TV

It’s BenDeLaCreme’s Winter Wonderland. We’re Just Living In It.

The "RuPaul's Drag Race" legend talks her new holiday special, being a clue on "Jeopardy!," and her cameo in Hulu's "Happiest Season."

This winter might be the queerest one ever with all of the holiday-themed movies and television specials featuring LGBTQ characters and storylines. That includes The Jinkx & DeLa Holiday Special, starring RuPaul’s Drag Race legends — and besties — Jinkx Monsoon and BenDeLaCreme.

Since 2018 the drag duo have traveled the world performing their live holiday spectacular. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, they’re bringing this year’s live show into your living room. The result is a fun, festive variety show that warms even the most Grinch-like of hearts, and one that deserves a place next to other beloved holiday specials like Judy Garland’s or The Kacey Musgraves Christmas Show.

BenDeLaCreme recently sat down with NewNowNext to talk the making of her special, how it felt being a clue on Jeopardy!, and what it was like to hang out with Dan Levy on the set of Happiest Season.
 

I thought you did such an amazing job. I didn’t really know what I was getting into when I started watching, but I thought everything about it was just so great. It must have been so much work. How long were you working on this special for?

It was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. We did it in six months, which is not the amount of time you’re supposed to do something like this. We basically came up with the idea to do it in June and then immediately hopped into pre-production, where we did every step at once. It was my first time producing and directing film, I have a lot of theater experience. But we had a lot of really amazing people who decided to come into it who really knew their way around and were wonderful teachers as we went to me, which was really great.

Where did the idea come from?

I’ve been doing holiday shows for 14 years. I have celebrated Christmas on stage my entire adult life, and the last two years of that have been Jinkx and I touring a two person show. The first year in 2018, we were like, “Hey, let’s try a U.S. tour. Let’s just see how many cities we can do.” And it did so well that the next year it really grew exponentially. We brought it to the U.K. So this year was slated to be the biggest one yet, and we were gearing up for that. And when it was clear it wasn’t happening, not only was the loss around that but for me, I was like, “This is how I celebrate the holidays.” I used to really dislike Christmas and the way that I have changed the holiday season for myself — those feelings of sadness, discomfort, and just general frustration — has been to create my own holiday experience through performance.

When we started realizing that this wasn’t really going to happen, we were like, “Okay, let’s do an onstage recording.” And then within about 48 hours, I called Jinkx back and I was like, “We can’t do that. If we’re going to do something that’s a film, we have to make it a film.” And so Jinkx, fortunately, is really game for all of my harebrained ideas. We just jumped into writing something that really worked as a screenplay. And my partner, who is just an incredible human who supports me and pushes me beyond what I think I can accomplish, he was a co-producer on the film, and he worked tirelessly to make this thing happen. It was crazy, but that was how we hopped into it. And I talked to a few film friends, like Peaches Christ, who’s an amazing drag queen but also has directed and produced film. And I was like, “Hey, is this a bad, terrible idea?” And she was like, “Yes, it’s crazy. Nobody would do this except for you, and I think you can do it.”

Whose idea was the sentient eggnog? I loved that.

Oh, that’s me. There’s puppets in all of my shows. I don’t think I’ve ever done a stage show without a puppet. I always think when you’re dealing with something that’s a harder topic, puppets are really the perfect way to vocalize those things because they soften it. People are willing to listen to something like a glass of eggnog say things that they would never listen to a human say.

Matt Baume

Why did you used to dislike Christmas?

Well, there’s a lot more autobiographical information in this about me than I generally put in my work. DeLa is a cartoon character, she is about taking specific ideas and broadening them into something a little more universal, but this one is a little bit more indicative of Ben’s background. I did grow up in Connecticut in a very conservative town. My family fortunately was very liberal, but very Connecticut liberal. It was those perfect Christmas card holidays with beautiful snowy landscapes and singing carols around the tree and all the rest of that. And it was empty. My family would all get together — aunts and uncles and grandparents and everyone else — and not really talk about anything. We’d perform this togetherness that I never resonated with, and I always felt like, “Why don’t I feel how I’m supposed to feel?” I had all of the things that you’re supposed to want during the holidays, and it just… I still felt like I was an outlier, I still felt like it wasn’t the place for me, and so as soon as I was able to break away from that, I did. And I had a huge sense of guilt about it because my family, they’re not bad people, it just didn’t feel right for me. And so learning how to make something that did feel right for me was what I did through performance.

You said that you don’t have a lot of screen credits, but you’re in Happiest Season

Which was amazing! And it was actually born out of Clea DuVall coming to see Jinkx and my Christmas shows the last two years. She ended up loving them, and so she approached us and said, “Hey, I wrote a couple of parts for you based on having seen you in the show, and I’d love you in the film.” It was a huge honor, because Clea has also been an icon to me since I was in high school and I saw But I’m a Cheerleader for the first time.

What was filming like?

It was amazing. Everybody was so welcoming and sweet. Our scene was with Kristen Stewart and Aubrey Plaza, and both of them were just the kindest, most welcoming people who were really excited we were there. Clea is a dream, she’s an amazing director. She creates such a sense of warmth and calm on set, and there was just a real sense that even though this was this big film, that there was this joy around making it. And this warmth from everyone feeling like they were doing something really important by representing a queer perspective in this genre that we all see a million times and don’t see ourselves represented in. I mean, everybody loves a light Christmas rom-com and so many times, queer narratives are told through tragedy, and this is something that doesn’t involve that. Dan Levy showed up and with quite a few other cast members just to hang out later that night. The way he was talking about it was, he was just so excited and honored to be a part of this thing. It was so groundbreaking, and it made him so happy. And I was feeling that way too, but it was like that energy buzzed, and that was really Clea and Mary Holland’s creation.

Rachel Murray/Getty Images for Hulu

Why do you think there are so many queer holiday movies this year?

Because it’s about freaking time! I don’t know what this perfect storm is, but I think that one thing is that this storm has been brewing for a long time. There is this lack of representation, and queer people are getting the footing in Hollywood, in our culture that allows them to say, “Hey.” The path is being cleared a little bit… and now the flood gates have opened, and queer people who want to put these messages out in the world are just ready to do it. I think that a huge piece of that as well was our political landscape. We are now fortunately in a culture of people being fed up about how people have been represented, treated, and what’s been taken for granted for the entire history of our country. I think that collective energy, it’s manifesting politically, it’s manifesting in the way people are talking about culture, and it’s manifesting artistically. And that makes sense because those things always go hand in hand.

You were recently a clue on Jeopardy!. How did that feel?

Bonkers! Especially weird because my dad is the biggest Jeopardy! fan. We grew up watching Jeopardy! every night, and my dad was actually a contestant on Jeopardy! when I was a kid.

Oh wow.

He’d wanted to do it for years, and he finally got on. He was a hardcore Alex Trebek fan, and so that was a really amazing full-circle thing. And having that happen before Alex Trebek’s passing, of course, was — I just feel there was something in my life in some just small, personal way, very full-circle and lovely about that. I was definitely surprised by it. It felt very much like a “Whoa, you’ve made it,” kind of moment.

I bet. So, are you decorating your home for the holidays this year or are you—

Oh, my God, no! I’ve been decorating a set for six months. Decorating the house is something that will come after I get back into the habit of sleeping and showering. This process has been so rushed, so it’s just been a race to the finish line. But I do love decorating for Christmas, and at some point we will get around to it, even if it’s in January.

Is there a Christmas song that you can’t stand? For me, it’s “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas.”

Really? You don’t love an adult woman pretending to be a seven-year-old with no teeth? God, I don’t know if there’s a Christmas song I can’t stand, really. There isn’t actually one that comes to mind, but I’m sure that there is. But I’m not one of these people who despises Christmas music, and I don’t mind hearing it the day after Halloween. I’m not sure why because Christmas, obviously, has always been a complicated holiday, but I’ve never disliked the music. And I’ve never disliked the flavors. I literally almost ate an entire pint of peppermint stick ice cream the other day. I am that holiday person in terms of the campy or more candy-based elements.

Matt Baume

Now the special is out, do you have any holiday plans this year?

Mostly lay on my back and catch my breath, but we actually, my partner and I are living in LA now, and we are going to be attending a screening of our own film at a drive-in theater in Palm Springs. A bunch of friends and I are going to get a house in Palm Springs, and then I’m going to go and do a director’s chat at this drive-in theater. I know people that would probably be like, “You want to work on Christmas?” And I was like, “I really do.” To me, getting to share that time with an audience and spread that feeling of community — that’s what makes Christmas special.

The Jinkx & DeLa Holiday Special is available now, with the digital soundtrack released on December 11.

I write about drag queens. Dolly Parton once ruffled my hair and said I was "just the cutest thing ever."
@chrisreindeer