EXCLUSIVE: Bob the Drag Queen on the Future of Drag and Conquering the World -- What Have You Done Lately?
By John Boone
Bob the Drag Queen is sitting at a vanity in a small green room in an industrial building in the Arts District of Los Angeles, multicolor posters of RuPaul's Drag Race alums -- Alaska, Manila, Sharon -- looking down on him as Born This Way buzzes from a speaker. "Just listening to Lady Gaga. That's how you know I'm gay," Bob deadpans as he applies black lip liner in the mirror. "Otherwise you might not have known!"
Gay or otherwise oriented, in full drag or half drag -- as he is currently: bald and barefoot, but his face painted with a flawless contour, glittery eye shadow and large lashes -- Bob is undeniably recognizable, a drag queen for the people who just last month bequeathed his title of America's Next Drag Superstar.
"I am former f**king reigning. I'm just a citizen, like you. We're both just pedestrians," says Bob (real name: Christopher Caldwell). I point out that I never reigned at all. "You're right. We're not alike. We're much different."
Despite joking with Drag Race's titular grand dame that he'd like to keep his crown on, please, Bob says that after dutifully serving out his term, which officially ended with Sasha Velour's win on the season nine finale, he doesn't miss it. "I did feel a responsibility, and I feel like I fulfilled it and went beyond," he explains, before rehashing a recent exchange he had on Twitter in which a "fan" confronted him over how he'd spent his year as our reigning queen. "I was like, Well, all I did was star in two feature films, filmed a standup comedy special, I was on four television shows, I traveled to eight countries on four different continents and I helped raise over $50,000 for charity. So, what did you do this year, you f**king a**hole." Bob never tweeted that last part. Still, "He blocked me."
Bob was a comedian first, in that he has always been naturally funny. In high school, he was cast in a "horrible" play, but discovered his love of acting. He eventually moved to New York City with a few children's theater credits and a notebook full of jokes to professionally pursue acting and standup -- though he'd never attempted the latter. Inspired by Drag Race contestants like season one winner BeBe Zahara Benet, Bob, going by the name Kittin Withawhip, made his standup comedy and drag debut on the same night in 2009. ("That's on the internet right now," he laughs, beckoning for his phone to show me "Funny Drag Queen Part 1.")
"I went to school for acting. I am from the theater, darling," Bob says. He's wearing a yellow flannel and cropped shorts and curls into the white couch, two pillows cushioned in his lap, as he clarifies that his major was technically theater education. "But I never wanted to be a teacher. I just didn't want to fail in life, so I chose education as a backup plan."
Six years later, Bob entered the Drag Race workroom purse first and beat finalists Kim Chi and Naomi Smalls for season eight's crown. He leveraged the win into roles on HBO's High Maintenance and USA's Playing House, as well as a cameo alongside Scarlett Johansson and Kate McKinnon in Rough Night. While other queens are often credited onscreen using their drag persona, a new chapter in Bob's professional life signaled another name change: Caldwell Tidicue, a merging of his birth name and drag name. ("Tidicue is not my real last name. It's just T-D-Q, as in 'The Drag Queen.'")
"Backup plans are for the weak," he proclaims. "I say it now and I stand by that. Acting is my first passion. You know, Joan Rivers was an actor first. She always wanted to be an actor."
This week marks a truly Joan Rivers-esque moment in Bob's career: His newest film, Cherry Pop, about the backstage mayhem at a failing drag club, co-starring fellow Drag Race favorites Detox and Latrice Royale, has its OutFest premiere on July 10. That same night, his first standup special, Suspiciously Large Woman, airs on Logo and will be available to stream on REVRY the following day. If Bianca Del Rio, season six's winner, is the Don Rickles of drag queen comedians, Bob is the Chris Rock, with a set touching on politics, his newfound fame and white people.
"I am a firm believer in 'you can say whatever the f**k you want to say,' and I don't believe in apologizing for jokes, even if they're offensive," Bob shrugs, punctuating the last sentiment. "If I stepped on your foot and I didn't mean, I'd apologize for it. Like, Oh, I knocked you down a flight of stairs on accident. I would certainly say I was sorry, and I would feel deep sorrow in my heart. But the truth is, I tell very offensive jokes. I make fun of a lot of stuff I shouldn't make fun of."
In person, Bob is not as boisterous as you might expect. Rather, he's thoughtful and direct with his words, never more so than when I ask about the legacy he hopes to leave. Demurring at first, he tells me it's not RuPaul's career that he aspires to, as most people assume, but another legendary queen: "I was watching Lady Bunny perform and I thought to myself, One day she'll be dead and I'll be where she is, and I'll be the old drag queen that you are expecting to die soon."
He lets out a hearty laugh and then, without missing a beat, more earnestly explains that, while watching Lady Bunny perform, he though to himself, "Wow, this queen has such an impressive body of work. I hope that one day I can have that too."
For now, he is just a citizen living in Sasha Velour's world. With the art of drag continuing to edge into the mainstream -- or as mainstream as Drag Race airing on VH1 and receiving Emmy recognition -- Sasha, another bald queen from NYC, won season nine by proclaiming herself the future of drag. "We have to be able to do something new," she said during the penultimate episode. "The new thing is going to seem a little strange and a little weird...And that is me."
"First of all, that kind of drag is not new, but it is being highlighted," Bob exclaims. "By the way, I love Sasha Velour! But I don't think that in the future all drag queens will be bald with unibrows with rose petals falling from every orifice of their body." He's quick to clarify that, even if that's a read, it's all tea, no shade.
"I hate the term 'the future of drag.' It's so silly," he continues with a roll of his eye and a flick of his hands that reveals a tattoo on the back of each: "Butch" and "Queen," with a small crown appropriately adorning the B. "Everyone's so obsessed with the future of drag. Girl, we're in the future of drag!"