This Week's Guest: Ben DeLaCreme
This week's guest specializes in breaking boundaries, upending order, and causing mischief. You probably know Ben DeLaCreme best from those couple of months when you were rooting for him to win Season 6 of Drag Race, or maybe from his live shows that tour the country. As it happens, can catch him onstage in his new show, "Inferno A-Go-Go," a delightful romp based on Dante's Inferno -- I'll have details at the end of this episode, or follow him on twitter @bendelacreme.
I'm so grateful to Ben for sitting down with me to talk about how Bugs Bunny and Jessica Rabbit made him the man and woman he is today, the strategy that he devised for making the most of Drag Race, and why the producers of that show hated him.
Highlights of this week's episode: Ben's early forays into showmanship and drag, starting with news reports he'd stage as a child about what was happening around the house. Later, he appeared onstage in his boxers, and as Tina Angst in Chicago -- an angry punk-rock drag girl with pink and black dreadlocks. "I had such a crazy temper then," he said.
Anger was his weapon of choice at first, but then he stumbled across something far better: the devastating power of well-aimed niceness.
He resisted Drag Race for years, but when the time finally came, he crafted an unusual strategy: when in drag, he'd never break character. "I wanted to represent myself in a way that I felt good about," he said.
That proved exhausting, not just for him but for the producers who desperately wanted him to engage with the other contestants as a cutting bitchy gay man. "They hated it," he said. "They wanted me to stop so badly."
And though it might've come off as a little strange, there was a method to Ben DeLaCreme's madness.
This Week's Recommendation: Labyrinth
I cannot recommend Ben's live appearances highly enough, and you lucky thing you can see him live in a brand new solo show! It's called "Inferno A-Go-Go," based on Dante's Inferno, and it opens at the Laurie Beechman in New York in July, then Provincetown at the Crown and Anchor in August, Seattle's West hall in September, and Oasis in San Francisco in November. If you don't live in those cities, please make arrangements now to hitchhike to whichever one is closest.
There's nothing quite like seeing DeLa live, and the only word I can think of to sum up the experience is "romp." The character creates a bizarre alternate universe in the theater that grabs hold of you, pulls you in, and enchants you to the point that you're not sure why you would ever want to leave.
That's why, for my recommendation this week, I'd like you to check another gender trickster: David Bowie as the goblin king Jareth in Labyrinth. I hope you've seen this film, but if not, a quick synopsis: the otherworldly Jareth seduces young Sarah into a magical kingdom where none of the rules of everyday life apply, and to reach the center of the Labyrinth she must master the bizarre rules of a fantasy realm.
A couple of years ago, I went to a Q&A with some of the Muppet performers in the film, and one of them described the film as "having a lot of space." I think that's a fair critique, and not necessarily a criticism. Like the Labyrinth itself, the movie leaves you with plenty of mysteries and obscured connections to puzzle out on your own. It's an invitation to use your imagination, to fill in gaps and wonder what was real.
That's what the best trickster characters do, whether it's Bugs Bunny or Jareth or Loki or Groucho Marx or Ben DeLaCreme. Spend a little time in their weird upside-down worlds, and you'll start to pick up a little of their magic yourself.
Then once you're back out in the real world, you can always recharge your imagination by calling on a little of that magic you picked up.
You know. Should you need it.