RuPaul’s Original, Forgotten ’90s Talk Show

From 1996 to 1998, Mama Ru hosted a cavalcade of stars along with sidekick Michelle Visage.

Can We Talk About…? is a weekly series that saw Cats…and is forever changed. For the worst.

As the laws of nature dictate that only one Queen of Daytime can exist at any given moment, RuPaul will “not be moving forward with” his own talk show. Of course, don’t cry for her, Argentina, as Ru’s still got multiple iterations of Drag Race as well as the upcoming AJ and the Queen on Netflix. Also, lest we forget, RuPaul already had a talk show back in the ’90s. And it was glorious.
 

Premiering on October 12, 1996, The RuPaul Show broke ground as one of the first talk shows (though honestly, name another) hosted by an openly gay man. For 100 episodes, airing Saturday nights at 11 p.m., Ru invited icons, legends, and your run-of-the-mill stars to chew the fat with him and his sidekick, gal pal and future Drag Queen VIP judge Michelle Visage, doing her best Ed McMahon.

Just look at this roster of guests: Diana Ross, Cher, Debbie Harry, Eartha Kitt, Dionne Warwick, Whoopi Goldberg, John Waters, and Cyndi Lauper.

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Ru and Michelle hopelessly devoted to Olivia Newton-John

Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc
Ru jumping for her love with The Pointer Sisters

In addition to interviews, The RuPaul Show also featured skits and field reports, such as this one when Michelle went out on a male model casting call.
 

Get into this velour catsuit Miss Visage is wearing later in the segment.

The RuPaul Show, like so many great things, was born of fashion. Specifically, the VH1 Fashion Awards, where Ru was a presenter. The once and future supermodel of the world brought her creativity, uniqueness, nerve, and talent to the broadcast and producers took notice.

“They gave me a script, and I told them, ’Forget that,'” Ru ru-called to The New York Times in 1996. “VH1 loved the awards show and my interview on it with Diana Ross. And based on that they decided to do a talk show with me.”

Looking back on it, The RuPaul Show seems a bit revolutionary, if only for the fact of a black drag queen hosting a late night talk show, especially since that particular realm is overwhelmingly white, male, and dominated by Jimmys. But the ’90s had a burgeoning fascination with the gays. Fascination, not acceptance. During this time, as the AIDS epidemic was finally wrested under some semblance of control, mainstream pop culture began to more frequently reflect queer lives.

Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
The cast of Bombshell: Ru, Michelle, and the late Anna Nicole Smith

Just consider what happened between ’96 and ’98, the original run of The RuPaul Show. Ellen DeGeneres came out, Will and Grace premiered, Rupert Everett stole the show in My Best Friend’s Wedding, Kevin Kline dabbled with identity in In and Out, Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly got all sapphic and sensual in Bound, and George Michael got forced out of the closet.

It was a time of great, albeit qualified, visibility. After all, Ellen was basically unemployable for years after her coming-out, homosexuals couldn’t serve openly in the military, and Matthew Shepard was brutally murdered in 1998. The subsequent decade tried to push the LGBTQ community back into the closet and Ru didn’t return to regularly grace our screens until the premiere of Drag Race in February 2009.

The RuPaul Show, then, is a kind of time capsule reminding us both of the cyclical nature of queer liberation and the everlasting snatchedness of RuPaul’s waist.

For some more RuPaul Show, check out this show reel courtesy of none other than Michelle Visage:
 

Lester Fabian Brathwaite is an LA-based writer, editor, bon vivant, and all-around sassbag. He's formerly Senior Editor of Out Magazine and is currently hungry. Insta: @lefabrat