Bob the Drag Queen Bob the Drag Queen discusses his wig-filled basement drag closet and his HBO docuseries We're Here. Then, Bob takes on a quiz tailored specifically to his interests, from Kesha to Whoopi Goldberg.
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Bob the Drag Queen

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Bob the Drag Queen

Bob the Drag Queen

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(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JONATHAN COULTON, BYLINE: This is NPR's ASK ME ANOTHER. I'm Jonathan Coulton. Here's your host, Ophira Eisenberg.

OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:

Thank you, Jonathan. It's time to welcome our special guest. He is the winner of "RuPaul's Drag Race" and stars in the HBO docuseries called "We're Here." We're about to chat with Bob the Drag Queen. His show follows Bob and two other drag queens, Shangela and Eureka O'Hara, as they adopt small-town residents as their drag daughters and train them for a one-night-only drag performance.

Hello, Bob.

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: Hello, Ms. Eisenberg. How are you?

EISENBERG: Good. I love seeing behind you just - I mean, an amazing display of wigs.

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: And a single bag of candy that I am embarrassed that I realize is still there (laughter).

EISENBERG: Excellent. Excellent. Looks like you have, I'm going to say - I don't know - 20 wigs over there. Is that about right?

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: Well, this is two, four, six, eight, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18 - I'm looking at right now about 20.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: But I have - I mean, I have way more than 20 wigs.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: I mean, I also have, like, a lot of unstyled wigs. The bins on the sides are full of wigs. The bags are full of wigs. And then over there is - so I'm in my drag closet, which is my basement. I turned my basement into the drag room.

EISENBERG: (Laughter).

COULTON: Yeah.

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: It's kind of like the smallest and weirdest thrift shop where everything is the exact same size.

(LAUGHTER)

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: It's like a thrift shop from some really extravagant, size-14 woman.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: You know, that would make thrift shops so much better if you could just go to the one just for you. And happy post-Pride. Obviously the official New York City Gay Pride parade was canceled. I know that you have talked about how important Pride was for you when you first moved to New York City. What did you do this year?

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: This year I stayed indoors. I did something called a Black Queer Town Hall with my friend Peppermint. It was a three-day celebration of Black queerness. So that felt really nice. But I've not really left my home for almost four months now.

EISENBERG: Yeah. I hear you.

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: And it's kind of wild to say that out loud because I am a traveler. Like, I travel for a living. And I have slept in my bed every night for over 90 days. That is crazy.

EISENBERG: Yeah. And, you know, your latest project, the six-part docuseries "We're Here," that involved travel. So...

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: Yeah.

EISENBERG: ...Yeah. Just as a setup, you and your co-hosts Shangela and Eureka O'Hara, you guys go into small towns to support their LGBTQ communities by putting on one-night-only drag show.

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: Yes, uno-noche solamente.

EISENBERG: (Laughter).

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: It's really a wild concept. And when it was pitched to me, my first thought was, wait - like, wait, what? Because I was thinking it was going to be one of those like, gay people figure straight people's lives. And it's really not that. That's not what the show is, and I think there's a lot of people who think that's what it is. And once people start seeing it, they're like, oh, my God. This is different. We're actually uplifting and highlighting a lot of queer voices, marginalized people - community. We talked to Indigenous people. We talked to people in the Latinx community, the Black community, the trans community. I'm so proud of the representation on this show.

EISENBERG: I will say that it's very emotional.

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: Yeah. I can't - people tell me they binge watch them. Like, you binge watch all six...

(LAUGHTER)

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: I would just be exhausted. And folks just say to me, like, it was so emotional to watch. Like, you had me crying for an hour. I was like, an hour? It takes nine days to shoot it. So, like, I'm a wreck for nine days.

EISENBERG: Really? Yeah. I imagine it's just so intense. You know, and I know that things are filmed out of order. It's the magic of putting something like this together. But the way the episode is presented, you know, the initial shots, going into this small town or community in full drag usually kind of representing whatever the ethos or fashion is...

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: Yeah.

EISENBERG: ...Of the town.

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: Yeah.

EISENBERG: And you - we all get an idea of the first impressions of this town to you and to drag. How does that feel for you?

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: Well, even though we're not always shooting things in the direct same order, that is often time people in the town's first time seeing us because we walk around in our - like, our gay clothes. You know, as daywalkers (ph), no one really pays much attention. But once a big, yellow Birkin bag rolls into town and the most gorgeous woman you've ever seen in your life steps off of it...

EISENBERG: Yeah.

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: ...You know, people really look up.

EISENBERG: Yeah. And, you know, so - you know, because I'm just thinking, like, there - what is showed on the show is that some people are kind of excited. A lot of people turn away. Does - as you're walking through the town in full drag, like, the three of you, does it feel at all like, woah, we have a lot of work to do here, or does it feel, like, exciting?

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: For the most part, I think that the world did a really good job of, you know, mostly from the '60s up through the '90s, making bigots feel really uncomfortable with being bigoted in public. Recently, bigots have had a resurgence, and they're like, we're back on top, baby. It's our time to shine again. But for the most part, people are really embarrassed by their behavior if it's anything less than scrupulous.

EISENBERG: Yeah. Oh, and I forgot to say, congratulations on Season 2. HBO announced that Season 2 of "We're Here" is going to happen.

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: Thank you. Yeah, it's really - I mean, we're up in the air as to - I'm up in the air as to, like, how we're going to film this considering what it is right now. But we've been OK'd for a Season 2, which really means the world to me.

EISENBERG: So if let's just say it was to proceed at some point, basically in the same fashion that it did for the first season. Is there any place that you personally would like to go?

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: I want to go back to Spartanburg 'cause Spartanburg was the episode that we weren't able to finish. So I would love to go back to Spartanburg. I would also love to go to my home - well, I would love and also - and terrified to go to my hometown. When I - I mean, I'm from, like, a lot of small towns, but I grew up in Columbus, Ga., and in Phenix City, Ala., and LaGrange, Ga., and Corinth, Miss. And going to those towns would feel like - it would feel amazing, but it would, honestly, legit, be kind of scary for me.

EISENBERG: Because?

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: Well, because of my connection to those places, you know?

EISENBERG: Right. So, I mean, I think homecomings are always difficult, and I'm sure - do you keep in touch with anyone that has been, like...

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: Ophira, I didn't go to any of my homecomings.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: I didn't go to my five. I didn't go to my 10. And I'm certainly not going to my - what's the next - what's coming after 10? Is it 15 or is it 25?

EISENBERG: Twenty?

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: I'm not going. I mean...

EISENBERG: Yeah.

COULTON: (Laughter).

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: I graduated high school 16 years ago. So in four years, it will be my 20-year anniversary, and I'm just not going.

(LAUGHTER)

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: Under any circumstances. I just have no - like, no. Like, no.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: Ophira, stop asking me because I'm not doing it.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Would you like to play an ASK ME ANOTHER game?

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: I would love to.

EISENBERG: Fantastic. You know, we often ask our guests, what would you like to play about? You went above and beyond and gave us a list of not one, but six things that you could play a game about. You suggested Whoopi Goldberg, "The Color Purple."

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: I love Whoopi. I love...

EISENBERG: Musical theater.

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: I love those things.

EISENBERG: Kesha, clowning and, quote, "anything else gay." Is that what you were going to say?

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: Gayness. I love gay-ocity (ph).

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Gay-ocity. So, normally, we choose one of those things, then write a quiz. But we thought, these are all so great - why don't we write a game about all of them?

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: Oh, wow. Here we go. Let's do it.

EISENBERG: So this game is called And The Category Is. We're going to start listing some things that are somehow related. And when you think you know the connection, just jump in and say what you think the category is.

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: OK, let's try it.

EISENBERG: All right, here we go. Fantasy, Stretch, Ranger Margaret.

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: Ranger Margaret?

EISENBERG: Gaia, Shenzi.

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: Is it - no, oh, is it - wait - Whoopi Goldberg.

EISENBERG: Yes, animated characters...

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: These are all Whoopi Goldberg characters. Yeah, yeah.

EISENBERG: All Whoopi Goldberg characters. That is correct.

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: Yeah.

EISENBERG: Fantasy is an anthropomorphic book from the movie "The Pagemaster."

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: Yeah, I know "The Pagemaster." Whoopi Goldberg - they really made her look like a book in "The Pagemaster," too.

(LAUGHTER)

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: And that book really looks like Whoopi Goldberg.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: That's weird, right?

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: Yeah.

EISENBERG: And Stretch is a rubber toy octopus in "Toy Story 3."

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: I do not know that one.

EISENBERG: I cannot watch that. I will cry way too much.

COULTON: Too sad.

EISENBERG: Ranger Margaret is a character in "The Rugrats Movie." Gaia is from the TV show "Captain Planet." And Shenzi is the hyena in "The Lion King." Have you ever met Whoopi Goldberg?

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: I have met Whoopi Goldberg, yeah. The first time I met her was at Gilbert Gottfried's podcast. She was his guest on his podcast. And I walked up to her, and I told her that I have her face tattooed on my arm.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: And then she - instead of having security throw me out, she then invited me to her birthday party in Las Vegas, which I came to. And then she invited me to her birthday show at "The View," which I came to. And then she hosted the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, which I performed at. And she hosted the Pride kickoff at Barclays, which I performed at as well.

EISENBERG: Oh. So yeah, you're buds.

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: Old buddies.

EISENBERG: (Laughter).

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: Me and Whoop (ph). I call her Whoop. Hey, Whoop. Whoop.

(LAUGHTER)

COULTON: It's a great lesson for everybody who wants to get close to, you know, their idols, that if you don't know a famous person, all you need to do to meet them is tattoo their face on your skin...

EISENBERG: (Laughter).

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: And...

COULTON: ...And then go up and tell them that you have a tattoo of them, and then you'll become friends.

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: Well, you're missing an important part. Tattoo a picture of them, and then go to a Gilbert Gottfried podcast. You're forgetting a very...

(LAUGHTER)

COULTON: Right.

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: Jonathan.

COULTON: You're right.

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: Don't skip steps, Jonathan.

(LAUGHTER)

COULTON: Here's another one for you, Bob. Let me know what all these have in common - "Tonight," "Supernatural," "Dinosaur," "Cannibal," "Blow."

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: Oh, these are all Kesha songs.

COULTON: (Laughter) That's absolutely correct.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

COULTON: They're all Kesha songs.

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: Yeah, I love - "Tonight" is from her new - her latest album, which is probably my favorite song from the album. It's like - it has this great little fake-out in the beginning where it's like, (singing) tonight's the best night of my life. Can you...

Then it goes into, like, (singing) we going out tonight.

(LAUGHTER)

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: It's really great. I love it.

EISENBERG: I just like the list of them put together - "Tonight," "Supranational," "Dinosaur," "Cannibal," "Blow." It's like, is that the origin of the planet? What is that?

COULTON: (Laughter)

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: I also love - "Dinosaur's" so great 'cause she spells out - (singing) D-I-N-O-S-A - you are a dinosaur.

EISENBERG: (Laughter).

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: She takes U-R from dinosaur and makes it into - you're a dinosaur.

COULTON: (Laughter).

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: And "Blow" is probably my favorite song by Kesha. And when I saw her perform it live, I cried.

EISENBERG: Oh.

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: But it's not a ballad, so I'm the only one crying when she's like, (singing) this place about to blow - oh...

(LAUGHTER)

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: And I'm like, oh, my God.

EISENBERG: All right. How about this one? Reggie Montgomery, Emmett Kelly, Joseph Grimaldi, Ronald McDonald, Bianca Del Rio.

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: Oh, clowns (laughter).

EISENBERG: (Singing) Clowns is correct.

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: They're all clowns.

EISENBERG: Reggie Montgomery was the Ringling Brothers'...

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: Yeah.

EISENBERG: ...First African American clown. Emmett Kelly performed with the Ringling Brothers in the '40s and '50s.

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: You know, he did that famous sweeping-up-the-spotlight bit.

EISENBERG: Oh, yeah?

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: He was, like, the world's most famous clown. His big bit was a spotlight - he tried to sweep up the spotlight. It was the whole thing.

EISENBERG: Weary Willie - he was, like, the sad-sack hobo. That was the character.

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: That one I did not know about.

EISENBERG: Yeah. Joseph Grimaldi was thought to have created the popular image of the clown in the early 1800s, with the white-and-red face paint.

COULTON: (Laughter).

EISENBERG: Bianca Del Rio - not a clown, per se, but she...

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: No, no, no. No, no, no. She's a clown.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: She's a clown? Well, she's described herself as a clown in a dress, but...

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: I don't think there's any need to qualify that.

(LAUGHTER)

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: If you are listening, Google Bianca Del Rio, and you will say, no, no. No need to explain.

(LAUGHTER)

COULTON: Definitely a clown.

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: I'm surprised you didn't include Marcel Marceau, the famous mime.

EISENBERG: Right. So what is the line between mime and clown?

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: Well, I think it's a stylization of the makeup and also a speaking thing. Most mimes don't speak, and there's no line between them because mimes are clowns.

EISENBERG: Mimes are clowns.

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: Yeah, but not all clowns are mimes.

COULTON: (Laughter).

EISENBERG: Why are you particularly interested in clowns or know about clowns?

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: So before I got into drag, I was actually going to take a stab at clowning. I created a clown character, and I had this whole persona. I was actually going to try to go get a food vendor's license in New York City and sell cotton candy as a clown. My clown name was Cotton Cody.

(LAUGHTER)

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: Then I found out that a food vendor's license is almost impossible to get in New York City, like, in the neighborhood of impossible to get one.

EISENBERG: So because that didn't work out, you were like, well, maybe I'll...

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: Well, I was simultaneously trying drag, as well. I've never been one to really stay in one lane, which is why I love drag because it allows me to do a lot.

EISENBERG: Yeah. But no revisiting Cotton Cody?

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: Cotton Cody never saw the light of day.

(LAUGHTER)

COULTON: OK, here's the next one. Storme DeLarverie, Barbara Gittings, Aimee Stephens, Bayard Rustin, Jim Obergefell.

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: Wait, Bayard Rustin? Are those all activists?

COULTON: That's exactly right. They're all LGBT civil rights pioneers.

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: Yeah, Bayard Rustin was the queer Black man who helped Martin Luther King.

COULTON: That's right. Openly gay adviser to Martin Luther King, Jr.

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: Yeah. But that's amazing. And don't forget Dr. Angela Davis. It's Storme who threw the shot glass at...

COULTON: That's right.

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: Now it's all - and now it all comes back to me, obviously.

COULTON: Now it's all coming back. Right. So who's Storme?

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: So Storme is - so there is a discrepancy in the LGBTQIA+ history. Some people say that Marsha P. Johnson threw the first brick, and other accounts say that Storme threw the first - it was a shot glass that Storme threw that actually initiated the whole thing.

COULTON: Kicked off the Stonewall Riots. That's right, yeah.

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: Yeah. Yeah.

COULTON: And then Barbara Gittings was often known as the mother of LGBT civil rights from the '50s and '60s. Aimee Stephens was a trans woman who was one of the plaintiffs in the recent case that established that LGBT workers are protected by the Civil Rights Act. And then Jim Obergefell was the plaintiff in the 2015 Supreme Court case that established that same-sex couples have the right to marry.

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: I'm glad I got that one. That could've been really, really rough.

COULTON: No, you got it.

EISENBERG: OK. This one might be hard.

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: I'm ready.

EISENBERG: "Meridian." "Finding The Green Stone." "To Hell With Dying." "The Way Forward Is With A Broken Heart." "Now Is The Time To Open Your Heart."

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: This one is hard. Are these, like, all lyrics or quotes?

EISENBERG: Here's a hint. The author of all of those is best known for a book that you like because it was adapted into a movie and a musical.

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: Oh, is this Alice Walker?

EISENBERG: Alice Walker.

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: Oh, there we go. OK. OK.

EISENBERG: Yeah, that's right. Yeah, "Meridian" was 1976. "To Hell With Dying" - that's what I read my son as bedtime story.

COULTON: (Laughter).

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: Wait. Do you really?

EISENBERG: No.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: It's a good idea, though.

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: And tonight, child, we'll be reading "50 Shades of Grey." Good night.

COULTON: OK. Here's another one for you. "Any Little Thing." "Hell No." "Too Beautiful For Words."

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: Oh, stop, stop. These are all songs from - don't even read them.

EISENBERG: (Laughter) All right, all right.

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: These are all songs from "The Color Purple." Come on, Jonathan. Make it...

COULTON: Is that too - that's too easy.

EISENBERG: (Laughter).

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: That was too easy.

EISENBERG: OK, final one - I think it's a challenge. Who knows? Here we go. "Rags." "Carrie." "Carnival In Flanders." "Bring Back Birdie." "Seven Brides For Seven Brothers."

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: Is this specifically just movies that have been turned into - musicals that have been turned into movies?

EISENBERG: You know what? I'll take musicals because that's really what they are. They're Broadway musicals. What joins them - and if you haven't heard of some of them, there's a good reason for that because all of these musicals closed after fewer than 10 performances on Broadway (laughter).

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: Really? "Carrie" closed after less than 10?

EISENBERG: "Carrie" closed after five.

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: Well, you know, I hate to say the obvious, but to whoever wrote that, I mean, they're all going to laugh at you.

(LAUGHTER)

COULTON: Oh, man. Five stars.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

EISENBERG: Hey, you did fantastic.

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: Thank you.

EISENBERG: Thank you so much.

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: My pleasure. Thank you.

EISENBERG: And what a pleasure to talk to you again. See you soon, I hope.

BOB THE DRAG QUEEN: Yeah, I hope so.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

EISENBERG: You can watch Bob The Drag Queen on every episode of season one of "We're Here" on HBO right now. ASK ME ANOTHER'S house musician is Jonathan Coulton.

COULTON: Hey, my name anagrams to thou jolt a cannon.

EISENBERG: Our puzzles were written by our staff, along with Camilla Franklin and senior writer Karen Lurie (ph), with additional material by Cara Weinberger and Emily Winter. ASK ME ANOTHER is produced by Travis Larchuk, Kiara Powell (ph), Nancy Saechao, James Farber (ph) and Rommel Wood. Our senior supervising producer is Rachel Neel. And our bosses' bosses are Steve Nelson and Anya Grundmann. Thanks to our production partner WNYC. I'm her ripe begonias.

COULTON: Ophira Eisenberg.

EISENBERG: And this was ASK ME ANOTHER from NPR.

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