his daughter, who’s queer. And then the church retaliated, and essentially bullied him out of being a [pastor].
We tried to call them to just to check in on them, and he seems to be doing pretty well. When you work for these churches–or this church specifically–they offer housing. So, [when he was fired] he lost his house–he and his family had to move out the home. I think that he’s going to be using this GoFundMe to either get a new home, or start a new place, or something like that. So best of luck to Pastor Craig.
You and your We’re Here co-stars have put a lot of first-timers in drag now, while helping several others glow up. Maybe someday, some of these performers you’ve fostered will go on to become Drag Race contestants themselves… that would be a crazy, full-circle moment!
It’d be exciting. The queens from Drag Race come from all walks of life. I mean, some of them come FROM Drag Race. They watch the show and they love it. I’m one of the [lifelong fans] who watch the show; I watched Season One. I loved it so much, and I auditioned for the show… years later, I got on.
So, yeah. I think that’d be really cool. Most of the people that we work with are not professional performers, and I know how strong their aspirations for the spotlight are. Although some of them are [professionals]; I had three drag daughters on one episode–they were all drag queens and looking to pursue a career on the stage. And I’ve had the social media influencers like Chase and Deanna. We’ve had pastors like Craig. We’ve had community builders like Miss Rainbow. We had so many people.
Starting around the time you were on Drag Race’s eighth season… from then on, there were multiple New York queens on every season.
Okay fair, lol! There have been several New York girls on all the seasons for several years now. But on this upcoming fourteenth season, we only have one: the lovely and amazing Jasmine Kennedie! Do you think show producers or the fanbase got tired of New York girls, or have we burned through most of our big talent (as if), or have other city scenes just stepped it up?
I don’t think it’s that calculated. The queens who are on the show aren’t [necessarily] the best drag queens in America. It just means they’re the best ones for this particular season. They work really well together as a cast, for whatever reason. But if you’re not getting casted for Drag Race, it does not mean that you are not a good drag queen. It just means you just weren’t right for this season. That’s all it means. I had to tell myself that– I auditioned four times.
New York City has received a lot of love for RuPaul’s Drag Race. And I think it’d be silly to assume that RuPaul Drag Race has a vendetta against New York City. How many winners came from New York City? You have me, Bianca, Sasha, Aquaria. I mean, New York is doing really well on Drag Race.
Jasmine is gonna slay, though!
I don’t know Miss Kennedie like that, but I’m sure she’s wonderful. I’m sure she’s a fantastic, stand-up gal. But I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting her. So best of luck to her! And I’m sure she’s got a city rooting for her; it was just really nice to be on Drag Race and have your city root for you. I’ve got to say that, especially when they happen to be New York City.
She’s super nice!
Well, you don’t have to be nice to do good on Drag Race, lol! Being nice is no reason to win. It’s more of a reason to win Miss Congeniality, but go off, lol!
Season 14 is going to be remarkable for a few reasons. For instance, do you have thoughts on “The Straight Contestant?“
I think that it’s really interesting that a lot of the people who are really upset about it probably maybe don’t work in nightlife, and I don’t like that much. I feel like when you work in nightlife, you know that it’s really not that crazy for a straight person to work in a bar or work in a queer space. I think that if we’re challenging gender norms, this is what challenging gender norms look like. This is what it looks like when you are successfully challenging gender norms.
But I also want to talk about the phenomenal trans women on the show that are being really overlooked by the media–not by the fans. I want to point out the fans are doing a great job because the most followed girl right now is Kornbread, who is a trans woman, which is amazing. We actually have two trans-women: Kornbread “The Snack” Jete, and Kerri Colby. I don’t know Kerri that well, and I only know Kornbread from just seeing her online. I can confirm Kornbread’s phenomenal; she’s really great.
Let’s talk about the GLAM Awards. One of my favorite memories of the GLAMs is that long opener that you and a large cast of queens did back in 2015: the Wizard of Oz number!
It was a full ten minute Broadway production! I was there watching that before I was totally aware of how big and amazing drag could be, and that was a real eye-opener for me.
I mean, I will pat myself on the back and give myself a little bit of credit! I feel like after I did that number, people really started going crazy for the GLAM Awards. People brought these big numbers, and I think that people really stepped it up. We’ve seen Brita Filter do some really amazing stuff at the awards; we’ve seen just a lot of really fierce stuff. And I’m really happy to be a part of that legacy of people showing up and showing out for the GLAM Awards.
You’ve co-hosted the GLAMs a few times, with Bianca, Brita and Peppermint. But on Sunday, January 30th, you’ll be coming back to New York to host the 23rd GLAMs presentation solo!
Yeah, I guess I’ve never hosted alone before. This would be a first for me!
What’s so appealing about hosting the show? You’re a very busy person who now lives on the opposite coast, but you’re flying back to do this!
There are people who believed in me, and really have been there for me, from way before I was famous. And [GLAMs creator and producer] Cherry Jubilee has always believed in me. I remember the first time that I was approached to host the GLAM Awards–I actually wasn’t able to do it that year, but it was before I was on Drag Race. It was when Bianca was on. And Bianca came down to one of my gigs and was like, “Hey, let’s talk about hosting the Glam Awards or something together.”
We ended up doing a show together at Industry instead of doing the GLAM Awards, but it felt so cool to be recognized by both Bianca and Cherry Jubilee, who are people that I really respect in the New York City nightlife scene. It was like, “Oh, my God, I’m being seen by these people who I look up to.” So because Cherry’s always been there for me, it is a pleasure for me to come back to town and host the GLAM Awards.
Who are you looking forward to seeing at the show this year? And, do you have any privileged information to share about the performer lineup yet?
I don’t have information yet. And to be honest… I’m far removed from the New York City nightlife scene now. A lot of these people, I don’t even know them! I see a lot of these new queens and these new DJs and nightlife personas popping up. And it’s really funny now, when I go back to New York City, people really look at me like a… it’s kind of crazy, they look at me the way they used to look at Sherry Vine, and Bianca del Rio. I’m still very young! I’m not old, guys! I am still very fresh! I’m like, “I’m 35 years old. I’m not that old, guys!” And they’re like, “Bob, you’re an icon, a legend.” Girl, I’m 35! Now granted, I started doing drag in New York City in 2008, 2009. So I’ve been doing drag for about 12, 13 years now, which I guess is… I mean, I’m not a senior, but I’m like a sophomore or a junior, maybe.
That’s what’s funny about the generations of drag in this city! I’m at least a decade older than the average working queen, but when I talk to some queen in her 30’s she’s like, “oh, I’ve been doing this for nineteen years,” or something wild like that.
Yeah, a lot of us got involved in his lifestyle at a really young age, because there was something appealing about it. We moved to New York City to pursue our dreams as actors, and you do that when you’re 19. I moved here when I was 22, trying to make it on Broadway. So now it’s been 12, 13 years… I guess I am one of the older girls. It’s just crazy.
It just means you’re good at what you do, as they say!
Well, not necessarily. Years ago Hedda Lettuce said to me, “If you want to be a legend, you don’t got to be good. You don’t got to be bad. You don’t even have to be decent. If you just stick around long enough, you’ll be a legend.” And she was right… she was absolutely right. You don’t even have to be good. If you just stay the course long enough, you will be an icon.
Absolutely. Just look at Lady Bunny!
I was going to say Linda Simpson, but I guess Lady Bunny will do, lol!
Anything else coming up that the children should know about?
I’m going on tour pretty soon, in January. Shaving the beard, so come see! By the time you all see me at the GLAM Awards, the beard will be gone. I’ll just be some regular old drag queen. Kizha Carr, you can breathe easy… I’m not going to steal your gig as a bearded queen, honey, lol!
Finally: what do you want for Christmas?
I got what I want, which is a day off. I’m really excited!
Happy holidays Bob, and see you in January!