Mentally ill man killed by Detroit police had earlier encounter with officers

Top drag queen Bianca Del Rio brings sharp tongue to Royal Oak Saturday

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News

Drag queen and insult comic Bianca Del Rio started her career two decades ago, performing to empty theaters, doing drag brunches and spending many late nights in New York City clubs entertaining just a handful of audience members.

Wave the magic wand to 2019, and we see the brash comedian become the first drag queen to ever headline Wembley Arena in London. Earlier this year Del Rio also topped the New Yorker's list of "100 Most Powerful Drag Queens in America."

Bianca del Rio performs at the Royal Oak Music Theatre Oct. 12.

"Everything kinda happens for a reason, I mean good and bad," Del Rio told The Detroit News last week by phone, after arriving at a Boston gig, just days before making her Carnegie Hall debut Sunday. She brings her "It's Jester Joke" tour to the Royal Oak Music Theatre Saturday. 

"I'm grateful for the experiences that happened in the order that they've happened. If all of this had happened to me at 20 years old it would have been lost on me."

Del Rio's star began to rise after the New Orleans native not only won the sixth season of reality competition series "RuPaul's Drag Race," —  kind of an "American Idol" for drag performers, only with more drama and no real singing — but didn't even really slip into a vulnerable spot the entire season. 

It wasn't the first time on television for Del Rio (nee Roy Haylock), but the 2014 "Drag Race" run really helped pave the road to Carnegie and Wembly for the former costume designer. Since then she's appeared in indie films, published a memoir, embarked on several stand-up comedy tours and this year made her West End debut in the musical "Everybody's Talking About Jamie." 

Theater was what led Del Rio into the drag life, so casting her in the role of Hugo, a retired queen, was a no-brainer. 

"Here was this part that basically showed both sides of this character, a guy who lived a life as a fabulous drag queen in the '80s," said Del Rio. "And then retired and lived in this small town, and this young boy who is interested in becoming a drag queen kind of shakes him up a bit and brings him back to drag." 

"He's catty, he's funny, he's a grande dancer ... it was a really big stretch for me," she joked. 

Besides over-the-top clown-inspired makeup and costumes, Del Rio is known for her sharp tongue. This queen is an insult comic at heart, and no group of people (minorities or otherwise) are off limits. 

When asked if she ever worries that something she said will blow up and get her in trouble, she says "every day." That doesn't mean she's going to stop being herself because some may find her inappropriate. 

"I don't necessarily believe that people are more offended today than they were 20 years ago I think it's just the static in the world," she said, while snacking on M&M's. "It's the culture we live in, it's social media, it's the media, everyone thinks they're an interviewer, everybody's a blogger ... and that's what it is. It's just a lot of noise." 

The way she sees it, if you don't like it, sashay away.

"I don't think comedians in particular should be censored on what they're going to do because we're not your elected official, we're not your counselor, your president or even your mother." 

While she's not here for everybody, her rise to being one of the top drag queens in the country means she's found an audience big enough to help propel her from being a performer who travels with one outfit to a queen with a whole tour bus full.

Twitter: @melodybaetens

Bianca Del Rio

7 p.m. Sat. 

Royal Oak Music Theatre

318 W. Fourth, Royal Oak

(248) 399-2980 or

$39.50 and up