Snatch Game is a recurring challenge on the reality TV competition RuPaul's Drag Race. It's based on the old TV show Match Game, in which contestants tried to guess how a panel of celebrity guests would complete a sentence. Racy or cutting quips provide the most laughs, and thus it plays to the strengths of Bianca Del Rio.
Roy Haylock, aka Bianca Del Rio, who honed his act in New Orleans bars and theaters, chose to impersonate Judge Judy on the celebrity panel.
"She's my favorite person in the world," Bianca (a character hereafter referred to as she) said on the show. "[S]he's smart, she's sensible and she's a f—king bitch."
As Haylock primped a red wig to get ready, he was told RuPaul's favorite TV show is Judge Judy, which concerned him briefly. But when the segment started, he wasted no time grabbing the spotlight, barking at RuPaul, "Baloney. Don't piss on my leg and tell me it's raining."
The panel featured fellow competitors Adore Delano, dressed as drunk Anna Nicole Smith, and BenDeLaCreme as prim Maggie Smith stuck in her Downton Abbey role of Violet Crawley. As each drag performer tried to win points with funny answers, Haylock rained down Judge Judy's contempt. When Gia Gunn's Kim Kardashian bit fell flat, he pounced: "Beauty fades. Dumb is forever."
Bianca's quick wit and sharp tongue were on display all season — in performances before the judges, in the show's workroom, where contestants sewed dresses and applied makeup, and in the lounge where the queens awaited weekly results and tempers flared, drama erupted and tears sometimes flowed. Websites, including ranker.com, offer lists of Bianca's quotable moments, such as offering to help other contestants pack when they flopped. A queen was eliminated each week until only one remained — Del Rio.
Years of hosting drag shows and events in New Orleans bars helped Bianca build up her "Rolodex of hate," an arsenal of insults she deploys on audiences, hecklers and unsuspecting victims. It's also the title of her ongoing one-woman comedy tour, which comes to the House of Blues on Saturday, Dec. 13.
- Courtesy Ricky Graham
Ricky Graham as Ethel Merman and Roy Haylock as Marlene Dietrich, wearing costumes made by Haylock.
"Roy and I were doing Pageant at Le Petit Theatre in the summer of 2005. He had a hysterical bit as returning queen Tawny Jo Johnson. Every night he had an extended ad-libbed section (what a surprise!). He asked me for an idea one performance — it was the Saturday that the sixth Harry Potter book had been released. Roy didn't know or care anything about Harry Potter so I gave him a bit. He told the audience, 'Shut up! I know you're all just waiting to read that new Harry Potter book. Well, don't bother — the little redhead girl dies!' Of course that wasn't true, but to an audience that didn't know that it was devastating. And very funny!" — RICKY GRAHAM
Haylock grew up in Gretna and spent a decade entertaining and doling out abuse as host of "Drag Queen Bingo" and other shows at the Bourbon Street bar Oz. Winning season six of RuPaul's Drag Race hasn't made his schedule busier, Haylock says, but it's opened doors to bigger venues, TV appearances and more. In between cruises on the Mediterranean Sea and Gulf of Mexico with Drag Race fans, Bianca performed three sold-out shows at New York's Gramercy Theatre.
"I am doing my one-woman comedy show that I am filming here in New York, and then New Orleans, Philly and San Francisco at the Castro Theatre," Haylock says, via phone from New York. "It takes it to another level. I have been fortunate enough to perform in bars and amazing cabaret spaces, but now I am in 500- to 600-person venues. It's overwhelming, but in a good way."
Since winning the show, Haylock hired a manager and has begun touring internationally and doing more TV commercials as Bianca, including one for Starbucks. But she says the show hasn't changed.
"After three drinks, believe me, all audiences are the same," Haylock says. "I love it. I love any of it. It doesn't matter where I am, it could be the Superdome or a corner bar. As long as the energy is good, it's fun. I always tell people I can have fun in a paper bag."
For those who don't remember Bianca's appearances at Oz or hosting the Bourbon Street Awards on Fat Tuesday (for the past 14 years), the Internet is full of clips of Bianca's shows, where microphone in hand, she "reads" people, trading insults and battling people who think they'll get the last word.
"I am fascinated by people who think they're going to win," Haylock says. "They think they're smarter than I am. You're not going to be smarter than me in this situation. Because you have had a couple of cocktails, and I have a microphone. I've got the upper hand."
On Drag Race, Bianca labeled herself an "insult comic," and she's a fan of comics with mean streaks, including Don Rickles and Joan Rivers. Haylock says biting humor was part of an act that evolved naturally.
"You know that part in the second scene when you walk onstage? Uh, don't."
"There wasn't this big sunshine day where I went 'This is the answer,'" he says. "I feel the same way about being gay. I never came out to my parents. I never went through that self-discovery thing. All of it just kind of evolved into what it was. I started out lip synching and doing drag numbers, like everyone else. And someone called out one night and I ended up hosting. And then it led to hosting two nights. And then hosting three nights. And then I became a talking queen.
"When you're in a drag show, there's always, 'Stall!' or this is happening or 'She's not ready,' and you find out that you have more shit to talk about. And it snowballed into more of a comedian. I really didn't consider myself a comedian until I got to New York, because here there are the singing queens, the dancing queens and the lip-syncing queens and they were like what do you do? I had to explain what I did and got labeled — 'Oh, you're the funny one.'"
Haylock likes that role, and since arriving in the city almost a decade ago, Bianca has performed often with New York drag queen Lady Bunny. The focus on humor almost kept him from auditioning for Drag Race, which first aired on Logo TV in 2009 and has helped bring drag performance into the mainstream, while also focusing on RuPaul's signature high-fashion "glamazon" style.
"I didn't audition because I didn't see any queen (on previous seasons) who was my type," Haylock says.
- Photo courtesy Bianca Del Rio
Down and out
"We were doing Funny Girl at Rivertown, and he did the costumes. But they needed a boy to tap dance because somebody quit. There's never enough boys who can tap dance. (Director) Jack Payne told him to put the tap shoes on.
He's dancing out there and all of a sudden he hit a slick spot on the stage and he fell down. So he waited till there was a moment when he thought the other people had moved over. He waited and was causing the audience to go in an uproar and he was getting all the attention. He finished the number and Jack said to him, 'The next time you fall down, stay down.' He never tap danced again." — BECKY ALLEN
But more than drag types and performance skills go into the show. In his late teens, Haylock won awards making costumes for theater productions in New Orleans. Haylock often costumed musical productions for shows featuring his nine-year roommate Becky Allen, and he created rafts of outfits for quick-change drag shows like Hollywood Heaven with frequent collaborator Ricky Graham.
In New York, Haylock worked for Barbara Matera Ltd. and Cygnet Studio, costume makers for major Broadway, opera and ballet productions. He took a leave of absence from Cygnet to do Drag Race and is on leave again as he tours, but he says he'll likely return to costume work when he's done with drag.
"I think a lot of drag queens see something working well for another queen, so they think, 'Oh, let me steal that. But it's never the professionalism, it's always some other bullshit that they steal, and it never works out."
Sewing helped Bianca win her first challenge when she took a box of materials labeled "luau" and created a floral color-splash of a one-shoulder, mermaid-shaped dress. It had a butterfly sleeve and ruffles and Bianca wore fake tropical flowers in a long, black wig, large dangling earrings and overdone eyeliner. She carried a coconut shell cocktail down the runway and called her style Joan Crawford meets Bozo the Clown.
Besides dress- and costume-making skills, challenges required the contestants to respond quickly with creative ideas for performing.
"You have to make this shit happen quickly," Haylock says. "If you have a brain, you have to realize, 'Hello, it's TV.' Time is money. People get wrapped up in the performance of being on the show and labels — the villain, or 'I am the sweet one,' or 'I am this.' Just do your f—king job."
Bianca never finished in the bottom two slots of any challenge, meaning she never had to "lip-sync for her life" to avoid elimination, a rare achievement for any queen on any season of the show.
"I think a lot of drag queens see something working well for another queen, so they think, 'Oh, let me steal that,'" Haylock says. "But it's never the professionalism, it's always some other bullshit that they steal, and it never works out."
Haylock was not easily distracted.
"It's a long process when you're in the room with all of them," he says. "It would blow my mind the shit they would talk about or go in circles about — things that you had no control over. I think we do that in real life all the time, where we overthink things, but in particular with that, you have nothing going on but the show. You either lose your f—king mind, or you just sit back and go, 'It is what it is.' For me, it is what it is. If I had to lip-sync, I learned every song I had to — just in case. But it was never an act of confidence. It was just, 'Save the energy for something else.'"
- Courtesy Brian Johnston
Ready for my solo
"We were doing Hollywood Heaven in 2002-2003 at Le Chat Noir. It was a massive, costume-heavy show. Roy did all the costumes. Ricky Graham played Truman Capote. He was guarding the gates of Heaven and all these different movie stars that had passed away were trying to get into Heaven. Roy played maybe 15 or 20 different characters.
After the first show, we all went upstairs, and they were taking their makeup off and Ricky was giving all these specific notes: 'When you come out, you have the glass in your right hand. I think you should have it in your left hand.' Roy was nodding his head and taking the notes. And then he said, 'Can I give a note?' And Ricky said, "Yeah, sure. I want to know what you think."
Roy goes, 'You know that part in the second scene when you walk onstage? Uh, don't.'
That's the type of humor Roy has. It was very serious with giving notes and he just always made people laugh. We still give that note." — BRIAN JOHNSTON
Some competitors were prone to distractions, and Bianca rarely showed much tolerance for it. She launched many epic eye rolls from the couch in the lounge where the queens awaited results.
"We'd discuss something one day and then we'd come back to it the next day," she says. "No matter what it was, it always came back to [contestant Laganja Estranja] crying. OK, you can cry once; I'll even let you cry twice, but three? Too much for me. Too f—king much."
During one episode, Bianca told Laganja she came off as phony, and in an argument that drew in everyone, many queens sided with Bianca that Laganja was putting on her act while offstage and out of drag. Laganja was eliminated soon after, and Bianca may not have been trying to help her, but Haylock believes succeeding on the show wasn't just about having an act.
"When you're there, you realize being fierce and being fabulous and having great clothes and all that kind of shit is a huge part of the show," he says. "But the reality comes into it when you're in a pressure cooker and it's sink or swim. That's when they get to see you as a human being and as a person."
Viewers saw as much of Haylock in casual clothes in the workroom as they saw of Bianca onstage or in one of the lounges after a challenge. Haylock was quick to read others' actions or have fun at another's expense, but often he also was generous. He offered advice and helped with costumes and ideas. It showed a side unfamiliar to many.
"There was a time when everybody was saying, 'We're seeing the softer side of you,'" he says. "I took it as an insult. I am not my act 24-7. What I do is what I do, but I don't go to the bank and act that way. I don't walk down the street and yell at people."
"I put him in his first drag thing. It was at Anne Rice's house where she has the dolls. We made like $1,200 for New Year's Eve. It was a little drag show at two guys' wedding. At first he said, 'No, I don't want to.' So I said, 'Well, it pays $1,200.' And he said, 'Oh, OK.' And he got the feel of [drag]." — BECKY ALLEN
When RuPaul announced Bianca as the winner, it sounded more like Haylock accepting the crown.
"On a serious note, as a 30-year-old man in a wig, 'Never give up,'" he said. "Some great shit can happen later in life. I am the most grateful guy on the planet."
Haylock is 39, and the show has made him a more familiar face as well. He's recognized in stores and by TSA screeners at the airport. He's also at the airport more often — with four suitcases, ready for weeks of shows.
"It's been an amazing opportunity to travel extensively," he says. "But the schedule makes no sense whatsoever. One day you're in London and the next day you're in Vegas."
Bianca now performs at events, including the ocean cruises, organized by RuPaul's Drag Race, and she's been booked for more commercials. In August, she was one of the last guests to record an episode of Joan Rivers' web series In Bed With Joan.
- Photo by Cheryl Gerber
Drag Race also re-energized a project put on hold while Haylock filmed the reality TV show. Haylock and New York writer/director Matt Kugelman already had done an initial round of fundraising for their film Hurricane Bianca (www.hurricanebianca.com). Haylock stars as a teacher who loses his job after it's revealed he's gay. He returns to the school as a new teacher, Bianca Del Rio, and as the tagline says, "Revenge is a bitch." Following Drag Race, they announced that competitor Joslyn Fox has been cast in the movie, and they'll begin filming in summer 2015, Haylock says.
Haylock says he believes in living in the moment, but that the show has everyone already asking him what's next after the movie.
"I don't think I am going to be Bianca forever in the back of my mind," Haylock says. "It's a lot of work — a lot of hard work. I did it for 18 years before having this opportunity. I was still enjoying it up until this point and now, it's even more enjoyable and amazing. I am sitting on a plane to Amsterdam and going, 'How did this happen?' It's very surreal on a lot of levels, but this is not the time to give up. This is the chance to keep going. I am not opposed to doing other things, but now there's this golden ticket and people are interested in what I am doing. That's beyond flattering."