Exclusive Interview: Bianca Del Rio dishes on Hulu’s Drag Me To Dinner

Ten years after filming season six of RuPaul’s Drag Race, which she ultimately went on to win, the deliciously acerbic, certified drag superstar Bianca Del Rio is back on our screens (not that she ever left) in a new competition series, Drag Me To Dinner, created by gay power couple Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka. This time around though, Bianca is the one doing the judging—alongside NPH and actress Haneefah Wood—and the show isn’t really about the winning (the prize is a golden cheese grater) but more about making us laugh, while sending up the reality competition format.

Trinity The Tuck, “Handy Helper” Boy Radio, David Burtka, Neil Patrick Harris, Bianca Del Rio, Haneefah Wood, Bebe Zahara Bonet and “Handy Helper” Daniel in Drag Me To Dinner. Photo by: Jeong Park/Hulu.

Hosted by legendary New York drag king Murray Hill, each of the ten episodes—which are all streaming now on Hulu—sees two pairs of drag queens battle it out to throw the best themed dinner party of the night. The diverse lineup of 40 drag artists features Drag Race alum such as Alaska, Bebe Zahara Benet, BenDeLaCreme, Heidi N Closet, Jaida Essence Hall, Jinkx Monsoon, Latrice Royale, Nina West, Trinity the Tuck, Raja, Vanessa Vanjie Mateo, and Willam, as well as other seasoned and much-admired drag performers such as Sherry Vine, Marti Gould Cummings, Peaches Christ, Pixie Aventura, Jackie Beat, and the late Heklina, in her final television appearance. Look out for some hunky “handy helpers” assisting the queens too, including our friend, musician and actor Boy Radio.

Handy Helper” Boy Radio, David Burtka, Neil Patrick Harris, Bianca Del Rio and Alexis Mateo in Drag Me To Dinner. Photo by: Jeong Park/Hulu.

Following her Drag Race win, Bianca Del Rio went on to star in the movies Hurricane Bianca and Hurricane Bianca 2: From Russia with Hate; the comedy specials Rolodex of Hate and Not Today Bianca; penned the page-turning memoir Blame It On Bianca Del Rio: The Expert on Nothing with an Opinion on Everything; launched a best-selling makeup remover; and toured her stand-up shows internationally, becoming the first drag artist to headline Carnegie Hall and Wembley Arena, selling out both venues. She made her West End debut in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, and appeared in a fun cameo role in the 2021 movie adaptation of the musical. She can currently be seen hosting The Pit Stop, breaking down every episode of All Stars 8.

With Drag Me To Dinner now being served on Hulu, Bianca Del Rio speaks exclusively with The Queer Review’s editor James Kleinmann from her home in Palm Springs about the emergence of her comedy skills early on in life, what drew her to drag, her All Stars 8 favourites so far, and why she adores Auntie Mame.

David Burtka, Neil Patrick Harris, Bianca Del Rio, Marti Gould Cummings and Peachez Iman Cummings in Drag Me To Dinner. Photo by: Jeong Park/Hulu.

James Kleinmann, The Queer Review: before we get on to Drag Me To Dinner, could you take me back to when you first realized that you had this kind of superpower, the ability to make people laugh, and how that manifested itself in your life?

Bianca Del Rio: “Nowadays being gay is almost celebrated and kids are far more aware of their lives and their choices thanks to social media and the world we live in. So they can identify themselves as gay or trans or nonbinary far earlier than ever I did. I come from a different time period, but I always knew that I was different. Coming from a large family, I have four brothers and sisters, it was a tricky game where I thought the best way for people to like me was to be funny. It wasn’t so much about telling jokes, it was more about making fun of the obvious, making fun of myself, and making fun of my surroundings. That’s where it started and then that led to theatre, which then led to drag, which then led to the madness of my life now!”

Bianca Del Rio and Haneefah Wood in Drag Me To Dinner. Photo by: Jeong Park/Hulu.

“It wasn’t a conscious choice, it was just a way to fit in. I think it was easier to be called the funny one rather than being called the gay one. I could accept that a little easier then, funny over gay, and then as I grew up I realized, ‘oh, wait a minute, I’m both!’ That’s how it manifested and it’s almost addictive. When you get somebody to laugh at one thing you keep going and so making people laugh became a natural thing for me. Even now when I go to any public place, like the grocery store, I’ll be talking to a cashier and shooting the shit, finding the fun in whatever’s going on. It’s something that’s never left me.”

Bianca Del Rio with host Murray Hill in Drag Me To Dinner. Photo by: Jeong Park/Hulu.

How about drag, when did you first encounter it?

“It was a 1996 and it was through theatre. Obviously, being a gay person I had been around drag before that in the gay bars. At that time you could you could drink at 18 in New Orleans, which was a different world. In the theatre, I was doing wigs and costumes and makeup, so I had all the packaging for a drag queen. I was involved in a show called Pageant, a musical about a beauty pageant where all the contestants are men. I was doing the costumes, wigs, and makeup for it and there was a small part at the end which they needed to cast. I was already there, so they said, ‘would you do it?’ The role was basically to fill in time during a costume change. So it was written as a two to three minute part, but then because people were taking longer to get into their costumes, I started doing more improv, which meant the part became larger, much to the dismay of the other cast members.”

Bianca Del Rio, David Burtka, Neil Patrick Harris and Meatball in Drag Me To Dinner. Photo by: Jeong Park/Hulu.

“The fearlessness that I found in doing that fed into what I would do next, which was to perform in the gay bars. That’s where you found drag in those days. There was very few places to do it, just a few cabaret spaces and gay bars. So that’s where it all started and it snowballed from there. No one else was really talking back then in the bars, the girls then were showgirls and they did dance numbers. Whereas for me, it had started by talking to the audience to cover costume changes and that’s essentially what I’ve done my whole life.”

Neil Patrick Harris, Bianca Del Rio, David Burtka and Murray Hill in Drag Me To Dinner. Photo by: Jeong Park/Hulu.

It’s been 10 years since you filmed season six of RuPaul’s Drag Race. As you reflect back, what would you say winning that show meant in your life and how it changed things for you?

“First of all, you win just by being on the show because you suddenly get national exposure. So for someone like me, who had done drag prior to Drag Race for many years, it offered an incredible platform. Aside from the financial aspects of winning the money—and mind you, they take half of it for taxes in America—I knew that whether I won or not I’d have this amazing platform and that I was going to run with it. Being on the show means that you’re now on this level where people see you everywhere and so you have to create content and get your ass out there and commit to a schedule. You had to do a show no matter where it was. So I went from bars that were very small and ended up in theatres that were very big. So that was the game, to go out there and run with this title.”

Bianca Del Rio, Neil Patrick Harris, Willam, Alaska, Haneefah Wood and David Burtka in Drag Me To Dinner. Photo by: Jeong Park/Hulu.

“In the single digits seasons of Drag Race we had more space in between seasons than they do now, so there was more of an opportunity to create a career. If you wanted it. I have some friends that have been on the show and didn’t want it. I did. So it was about the proper planning and the platform that elevated me. Nobody knew who I was before that, except for a few people in New Orleans and New York, but not on a national level, so that was insane. Then to become known on a global level has been surreal. The past 10 years has been wild and much credit is due to the amazing platform Drag Race gave me, but I do think it’s the combination of the platform and the hustle, because you still have to hustle, you have to keep yourself moving and going and you’re never above anything. I say ‘yes’ to everything because even if it ends up being a horrible scenario, at least I’ll come out of it with a great story! On many level, it feels like my season of Drag Race was 20 years ago, but in other ways it feels like it was only yesterday.”

Bianca Del Rio, Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka in Drag Me To Dinner. Photo by: Jeong Park/Hulu.

So how about when you got the call from Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka about doing Drag Me To Dinner, what made you say yes?

“David and Neil have been cheerleaders of mine since Drag Race. They were actually judges on one episode of Drag Race. In my mind, I was thinking this is wild, Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka, because I knew of them of course. Then when I was performing in Provincetown soon after Drag Race they were there and when I did Carnegie Hall they came to introduce me. So we’ve become friends. But it’s that weird thing, when a friend is very successful I never assume anything and I never talk about business. I don’t talk to Neil or David about what’s happening on that level because I guess it somehow feels as though you’re trying to get a job. So I purposely never do that with anybody who’s famous or has a really solid career.”

Vanessa Vanjie Mateo, “Handy Helpers” Daniel and Boy Radio, David Burtka, Neil Patrick Harris, Bianca Del Rio and Alexis Mateo in Drag Me To Dinner. Photo by: Jeong Park/Hulu.

“One day I got a text from them saying, ‘hey, would you be interested in doing this show?’ I didn’t know if they were starring in it or just producing it, I had no idea what the connection was or if they were just feeling me out. But I was like, ‘yeah, sign me up!’ Thinking nothing would come of it, because I say ‘yes’ to a lot of things that never transpire. Then they were like, ‘okay, great, we shoot in July’, and I was like, ‘oh shit, I’m on the road then, I’ll be out on tour so I can’t. I’m not free till October’. Then Neil said, ‘great, we’ll move it to October, see you then!’ And that was that. So it all worked out, which was amazing and much credit to them. They said, ‘we really would like you to be a part of this’, so I couldn’t say no!”

Bianca Del Rio and Haneefah Wood, shown. (Photo by: Jeong Park/Hulu)

What’s it like being a judge rather than being judged?

“Well, let’s be real, as gay people we’re judging everybody, so it’s great that it’s now been documented that I’m a judge! I can throw a party, but that means me using other sources to get things together. I’m not a crook per se, I am not a decorator per se, but I know how to make things happen. So I was excited just to go in blind and get to judge some of my peers, which I knew would make it a lot of fun. The goal here with Neil and David’s approach to the show was to not take anything seriously, but to go in and enjoy it and give your honest critiques. So it all made sense to me, because I do have a strong opinion and I do know a lot of these girls.”

Haneefah Wood, Latrice Royale, Neil Patrick Harris, Manila Luzon, Murray Hill, David Burtka, Bianca Del Rio, Willam and Alaska in Drag Me To Dinner. Photo by: Jeong Park/Hulu.

“When the show was being filmed, we were in the same building while the queens were preparing all the food and all of the madness with Murray was happening earlier in the day, but Haneefah and I weren’t part of any of that. We were doing our own thing, so we really did go into those parties not knowing what to expect, we were told absolutely nothing. We didn’t know if the food was going be good or not and I didn’t know what challenges it had taken to get the food to the table. Now when I see it, I’m like, ‘oh my God, I ate that? I actually fucking ate that?!’ So it was a little scary to watch it back, but loads of fun. I must say, to their credit, all of the drag queens had amazing cocktails. The cocktails were the best!”

Boy Radio, Naomi Smalls, Kim Chi, Haneefah Wood, David Burtka, Neil Patrick Harris, Murray Hill, Bianca Del Rio, Jaida Essence Hall, Heidi N Closet and Gustavho in Drag Me To Dinner. Photo by: Jeong Park/Hulu.

What did you make of the casting of the queens across the ten episodes?

“I thought it was amazing. I’ve known all of them on some level in my life, so it was great to catch up with everybody. In between takes, or just being there at their parties, I got to catch up with them and find out what they’re doing and what their lives are like. It was a great reunion and that weird thing where you’re like, ‘oh my god, I forgot about her’ or ‘I haven’t seen her in ages’, or ‘what about her?’ I also thought that the show was so wonderful because it’s not scripted, so it was about having the queens shine in their moment. Basically they were bringing their own brand of comedy and we got to know more about them. And, there were no sad stories, which I loved!”

Symone, Murray Hill, Gigi Goode, Bianca Del Rio, Neil Patrick Harris, Rachel Feinstein, David Burtka, Rhea Litré and Jasmine Rice LaBeija in Drag Me To Dinner. Photo by: Jeong Park/Hulu.

What’s your signature dish if you’re cooking for a date or someone that you’re trying to impress?

“Oh God, well, first of all, I try not to impress anybody! I can’t be bothered. Do you know what I’m bad at? I’m bad at following directions! So I’m not really good with a recipe and I’m not really good with Ikea furniture. I don’t excel in those things. I can throw something together and then go, ‘oh, okay, that tastes pretty good!’ I’ve stopped eating meat, so I only eat plant based meat now. We’ve been doing this experimental Taco Tuesday night kind of thing recently and Sherry Vine has been over many times to sample my meat. So that’s been my latest dish that I’d say I’ve successfully accomplished and taken a few chances on, my taco nights.”

Sherry Vine, Haneefah Wood, Bianca Del Rio, Jackie Beat, Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka in Drag Me To Dinner. Photo by: Jeong Park/Hulu.

You’re on the second season of The Sherry Vine Variety Show aren’t you? That’s just started streaming on OUTtv and is a lot of fun.

“Yes, Sherry and I go way back to New York in 2005, so her living out here in California now is amazing. She’ll be like, ‘I’ve got this this part, I’ve got a date set, could you come in and film it?’ And I’m like, ‘I’m in!’ I haven’t seen it yet because I’m logged out of my OUTtv account and I can’t remember password!”

Jessica Wild with the Pit Crew in RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars season 8, episode 4 streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Credit: World of Wonder/Paramount+ ©2023 World of Wonder Productions, Inc.

You’re doing The Pit Stop right now, so who has impressed you the most on All Stars 8 so far?

“It’s tricky with All Stars because you already have a taste of what someone was like on their previous seasons. But in this particular moment, in this particular showcase of the queens, I am in love with Jessica Wild. Jessica Wild is the best. I mean, not only is she good TV, but she’s lovely, sweet, and kind. I love the fact that Jessica came from an earlier season and is now getting this opportunity, so she’s my front-runner on personality, skill set, and humour. I’m living for her.”

Bowen Yang and Jimbo in RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars season 8, episode 5 streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Credit: World of Wonder/Paramount+ ©2023 World of Wonder Productions, Inc.

“Now Jimbo has come in with some amazing stuff, and I didn’t know Jimbo from Canada’s Dra Race because I did not watch it at the time. But of course I knew of Jimbo. She has been knocking it out of the park with her runway looks and with the acting challenges.”

Kandy Muse in RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars season 8, episode 3 streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Credit: World of Wonder/Paramount+ ©2023 World of Wonder Productions, Inc.

“Then there’s Kandy Muse who is just fucking good TV, but she’s up in there too and I’m loving her as well. It’s crazy, Mrs. Kasha Davis is a friend of mine and Darienne Lake is a friend of mine as well, so it’s great getting to see everybody on there. Once again, it’s an amazing platform for everyone and it’s just insane that there have been so many drag queens that have come through Drag Race now, but I like everybody on there for different reasons so I’m really bad at trying to pick a winner. I don’t know how to do it, because what do you base it on? Track record? Do you base on the look? It’s a tricky scenario, but so far those queens have been my front-runners for sure.”

Heklina, Peaches Christ, Bianca Del Rio, David Burtka and Neil Patrick Harris in Drag Me To Dinner. Photo by: Jeong Park/Hulu.

What are your thoughts on the attempts to ban drag in some states?

“Well, I mean, come on, America is a hot fucking mess, a real hot mess. I recently saw Wanda Sykes’ stand up special, which was genius. First of all, Wanda is one of the funniest people I’ve ever witnessed perform and she’s also a very nice lady. I’ve met her many times in New York and Fire Island. We’ve hung out a lot and she’s wonderful. In that latest comedy special, she summed it up best when she was like, “until a drag queen walks into a school and beats eight kids to death with a copy of To Kill A Mockingbird, I think you’re focusing on the wrong shit.” That makes total sense to me. We’re in this country with gun control issues and all of the madness going on, the number one killer is guns, and they’re worried about a drag brunch for fuck’s sake?! You know, if you don’t like it, don’t go.”

Raja, David Burtka, Neil Patrick Harris, Bianca Del Rio and Detox in Drag Me To Dinner. Photo by: Jeong Park/Hulu.

“To be fair, I don’t know any drag queen that likes children! I am not that person. I am not interested in performing to children. I’m not interested in that side of it at all. It’s pretty insane that this is where we are in this world, that this is the top topic of discussion because none of it is true. Every day on Twitter, I’m seeing news about some youth pastor who has been molesting children. That’s the problem. Organized religion is a problem. Guns are a problem. No one’s educated, that’s a fucking problem. So it blows my mind that this is a hot topic. The fact that everything is run state by state, is so insane too, so just when you think you’re in the clear, you take 10 steps back with another state. I’m amazed and yet appalled by it, but this is where we are in the world. This is what’s dominating the news right now, which is completely insane to me.”

Terry Kelman and Rosalind Russell in Auntie Mame (1958).

One final question for you, what’s your favorite piece of LGBTQ+ or a person who identifies as LGBTQ+; someone or something that’s had an impact on you and resonated with you over the years?

“Without a doubt, Auntie Mame is my favourite film. Even though it’s not so gay, gay, gay, it is an interesting way to look at life. Here was someone who was taken in by someone else and they created this amazing life for them, which I think is very relatable to any gay person, because if we don’t come from families that are supportive or we’re not close to them, we do find our gay family. Patrick Dennis wrote an amazing book and it’s also an amazing film. I mean original Auntie Mame film from 1958, not Mame the movie musical with Lucille Ball which is not that good. I’ve been lucky enough in my life to meet quite a few Auntie Mames that have got me through. That’s my go-to film to watch every now and then to lift my spirits.”

“I’ve also become fascinated by Patrick Dennis. I recently read Uncle Mame: The Life Of Patrick Dennis. His life and how it all came about is just wild. Here he was, this amazing published author whose work had been made into films and Broadway shows, and at the end of his life he was a butler for a very rich woman. It’s a fascinating story. I’m waiting for somebody to turn that into a film, let’s have our fingers crossed that it gets told at some point.”

The Golden Girls. ABC. The Golden Girls is streaming on Hulu.

Auntie Mame is one of my favourites too. I’m just rewatching Absolutely Fabulous and that reminds me of Auntie Mame in some ways.

“Yes, that’s true, and these things were all part of our lives, but when you think about the time that they were made in they were groundbreaking when you look back at them. We’ve become accustomed to the fact that in our world we talk about being gay and we talk about this and that, but a show like The Golden Girls for instance was very ahead of his time in a lot of the subjects and topics it covered and that’s still one of my favourite shows. It’s interesting that those were the things that we gravitated to back then, but I don’t think we realized the huge impact that they had. Now, you can watch The Golden Girls 30 years later and see that they were talking about HIV and AIDS, and that they have gay brothers on the show. It’s insane to me that that was all in there and kudos to them.”

By James Kleinmann

All ten episodes of Drag Me To Dinner are streaming now on Hulu.

See Bianca Del Rio this summer at Dublin Pride: Mother Pride Block Party on June 23rd; New York Queens: Pride Sunday at Sony Hall on June 25th; and at Amsterdam Pride August 3rd – 4th. For more details on upcoming appearances head to Bianca Del Rio’s official website.

Drag Me To Dinner | Official Trailer | Hulu
Neil Patrick Harris, David Burtka, Bianca Del Rio, Murray Hill and Haneefah Wood. All ten episodes of Drag Me To Dinner are streaming on Hulu now. Courtesy of Hulu.

Leave a Reply

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: