///By Erik R. Caban
///Photos by Wilson Models
The Iconic Lady Bunny Dishes on Politics, 9/11 and LGBT Rights // ADVERTISE WITH US // GETOUTMAG.COM
If you love filth , felicity or food – or all three – then you’re bound to have heard of internati onal drag superstar Lady Bunny. Born Jon Ingle, she has gained a rabid fan base around the world thanks to her hilarious larger-than-life personality – and hair – offering up, as she says, “bawdy, Dusty Sp ringfield meets Don Rickl es” realness for more than three decades.
Her lewd yet zany video parodies, spoofing pop icons with her takes on The Scissor Sisters’ song “Let’s Have a KiKi,” titled “Let’s Have a Kai Kai,” and Cher and Christina Aguilera’s song “Welcome to Burlesque,” titled “Welcome to Grotesque,” have all but gone viral.
Coming up in the same drag era as RuPaul, she appeared in films such as “Party Girl,” “Starrbooty” and “To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar.” The comedy sensation recently released an uncharacteristically solemn dance single, “Take Me Up High,” which has climbed to number 18 on the Billboard Dance Chart.
In addition to being a nightclub DJ, promoter and her infamous drag performances, most famously she was the founder and host of the now defunct annual Wigstock event held in New York for more than 20 years. Bunny is also heavily involved with ACT UP, the international direct action advocacy group working to impact the lives of people with AIDS (PWAs) and the AIDS pandemic to bring about legislation, medical research and treatment and policies to ultimately bring an end to the disease by mitigating loss of health and lives.
Before jet-setting off to tour in California followed by her first-ever gig in Hong Kong, Get Out! magazine chatted with Bunny about biting her tongue on Andy Cohen’s “Watch What Happens Live,” her passion for politics, a new television show and – of course – who does her hair.
Are you as raunchy and brash as Bunny off-stage?
Possibly even worse! While interested in politics, I’m not too politically correct. Who doesn’t love a dirty joke? I tend to tell the kind of jokes that we all laugh about in private in public. It doesn’t work when I try to clean up my act. I was recently on Bravo’s “Watch What Happens Live” with Kris Jenner. Andy Cohen had me give her a shot out of this long ski with shot glasses in it. I wanted to say, “Some long, dark wood is coming towards your mouth and you’re getting ready to suck it – remind you of anyone else in your family?” But I held my tongue trying to be TV-friendly.
How much of you is in the character of Lady Bunny? What makes you two similar or different?
Most people who know me say that I’m the same off-stage as on, but nightclub audiences are drinking and don’t want to hear anything about politics. So I skip that mess and focus on comedy.
Is there a particular performer you haven’t worked with yet with whom you’d like to share the stage or screen?
I’ve gotten to meet many of my idols from Patti Labelle to Charo to Grace Jones to the B-52s, but I would LOVE to meet Diana Ross! She was the Beyonce of my day.
You’ve been in the biz – let’s say – a long time. Who has been your favorite to work with?
They say you make the best friends of your life in college. I met Ru [Paul] around that age, and working with him on “Drag U” was a scream. I’ve never seen him so happy, and I was treated so well. Working with Ru, you know that there is going to be great hair and makeup and of course, excellent lighting! (Which I probably need more than she does.) HDTV has teenage girls scared to show their blemishes – imagine being a 51-year-old drag queen with a few wrinkles to go with the blemishes! Not to mention a beard!
Tell me more about your latest hit single, “Take Me Up High.” It’s definitely more earnest than fans are used to.
Yes, it isn’t a dirty parody, so I have to actually focus on sounding good as opposed to relying on humor. I DJ as well, and there were several songs out in last few years that I hated so much that I wanted to quit DJing – especially “Gangnam Style” and “Harlem Shake.” This crap isn’t music to me. So, I decided to stop complaining about the music and write some myself if I thought I knew so damn much. I’m thrilled by the response. I don’t think many people knew that I write and sing – except for a couple of duets with Ru on her last two albums.
What else are you doing right now other than touring? What’s next?
I’ve recorded a pilot for a dragthemed TV show called “Politics Is a Drag” with two very funny and smart queens, Coco Peru and Esther Goldberg. So, wish us luck! I’ll be appearing in a short film with Wilson Cruz and recording a follow-up single to “Take Me Up High.” I’m taking my one wo-man show “That Ain’t No Lady!” to L.A. and San Francisco this fall and looking forward to my first-ever gig in Hong Kong!
Will you be making more guest appearances on “RuPaul’s Drag Race”?
Last season Alaska and Ivy Winters impersonated me, and I had a small appearance. Ru included me as part of his life story, which was sweet of him. I know that I’m mentioned this season but not sure how.
I read in a previous interview that you never really thought you addressed political issues in your shows or that drag is inherently political. Being a part of the New York gay scene in the ‘80s and ‘90s, have you noticed any differences in awareness from the then to today? Is there any advice you can offer to this generation?
I was young in the ‘80s and was not interested in politics. However, AIDS had just hit big and ACT UP formed as a response to the crisis. Gays were scared to death (literally) and angry as hell that the government was doing little about it. Reagan was refusing to say the word “AIDS ,” and NYC Mayor Ed Koch shied away from the subject because (it’s believed) he was a closet case. AC T UP’s message was very radical and included die-ins, where people laid out in the streets, protests outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral to force the Catholic Church to admit that condoms do prevent HIV infection and much more.
The gay agenda was much more far-reaching than it is today, and slogans like “AIDS doesn’t kill straight white men,” and gay men fighting for women’s rights to abortions, and fighting against big pharmaceutical companies’ corrupt practices were common.
Today, we’ve lost that anger and enthusiasm. I see few leaders among gay youth. Maybe they see the battle as having been won now that they can fight in the military and get married in a few states. But new HIV infections among youth are way up, and barebacking is common. This is a slap in the face to the activists from ACT UP who got every AIDS medicine on the market today approved. The medicines are not a cure for AIDS, even though HIV infection may no longer always be a death sentence. That doesn’t mean you should throw your legs up and welcome it because there’s new drugs on the market. If kids have no one to tell them how irresponsible that is, I will gladly do it!
You also mentioned that you were generally not at all political before 9/11. Can you tell me more about your experience and what changed?
Seeing the second building fall at 9/11 was a real wake-up call. Unlike most, I began to ask not “What do we do now?” but “What have we done?” The U.S. has been screwing around all over the world, outraging the Muslim world – and the CIA even trained Osama Bin Laden. It clearly backfired. I realized that our government is bought and sold by the corporations who profit from war, and we seldom get the truth from our news outlets since they are all owned by those same corporations. It seems like we’re preparing to attack Syria. Does anyone reading this feel a threat from Syria or feel the need to attack? Our government is claiming that we must attack Syria because their government used WMDs [weapons of mass destruction], yet it isn’t even clear that they did. George Bush lied about Iraq having WMDs as an excuse to attack Iraq unnecessarily. Clearly, we’ve learned nothing. It’s time to get our heads out of the sand.
On a lighter note, I have to ask, who does your hair?