Put the garland on the tree and the wig glue on your forehead. It’s time for Christmas with a pair of very famous drag queens.
BenDeLaCreme and Jinkx Monsoon — aka Benjamin Putnam and Jerick Hoffer — have achieved just about the highest visibility possible for a drag queen not named RuPaul. The multitalented performers, old friends from the Seattle drag scene, rose to prominence on hit reality TV competition "RuPaul’s Drag Race." Jinkx won the show’s fifth season; BenDeLaCreme ("DeLa for short, De for shorter, Ms. Creme if you're nasty," she said on TV) was a fan favorite on the sixth season. She also returned for the third season of the show’s "All-Stars" edition.
Since "Drag Race," the pair have toured the world, on their own and together. After a successful team-up last holiday season — a show titled "To Jesus, Thanks For Everything! Jinkx and DeLa" — they’re bringing their new collaboration, "All I Want for Christmas is Attention," to Austin on Dec. 15 as part of an international tour.
We caught up with Jinkx and DeLa last month — "Nov. 1 is when Christmas starts for drag queens and drug stores," DeLa says — to find out the secret to a very queer Christmas. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
American-Statesman: I know you can’t give it all away, but how would you each describe this show?
BenDeLaCreme: Essentially, it’s a two-person theatrical production. It’s all live singing. It’s comedy. It’s storytelling. It’s spectacle. It’s dance. It has everything you want from a drag show. It’s got amazing costumes — all the rest of it.
But it still, at its heart, is a piece of theater with a true message of hope and warmth. The holidays can be very challenging for a lot of people, especially queer people. While we certainly revel in the inherent camp and spectacle of the season — suddenly everyone’s in bright colors, and there’s crazy characters — it can also be a difficult time. We’re not afraid to talk about that and find joy in the chosen family and spending time with each other.
Jinkx Monsoon: It’s a drag show with theatrical sensibility, and it’s a theater show with drag queen flair, all at the same time. It’s about two people with very different relationships to the holidays finding common ground through the unifying experience of holiday drama. (laughs)
B.D.L.C.: I think Jinkx actually said it really well when she said in the past ... what did you say?
J.M.: If you’re coming because you love drag, then you’re going to be surprised by the well-crafted theater. And if you’re coming because you like theater, then you‘re going to be surprised by how much of a drag fan you’re going to leave the theater as.
I’m glad that y’all touched on the difficulty that a lot of queer people have during the holidays. Have you heard from fans about what your holiday tour meant to them?
J.M.: I have a few experiences with people reaching out to me. I felt so accomplished, because we set out with the very clear goal of creating a community-building, unifying experience for people during the holiday season, in the event they don’t have other holiday traditions. Or maybe don’t have a good relationship with their blood family, so they feel kind of excluded from this time of year that’s so heteronormative and family-oriented.
I’ve had messages find their way to me saying, "I don’t talk to my parents, so I haven’t celebrated Christmas in six years. But when I heard you guys were doing a show together, I felt like for the first time in years I wanted to celebrate Christmas." And that, to me, felt like mission accomplished.
Y’all have both come through Austin before. Do you have any favorite spots or memories?
J.M.: I don’t know that this show exists still, but the first gig I ever did in Austin was this show called Poo Poo Platter.
J.M.: One of the queens who was doing Poo Poo Platter when I did it ages ago was a friend of mine back from Portland, Ore., named Bulimianne Rhapsody (the show’s director and producer). I remember feeling like, "Wow, Austin is the Portland of Texas." I felt so at home there, and I fell so in love with the audience and the experience and all the queens I was working with that night. There were so many shock queens, there were cheap queens with toilet seats over their head, covered in fake poop and stuff. I just thought, "Wow, this feels like a little slice of Northwest drag in the middle of Texas."
I felt so great that night that it was the first time I ever crowd-surfed.
J.M.: That was probably one of my favorite experiences ever in a drag show. Feeling that trust with the audience, that connection with the audience, to decide in a moment for the first time ever that I’m going to fall backwards into the crowd and surf over their bodies. (laughs)
You’re a brave woman.
B.D.L.C.: Successfully — she actually just plummeted to the floor several times before that. She just means it’s the first time that it worked.
J.M.: I started drag at 15 years old. Before I ever knew DeLa or any of my other wonderful drag sisters, I had a drag sister in Portland named Sabel Scities, who is an Austin queen. She is the personification of passionate drag. She’s loved drag more than anything for so long now. I’m always excited to see her there.
DeLa, I read that this is your first producing credit for an international tour under your own production company. What are you learning about putting on something this big?
B.D.L.C.: I’ve been producing locally in Seattle for a decade at this point. And then doing our show last year, "To Jesus, Thanks for Everything! Jinkx and DeLa," was my first time producing an actual tour. It was very intimidating. I didn’t know how things were going to work or turn out. It was successful beyond our dreams, now to the point that I feel very confident in bringing this overseas.
I think that one thing that we are taught as drag queens and as queer people ... there is always a constant message of "you can’t do it." We as queer people have to constantly overcome that. We have to tell ourselves every day that we can do these things on our own, that we don’t need people to pull us up.
Jinkx was pointing out earlier today that from our tech people to our tour management to our other performers to our PR team, it’s an entirely queer team. At a time when being in drag and being queer is "cool" and "popular," a lot of people see money signs. We’re not here to have money made off of us. We’re here to be in full control of our artistic vision.
Could you talk a little more about the commodification of queerness? Do you see anyone that’s doing a good job of supporting rather than exploiting?
B.D.L.C.: I think there are many. I don’t necessarily think that taking advantage is the norm. I think that people are motivated for different reasons. Certainly, for instance, as Pride becomes commodified, we see corporations that do not actually support our interests advertising on floats. I don’t think that’s necessarily the status quo.
J.M.: I’ll use television as an example. You can tell the difference between celebrating and exploiting — if a queer person or a drag queen’s story is being told by a queer person or a drag queen, versus a drag queen showing up in a TV show episode for about 10 seconds to deliver one contrived, pun-based line so that that show can then say, "We had a drag queen on it!"
If "Drag Race" has taught us anything, it’s that drag queens are multifaceted, nuanced, extremely talented people who happen to choose drag as their way of sharing that with the world. The drag queen comedians are real comedians. The drag queen actors and singers are real actors and singers. We shouldn't be boiled down into a novelty just to get views and just to get the young audience members. We should be allowed to be the wonderful performers that we’ve already proven that we are.
Thank you for that.
J.M.: Did you hear me get a little angry? (laughs)
I heard the passion rising in your voice.
B.D.L.C.: I watched it, and if her eyebrows were natural, they would have gotten real cross. She was ripping out wig hair.
J.M.: I looked like a Cathy cartoon.
One more: What do you think is the queerest piece of the holiday entertainment canon?
B.D.L.C.: The "Pee Wee’s Playhouse" Christmas special, hands down. "Pee Wee’s Playhouse" itself is one of my absolute favorite things. (It’s) a vaudevillian variety show, but put into this weird format allegedly for children. The "Pee Wee’s Playhouse" Christmas special is so campy, so over the top, so queer, so weird. I watch it multiple times a season, and it never stops inspiring me.
Grace Jones pops out of a box. It’s great.
B.D.L.C.: Oh my god, it’s nuts, right? She says, "I was supposed to be delivered to the White House. Oops, I might as well just sing ‘Little Drummer Boy.’"
J.M.: For me, the first time I felt like there was a piece of holiday entertainment that was made for me and people like me was "The Nightmare Before Christmas." It saddens me that Tim Burton seems to have turned his back on the kind of work he used to create. It saddens me that it has been co-opted by places like Hot Topic and turned into something that makes a lot of people cringe. But if you go back to subversive "Nightmare Before Christmas," it was a profound piece of entertainment.
I have a dirty secret. I’ve never actually watched it.
J.M.: You’re going to get off this phone call — listen to me! You’re going to get off this phone call, and you’re going to go use Amazon Prime, whatever you need to do to see that movie immediately after this.
B.D.L.C.: This is your homework.