ArtsComedyMusic

Trixie Mattel: Now With Moving Parts shows there’s more to her drag than just the outfits, hair and makeup

I have to admit, I arrived really, embarrassingly late to the the RuPaul’s Drag Race party and the amazing drag queens that have taken the world by storm. “It’s an open invite, there’s no late to the party,” All Stars 3 winner, Trixie Mattel kindly assures me. “Think of it this way, you made a fashionably late entrance.”

Trixie is speaking to me while in between shows on her Trixie Mattel: Now With Moving Parts tour, which will land in Calgary this Friday, July 20 at the Jack Singer Concert Hall. A solo worldwide tour (UK, Australia and New Zealand dates have recently been announced) is quite an impressive feat, one that Mattel is still marvelling over.

“I have a show tonight … so I’m watching people carry in giant letters that spell T-R-I-X-I-E, so that’s always surreal.”

And how could it not be, the success of Drag Race propelling these artists into the spotlight and gaining new audiences with each season. But then, Trixie Mattel is ultimately a performer, and although now she draws bigger audiences, it’s business as usual for her.

“To me, performing, this sounds really cliché, performing for 20 people and performing for a lot more than that, like 1,500 people, it feels the same other than because I perform so much, I am actually so much better at my job.”

Does this constitute success for her? “It’s like you become more ‘successful,’ but you actually are just better at it than when you were young and not making as much – you’re working more, you’re a better artist.

“To me the American Dream was achieved when I was being paid $50 a night plus tips to lip sync and tell jokes, I was still paying my bills on that – you couldn’t tell me I wasn’t Beyoncé! It’s not like after Season 7 I had everything handed to me. I mean, I lost at Drag Race twice and to go on with my music and with my comedy series I had to convince people to tune in their dials, and now they do, which is great.”

For those who come to the show, they can expect a little bit of everything, from drag to comedy to music —something that is very important and was quite influential on young Brian Firkus (a.k.a. Trixie) growing up. “Yeah I love it! I love playing music, I love playing folk music, I love playing my guitar and singing, I love doing improv, and I love writing jokes, so I love doing this shit because basically with comedy and with music, I get to create this obstacle course and perfect it, and then every night I just come out here and I run that obstacle course. It’s like the ultimate creative experience to be able to put yourself in drag, walk out here and sing your own music and tell your own jokes.”

Trixie’s musical influences are varied, and landing upon folk and country music took a bit of time. “I grew up on folk music, I grew up on country music. HAAA-TED IT hated it! I thought it was old people music and I thought it was boring. I was learning to play guitar around the time of Avril Lavigne, Sheryl Crow, Green Day … and it was only when I got to 24, 25 years old it was like I heard (folk and country music) with new ears, and a lightbulb turned on. This music has such depth and it’s so important to me and I became obsessed.”

Writing and playing music aside, Trixie still needed to find a way to stand out. Drawing on her natural comedic talents, and citing June Carter Cash as an influence and inspiration, Trixie found a niche using humour to elevate her performance. “I never found success as a performer outside of drag. I remember a few weeks before I went to Drag Race I auditioned to sing and play guitar and sing at the Potbelly’s by my house in Milwaukee, and I went in and played a few songs and they were like ‘Yeaaaah, not at this time.’

“For me it was the magic combination of adding the layer of comedy to it, so being able to sing these earnest folk songs woven into a standup show, that was the magic recipe, and I’m like, ‘Oh my god, that’s what makes it cool!’ You get to laugh and cry at the same sitting.

“My show is standup, it’s live music, it’s just me! It’s not like there’s 10 backup dancers and a makeup artist … it’s funny how things change how much they stay the same — I’m still living out of a suitcase that’s missing a wheel, you know?”

There is no doubt that Trixie is funny — hilarious even (partnered with fellow queen Katya? Come ON!), which, combined with her very distinct drag persona, works exceptionally well.

And how did she come up with her drag look? “Basically I wanted a Barbie doll face … I didn’t want to look like a man or a woman, I wanted to look like a toy. I wanted the body proportion of Polly Pocket and I wanted the hair of My Little Pony and I wanted the face of Barbie – it was sort of this conglomeration of child’s toys. When Two Birds came out I was very country, I was wearing square dancing dresses, very June Carter Cash. Then it switched. When One Stone came out my style had sort of evolved to the Woodstock Barbie kind of thing and that’s where all the bellbottoms and the fringe and all that stuff came in.

“It’s really a fun look because it’s also a look that supports comedy, you know? Big wizard princess sleeves and high collars and bold prints, it’s also a great look for telling jokes, but also in the same light when I’m standing there playing the autoharp it has a softness to it, it has almost a reverence, in a way, and it really works for both. For me it’s always been about, ‘How am I going to combine a sense of humour with (the performance)?’ I love comedy, I love music.”

As for the fans coming to see the show, does she think that the majority of people coming are there to see Trixie the drag superstar or Trixie the musician? “I actually think that they come for music. I think I cheat them a little bit because the show is like 70 per cent standup, and I think a lot of the time they think they’re coming to a concert. But I love comedy so much and comedy’s such an easy sell, that way whenever I pick up a guitar or a harp during the show I get absolute attention … It’s weird to go from people knowing you as a comedian to now where they know me primarily as a musician. It’s just cool … I used to sit barefoot in a tree and write music in rural Wisconsin, so to go from that to people even knowing my work, my music … This show opens with Putting on a Dress and usually, even if the monitors aren’t great, I can hear the audience singing the words … It’s a dumb little bouncy country song about not wanting to get in drag, really, and it’s weird to have people know the words to that.”

And what did Trixie do with her winnings from All Stars 3? “Oh, I bought a Nintendo Switch. I dream big. I know (fellow competitor) Shangela loves television and I went to the store and I bought the biggest television I could find and I gave her the box. She loved that. She pops her head in and out and says ‘Halleloo!’

“I grew up poor white trash so I’m always saving all my money because when nobody wants to see my cross-dressing folk music anymore, I need to be able to buy a home in Palm Springs. Don’t you think that Tonya Harding would have wished she had saved some of her money? Figure skaters – they’re basically doing drag.”

With that I thank Trixie for her time and gush about how excited I am to see her and her reuniting with her good friend Katya for their comedy series (RIGHT??). She is gracious and lovely and off to start getting ready for her show that night.

“Say hi to your mom for me!”

Done.

Trixie Mattel performs at the Jack Singer Concert Hall Friday, July 20. For tickets please click here.

Kari Watson is a writer and former Listings Editor of FFWD Weekly, and has continued to bring event listings to Calgary through theYYSCENE and her event listings page, The Culture Cycle. Contact her at kari@theyyscene.com.

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