Why Drag Stars Trixie and Katya Are OK Being ‘Weirdos Within a Weird Community’ (Exclusive)
By Stephen Daw
Mark Christopher for Viceland
Having a conversation with drag stars Trixie Mattel and Katya Zamolodchikova (real names Brian Firkus and Brian McCook, respectively) is kind of like being on an extended episode of their YouTube webseries, UNHhhh. You may start talking with them about one topic, but the next thing you know, they’re off on a tangent about why Bart Simpson says “Eat my shorts.”
In a conversation with ET, Trixie and Katya discuss going from YouTube to Viceland, their experience competing on VH1’s reality series, why they want to talk about serious issues like suicide and much, much more.
ET: What it was like watching your web show, UNHhhh, blow up all over the internet?
Katya Zamolodchikova: I don't know. I don't really pay attention to that. I'm not trying to be falsely modest, but I became aware of the success of the web show because, twofold, it was referenced more and more at meet-and-greets than the actual Drag Race show. So I was like, "Oh, this is making a big impact." And then, one day, I was at my computer and I saw that one of them had a million views and I was like, "Whoa." So that was my experience.
Trixie Mattel: I mean, I am the opposite. I'm a full-on nerd. I watch the videos with a cash register and, like, a green visor on, checking the views, counting my money.
Katya: We gotta get those clicks.
Trixie: On a personal note, we think that the show is so funny. So for other people to think what we think is so funny is funny, it's just more fun as a group. But even if no one liked it, I think that we would still make it. We watch it and full-on barnyard animal laugh at it. I laugh at our series, I think it's so funny. I listen to my own music, I look at pictures of myself naked, and you know what? Damn.
So how did this new show on Viceland come to fruition?
Katya: Well, Bob, when you plant a seed in the middle of a field and you water it with God's juicy rain three times a year, a tree doesn't grow. So, you go to a production company and ask for a show, and they say "Yes."
Trixie: Yeah, I don't know how we got so lucky, but it's mostly, with this political climate, I feel like ... there probably weren't people looking for cross-dressers to put on television, but at Viceland, they're so into comedy. And the sense of humor on Viceland is a little bit out there, a little bit left of center and very niche, I think we just fit what they were looking for. Where there's smoke, there's fire. And I think they saw the smoke, also, of some of our YouTube videos, and the views, and the fans. Because people who watch our show are not quiet about it. They are so enthusiastic about it.
Your fans are very active, and I think they have revitalized the popularity of the film Contact.
Katya: I would certainly hope so, Bob. And I hope that it also points them in the direction of the movie Arrival, which came out just a year ago. It is, um ... an A+ film. No, A. Not A+, but an A, for sure. And you know what it does? Well, you know what it does. Anyways, I love Contact because she went through a wormhole there. I wanna get in a wormhole, you gotta get in a wormhole. You gotta get on the beach, get on the beach! Get on the beach, meet your dead dad, figure it out and go back home! Angela Bassett is absolutely going to believe you! One black woman will believe you, and that's all you need! That's all you need! I mean, look at what's happening now! James Woods' career is literally over because he was in with right-wing, zealot conspiracy theorists, and Angela Bassett convinced him, in that movie, that it was real! And he was like, "Oh, well, I guess you're right, Bob, it is pretty compelling that they had 18 hours of static recorded." Anyways, that's it.
What can we expect that's going to be really, really different from the YouTube show on Viceland, and what can we expect that's going to remain the same?
Katya: It's going to be longer and it's going to be funny.
Trixie: Yeah, you're going to see us doing things we've never done before. Things out of drag, we actually have a lot more games and organized pieces. So if you're new to the series, you're not quite going to get as, like, f--ked by the insanity of it. But it's going to be the same sort of offbeat comedy. I'm still screaming, that's my laugh. Katya's still saying something really horrible and then looking at the camera and posing. [The show] still has a lot of that normal stuff.
Katya, are we going to get more of you wearing huge wigs and posing like you belong on the back cover of a romance novel?
Katya: ¡Dime que no! Does Dolly Parton sleep on her f--king back, b---h?
Trixie: [Scream laughs]
On the YouTube show, you guys have covered religion, porn, death, aging, orgasms, having sex in drag, space and more. Have there ever been, or do you think there ever will be, any topics that you guys would want to take a step back from and not talk about?
Trixie: No, there's things that we want to talk about. It's the opposite, where they're like, "Maybe not all of human history."
Katya: Yeah, like, I want to talk about racism, but it's not the right topic for me and her to talk about. Because we're two white men, can you imagine how complicated that would be? Two white men who happen to be dressed like weird doll-people trying to talk about racism? There's more articulate and important people expounding on that topic in a real, effective way. So we don't need to talk about that.
Trixie: I mean, yeah. I trust somebody like Courtney Act to talk to you about gender fluidity. I think you can come to us to talk to you about how to pull Legos out of your vacuum cleaner, you know?
Katya: [Laughs] Oh, my God.
Trixie: You know, Katya and I are not depressed, but I think we're both dark spirits that don't fear talking about things that make us uncomfortable. Like suicide, for example, may be not the best thing for us to talk about.
Katya: But mama, we could.
Trixie: I love suicide and I want to talk about it! I don't love it, but --
Katya: No, no, no, you can go on the record that if we get a season two, the first episode is going to be about suicide. Because I think that's what we do!
Trixie: In either of our stories, we're not the winner. And none of our stories are about us getting it right. If anything, we give insight on life through how many ways we've done it wrong. Like, we got it wrong, and we're still here.
Katya: Yeah! I once took like 82 pills of ibuprofen. Ibuprofen does not kill you. It's like, there is nothing more embarrassing than a botched suicide attempt.
Trixie: Yeah, not only are you still alive, but everyone knows you're stupid.
Katya: Yes, and then, it's, like, exacerbated by the point that I have to be hospitalized because the legality of the situation requires me to be hospitalized. So I kind of have to go along with the charade. But, seriously, it is bad, and if you throw yourself in front of a train and you survive, that's a miracle. If you miss yourself with a bullet that you put in the gun, that's a miracle. Mine was a humiliation, and now the general public needs to pay for it. [Laughs]
Trixie: [Laughs] Yeah, this could have just been The Trixie Show if she would have f--king done it right.
Katya: Yeah, I would have been out of commission at 15, with like six or seven weird paintings as my legacy, and it would have been fine. But no, I lived to tell the tale, and now they have to be tortured by it.
Trixie: I should have been auditioning people because I didn't have a partner. Imagine, like, Ewan McGregor in a blonde wig at a casting call, and I'm like, "We'll call you." You know what I mean?
Katya: Temple Grandin would have been better than me, absolutely.
Trixie: [Laughs] B---h, you are the Temple Grandin of drag.
Katya: I would not besmirch her name like that, but I take it as a compliment. Thank you.
I want to talk a little bit about your guys' fans, and the fans of Drag Race, because I feel like Drag Race fans are--
Katya: Mentally ill?
I was going to say very passionate, but yeah! What do you think it is about the show and what you guys do that pulls that weird, visceral, almost animal side out of them?
Katya: OK, you are going way too far with that description. What's on your plate today? Who's chasing you?
Trixie: I will say this: We are weirdos within a weird community. You don't have to do drag, you don't have to be gay or marginalized in any way, but we've all felt like the weirdo or felt like the outsider, so on Drag Race, you watch an outsider in a room full of other outsiders embrace their outsider-ness so fiercely that they command an audience to think they are the coolest person in the world. Like, no matter what you're into, that's inspiring. Like, the feathers, the boas, the sequins, that’s all great. But what you really watch it for, you watch it for a room full of people who know damn well that they are not women, all just agreeing to suspend disbelief for the fun of it, and that's inspiring.
Katya: Yeah, I totally agree.
Trixie: I mean, separate but equal is fine with me. Being gay is so fun, I want ... give me my own bubbler and make it so fierce. You know what I mean, I don't care.
Katya: [Laughs] Yeah, I don't want your f--king bubbler, b---h. I want there to be a gay bubbler because it's a douche, and I want to stick it up my butt.
Trixie: Yeah, I want a gay bubbler, like, there's a doorman, and when you walk in, it's like, [singing] "Be my lover, wanna be my lover?" And it's like pink water, and there's a disco ball hanging right above where you drink from.
Katya: Yes, Barbara.
Trixie: See, I feel like drag was the best kept secret in the world, and I'm happy that it's not a secret any more, but of course everyone's obsessed with it! They're the last ones to catch up on how fun it is.
Katya: Yeah, it's not for everybody though.
Trixie: For us it's like, "We been knew."
Well with that kind of popularity, do you think that drag is becoming mainstream?
Katya: No, no, no, no, no.
Trixie: Drag will always find a way to be weird.
Katya: And it's just a numbers game. Ten percent of the population, on a crude average, identifies as gay. I'm not saying queer, I'm saying gay. Ten percent of the population identifies as gay or lesbian. We're gay mascots, and a lot of drag does not make sense to straight people because it doesn't apply to them. We're actually making fun of them. So, it doesn't need to be mainstream, they don't need to understand it -- we're making fun of them! That's what we're doing. So when a drag queen tries to be Jennifer Lopez instead of making fun of Jennifer Lopez, that brings this to a different area. It doesn't make it worse or bad, but the crux of drag is parody.
Trixie: Yeah, totally. Like, I love that drag is a way for people to vacation in the gay nightlife, but ... it's quite a different experience to perform for a gay audience than a straight audience.
Katya: Yeah, we've both done it ad nauseum, and working for straight people as a freak show, that sometimes can be humiliating in a way. But it's a bizarre, psychosexual freak show thing that happens, and I don't quite understand it, and I don't ever really want to do it again for all straight women who think it's fun to look at weirdos who are trying to be ladies. But it's never going to be mainstream, and it shouldn't. I don't ever wanna be mainstream.
Trixie: Like, when you look at Drag Race, it has gotten so mainstream. And Drag Race has gotten so mainstream --
Katya: No, popular! Trixie, Trixie, I mean ... it's popular, though. It's not mainstream.
Trixie: OK, so popular.
Katya: Mainstream is something ... like Big Bang Theory. Seinfeld is mainstream.
Trixie: Right. But now Dragula showed up. So, on the heels of Drag Race becoming something that the entire culture knows about, now something like that is there! When you perform for a room full of gay people, gay people want you to go dark, they want you to go deep, they want you to be sexy and wild and sad, where it's like, straight people ... it's a different type of thing that they look for in drag. And it's a different type of thing that they can even pick up on.
Katya: Yeah, while Drag Race the show has gained enough popularity, that allows for some spinoff and some kind of parody, which hasn't happened yet, that's a great thing. Its influence and reach can tap into a lot of different factors like makeup and beauty and gender norms, whatever, but we'll always be outsiders looking in. And that's the value of drag! I said parody, but I didn't mean that. The crux of drag is outsiders looking in. That's all it is.
Trixie: And that's an asset too. I mean, look at our series; part of why our YouTube series worked was because, yes, people were laughing at us, but they also really liked how strange we were. I mean, we are outsiders as comedians.
Katya: Yes! We're outsiders within the drag universe!
Trixie: Yeah, Katya and I are weird for drag queens, and that's weird, mama. I don't ever want to be normal.
Katya: Yeah, within the drag universe -- not just within the Drag Race universe, let me be very clear. Within the drag universe, which is large, and which is mostly unseen by normal eyes, we are regarded with, at first, suspicion and contempt prior to investigation. When someone walks into the dressing room who looks like a broke-down Barbie or a wild slut from hell, you want to be like, "Girl, what the f--k is your T?”
Well that's kind of an interesting point I wanted to touch on -- there is this larger drag world that is unseen by most people. How much visibility to the drag community Drag Race has brought?
Katya: Oh, a ton, mama.
Trixie: I mean, tons. Ten years ago, drag used to happen, like, once or twice a week in most gay bars. Nowadays, bitch, there's a drag show Monday, there's an amateur show Wednesday night, there's a Drag Race viewing party with a show on Fridays, like ... it's all over the place now. And you don't have to be on Drag Race to make a living doing drag, but that is related to the fact that Drag Race exists. Does that make sense?
Trixie: Yeah. The same way, like, when Wicked was big on Broadway, or Hairspray ... when regional or community theaters start doing those productions, it's going to drive people to come check it out, because they've heard about it from somewhere else.
Katya: Basically, I think that we're at the Broadway level of all of these drag queens.
Trixie: Yeah, I mean, I'm a big fan of musical theater, and I don't like to bust it out too often, but this is the right time.
So with that popularization, how do you think drag has changed? I know that Jasmine Masters is famous for saying "RuPaul's Drag Race has f--ked up drag."
Katya: Yes it has! Yes it has! Can I just jump on that right now?
Trixie: Let me just conference in RuPaul, one second Katya.
Katya: No, no, no. When she said that RuPaul's Drag Race has f--ked up drag, she was absolutely right. Because she existed in the subliminal space between the local queen world and the Drag Race success world, because she went home third. So, she didn't receive as much benefit in each way, so she saw the effects of Drag Race, she saw how it drove people to an obsessive preoccupation with Drag Race queens. Now the incorrect thing was that it didn't necessarily take a lot of audience members away from the local girls. It just added. It added, mama.
Katya: That's true, and I'll argue with any local girl on that. Because I was, myself, a local girl, and the bars are still doing OK. But it has changed the landscape, and it's so much pressure to get on the show that even the local girls themselves have to fight with this low self-esteem battle, saying, "I'm not any good because I'm not on TV."
Trixie: It's just crazy. That’s like saying that you're not a good musician, or you're not a good singer because you didn't do American Idol.
Katya: Exactly! It's crazy talk! It's apples and oranges. The success level of a Drag Race girl is due, in part, to her success as a reality TV personality, mama. It’s not all about her talent. Just go look at Miss Continental. Your wig will be snatched by the attention to detail, the money!
Trixie: Katya and I might be two of your favorite drag queens, but we are not the ones you want to go see on a Friday night at your local club.
Katya: No! No! You wanna hear us the next day talking about the show you saw last night. That's where we come in.
Trixie: But things have changed. It hasn't "f--ked up" drag, but think about it -- MTV changed the music industry, YouTube and Instagram changed the beauty industry, so of course it all changed. Part of being a successful businessperson is about adapting as your industry evolves. [Pauses] B---h, I am so smart right now. I am so up my own ass.
Katya: If I would be so bold as to, like, enlarge her statement or make it a little bit more specific, I would say that RuPaul's Drag Race has shook up drag.
The Trixie & Katya Show airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on Viceland.