EW follows the RuPaul's Drag Race star before she hits the stage at one of her concerts.

By Joey Nolfi
February 28, 2020 at 12:50 PM EST
Albert Sanchez

RuPaul's Drag Race

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You already know comedian, musician, cosmetics mogul, and drag superstar Trixie Mattel is one of the (most) smartest, composed, and beautiful creatures to ever grace the stage. But, how does a prominent Woman™ of the performing arts remain calm with people shouting things like “f—k my p—y with a rake, mom!” from the audience? EW recently visited the RuPaul’s Drag Race champion backstage on her wildly entertaining comedy-music hybrid Grown Up tour to observe her pre-show ritual, discuss her new album, Barbara, and get to the (power) bottom of the case when it comes to preparing to perform for a packed house of “sobbing, lesbian teens.” Read on for a minute-by-minute breakdown of Trixie’s pre-concert process.

5:10 p.m .: Running on drag queen time, I’m approximately 10 minutes late for Trixie’s sound check. I mistakenly pull into a closed parking lot, where an elderly employee asks why I’ve arrived so early for a show that doesn’t begin for another three hours. “Who’s playing in there tonight?” he asks, pointing to the concert hall next door. “Trixie Mattel!” I excitedly reply. He’s confused. “Metallica?” he asks. “Thanks, bye!” I chirp nervously and speed away, flashing a worried smile as I let him believe that the line of crying teenagers lining up on the next block wearing “f—k my p—y with a rake mom” T-shirts are indeed dedicated metalheads.

5:15 p.m.: I finally arrive at Stage AE in Pittsburgh, Pa. It’s a brisk 17 degrees outside, but I can hear the clacking patter of intense gay footsteps approaching on the pavement as I negotiate my free press parking space (this is what being late gets you) with a disgruntled lot attendant. Approximately .056 seconds later, Trixie’s lovely assistant, Brandon, appears in pointy black shoes and whisks me into the building to observe a fan meet & greet with the skinniest legend of all.

5:20 p.m.: We round a corner backstage, and I’m immediately introduced to a puff of Trixie’s blonde hair, viewing it from behind while a young man pets it into a shape that can only be described as a homosexual tornado. She doesn’t turn all the way around, and I only speak to her through a reflection in the mirror for most of our time together (though the camp comedy of the moment doesn’t hit me until I’m transcribing the conversation, hours later).

5:23 p.m.: I notice a banana on the makeup table that’s so brown you can almost feel your finger poking through the mushy peel just by looking at it. It’s next to a plastic container of nuts and seeds in various shades of green and taupe, which is next to an explosion of makeup products, including small containers of Trixie Cosmetics, Mattel’s successful makeup line.

5:30 p.m.: After rubbing a brush over her wrist, Trixie picks up a guitar. “I don’t care that you’re a reporter and that you’re here,” she sings after I ask if it’s okay to record. She segues into a Johnny Cash song, “I Still Miss Someone” before pausing to ask: “Do you f—k with Johnny Cash?” (I don’t, but I can). “You better get into it. I’m very gifted.”

Albert Sanchez

5:35 p.m.: It’s time for the meet & greet to start. Brandon takes us up a flight of stairs. En route, Trixie describes her fanbase as “a lot of sobbing, lesbian teens.” As we reach the upper level, I sense that Trixie feels apprehensive about the meet & greet. Meeting new people in such quick succession is overwhelming for her. We pause in the corridor to discuss how, in addition to the sobbing lesbians, the next hour of fan interactions will also include “rich, hot gays” and “gays who sit at home and watch a lot of YouTube,” she explains. “I invited [Pittsburgh native] Sharon Needles tonight, but she’s performing in Taiwan. She was telling me bars to go to where they let you smoke and I was like, ‘I don’t smoke,’ and she was like ‘You should start. It tastes like fire.’”

5:37 p.m.: The door opens and a wall of (mostly chick-rock) music hits us. “I made the pre-show playlist!” Trixie exclaims in her signature “white girl” voice. I’m eyeing the stage when I hear a surging gay rumble in the distance. “Don’t look them in the eye!” Trixie screams as we breeze past a line of, well, sobbing, lesbian teenagers and their moms, many of whom are squealing so loud I can no longer hear Trixie’s boots clacking over the concrete.

5:39 p.m.: The meet & greet begins. Several seconds in, a young woman asks Trixie to step over to her left, so Brandon — who’s snapping photos from behind a ring light — can photograph her good side. Trixie called her a “shoulder slut” for wearing a sweater that ended just below her clavicle.

5:42 p.m.: Three minutes in, we have our first crier. “I named my bird after you and she died,” the young woman says of a dearly departed parakeet. It’s unclear if Trixie is moved or amused or both.

5:49 p.m.: Cue crier No. 2. This one is a “goth slut,” per Trixie, because she’s wearing black jeans with a tear above the thigh.

5:54 p.m.: Trixie uses her split-second down time to bow her head and raise her arms for a quick dab, just before her first male crier approaches. Tears for Women™ aren’t just for women. Trixie warms his hands in hers. The sentiment is ruined when the people behind him immediately dab in Trixie’s general direction.

5:58 p.m.: Trixie signs someone’s ass: “He’s being himself, and who he is is a ‘slut’” (this is the third slut of the line).

6 p.m.: A teary-eyed superfan recounts the evolution of the Mattel brand, telling Trixie every detail he’s savored over the years before giving his favorite queen a pink cowboy hat. The chorus of “Tear You Apart” by She Wants Revenge plays in the background. The juxtaposition is ludicrous.

6:08 p.m.: A straight couple approaches. The guy looks familiar. With a wide-eyed stare in full That’s So Raven mode, my mind flashes back to a stop on the Drag Race-affiliated Werq the World tour in October 2019, where the very man before me leapt onto the stage and did a striptease while wearing a wig. Yes, it was an audience participation section and, yes, show host Asia O’Hara already claimed him for herself, but the fantasy lives on in this brief reunion. When he’s done with Trixie, I ask him if he is who I suspect he is, and both of them erupt with laughter: “We hoped no one would recognize me.”

6:09 p.m.: A young man demands Trixie stand further away from him for their photo, before critiquing the width of her smile. He briefly leaves Trixie’s side — while she holds her smile in place, like a grinning still-life frozen in time — to see the results of Brandon’s photography. He dislikes the photo. “You’re too close,” he says to Trixie, and repositions her. The next one is okay. “Where can I pick up my gift bag?” he asks, curtly. “Because I’m not staying for the show.”

6:12 p.m.: A twink in a Bianca Del Rio shirt rushes Trixie. “This is my dust cover,” he squeals, removing it to reveal a Trixie top underneath.

6:16 p.m.: A lady wearing a black-lace dress and crimson hair no longer goes by her birth name. She’s now “Halloween slut.” (Trixie’s slut count: four).

6:20 p.m.: A woman’s phone dies just before she reaches Trixie. She slams it onto a table with lesbian-caliber force. Flummoxed, she asks Trixie to sign a book called “C is for Clown” because she didn’t have anything else on her.

6:23 p.m.: A giddy teenager named Levi asks Trixie to record a video for him. Brandon starts recording. “I’m here with Levi, who’s a dumb f—g” Trixie says before calling the young man’s sister his “female escort.” We’ve departed “slut” territory for the prestige isle of escorts.

Laura Duffy

6:25 p.m.: Two tiny girls, who look to be no more than 11, give Trixie a bag filled with cosmetics. Their mother cries as Trixie hugs them.

6:26 p.m.: The sweet vignette is almost immediately ruined when a bearded man in line behind them shouts “Boys call me DADDY!” at Trixie while both precious youths are still within earshot.

6:29 p.m.: Two ridiculously drunk older women — dressed in fur and green glitter slathered onto their skin — nearly knock down the meet & greet backdrop in a fit of geriatric intoxication. They tell Trixie she’s gorgeous 30 times. Trixie jokes that she’s going to have to throw them out of the show later (she’s not joking).

6:31 p.m.: A “young Americana slut” in a denim dress with white tassels tells Trixie the drunk divas of the ages have no idea who she is. “We were behind them in line,” she says, informing Trixie that the pair asked her “Who’s playing in here tonight?” before blind-purchasing tickets and dumping a bucket of glitter onto their heads before entering. Trixie flashes a deeply concerned look. It remains unclear whether the women will survive the evening. “I really hope I don’t have to throw them out,” Trixie repeats.

6:35 p.m.: The meet & greet ends. There’s a row of floor-to-ceiling windows behind Trixie. She likens the setup to old-school TRL, turns around, and gyrates her pelvis toward the people below.

6:43 p.m.: Back in Trixie’s dressing room, she performs a pre-show ritual: Lighting her Dolly Parton and Paul Rudd prayer candles.

Joseph Nolfi

6:47 p.m.: I ask if Trixie ever has to deal with groupies on the road. She has an open relationship with her boyfriend, but she doesn’t like to sleep with fans. That doesn’t mean they don’t hit on her. “There was a guy the other day who said he wanted to be Mr. Firkus,” she says, referencing her “boy” name. “The thing is, I’m into daddies, but the guys who hit on me are like 125-pound twinks and I’m like, okay, you’re not my gig!” Brandon speaks up: “I had a groupie that wouldn’t let me take his pants off because he had a Trixie tattoo.”

6:55 p.m.: “It’s nice having serious, capable musicians who are all heterosexual and not embarrassed to play with me. I know there’s people in the industry, I’m sure, who are like, ‘You took that gig?’ But they’re not embarrassed of me or this show. I love working with gay people, but this is the least drama of any tour I’ve ever been on because Brandon and I are the only gay people,” Trixie says of her backing band. “I could either send the message of an all-gay band or send another message of all straight guys who aren’t afraid to play with a drag queen. This is their opportunity. It’s 2020. We have to start giving straight people a chance. Straight pride!”

6:59 p.m.: We talk about the businesswoman special of being a drag queen on the road. First, there’s prejudice to overcome at the booking level: “A lot of these venues are like, oh, you’re doing an old drag show? Yeah, great,” and then we show up and sell $10 billion in drink sales, sell out the venue, sell out the meet & greet, and they’re like, huh? We end up being a lesson to them. We sell a million tickets and $15 per head in merchandise, and your little band sells four [shirts].”

Trixie’s also running a cosmetics line on the road. Before I arrived, she said she tested three lipsticks and 11 glitters for future launches, which resulted in her going to the gym slathered in shimmering powder. But, such is the hustle for a woman who has to essentially pay for her entire tour.

“Touring comedy shows, the budget for production is a screen and a microphone and since my show counts as a comedy show with [tour presenter] AEG, that’s the standard budget. Anything else production-wise — wigs, costumes, the band’s salaries, the band’s travel expenses, Brandon, stage pieces, and set pieces — all of that I pick up. It’s a huge chunk of money I have to make back before I pay myself,” she explains.

7:15 p.m.: As a fan, I pay close attention to everything that happens in Trixie’s career, including last year, when she caused a light stir after performing a gig in a wheelchair while dressed as Gypsy Rose Blanchard, who infamously posed as a sick child to gain public sympathy in a plot hatched by her mother. “I don’t even want to dwell on it, but I’m not making fun of people in wheelchairs. I’m doing a number about someone who pretended to be in a wheelchair for money,” Trixie stresses, adding that the suggestion that she would ever curb her art to appease detractors is “high comedy” itself. “The fun thing about being Trixie is I have no accountability because I’m not even a real person. I’m not happy about what Jack Torrance did in The Shining, but do you get mad about what a character does in a book?” she continues. “I’ve had shows where people [are] at the tour bus waiting, like this girl went, ‘I just want to return your shirt because you made a rape joke and, as a survivor, I was really triggered.’ Not only are you making it about you, but you don’t know what my story is. Now you’re telling me how I’m allowed to process [my trauma]?”

7:25 p.m.: I use Trixie’s bathroom, where there are RuPaul’s DragCon slides on the floor.

7:30 p.m.: Trixie hands me her phone to show off her tour schedule. The screen protector is slightly cracked, and it’s completely covered in caked powder in various Caucasian hues.

7:40 p.m.: Brandon assists Trixie with her outfits. Four impossibly large looks somehow fit under a black-and-white dress on Trixie’s body. It’s the reverse-reveal, the layering of clothing that will be ripped off in spectacular fashion on stage.

7:47 p.m.: Vocal warm-ups begin. Trixie sings, makes undecipherable noises with her mouth, and says things like “Ooh, the claw!” I’m told this is (borderline) essential.

7:51 p.m.: While Trixie gets ready, someone pops their head into the room and says: “Spotlight for the end of ‘Rainbow Dyke?’” The lack of context is hilarious.

7:54 p.m.: I notice a sign on the door that says “Oompa Loompa-body ass bitch.”

7:58 p.m.: Trixie and I take a photo together in her makeup mirror. There are a pair of earrings on the table, gifted by a fan. Both pieces spell out the word “P-I-S-S” in individual beads above vials of yellow liquid. Trixie thinks it’s gross.

8 p.m.: The show starts (spoilers for which you won’t find here, but it’s good. Like, really good. Drag, stand-up comedy, live music, and audience-shaming. Buy a ticket, sluts).

9:35 p.m.: The show ends. The drunk divas lived to crash another drag show. I head backstage to say goodbye and witness Trixie de-dragging. Back in her dressing room, she’s in her makeup chair, slathering an oily substance across on her cheeks and forehead, melting her signature mug off at an alarming rate (for a moment her face looks like a used watercolor palette), ultimately revealing the man underneath. All I can think is: What a makeup slut.

9:45 p.m.: Heading back to my car, I lock eyes with the same old man from earlier as he squeals in earnest: “How was Metallica!?”

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