Exclusive Interview: star of HBO’s We’re Here & Drag Race superstar Bob the Drag Queen “being queer is the best thing that’s ever happened to me”

With the second episode of HBO’s brilliant new unscripted series We’re Here airing tonight, we caught up with actor, stand-up comedian and one of the most in-demand queens in the country, RuPaul’s Drag Race season 8 winner Bob the Drag Queen, who also goes by their equally fabulous non-drag name, Caldwell Tidicue.

Bob is not only starring alongside fellow Drag Race alum Shangela and Eureka O’Hara on We’re Here, taking drag across the USA to where its messages of empowerment and self-acceptance are needed the most, but she’s also keeping busy during lockdown with her podcast Sibling Rivalry, co-hosted by her drag sister Monét X Change. And every Wednesday during these self-quarantine times Bob heads down to her New York basement and takes to Instagram and Twitter for her Bob Live show. You can also find Bob on VH1’s YouTube channel with her official Drag Race season 12 recap show.

With two comedy specials, acting credits including Netflix’s Tales of the City and the romcom Rough Night, and the singles Bloodbath and Purse First, there’s nothing this queen can’t do.

Caldwell Tidicue (Bob the Drag Queen), D.J. Pierce (Shangela), David Huggard (Eureka O’Hara). Photograph by Courtesy of HBO.

The Queer Review’s editor James Kleinmann spoke exclusively with Bob the Drag Queen about becoming a drag mother on HBO’s We’re Here, her own experience of being a drag daughter in New York, her Drag Race season 12 favourite, her love for To Wong Foo and Paris is Burning, and that We’re Here motorised purse!

James Kleinmann, The Queer Review: Condragulations on We’re Here, I loved every moment of the first three episodes, I actually watched them all back-to-back in one night!

Bob the Drag Queen: “And that’s without cliff-hangers, wow, we hooked you in! Thank you for that glowing review you gave us, how sweet of you.”

In addition to starring in We’re Here, you, Shangela and Eureka are also consulting producers on the series. What kind of input did that allow you to have in creating the show?

“Shangela, Eureka and myself, we essentially hired the entire creative staff as far as the drag goes. So the wig designers, the costume designers, the people who mix our music, the choreographers, the assistants. We basically gave the names for all those people who work in all those departments. And those numbers that you see us coming up with on the show, we actually came up with those for real. It’s not like Shangela, Eureka and I are sitting back eating Domino’s Pizza while everyone else does all the work! We actually come up with the numbers and do a lot of the creative work on the show.”

D.J. Pierce (Shangela), Caldwell Tidicue (Bob the Drag Queen) and David Huggard (Eureka O’Hara). Photograph by Courtesy of HBO.

You say at one point in the series that drag saved your life, and you weren’t exaggerating right?

“No. First of all, I don’t know where I’d be without it. I’ve often said out loud that being queer is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I know that there were definitely times in my life where I felt I didn’t know what to do and I felt really depressed, feeling like I had essentially nothing to do, nothing to live for, questioning my purpose. Do you ever have those existential moments where you think ‘what’s my purpose in life?'”

Yes, absolutely.

“And then I stumbled across RuPaul’s Drag Race on TV and I thought to myself ‘I’ll give this a try.’ It’s kept me sane, it’s kept me connected. Some of the best friendships I have in my life are through doing drag. Everything I have today is because of drag. I had done a class in college where we had to do drag makeup and I remember thinking it was kinda fun, but then I saw Drag Race and I was really taken in by the culture behind it. I had just moved to New York City and thought ‘I want to try this, I want to give this a shot.’ And after I tried it, I thought ‘I’m actually really good at this’, so that’s when I decided to start trying shows and stand-up.”

Caldwell Tidicue (Bob the Drag Queen). Courtesy of HBO.

One of the other things you say to your drag daughter Tanner in episode three is “the gag is we all need help’ and actually the show uses drag as a form of therapy doesn’t it? Could you talk a bit about the ways you feel that drag can help people.

“Well, the drag in a way is a slight distraction, it’s not really about the drag. It’s more so about the connection we have with each other and the drag just gives us an opportunity to take our minds off things. Oddly enough you can be more human and more real in drag. By putting on all this armour, you actually let your guard down, that’s the ironic thing.”

Can we talk a bit about some of the drag daughters you work with on We’re Here? In episode one you’re getting Darryl into drag, tell us a bit about your experience of working with him.

“Well, Darryl was really lovely. He works at the college in Gettysburg so everyone knew who he was, because I found out that a lot of people end up staying in Gettysburg after they go to college there, they just fall in love with the town. So he was a very popular member of the community and the fact that he was a prominent black man allying himself with the queer community I think sends a really strong message. And also he was just insanely funny, like the laughs you see on camera are one thing, but he’s one of the funniest folks I think I’ve met on the road to be honest. He kind of reminded me of one of my uncles atually.”

Caldwell Tidicue (Bob the Drag Queen) and his We’re Here drag daughter Darryl.
Courtesy of HBO.

I liked him a lot and it was just really fun to see him put the heels on and start throwing some of those moves. In episode two you work with a group of local drag artists in Twin Falls Idaho who are a little rough around the edges in their looks and performances. One of them gives quite a racy performance at the beginning of the episode don’t they?

“Yeah! Which I engage in sometimes myself as well, so I’m not knocking a little bit of an adult performance, because I have a lot of those in my repertoire. You can find them all on the Internet if you look hard enough. You don’t even have to look very hard actually! Just if you look in general you will find them!”

Tell us about working with those three, the point wasn’t to make them professional drag queens, it was more to do with the fact that they were isolated from one another and trying to get them to spend a bit of time together to form an LGBTQ community wasn’t it?

“Yes. Representation is so important and when people within the queer community can see other queers getting together, having fun and doing shows and engaging, some young queer will see that and be like ‘wow, there is a community here, wow, I’m not alone, I’m not by myself in Twin Falls’, which is what I felt growing up in Columbus, Georgia.”

Caldwell Tidicue (Bob the Drag Queen) and his Twin Falls drag daughters. Courtesy of HBO.

One of the most powerful stories that I was so invested in was Tanner and his mother in episodes three. He can’t align being a Christian and being gay. And I think his story really chimed with some of your own life experiences didn’t it?

“Yes, and I will say too, the more I travel the world the more I realise that we actually have a lot more in common than we are different. I didn’t realise how similar we all really are until I travelled. Tanner was just a real joy, someone who loves performing which I related to wholeheartedly, I mean I don’t know what I would do if I wasn’t a performer. The only other thing I could possibly do with my life is teaching performance. Working with Tanner, it home because as you’ll see in the episode a lot of those stories are things that have been echoed in my life and in my family as well. So seeing Tanner get a chance to connect with his mom on that level really meant a lot to me.”

Caldwell Tidicue (Bob the Drag Queen) with his Twin Falls drag daughter. Courtesy of HBO.

As you go from town to town across the country, you’re in the role of drag mother and I wondered if you had a drag mother in your own life as you were getting into drag, someone who was in that mentor position?

“You know, not really. When I started out my drag mom was YouTube! I would just go on the Internet, work out how to do everything and there’s a thriving drag community in New York City, there are hundreds of drag queens here who have helped me out. I would got to shows by Sherry Vine, or Bianca del Rio, or Peppermint, I would just sit there in the audience and watch them perform and take notes. They would take me under their wing and they would show me how to do really simple things here and there. Ivy Winters taught me how to make wigs and Peppermint taught me how to entertain a crowd, and Bianca Del Rio taught me how to hem a dress and so there are lots of drag queens that have helped me over time. Sherry Vine showed me the importance of social media. There have been lots of queens who have helped create Bob the Drag Queen, but I didn’t have one drag mom.”

Caldwell Tidicue (Bob the Drag Queen) with his drag daughter Darryl. Courtesy of HBO.

And how did you find taking on that role of drag mother for We’re Here? Have you been a drag mother to young queens yourself outside the show?

“Yeah, I have a lot of drag daughters. Ironically most of my drag daughters are actually older than I am, but I’ve been doing drag longer than them. And it’s just one of those things where people come up to me and they ask me ‘will you be my drag mom?’ and I’m like ‘oh sure, I’ll help you out.’ And it is a role that I do take quite seriously. Most of the drag queens on We’re Here are not career performers that are not looking to do this professionally and it’s more of an outlet for this show and for their feelings, but in the real world when someone asks me to be their drag mom I take it really earnestly.”

What was the most satisfying moment during this first season of We’re Here in your role as drag mom, in terms of connecting with them or helping one of your drag daughters?

“You’ll see in episode 4 we went to Farmington, New Mexico and my drag daughter was from Shiprock which is part of the Navajo Nation and that was honestly one of the amazing experiences. That performance is so good, I don’t want to spoil anything by saying too much, but it’s so good. Episode 4, check it out!”

Caldwell Tidicue (Bob the Drag Queen) with his drag daughter Darryl. Courtesy of HBO.

The show made me think of To Wong Foo, just in that it’s drag queens going to small conservative towns, the fabulous outfits and some of the images from the show as well. What does that movie mean to you?

“Growing up To Wong Foo was one of my all-time favourite movies. I remember going to my uncle’s house and we had a VHS of it and I would sit in his room on his waterbed while the rest of the family was doing other stuff, because they didn’t want to watch the movie again! I would watch To Wong Foo over and over again. My uncle would make me baked apples, I will never forget this, he made the most delicious baked apples, and I would just sit on his bed watching To Wong Foo eating those baked apples in Atlanta.”

John Leguizamo, Wesley Snipes and Patrick Swayze in
To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar

And I saw that you were tweeting about it recently, wondering about Wesley Snipes’ preparation for the role.

“Yes, actually I read your review of We’re Here that mentioned To Wong Foo and I was thinking to myself, ‘oh my God, Wesley Snipes was so good in that movie, who trained him to be a drag queen?’ It turns out that it was a collection of queens, but I think it was mostly led by a queen named Lina Bradford who’s a very popular New York City queen and she’s a DJ, she goes on The View a lot. She has a really great YouTube show called In The DollHouse with Lina.”

I loved the vehicles, we won’t tell the other girls but I think you had the best one.

“I mean a big driving purse is kind of the best thing ever, am I right?!”

Did you get to drive around in it?

“No, I am not a professional and I don’t have a driver license so I actually never drove the car. I hate to crush everyone’s dreams but those are professionals who are driving those cars! I have been in it, but I’ve never actually driven it!”

Tales of the City. Courtesy of Netflix.

I think it’s amazing how may things you do, I love the music that you’ve done and your stand-up comedy specials, your podcast, your Drag Race recap show and you’ve had lots of acting projects, so there are so many different things we could talk about it’s hard to zone in on just one, but I loved you in Tales of the City, I thought you were just fantastic in that.

“Thank you!”

Were you a fan of the books or the previous three miniseries?

“So I ended up doing this show with the San Francisco symphony and Armistead Maupin was there and that was the first time that I heard about Armistead and Tales of the City. He was reading at the event and I was doing some poetry. Then I started getting into Tales of the City because Peaches Christ, who’s a good friend and drag mentor of mine, was like ‘you’ve got to get into it’, so I stated reading it, then five or maybe six months later I got a call to come and audition for Tales of the City, and then the next thing you know, I was in it!”

You made a real impact with the role I thought.

“Yeah, I was the bar manager. It was really fun and it was great being around such talented actors like Olympia Dukakis, Laura Linney, Ellen Paige and Fortune Feimster. There were so many great people on set who were amazing, it felt really nice, I don’t know how else to say it.”

I’d love to see another season.

“Well, it said it was a limited series, but stranger things have happened right?!”

Widow Von’Du on RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 12. Courtesy of VH1.

So what about the current season of Drag Race, you have to watch because do the recap show!

“Yes, I host a show on VH1’s YouTube page called The Pit Stop where we review every single episode, it’s the official recap show, but even when I wasn’t working for VH1 I still watched because it’s my favourite show on TV! I think that this cast is really amazingly talented. My personal favourite on the show is the Widow Von’Du. I just really love her talent, her look, her everything.”

So we’ll see you on The Pit Stop for the rest of the season and you’ve got Bob Live on your social media.

“Yeah, Bob Live is my own silly little show that I do from my basement every Wednesday. Me and my friends put it together and it’s a way for me to not lose my mind during quarantine!”

And then there’s the Sibling Rivalry podcast too.

“Yes, I definitely try to keep myself as busy as possible!”

Paris is Burning. Jennie Livingston.

What’s yavourite LGBTQ+ movie, TV series, book, play, artwork, or piece of music? Something that’s resonated with you over the years or it could be something current.

“Well, it’s between RuPaul’s Drag Race and Paris is Burning. I mean Paris is Burning is probably one of the most influential queer films of all time.”

Yes, absolutely and you reference the film in your song Purse First don’t you?

“Yeah: ‘it is a known fact that a woman do carry an evening bag at dinner time’, which is a great quote from Paris is Burning.”

I just interviewed Paris Burning’s director Jennie Livingston for the 30th anniversary.

“Oh, werk!”

When did you first discover the film, what about it spoke to you?

“That’s a good question, I was probably somewhere around twenty years-old and someone mentioned Paris is Burning, and I didn’t know what it was at that time and so they did that thing, they go ‘hey, you never heard of Paris is Burning?!’ So I watched it and I instantly started recognising so many quotes that have become popular in queer culture, I hadn’t realise how many of those quotes actually came from Paris is Burning.”

Is it a film you go back to often?

“I don’t watch it super often, maybe once every three years or so. It’s usually when I’m introducing someone to it who has never seen it, after I’ve said ‘what girl, you don’t know Paris is Burning?!’”

By James Kleinmann

The second episode of We’re Here airs Thursday April 30th at 9pm ET/10pm PT on HBO, and will be available on HBO NOW, HBO GO, HBO on Demand and affiliate portals. For more details on the series head to the official HBO We’re Here page. You can catch up on the premiere episode for free at HBO or on YouTube.

Stay up-to-date with all things Bob the Drag Queen at her official website – BobTheDragQueen.com – follow her on Instagram @BobtheDragQueen, Twitter @ThatOneQueen and YouTube.com/BobTheDRagQueen.

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