Aside from its spectacular décor (the stark black and white lighting looks like something straight out of Tron) and beautiful bartenders, XL Nightclub in New York puts on the best shows, too. Take Hot Mess, which is hosted by Lady Bunny and Bianca del Rio every Wednesday at 9 PM. XL is attached to the swanky hotel, The Out, and free Stoli is served during intermission every week. Advance tickets can be purchased at www.XLCabaret.com or at the door.
What sets Hot Mess apart from all the other drag shows out there?
Lady Bunny: There are a lot of places that have drag shows, but you will wait until 1 AM to see, maybe, two numbers. This is a full-scale show with some impersonation, comedians, dancing—a little bit of everything.
Bianca Del Rio: It’s a true drag variety show. That’s what I knew drag to be; that’s how I grew up. I’m from the South, Bunny’s from the South. Milan, where are you from?
Milan: The South.
BDR: I didn’t know that!
Are you guys inspired by your hometowns and where you grew up?
LB: No, that’s why we left them! That’s why I’m paying a fortune to live in a shoebox in New York City. However, I do think there is a certain Southern sensibility to drag. In the South, we do get inspired because we get to look across the classroom and actually see a girl with blue eyeshadow, pink frosted lipgloss, and bleached blonde hair, so the women are a big inspiration.
M: But we also wanted to get the edginess of New York because sometimes the South is a little too conservative and the ideas don’t come across too well.
How did you three meet and decide to do Hot Mess together?
LB: Alcoholics Anonymous brought to you by Stoli [laughs]. We’ve known each other from the club scene for years now. We work in the same clubs, run in the same packs, and we finally said, “Girls, let’s do it, let’s get our own show.” So we’re the three that put it together.
How’d you come up with the name Hot Mess?
LB: That’s what we are! That way, we’re covered if we make a lot of mistakes.
BDR: That’s true, and it’s also not taken that seriously. You know, it’s not like we’re trying to be women or professional clowns. The point is it’s a show. It’s ninety minutes of your life, calm the f*ck down! That’s how I feel about it.
LB: That’s how the audience feels about it too. As they walk out, demanding their money back. We’re kidding!
As you are all what I consider experts in drag, what advice would you give to those who wish to pursue drag as a professional career?
BDR: Don’t do it.
LB: Especially if you’re pretty, young, or slim. You’re going to die.
BDR: I think that there is no pattern. Did you pick it? I didn’t pick it. I didn’t make a conscious choice.
M: I would say find certain people who you do admire their style and create your own out of that influence.
Who would you say inspires you?
LB: Because he’s hung! Patti Labelle, Charo, Grace Jones.
BDR: The great thing about living in New York is—Bunny knows this—sometimes you get the opportunity to meet them and tell them, “Oh my god, I adore you!” You know, Charo is brilliantly talented. She’s not just luck though. What’s amazing is Bunny has a relationship with her and goes, “She’s f*cking genius.” And we get it because it’s opening up the other side of what we do.
It’s not just all a joke at our expense; sometimes you have to sit back and realize we’re all thinking what everyone else is thinking. We just say it! You run the risk, but you also realize there’s some amazing people who do it better than we do.
LB: But we hate them and we don’t ever talk about them! [laughs] But about the inspiration and what we would tell people who want to do drag: I would say, I try and Bianca and Milan try to create our own personas. A lot of people impersonate others and that’s fine, but you’ve got to be really good at your impersonation if somebody’s going to fly you to another city where there’s already twenty other Rihanna impersonators.
BDR: A story I have about her is I was 20 years old in New Orleans, working at a bar, doing Cher, and this f*cker walked up and said, “That’s good, that’s good! But find something else. I think you’re much funnier and there are people that are going to have surgery and be Cher and they’re going to live it. I think you should go in the other realm.” Whatever, didn’t mean much at the time, but to work with her now, I go, Cool. It’s mutual respect and you go, “Do that.” I’m not saying what you should do, and I’ve known Milan for years and I was unaware of Milan’s brilliance and what’s effortless for him. Not so much with other people, like Bunny, where it’s contrived [laughs] and you have to think about it. F*ck people to come up with the stories.
LB: F*ck you! [laughs]
BDR: The point is, it’s mutual respect, which you learn as you get older.
What do you hope your audience will take with them after each show?
BDR: Regret. I’m kidding. A good time.
LB: A smile, a laugh!
M: A flyer so they can give it to someone and bring their ass back!
LB: In Hot Mess, we do push the buttons, it is a little edgy, but after a few drinks, people loosen up and are turned onto our twisted type of humor. We don’t want to be serious glamour girls.
M: You get some of everything, so by the time you’re watching, you’re saying, “Oh my gosh, I didn’t know drag could be all of this.”
LB: We’ve had tourists wander in out of nowhere, we’ve had Kris Jenner, Lance Bass, Janice Dickinson, Raven Symone.
What would you tell the straight community to get them to come?
BDR: Show up!
LB: Sometimes they love drag more than the gays because the gays see it more often. Straight people are like, “I’ve never seen this before!” and the gays say, “Oh girl, I’m over it.”
What was the most memorable ‘hot mess’ moment you’ve had?
LB: There are so many! Last week, I was filming Milan and getting so into it that I forgot I was wearing high heels. I just tumbled over and fell on my back. It really is Lucille Ball behind the scenes.
All of you are well known for doing in-your-face comedy. How do you come up with the material?
LB: We brainstorm and throw out ideas together. Sometimes they don’t work and we change them.
M: You never know what’s going to happen, so we’re always prepared for anything
Let’s talk about the hotel, The Out being attached to XL. How does that contribute to the overall vibe?
LB: I love the classic saloon vibe of having a nightclub attached to the hotel. It’s like being out in the West; you get the man or woman and you take them upstairs to your hotel. Then you wash up and come back down for more! If you’re a slut like Bianca.
BDR: F*ck you!
LB: I did.
Photography by Bain Stevens.