A queen of beauty, style, elegance, grace… is who I intended to interview, but there was some mix up and Pickle showed up.
A dainty 6’9” in heels “just under 7 with hair,” Pickle is one of my favorite WeHo queens, she is most noted for her live singing and her iconic stand up routines, it’s true that her laundry list of talents is no joke. To kick things off I ask the same question every reporter asks, how she got her start in this business we call drag.
Drag? What is that?
After a hearty chuckle, I was finally able to shake the truth out of her.
I got started at this place in Highland Park called Exposure Drag; they do it every Monday. I had always thought that drag was kind of… dirty, old people in blonde wigs…. I’d basically only seen Lady Bunny. So I was like ‘ew, I don’t wanna be that!’ So I had no interest in drag and then a college boyfriend was like “drag is all sorts of things” and he showed me RuPaul’s Drag Race and I saw Raja, specifically, and I thought “this is so cool” and that’s when I started thinking I wanted to do it. But I never did until I discovered this night in Highland Park that was very amateur, and I just started doing it there every week and it just ended up being a really good fit. It just checked so many of my boxes that I enjoy, and since then there just hasn’t been a 7 day period – in 3 and a half years – where I haven’t gotten into drag. I just hit the ground running, or wobbling, really.
Pickle isn’t your run of the mill queen, and so we should expect nothing less than a rather unusual name, but it’s such a random word, and food, so how did she land on Pickle as her nom de stage?
I really don’t know. I was trying to come up with a drag name, nothing was coming to me, and I realized I was taking it too seriously. I love Hedda Lettuce, she’s also a huge influence for me, I love her comedy, so I wanted it to be maybe a bit of an homage to her, and I wanted to be one name like PEARL, I love Raja and Pearl, just those one names. So I was in my kitchen and I thought, what do I want to eat RIGHT NOW. I just played word association and thought, what do I want right now? A pickle. And that was it… who doesn’t love pickles?! It’s such a good drag name because it’s such a bad drag name.
As I continued to prod around in her past, I wanted to know more about her family – she happens to be one of the rare LA natives I’ve heard of but scarcely seen – and whether her family supported her drag dreams.
Both my parents are artists, they’re divorced and my dad has been remarried twice over – very LA. I have an older sister and a younger brother. They’re very supportive, my mother at first had a bit of a problem with drag, but not for the typical reasons. She felt that drag, when done improperly is sort of an attack on feminism that we’re not ready for. There was no conservative element, it was really a liberal element, the drag she had seen was more of an attack on femininity rather than celebrating it – and because of this she really influenced how I do drag. When I started doing it I thought okay, I’m going to do it, but I want to make sure I’m doing it respectively. I don’t make abortion jokes or rape jokes; I don’t attack issues that are personal to the female experience. I like to acknowledge that I’m not a woman, I don’t speak for women and I don’t speak for people who are trans because I don’t identify with either, so I have no right to speak on their behalf. My dad just didn’t think I could make any money doing it. But yes, they are very supportive, just on the wary-parental side of supportive.
With the support of her family and fans, Pickle takes on the drag world by both horns, hosting several shows, and performing in various ways. As mentioned above, not only does Pickle rock the expected lip sync performance, she also sings live and does stand up, a veritable cornucopia of drag.
I like to just keep an open mind and do what I love to do. I like to say that I’ll try anything 6 times. I did a little bit of stand up in college and drag has really allowed me, or given me permission to do things that I maybe wouldn’t do normally. Singing, I never really felt I was talented in that way – I had a really mean choir teacher in high school – and I never really made the connection that you have to practice something in order to become good at it. I think that really hold a lot of people back, and it certainly held me back, you’re not going to go out on stage and sing live for the first time and be completely perfect and confident. I had to work at it a lot, and there were times at the beginning when it was, I mean, rough, but I kept working at it and now I’ve learned that when an opportunity is offered to me to just say yes. I say yes. I just do what I love and what is going to make me happy on any given day.
I do sing more than I do stand up formally, obviously there is a certain amount of stand up when hosting a drag show, but the reason I love stand up is because I have so many stories that I want to tell. I just had a really weird… I feel like I’ve lived a really fun life and I like to talk about it. Carrie Fisher really was a huge influence on me, I love that she didn’t do stand up, but she did stand up. When I approach it I don’t think about the punch line – I want to tell this story and if people laugh, that’s great, but if they don’t laugh then I still get to tell this story. I mean, I add punch lines, but I don’t really “write jokes.”
Alongside her own mother and the late, great Carrie Fisher, who else influences the artist that is Pickle?
Julie Andrews, Peg Bundy – what’s funny about that is my dad is actually in a band with Katey Sagal and I’ve met her a few times, and it’s so funny because I tell my dad ‘you’ve got to tell her about me.’ I did a one-woman show called “Peg Bundy Has An Existential Crisis” and it was sort of about Peg Bundy trapped in purgatory on that couch and I was like “you have to tell her that I do that.” But he thought it would be weird, I thought it would be weirder when she finds out that you didn’t tell her but… I met her at my dad’s birthday party and I was talking to her about drag and she asked me what kind of drag I do, and I so wanted to be like ‘well, frankly I do you.’ Then I thought, maybe not the right time? I also liked that I had this weird little Buffalo Bill secret I was keeping from her.
After checking that the double plate glass between us was, in fact, secure, I wanted to discuss some of the other notable mentions on Pickle’s resume – because if singing, “dancing” and stand up wasn’t enough, oh yes, kids! She’s an actress too. Most recently you may have spotted her in a national campaign for the subscription service Dollar Shave Club.
I loved it; I have a really great agent! It wasn’t the first national ad that I’ve done, I also did a TRUVADA ad for Gilead, actually a year before I booked Dollar Shave Club. I really love being on set, I love the atmosphere and it’s one of the few places I really feel like I fit in and I understand what my job is, what I’m supposed to do – I feel very at home. And they were amazing to work with, they were so cool and I loved the concept, it was so funny and it was fun to do. And I like money, so.
Speaking of money, I wanted to hear about the perks!
I did get a lot of free razors, I didn’t get any free PrEP from the TRUVADA ad, which I thought was rude, but you know that was really fun too. I love modeling. And I am a member of Dollar Shave Club, independent of my commercial spot – I mean, I did subscribe when they hired me, but I do pay for it and I do actually recommend it. I think it’s a great product, they’re great people and it really is so convenient. At first I was like, why would I need my razors delivered to me, like? Is it so horrible to buy razors in the store? But I have to say I’ve gotten used to just having them arrive in the mail and I wouldn’t go back. EVER.
When she’s not busy on set or hosting shows all over the greater Los Angeles area, Pickle gets in her “good deed” points by reading to children (which is like walking in nature with children, but indoors and probably more fun) through a program called Drag Queen Story Hour.
I love kids, I love working with kids; Drag Queen Story Hour has absolutely changed my life. It’s such an amazing program with amazing people. Really entertaining kids is just the same as educating drunk gay men, really. I make the same jokes, just more appropriately, but it’s just so cool to be around them. They’re so cute and so cool, and to think that I’ve made an impact – I’ve had a couple of moms come up to me afterwards, the other day one came up and said ‘this the first time [name redacted for privacy] is wearing a dress in public.’ And he was wearing this gorgeous red dress and looked so great; I always wanted to dress up and do drag as a kid, but I didn’t have a role model for it, I didn’t think it was normal. I didn’t realize it could be a form of entertainment, not necessarily something I had to commit to full time. I tell the kids “gender isn’t a multiple choice question, you can be whatever you want today and the world should just take you for what you say.” To be able to interact with young people, and show them you can be whatever you want is so cool and so rewarding. And I’ve held a LOT of crying babies, the parents really want that picture.
I can’t really relate to the concept of liking kids myself, but I will say if they must be around, it’s good to know they’re being influenced by some of the most fabulous queens in the country. So, I know what you’re thinking: what does a drag queen read to children?
There’s a story called Feminist Baby by Loryn Brantz – it’s actually published by Disney, but you wouldn’t ever know it. Disney actually does a lot of really random progressive stuff on the side, but they don’t want anyone to know it’s them, but they fund a lot of it. It’s about a little baby is a feminist. And another one that I love to close with is called In My Heart: A Book of Feelings by Jo Witek and it’s this really beautiful book about emotions. Usually the literature is progressive in some way, we like to include a lot of queer, kids literature and feminist literature, there’s a bit of a litmus test for it; we want it to be in line with the Drag Queen Story Hour views. But sometimes what I like to do is if I see a kid who has a book, I’ll ask to read it. So that’s when I get to read the classics, Hop on Pop or whatever. But usually we stick to the sort of, distinctly overt queer themes. We figure, you know, we got them in the room may as well hit the nail over the head.
So, she’s a multi-talented queen and an actual do-gooder you hear so much about. Cool. I don’t feel inferior at all. In order to ebb the oncoming tidal wave of self-hatred, I turned the conversation back to Drag Race, given that it encouraged Pickle’s start, I wanted to know her current thoughts on the show.
I’m a big fan of the show, I enjoy watching it, but I don’t want to be on it. I think it has definitely broadened the horizons of drag, and brought drag into the mainstream in a lot of ways; but I also think it has fostered a lot of delusion in drag queens in thinking it’s a bigger deal than it is. The fact is drag queens have been on TV and in movies, drag queens have been part of pop culture for a while. You have drag queens who have been in the mainstream for so much longer than Drag Race has been on; yes Drag Race in itself has become a phenomenon, sometimes people don’t realize that the show is a phenomenon, but it’s still a tiny percentage of a particular leg of the art. . As a working drag queen, you have to look at your career both in a long term way and in a short term way, and it’s interesting to see some of the queens who go through Drag Race not looking at their careers in a long term way. The reality is that when RuPaul retires to Wisconsin, the only person who gets a legacy from the show is RuPaul.
And Bianca del Rio, I add hastily, in case any of her people are within hearing distance. This leads us to a discussion on the queens from Drag Race who are looking at their careers in the long term. Queens like Bianca, who are creating their own legacies, making sure that Drag Race is merely a portion of that legacy.
That’s why I respect queens like Jasmine Masters, for example, who are still constantly on the grind, showing up to the gigs, extremely professional. And she, queens like her, will be working in 10 years. People who create work that can be understood outside of a niche group of people, they’re the ones who will be working long after Drag Race has ended.
And on the grind she is, with more than five residencies, there is no shortage of Pickle on the menu.
I’m at Flaming Saddles every Friday night for Saddles Saloon Girls and every Sunday for Bring It to Brunch, at Precinct every Tuesday and Bang Bang Room every Wednesday for trivia, Bang Bang Room on Thursday nights for drag competition and for anything else check my Instagram
Be sure to follow Pickle on Instagram: @pickledragqueen
I realize that reads as Pickled Rag Queen, it used to be It’s Pickle Bitch, but I wanted to clean it up for the children.