By Laura Latzko
Known for her big hair, larger-than-life personality, and self-deprecating humor, Lady Bunny has established herself as one of the most well-known and respected drag queens in the world.
The legendary drag performer, DJ, comedian, promoter, actress and singer will visit Phoenix on March 2 as a guest performer at the Miss Gay Melrose America Pageant, a preliminary to the Miss Gay Arizona America Pageant.
Cher impersonator and Miss Trans USA Candi Stratton and Miss Gay America Andora Te’Tee will also perform at the preliminary pageant.
During her career, Lady Bunny has dabbled in pageantry, competing in a pageant at the Gallus restaurant/bar and in the Miss 688 Pageant in Atlanta.
She said at pageants that she tends to stick to entertaining crowds instead of competing or judging.
“I hope they don’t depend on me too much to do the judging because, well, look at me. Would you? How would I look the way that I look and pretend to know anything about beauty or grooming, with my big, mangy wig and mini mumus?” Lady Bunny said.
Lady Bunny recently appeared on RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars as part of a “funeral” roast.
She found being roasted to be a different experience than being a roaster, as she was during a 2005 Pamela Anderson roast.
Lady Bunny said the setup of the roast allowed the drag queens to make fun of her age, promiscuous ways, weight, and appearance in a snarky but good-natured way.
“I told RuPaul that I’d rather die than go on that show. He said, ‘I can arrange that.’ I thought the whole thing was a great experience. It enabled me to go on there and be my silly self,” Lady Bunny said.
Lady Bunny has also appeared in Another Gay Sequel: Gays Gone Wild!; Sex in the City; To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar and Starrbooty and served as “Dean of Drag” on RuPaul’s Drag U.
The drag queen has headlined major pride festivals and clubs around the world and has DJed at corporate outings, gay weddings, bar mitzvahs, and fashion events.
Lady Bunny started Wigstock, an outdoor drag and music festival in New York that ran from the 1980s to the early 2000s and was resurrected in 2018.
The drag performer is from a different era of drag, inspired by the club kids of New York.
Lady Bunny said over the years, her character has become more refined but maintained the same dirty sense of humor.
“I think the character of Bunny has been similar, but the looks have improved as I’ve grown … My drag is not about how slick and polished I am. It is about the essence that I bring to the stage or a party if I’m DJing,” Lady Bunny said.
Lady Bunny has had to adapt to different audiences but is known for the risqué comedy style she honed working in bars.
“My style of humor was developed in late night clubs with drunk people. We were encouraged to be outrageous. Everyone was out drinking, and they wanted to laugh, and they certainly weren’t looking over their shoulders saying, ‘Is this politically correct to even laugh at?” Lady Bunny said.
The performer came up with RuPaul, who put her in drag for the first time. They started in Atlanta and later moved to New York, where they became fixtures in the nightlife scene.
RuPaul and Lady Bunny don’t get to spend as much time together these days with their busy schedules. They once appeared together in the 2008 film Another Gay Sequel: Gays Gone Wild!.
Lady Bunny said even though they are vastly different, she and RuPaul have mutual respect for each other.
“Ru was reminded of the bond that we had and also of my twisted sense of humor, which Ru enjoys in me. Ru’s shtick is Mama Ru, the mentor. So, she’s not trying to be a sick as I am, but she does appreciate it,” Lady Bunny said.
The drag queen said only one topic is taboo for her.
“I don’t like to talk about my extremely lucrative, high-end job as an escort. I could not give any of the details without an enormous explosion of jealousy towards me among girls half my age and my size,” Lady Bunny said.
Lady Bunny’s career in entertainment started in Atlanta as a drag go-go dancer with Lee Tee’s Now Explosion, a group she describes as being similar to the B-52s but funkier.
“When we jumped onstage, we didn’t have any song to sing. We didn’t know any choreography, but the crowd would let us know that the party turned itself up when we hopped up onstage,” Lady Bunny said.
During the early days of her career, Lady Bunny was influenced by Tasha Khan, a performer out of Chattanooga.
The performer has also drawn inspiration from powerful women such as Patti Labelle, Grace Jones, Carol Channing, Diana Ross, Gladys Knight, and Aretha Franklin.
Lady Bunny started performing early in life. Growing up in Chattanooga, Tenn., she would put on shows in her yard.
“I put a sheet between two trees and would invite the neighborhood brats. I never rehearsed. It was like, ‘You put this on” and “You run over here when I come out.” Just pathetic. I’m so glad they didn’t have cell phones back then,” Lady Bunny said.
As a child, the drag queen dressed up as a woman for Halloween, with her friend acting as her “husband.”
Later in her adolescence, she did musical theater.
“I said, ‘Girl, you knocked it out of the park with that unrehearsed series of skits that you did in your backyard. You need to move on to some bigger venues, darling,’” Lady Bunny said.
While there have been trials and tribulations over the years, she continues to perform because she still enjoys what she does. She said this is important to building a long-lasting career.
“I guess you have to love it,” Lady Bunny said.
The performer has sound advice for emerging drag queens.
“I say retire before you start because us busted old hags don’t need any younger, fresher, thinner, cuter competition,” Lady Bunny said.
Miss Gay Melrose America takes place at 6 p.m. on Saturday, March 2 at Stacy's @ Melrose, 4343 North Seventh Avenue, in Phoenix. General admission is $19.62. Visit missgaymelroseamerica.com for complete details.