It’s not easy being a skinny legend, but somebody’s gotta do it. RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars Season 3 winner Trixie Mattel (also known as Brian Michael Firkus when she’s de-dragged) has been doing the most in this industry for over a decade, and she’s only 30.
A chart-topping queen, Mattel is not only a Billboard Heatseekers No. 1 recording artist, but she’s also a comedian, theater touring act, makeup business babe, and soon-to-be author. Her new album, Barbara, is set to drop on Friday, and the book she just finished writing with comedy partner and Drag Race alum Katya Zamolodchikova is slated to come out in early May.
In Grown Up, her latest show, she playfully addresses the awkward adult anxieties elder millennials like herself are grappling with. Mattel’s deeply dark humor paired with her bright Barbie aesthetic makes her a raunchy therapist in a lot of ways.
She performs at 8 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 14, at the Agora Theatre.
Although she’s juggling so many projects at once, Mattel’s doing it solo. In a phone call ahead of her 2020 Grown Up tour, she explains how she does it all without a team, all while serving the most massive hair and heels.
Tell me about your vision for the Grown Up tour?
I just turned 30, I just bought a house, I’m in a long relationship. I sort of have all the features and I’ve checked all the boxes where I’m supposed to be like a real adult. This show is about realizing the truth of like, you never really feel like you’re an adult and even when you do, you only feel that way because you feel like you’re an old kid who has adult responsibilities. I have multiple businesses now. I have a very grown-up life, but also, I dress like a little girl for a living; I collect dolls. There’s a lot of back and forth like, am I a real grown-up? Being 30, this is the age where everybody has these anxieties about like, ‘Is this the life I wanted? Do I have the adult life I thought I would have? Is this my marriage? Is this where I’m supposed to be living? Is this the career I want?’ Especially since, you know, everyone I went to high school with in Wisconsin, they all have a different type of social media life than I do. They’re taking care of their kids — office jobs — you kind of second guess. It’s the age where you start to be like, ‘Alright, I’m half-dead, in a way, do I have everything I thought I would have by now?’ The great thing about Trixie is, I’ve always been very interested in using the building blocks of childhood toys, looks and persona to address adult anxieties. That’s sort of what the show’s about. The aesthetic I use this time is a little more ’60s, beach-y, surf rock, super mod, Austin Powers, Brady Bunch — that’s sort of the lens and the style. That’s why Barbara has such a strong 8-track beach sound.
How are you feeling about Barbara?
I’m dying. I love all my records. I don’t know… every time a record comes out, I’m excited because I think every one of them is the best one. But I really think this is the best one — the best songs, the best production. I love it. I love the concept. This record and this show, honestly, with just the place I’m at in life, have me really examining what I originally envisioned her [Trixie] to be. Over the years, she’s had a lot of incarnations, a lot of different decades, a lot of different types of Trixie. My original sketches, my original ideas for Trixie was sort of this glamourous beach bunny, Malibu Barbie with this, dark of sort like cackling dark wit. This show and this record, I’ve kind of accidentally went back to that original idea — this wise-cracking beach bunny with a really sad sense of humor.
Tell me about the book you have coming out.
Oh my God. Well, last year, I didn’t tour because I was working on creative projects, one of them being Barbara, one of them being Grown Up, then another one being my makeup company and then on top of that, Katya and I finished a book. We decided to write a book that is basically a lifestyle and etiquette guide for young women called Trixie and Katya’s Guide to Modern Womanhood. It’s basically half Redbook, half young girl’s home economics textbook. It sort of parodies the expectations of women, you know, talking about how you have to learn how to clean and cook but also — you want life advice? Katya and I are very good at ‘Do as we say, not as we do.’ Take it from us, we’ve done everything. Whatever your deepest shame is, we’ve done it and we’ve done it in heels. We cover everything from “Should you get bangs?” to “What type of heel is right for you?” to dressing for your body to “How to break up with someone” — important information. Believe me, a 30 and 37-year-old man, we know what’s best for teenaged girls.
Out of all of these projects, is there one that is the most rewarding or you find that you are the proudest of so far?
A lot of the projects that are big that take forever to put together, the night or the day they finally happen is like magical. Just the other night, I was testing some of the new material for Grown Up, I was at a standup show and some of these jokes I’ve been working on on the road, hearing a laugh from them for the first time, it’s so affirming — especially for comedy — you’re like, “I think this is funny,” but the only way to find out is to do it. After the first night in Seattle, I’m probably gonna cry afterward or something. I get very invested in the success of things. We just did a huge Black Friday launch with my makeup company. We did our first blush palette — and I’ve always loved blush, always wanted to make blush. I was up late on Black Friday in my bathrobe, watching the sales come in, like crying. I was so excited. You know, I spend all my own money on these projects. I create and direct all these projects. So, I’m always hoping things work. Ultimately, if an album doesn’t sell, if a product doesn’t sell, tickets don’t sell, it’s my ass; there’s no one in charge of me.
If you weren’t an entertainer, what do you think you’d be doing?
Oh, that’s a great question. Well, I used to be a makeup artist. I think I’d probably still be doing something makeup related. Or, don’t laugh, I’ve always loved real estate. I think I would be really good at real estate. I excel at anything where you have to be a self-starter and you have to find a way to make your own money. I think I’d [also still] be doing some kind of standup.
I have to ask you about RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 3. I know you’ve talked about it a million times by now, but what was it like to take the crown?
So, you guys saw that on TV like a year and a half ago, but I competed maybe a good over two years ago, so to me, it feels like so long ago. [But] it was singlehandedly the most magical night of my entire life. In Moving Parts — my documentary — there’s a great scene. It’s me watching TV and sitting to see what happens because I had no idea — I didn’t know if I was gonna win or not. In the movie, there’s a real-time shot of me, my face, realizing I won. If you’re a singer, it’s American Idol, if you’re an athlete it’s the Olympics, if you’re an actor, it’s the Oscars…It’s the most important, highly celebrated, respected, like, don’t-even-dare-yourself-to-dream-because-it’s-never-gonna-happen-for-you kind of thing. I started drag when I was 18 and now, I’m really standing here like 10 years later winning the biggest drag competition in the world. I mean, that is crazy crazy. I mean, it hasn’t really changed my career because, you know, a lot of this stuff — having records, TV show, my own makeup company —I was gonna do all this stuff anyway. What I learned from my first time on Drag Race was you don’t have to wait for somebody to give you an award, you can do whatever you want. Nobody has to say, “You’re good,” you can just do your own thing. But obviously I’m happy I won. Just winning that — there’s a crown in my house. If I quit drag one day or when I’m old, and I wanna stop, I’m gonna be like very proud that I did the biggest thing you can do with it at one point, you know?
Hopefully, you don’t quit for a very long time. Is there something that would surprise most people to learn about your life?
Oh, yeah sure. I think most people think I have a posse or like help… I think people tend to think I’m like very famous and rich. People think I have a team. I have friends from college I meet up with and they’re like, “Just have one of your people do it,” and I’m like, “Who are my people? What people? I don’t have any people.” I’m the one at the makeup lab trying products; I’m the one writing the standup show — I wrote that whole album. It really is all me, and I don’t vocalize that very much because I think it’s assumed but lately, I’ve found that people really think I’m a real celebrity. You’d think I’m like Mariah Carey or something — that I have someone who does my hair and makeup and tells me what to do. No. Even on Grown Up, I pick out all the hair and the costumes. I wrote all those songs. I paid that entire band to tour with me. Grown Up is gonna be like my biggest boss move to date because it’s such a big crazy show. Everything successful about my last show, it’s like taller heels and taller hair. I’m really just going above and beyond.
Do you have a favorite story about a fan encounter?
Sure. I was in Boston one time and a girl fainted. She fell into a meet and greet backdrop. I would say that people cry every time. I do meet and greets all the time. There were 30 cities in Moving Parts, 30 cities in the Grown Up tour. I’ll probably have a few criers in every city. Also, a number of people have tattoos of me. When I go on tour, I’ll probably see one or two a night. I’m probably one of the most tattooed drag queens only because my look is so severe — I think I just make a great tattoo.
You’ve mentioned how you’ve modeled yourself after a specific era of dolls, but when did you originally get inspired with that vision? Did it come sooner than when you started drag at 18?
The doll thing was because when I was a kid, I wasn’t encouraged to play with dolls. I loved Barbies and dolls. My mom just visited L.A. and we did a video together and I was like, ‘What was I like as a kid?’ My mom was like, “I smoked a lot of weed, so I don’t really remember, but I just remember you loved Barbies so much.” I don’t know what it was. To me, she [Barbie] just represented opportunity. She was a tall, beautiful, smiling person who is whatever you dress her as. You put her in doctor clothes, she’s a doctor. Put her in a dress, she’s going to an event. To me, she’s kind of the ultimate representation of drag because in drag, you are whatever you’re dressed as. Whatever you’re dressed as, people believe you are. That’s what dolls are. They all come from the same mold, the same plastic, it’s just the little costumes that decide what they are. So, I’ve just always loved Barbie. When I was first learning drag, she was my inspiration for everything; for my proportions, for the colors I would use, the styles…Then as the years went on, I started to add in My Little Pony and Polly Pocket — girl toys, in general, are my number one inspiration for drag. Since my sense of humor is a dark, adult, sad, raunchy sort of approach — especially my standup is like really dark — so for me, being this smiling kid’s toy and having this really dark point of view is a really good combination. I can get the audience to go a little bit darker with me because I look a little more comforting, I guess, do you know what I mean?
Absolutely. For those looking to start drag, what would you say it takes to do it successfully?
You can’t do anything without making bold choices. It’s like acting or any sort of artform, you have to want to make a bold choice. You have to do something with a very clear intention and do it 110 percent so everyone in the room can feel what you’re doing and knows the point of it. Every time I’ve ever regretted something in drag it’s because I second-guessed it and pulled back and then after the fact, I’m like, ‘I should have just went bigger. I should have just done it.’ I never regret making a really big choice. Everything I’ve ever done that I love is because it seemed like a good idea and I just dared myself to do it bigger, you know like, ‘Just do it. Do that. Do more.’ That’s the most important thing. I think I spent too many years doing small things trying to test people’s reactions. Just come out swinging. You have nothing to lose.
Trixie Mattel: Grown Up, 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 14, Agora Theatre, 5000 Euclid Ave., 216-881-2221. Tickets: $39.50, agoracleveland.com
Sign up for Scene’s weekly newsletters to get the latest on Cleveland news, things to do and places to eat delivered right to your inbox.