Scoring seven Primetime Emmy nominations in July, you could say RuPaul’s Drag Race is, after nine seasons on the air, finally the belle of the mainstream ball. In celebration of the historic accomplishment, reality TV’s tightest squirrel friends (and co-judges on the VH1 reality competition series), RuPaul and Michelle Visage, sat down to interview each other for this EW exclusive, talking about everything from RuPaul’s infamous comments regarding enemas to what Drag Race‘s potential Emmys success means for them (and the LGBT community).
Check out their full conversation below.
On enemas and Emmy nominations
RuPaul: Michelle, we went to the Emmys last year! It was my first time there, actually.
Michelle: I was yo’ date!
RuPaul: Industry parties are different from other parties, so obviously people are there working the room, as we were working the room. We were actually there looking for our next job.
Michelle: I was in the bathroom making sure — and by the bathroom, I mean the male bathroom — making sure they didn’t forget me!
RuPaul: Exactly, where you belong! That’s the thing about being in L.A., though. It’s a company town and people here are very aware that everything they do is being seen by people they work with or by their potential new boss.
Michelle: Last year, before you won your Emmy, you said you’d rather have an enema than an Emmy, and now that you’re an Emmy award recipient and we are nominated for [seven] Emmy awards this year, how does that differ.
RuPaul: First of all, if you’ve ever had an enema, they’re pretty fabulous.
Michelle: I can’t do one. I do colonics. I can’t enema myself. I can’t do it.
RuPaul: You’ve never had one? Why not? You’re too lazy?
Michelle: I mean, you know I’m lazy, but if I can get on a treadmill for a half-hour, I can muster up the energy to shove a bag in my butt. Don’t you have to hang it up?
RuPaul: Yeah, you’ve gotta hang it up. It’s a lot of work. You lay on your side or however you feel comfortable, but it takes a lot of work because you have to make sure you’ve eliminated everything.
Michelle: See! How do you know?
RuPaul: Due diligence darling. How about suppositories?
Michelle: No. I’m not a fan of the anal thing. Here’s another surprise: I don’t have a prostate. So the joy isn’t really there.
RuPaul: Oh, wait a minute. [Laughs]
Michelle: I don’t like the way it feels, so the enema thing, like a suppository – I’d rather take the Ex-Lax than deal with that.
RuPaul: [Laughs] Well, the thing about that is you’ve got to want it. I tell people all the time, there’s no point in doing that unless you really want it.
Michelle: Correct! My husband really wants it. But I don’t really want it. [Laughs]
It takes a (fabulous) village…
RuPaul: Yeah, so anyway, [seven] nominations, it’s really lovely, and I’ve said this many times. I’ve worked in this business for many years, but always on the fringe, always on the outskirts of town, so to speak, so for the status quo to recognize me is lovely, but it’s not why I do what I do. I’ve always done what I do because it’s what I must do, and getting that recognition is brilliant, really, for all the people I work with, all of these people who’ve worked for Drag Race for years; so, in that regard, it’s important to me. You know we’ve had some people who’ve worked here on the show for the whole nine years!
Michelle: Like Hector, my hairdresser! He’s one of them!
RuPaul: As a community of people who work on the show, it’s really important, and it’s lovely.
Michelle: Obviously it’s not why we do what we do [but] it brings attention to this incredible talent, this art form that’s now viable. It’s always been viable, just never justified or revered.
RuPaul: Recognized, yeah.
Michelle: Yes, recognized the way it is now. It’s always been a marginalized art form for these talented kids who never would have been recognized. They still would be… doing what they do for pennies on the dollar, not that they were complaining about it, but now they’re getting more of what I believe they’re worth.
RuPaul: [But] you’ve got to wear a lot of different hats in this business if you want longevity.
Michelle: Correct. And that would be great, but chances are slim to none. Sorry, gonna break it to you.
Michelle: What’s beautiful about the recognition is, we’re being seen by people we normally wouldn’t “cater” to, because they didn’t see us before, and now they see us. So it’s nice to be recognized, though it’s not a necessity [in that we’re going], look at me, look at me, it’s more like, oh, you see us, come on in, all are welcome.
RuPaul: Exactly, and moving over to VH1, 93 million homes have VH1. Those two elements have allowed us to be recognized. Before it was hard for people to even find us.
Michelle: Yeah, and it’s about damn time… And what people don’t realize is that [the show’s success] is an anomaly. Because, let’s break it down, really, shows peak. Word gets around for season 1, and season 2 and 3 are the strongest because all the fans are on board. Season 4 and 5, you’re lasting, but maybe not peaking, and you usually wrap it up by season 6 or 7. If you’re lucky enough to go 10 seasons, like King of Queens or Everybody Love Raymond —
RuPaul: Or Golden Girls!
Michelle: Then you’re lucky. But really, we’ve never gone down. I’m putting it out there for the universe, not as a jinx, but as an, oh my god, this is still happening and still climbing. Yes, in part thanks to being on VH1 and also the Emmy nominations [but] it’s a cultural phenomenon, and there’s no end in sight. You’re so grateful and blessed to be on this ride. It’s a ride, Ru.
RuPaul: It is. It’s an amazing ride. I’d add to that what’s happening politically. People have found our show as a sanctuary, as a refuge from some of what’s going on in the world. Also, for young people, they’ve used our show to curate their experience as sweet, sensitive souls, so through our show, we get to teach them about Paris Is Burning or Grey Gardens or any number of things – not just about the gay experience, but the experience of the bohemian thought process.
Michelle: Which is what you had, as a young, sweet, sensitive soul.
Looking back on their own careers
RuPaul: Actually yesterday, on the judges’ panel, Carson [Kressley] asked me if I’d ever been to P-Town [Provincetown, Rhode Island], and I’ve never been. I’ve been to Fire Island once. Have you been to Fire Island?
Michelle: Once, with Seduction. That’s how long ago!
RuPaul: I went about 10 years ago to work. Maybe it was longer than that. I was always just around bohemian people, not necessarily gay. Some of them were gay, but it wasn’t just exclusively gay people, so my experience has always been from the bohemian point of view, the outsiders who think outside the box… Some of the people in my group were wealthy and some were living hand-to-mouth, like myself. I worked for 11 years before I made a dime, literally. Not a dime. But I was having a good time in New York.
Michelle: I didn’t make a dime in Seduction! That was [a] platinum-selling [act]. I didn’t make a dime, but I was happy.
RuPaul: You guys were on salary though!
Michelle: When we got big, we’d do a show a night, and you know, we were [pulling in] a pretty penny back then. I’m not talking 20 grand a show, but I’m talking five grand a show. We, the girls, got paid $1,000 a week. It was a pittance.
RuPaul: $1,000 a week?
Michelle: That’s it…
RuPaul: On top of that, you had to pay your taxes?
Michelle: Yeah, they didn’t take anything. But at the end of the day, I did it because I was so excited to do it, and before that, like you said, I was living hand-to-mouth, too.
RuPaul: A good way to look at that [is to call it] the college years, the hard yards, the 10,000 hours that you spent learning how to do what you’re doing today.
Michelle: [I was like] an apprentice! I think that’s what they call it — 10,000 hours as an apprentice makes you become a master at your craft. I know that I’ve put in way more than 10,000 hours, and I know you have, too.
RuPaul: That would make you a mistress. [Laughs]
Michelle: Ooh, yes. Not a master, but a mistress.
How the show appeals beyond the LGBT community
Michelle: I think it all comes full circle to these [seven] Emmy nominations. For you, working as hard as you have, for World of Wonder working as hard as they have, for this show being what it is, and I see it in every single country. When we go to Oslo or Copenhagen or Singapore and lines are around the corner, when this show isn’t even in their language, so to speak, it shows you the impact of what you’ve created.
RuPaul: I didn’t create it alone. There are so many people. That’s why the Emmy is so important. Because it’s Randy Barbato, Fenton Bailey, Steven Corfe, Mandy Salangsang, Tom Campbell, so many people make this show what it is. I’m just hosting it.
Michelle: It’s a machine. That’s very sweet and humble, but you do way more than just host it. Not only are you the face, you’re the entity, the mother, the one these girls want approval from so desperately, to be acknowledged and seen. Because they can go to their clubs and the kids are going to love them [and] their lives [are going to change] and [they’re going to] touch a few people along the way, and I don’t mean physically. I mean emotionally.
Michelle: But you’re the Holy Grail. Your career is what they aspire to have!
RuPaul: Yeah, well, when the show started out, we based the challenges on the things I’d done in my career up to that point… that was a starting point, but it’s interesting how the show has grown around the world, and why it’s resonated with people, not just for drag queens and gay people, but for people who are looking for something that reflects, really, life in the 21st century, which is many different levels and layers of consciousness, learning how to navigate the emotional, intellectual landmines that one walks when you have a dream or when you have a quest in this life, and I think that’s what the show really speaks to… these girls come from backgrounds where they’ve literally had to fight, physically, not only to survive but to be recognized as humans and as real artists, because they are. They really are.
Michelle: Every single one of them is an artist. The ones that went home first, the ones that didn’t even make it on the show, every one of these queens sending tapes in for every year, they are just as valued and valuable to this community as the ones that have won along the way. This Emmy is way more than just our beautiful TV show.
RuPaul: Absolutely, it’s the culmination of years and years of work, and really the kind of work that doesn’t require the validation, but it is absolutely lovely to get it.
Michelle: Amen. So all we can say is thank you for the [seven] nominations, we’re so grateful, and we will see what happens on September 17! Oh my Gosh, I can’t wait to see you at the Emmys!
RuPaul: Mhmm. I’ll see you there!