Sashay away. Shantay, you stay. Good luck and don't fuck it up. Condragulations. “Ru-isms” from the juggernaut reality show RuPaul's Drag Race on VH1 have transcended television to become synonymous with not only drag, but pop culture in general. The show, which began in 2009 on Logo, has since aired 11 regular seasons, 4 All Star seasons, a companion series Untucked and a British version set to air in the U.K. On top of all this, DragCon was first launched in 2015 in Los Angeles and has only gotten bigger every year, even expanding to New York two years ago.
“When Randy [Barbato] and I started out, drag shows were on a tiny stage. We just thought, oh my God, the artistry is off the charts,” says Fenton Bailey, executive producer of RuPaul's Drag Race and co-founder of World of Wonder, the production company behind Drag Race and DragCon. “I think it was always our dream to see this incredible work on a larger platform. And I think that's what Drag Race and DragCon have been able to provide.”
Despite opening doors for drag in a myriad of ways, Drag Race can be a double-edged sword for performers who haven't made it on the show. Many “local queens” complain about a huge disparity in booking fees, or more difficulties in getting booked, period. “The show is not the be all and end all [of drag],” Bailey concedes. “Hopefully the effect is to elevate drag everywhere. Sure, everyone wants to see the queens from Drag Race, but also I think people are interested to see the queens who are going to be on Drag Race.”
Los Angeles was a top destination for drag even before Drag Race, but with the show filmed here, and many staying here after their big break, the queen quotient is off the charts — and with the arrival of the 5th Annual RuPaul's DragCon at Los Angeles Convention Center this Memorial Day weekend, even more so. It's going to be a very queeny weekend in L.A. indeed, and to celebrate, we're spotlighting a mix of “wo-men” who have been on the Emmy-Award winning show and some who haven't. Either way, they're all L.A. drag royalty. First up, The Boulet Brothers.
Perhaps the most well known queens around L.A. who haven't been on RuPaul's Drag Race, the Boulet Brothers — also known as Swanthula and Dracmorda — favor a darker aesthetic, stemming from their background in nightclubs. “We've sort of grown into these iconoclastic, mothers of darkness and debauchery,” says Dracmorda. “We're more like overlords from a horror movie than beauty queens — our drag is not what most people think of when they think of drag queens.”
The Boulet Brothers first moved to L.A. from New York City's East Village around 20 years ago, and five years later they “started their gender fuckery” (as Swanthula put it) with the party Miss Kitty's Parlour (which closed in 2011). In 2015, they brought their rock & roll alternative take on drag to downtown L.A. “It's been a surreal experience to be able to help shape what the gay scene in DTLA has become,” says Dracmorda. The Boulet Brothers created Queen Kong as the flagship party for downtown gay bar Precinct in 2015. “Our shows usually involve a bit of violence,” says Swanthula. “If there isn't a little blood spilled or some power tools involved, then we're not really satisfied.” In addition to Queen Kong, the Boulets are also behind the annual Los Angeles Halloween Ball and their New Year's Eve DTLA Massive Party, both at the Globe Theatre.
The next step in the evolution of Downtown's LGBTQ community was the invention of Downtown Proud in 2016, the community's Pride celebration, which the Boulet Brothers sat as founding board members for. Dracmorda and Swanthula recently stepped away from the board so they can focus on the other project that has solidified their spot in the drag world: their TV show The Boulet Brothers' Dragula, a reality drag competition that focuses on their brand of darker horror-like queens. The first two seasons can be found on streaming sites including, YouTube, WOW Presents Plus and Amazon. Season three is set to premiere this summer, and according to Swanthula, “get ready for some surprises” in terms of where it will air. “The new season of the show is going to be incredible. It is 100 percent going to change the world's perception of drag and drag entertainment. It's bigger, scarier and really polished this year. People are going to eat it up,” says Dracmorda.
Perhaps it's fitting that DragCon also finds its home in the Boulet Brothers' backyard. They've been involved on some level since year one and were the first non-Drag Race queens to be featured on a speaking panel. “Drag Race has elevated drag performers to a level of fame and fortune that would have been inconceivable before the show,” Swanthula says.
During this year's DragCon, the BB's are hosting their annual “Monsters Ball” which features alternative drag artists from around the world, including Drag Race and Dragula queens, at the Globe Theatre until 11 p.m. After that they're hosting Queen Kong, which will be headlined by Nina West from the current Drag Race season. Fans can also catch the Boulet Brothers booth (#1143) on the floor of DragCon, which will feature exclusive merch as well as meet and greets with stars from both seasons of Dragula.