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Lady Bunny, Neil Patrick Harris drag Wigstock into the 2.HO era

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Hairstyles come and go, fake eyelashes eventually lose their grip, and even the fiercest foundation fades with time. But showbiz survivor Lady Bunny is digging her heels in and seeding the field for things to come — by bringing a “2.HO” relaunch of her iconic Wigstock gathering to South Street Seaport’s Pier 17 on Saturday, September 1. There, in a classy, one and a half-acre rooftop venue standing in stark contrast to Wigstock’s gritty Tompkins Square Park roots, audiences will see a seven-hour, all-star lineup of veteran and contemporary drag talent serving an “outrageous and unapologetically entertainment-rich show” co-produced by, among others, none other than “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” alum Neil Patrick Harris.

Word of Wigstock’s return spread on social media several weeks ago faster than a flame that’s just come into contact with Aqua Net — and, just as quickly, proud press whore Lady Bunny gave consent to fill a hole in her schedule for a phone interview at the ungodly hour of 8 a.m. Coffee in hand, she spilled the tea on everything from Donald Trump to makeup tutorials to manufactured rivalries, all before heading out to Fire Island for a solo gig (“Pig in a Wig”).

SCOTT STIFFLER: Why bring Wigstock back at this particular point?

LADY BUNNY: When Wigstock originally started, gay people were scared. People were dropping like flies from AIDS. I was probably 22, and I wasn’t very politically involved. I was certainly no mastermind like Larry Kramer or any of the other people who formed ACT UP and fought so bravely. I couldn’t conceive of a die-in outside of a church. It just wasn’t in my DNA — but what I could do is be a clown and throw a party and make people who had not succumbed to AIDS enjoy themselves. I could bring everyone together and remind us that we are still alive and we can banish some of the darkness that AIDS brought, by having a silly celebration.

And I think, in a similar way, I was very involved in slogging it out with my dearest friends during that very, very long primary leading up to the [2016] election. The election had, of course, what I feel to be the worst outcome, although I didn’t like either of the choices… and I think that we really are in a malaise. We’re stunned. And I won’t liken Trump to AIDS, but let’s just say that we could use a party now, too.

STIFFLER: How has the culture changed in terms of embracing drag — and in its mainstreaming, what have we gained?

LADY BUNNY: We’ve gained a lot of people who are interested in drag. We’ve also gained lot of drag personalities from “RuPaul’s Drag Race” who are phenomenally talented, like Bianca Del Rio, Jinkx Monsoon, Latrice Royale, Bob the Drag Queen, and Willam — and it just so happens that they’re all performing at Wigstock. So, I mean, it put drag on the map in a big way. And I, as an associate of RuPaul’s, have been mentioned on the show, so I benefit from the mainstream­ing… It’s great. Sometimes Ru will make a joke about me and people say, “Oh girl, he read you last night.” And I’m, like, “You can’t make a joke about somebody on a national TV show unless they’re somewhat known.” And if they don’t know, they can Google it… This is what I think is funny: People want to pit drag queens against each other. There was an article in The New York Times that mentioned RuPaul is not scheduled to perform at Wigstock this year and that there was a bit of a rivalry between RuPaul and me.

Honey, first of all, if there’s a rivalry, he’s clearly winning hands-down! But to say we have a rivalry? That was the same day RuPaul launched his podcast with me… When you’re friends with someone since your early 20s, and roommates for, you know, a decade? That’s not a rivalry… And I mean I do things with the “Drag Race” queens all the time. I did that “Werq the World” tour twice, affiliated with World of Wonder, the production company of “Drag Race.” Last year, I played Cardiff, in Wales, twice. And I’ve never played there before. And I go on tours with these girls, because such a fever has been created around drag. So that’s what’s been gained.

STIFFLER: Has there been anything lost because of the mainstreaming?

LADY BUNNY: Of course. We did an annual comedy show called “Queens of Comedy” at the Castro in San Francisco and the show was popular. We did it for several years and they would add an early show and ask us to keep our act clean because kids came to the early show — and, for someone who cut their drag teeth in late night gay bars, I was always encouraged to do things that were filthy, outrageous, kooky. Definitely not tasteful. So that was a bit of a culture shock. And then I did one of those big “RuPaul’s Drag Race” queen roundup shows… And everyone in the front row were young women, like 15 and up. I said, “Wow, this is wild, the front rows of drag shows are women?” And they said, “Yeah, they’re the ones who buy the merchandise. They’re our biggest fans.”

Now part of me misses hanging out with women, because I got my start in rock clubs like the Pyramid and others in Atlanta that were extremely mixed, and then went on to work in clubs like Limelight and Palladium — mixed clubs. So I always enjoyed having girls around, and now it’s come full circle. During the Circuit years, girls did not mingle much with gays that much. It was hard beats and hard bodies, you know, maybe a few — can we still say fag hag and fruit fly? So that part, I actually like.

However, these 15-year-old girls, they know zero gay subtext and they’re not going to possibly appreciate a joke about a yeast infection, which would send audiences in a gay bar into a tizzy. But any performer has to somewhat tailor their show to an audience, that’s just common sense.

And I think one of the other things that’s been lost is the kind of drag that inspired me to do Wigstock, which is kind of quirky and offbeat — definitely not as polished. I’m seeing drag turn into a, like, status symbol kind of thing where, ooh, you have to have this quality of lace front wigs, and I’m like, “No, I don’t. I skip money on Botox on my forehead and I wear bangs that go right down to my eyebrows, which I don’t even pluck.” …Every queen is making these makeup tutorials, where they not only hold up every product after they apply it, but they smirk, as if to say, “He, he, he, I can afford this product.” But for me, getting whatever I could get from a thrift shop that was made for a woman and fit me, it wasn’t about the polish. It was never about spending hours conceiving of a look. It was the spirit you brought that to the party, the dancing, the lip-syncing, the singing.

My crowd, my kind of queen, is less polished. Makeup is what you do before you get on the stage. If you spend five hours on your makeup and you’ve got nothing to do on the stage except look like your makeup is gorgeous? To me, that’s dull, because drag is performance-oriented. I’d rather see someone with [less than perfect] applied makeup and a cheap wig tear up a number.

But for Wigstock, I didn’t book any who are what they call “look queens” — I mean, Bianca Del Rio does both. Her makeup is incredible, her wigs she does herself, her costumes she makes herself, but she had an act before she went on “Drag Race.” And I don’t typically tell queens what to perform at Wigstock. I mean, of course, I might say so-and-so is doing an extremely similar number — might you want to change that? Sometimes I will guide them or make suggestions, but sometimes their own suggestions are better than mine. There are some queens, like Lypsinka, whom I would never dare to suggest anything to [laughs]. But what was the actual question [laughs]? Because there’s one other point that my coffee haze is trying to bubble through.

STIFFLER: I think you’ve covered it. Talk about your role in this relaunch.

LADY BUNNY: Apparently, executive producing. I’ll be emceeing and we’re all working together and making decisions on everything from props to lighting to ticket sales to whatever. We had a location, which fell through. It was in Brooklyn. We all loved it, but we didn’t get it. But we actually found a better location, which is the exquisite Pier 17. It’s so nice, I’m afraid they may not let some of the performers in. Diana Ross and Gladys Knight will be performing there in the fall — and honey, if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for Big Bad Bunn.

STIFFLER: How did co-producer Neil Patrick Harris get on board?

LADY BUNNY: We had originally discussed some sort of reality TV show, which was about the reviving of Wigstock and how it would culminate with a two-hour episode of the festival. That idea languished for quite awhile… We were trying to make it kind of a semi-scripted thing with silly ideas, like Neil didn’t really want to help me organize Wigstock, that he wanted to get into my panties. We worked on it and it kind of morphed into, “Why don’t we just do a festival instead, and make a documentary?” And that’s what we’re doing.

WIGSTOCK | South Street Seaport’s Pier 17 | Sep. 1, 3-10 p.m. | $95-$1,000 at wigstock.nyc.

Updated 2:37 pm, August 30, 2018
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