Trixie Mattel loves Dolly Parton. She’s not subtle about it, or even a drag queen’s version of subtle.
Los Angeles-based Mattel — the stage name of Brian Firkus, a winner of the wildly popular "RuPaul’s Drag Race" TV franchise — usually wears a giant blond wig. Pink is a dominant part of her wardrobe. She is indisputably the most successful drag queen country singer in the world.
Fans of Austin film lore might remember that Parton’s "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" premiered at the Paramount Theatre in 1982. Mattel, 30, is just learning about this when we talk on the phone two days after Christmas. The performer’s "Trixie Mattel: Grown Up" tour will stop March 10 at the Paramount, as it happens.
"Oh, well, I guess you could call my show the second-best little whorehouse," she says.
"I love Dolly Parton, who to me represents the marriage and the intersection between storytelling and music," Mattel continues. "She makes people laugh as much as she makes people sing along, and that's obviously the direction I like to go in. She’s an icon."
In about five years, Mattel has attained icon status in her corner of the entertainment world, wearing more hats (wigs?) than most drag queens who have competed on the show that made her famous.
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There’s Mattel’s music career — three albums deep, including this year’s Cali sun-soaked "Barbara." There’s her wildly popular YouTube series, "Unhhhh," which she created with drag co-conspirator Katya, aka Brian McCook. The web series — any given episode has more than a million views, easy — even spun off into a short-lived cable iteration, "The Trixie and Katya Show" on the Viceland network, a leap depicted in the 2019 documentary "Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts."
What else? A comedy special ("Trixie Mattel: Skinny Legend"), a book written with Katya ("Trixie and Katya’s Guide to Modern Womanhood," out in May), a new web series for Netflix ("I Like to Watch," again with Katya), a cosmetics line … one could go on.
Which brings us to the headlining tours, of which "Grown Up" is the fifth.
"My philosophy with my shows is people come to see Trixie for a lot of different reasons," Mattel says, adding that she tries to cater to the superfan and the first-timer alike. She’s bringing it all this time: Great music, great hair, great makeup, great jokes, videos, original cartoons, multiple costume changes — about 12, by Mattel’s count, with new mod looks inspired by classic Barbies. (Mattel owns her own massive collection of dolls. Now you get the surname.)
"This time I invested in bringing a band. It's all comedy, definitely. But there's more music. There's a drummer, a bass player, a guitar player, and then me, playing guitar, ripping wigs off, ripping dresses off, telling jokes. It's psycho."
Mattel started playing guitar at 13. She grew up gay and poor in a small town, learning to win over kids at school with humor. Her grandpa told jokes and played the acoustic guitar, too, which left an impression. So did the comedy downloaded from Limewire using a dial-up internet connection, stand-up from comedians like Ellen DeGeneres and Margaret Cho.
Mattel came up in the Midwestern drag scene. Her career started with lip-sync performances for tips, most drag queens’ primary line of work. One night at a show in her early 20s, another queen was having trouble gluing down fabric to cover up a, let’s say, strategic area. Mattel jumped off the deep end, as she puts it, stalling with jokes on the mic for 10 minutes.
The universe had thrown something in her lap. Comedy could set her apart in the drag world. Once she paired the punchlines with music, Mattel knew she was onto something fresh.
"The great thing about dressing like this happy kids toy is you get to really address adult anxieties head-on, because you're in this chicken suit," Mattel says. "You can get darker and weirder. You can really cross the line."
"You know, I'm a 6-foot-tall white guy with a shaved head. That's really not the look in 2020 to get away with some of the jokes I tell," she continues. "But the great thing about being a drag queen is you walk out on stage, and just because you're dressed as a woman, you forfeit all your privilege, because being a cross-dressing gay man is like the lowest low."
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Then, Mattel says, she feels she can go straight for the jugular: "No one can say nothing, because a clown did it."
"Grown Up" tackles the big questions in life, Mattel says: What does it mean to be an adult? Is this life what you want for yourself? Will people find out you’re a fraud? Despite the occasional 2 a.m. doubts, Mattel keeps rolling the dice, producing her own records and mounting tours.
"I guess part of the growing up experience is, all these doubts don't go away," Mattel says. "They just change, you know? You don't ever really win, because you were never really losing in the first place."
Mattel has toured through Austin before. The last time she was here, a too-close spotlight burned part of her retina, she says: "I had a terrible injury in Austin and I’m still coming back. So if that's not love, I don't know what is."
The fact that Parton made history at the theater Mattel is about to play probably doesn’t hurt, either.
"That comforts me, because that means I'm not going to be the first drag queen at the venue."