I always love it when famous people come out of the nerd closet. Considering how proudly eccentric RuPaul is, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised to hear that the legendary drag queen finds inspiration from any number of myriad quirky sources. But I found his recent interview with Marc Maron eye-opening all the same.
Speaking in the latest episode of the comedian and expert conversationalist’s WTF podcast, RuPaul (full name: RuPaul Andre Charles) opened up about many of the artists and teachers that have informed his lengthy career atop the drag queen circuit. He learned a lot from divas, David Bowie, explicitly queer artists, and punk musicians, of course.
But that’s to be expected from someone who started his career doing genderfuck performances in the Georgia club scene in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The two things RuPaul highlighted I found most surprising were the British comedy troupe Monty Python and the 1999 sci-fi classic The Matrix.
Watching reruns of Monty Python’s Flying Circus on TV as a kid, RuPaul explained to Maron, was one of the first experiences that showed him how male artists could produce excellent and thoroughly entertaining work by bucking any number of gender expectations given how often John Cleese and company dressed up as old British ladies for their act. Well, that and just being amazing comedians obviously.
RuPaul isn’t just a fan of the The Matrix, however. At this point in his life, it sounds like the movie has come to inform his entire world view. Take this particularly poignant moment mid-way through the interview when Maron asks him about some of his musical inspirations, emphasis mine:
Rupaul: …When I was about 13, 14 — 13, I would carry a magic marker with me everywhere I went so I could write the word “Bowie” on everything that wasn’t mine. (Laughs). Obsessed!
Marc Maron: He was it, right?
RuPaul: Obsessed. Obsessed!
Maron: Monty Python and Bowie. Wouldn’t have ever assumed.
RuPaul: It wasn’t a stretch at all. So…but, it’s funny. Once I did get into drag…and there were different levels. I started with gender f-word — I won’t say the other word, but it was gender f-word, which is a genre of drag.
RuPaul: Uh-huh. It’s like what Monty Python did, but this was with more of a punk, social, you know…smeared lipstick and combat boots and ripped up clothes. Like: yeah, give ’em the finger.
Maron: who were the big definers of that?
RuPaul: Well The Coquettes from San Francisco…and, uh…and actually the whole punk movement was like: well, how far can we go with screwing up the Matrix and what we’re supposed to do.
Maron: Well it seems to me that, in a lot of drag, comedy is essential. That there’s a comedy to it, that there’s a comedy to the attitude, to the performance. That self-referential, what you were talking about before: that you can present yourself in a certain way and then mock it from within is a comedic disposition.
RuPaul: Exactly. Once you take that journey and say, “Ok, I’m gonna take the red pill,” then you’re on your way to understanding, really understanding what it is we’re doing here. And what it is we’re doing here is not taking yourself too seriously.
In fact, at the Northside School for Performing Arts, my teacher — acting teacher there — he told me the best advice I’d ever gotten from anybody ever and since. He said: “Ru, don’t take life too f-ing seriously.” That is the key to navigating this life — don’t take it too seriously. That’s when the party begins.
So if you take that red pill and you start your journey, you’re going to discover, like Dorothy — “all roads lead to Oz!” — that you get up close, you look behind the curtain, and you go: you’re the wizard?
Maron: (Chuckles) The little guy?
RuPaul: Yeah! And then you get to know the wizard and you go: “Ok, so everything was all in my head. I imagined this whole thing?” Yes. And that’s wherein lies the party. That’s where you can really have some fun. The only thing you have to watch out for is other people who feel threatened by your party.
What would Ru do? Take the red pill, it sounds like.
I don’t know about you, but that certainly helps me understand how the guy became the supermodel of the world.