Life in plastic: Trixie Mattel

By Michail Takach | Photos by Gabriel Gastelum

Trixie Mattel and I both originate from Milwaukee, a Midwestern city best known for 1970s pop culture, beer and cheese, and of course PrideFest, which welcomes over 35,000 visitors each June to a gay pride theme park at the city’s lakefront.

Two years ago, that theme park experience included Trixie’s Funhouse, a dance club hosted by Trixie Mattel herself. Since then, Trixie has relocated to California and her career has skyrocketed. So, it was an absolute pleasure to catch up with our hometown Barbie Girl as she prepares to bring her show, Trixie Mattel: Ages 3 and Up, to San Francisco’s gorgeous Oasis.

So, you’re performing at Oasis, which is quite the lurid LGBTQ landmark. Did you know it was a bathhouse in the 1970s where the price of admission was often a six-pack of beer?  That’s hilarious! I think it’s still kind of like that! I love to come to San Francisco. It’s my favorite city to perform in, and every time I return there I’m just so totally happy.

Tell us about your show. What can people expect?  Trixie Mattel Ages 3 and Up is a funny stand-up comedy show that is glittered with tons of talent: tap dancing, guitar playing, singing, and a few more surprises, too. The show chronicles my life from age 3 to now, so no, it’s absolutely not appropriate for children! Not everything has to be family-friendly, right?

I like to think of it as a hilarious comedy show where the drag is secondary. Prepare to be surprised!

I’d be surprised if there were any tickets available. It was sold out every night we were in Provincetown last summer.  We did 55 shows in 2-1/2 months with a constantly changing audience. That experience really shaped me. It was comedy show boot camp. And it was fantastic!

Your country album, Two Birds, came as a surprise to many fans. What inspired it?  I like to describe the album as six little songs from a broken-hearted cross-dresser, because at the time I wrote it, that’s exactly who I was. Truth be told, music has always been part of my life. Long before there was a Trixie Mattel, there was a young folk musician with a deep love for Dolly Parton. I spent a lot of time with my grandfather, who was a guitar player, and I learned a lot about music from him. Those were some of the happiest days of my life. Two Birds is about heartbreak, but it’s also about being true to yourself.

Do you remember the first drag queen you ever met?  The first time I saw a drag queen, I was 18 years old and doing the Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Oriental Theater in Milwaukee. I thought she was just so beautiful. One night, she skipped a show, and I had to fill in for her. Just think, if she hadn’t missed that show, I might not have ever done drag.

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Where did you go from there?  I actually had a hard time finding work in Milwaukee, because I was not your typical pageant queen. I was as strange as I am now. I was a misfit that didn’t really fit in with the local performers. I did a weekly event at La Cage free for two years, then a weekly bingo show at Hamburger Mary’s. When I branched out to Chicago, it was like a light bulb went on. Drag queens are very strange, out there, and very strong in their convictions. Chicago is a community that celebrates its drag queens for who they are and what they’re good at, rather than comparing them to what drag is perceived to be. I started doing more comedy numbers, and those experiences fed and watered my extreme Barbie look. As the look became more severe, the comedy became more dark, intense and cutting. It just all came together.

I figured out that people have a real genuine response to a children’s toy. When you pulled the string on my back, I didn’t say “let’s go shopping,” I made a sinister joke about depression. People didn’t expect to hear that from me, but it resonated with them.

How do you respond to people who just don’t get you?  Well, I live in a constant barrel of delusion where I am the most beautiful drag queen in the entire world. If someone says that they don’t like my look or act, I don’t even acknowledge them. To say it goes in one ear and out the other? My god, it literally doesn’t even go in the ear.

Drag is such a subversive art form that you can do truly anything with. I don’t understand how in an art form where people can do whatever they want people can ask “Trixie Mattel, why do you paint so differently?” I’m like why would all drag queens paint the same? That’s the more pressing question. Are you really an artist if you’re just emulating every drag queen that came before you? Not really!

It’s important to me to make a mark. I had a need to make a mark in the arts community. I know someday after I die, people will be able to reference my look and say “That’s so Trixie Mattel” and that’s important to me. All my favorite drag queens Jackie Beat, Lady Bunny, Coco Peru, all had a very strong visual. A strong visual is what makes you memorable and makes people remember you. You’ll always remember my name and what I looked like.

Who would you say inspired your look?  I’ve had so many inspirations: Barbie, Divine, Dolly Parton, Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors, Jessica Rabbit, Peg Bundy, and so many more. I like to say I have the skin of a Barbie, the proportion of a Polly Pocket and the hair of My Little Pony. A child’s aesthetic works so well with the type of comedy I do. It works for the same reason that WICKED excelled on Broadway even during an economic downturn. WICKED succeeded because it preyed on America’s childhood nostalgia for the Wizard of Oz. I knew that little gay boys and girls around the world would be captivated to see a real-life Barbie on stage. There’s something about that proportion of the pink and the white and the blue eyes and the blonde and the hair that commands a certain attention and gives the audience a warm feeling. They’re more willing to go with me on a comedic journey because they feel close to me.

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What’s your most outrageous memory from your international tour?  Oh lord. One night, Katya and I were in Cardiff and this guy pulled out his balls and had us sign them, while he was stretching them out and yelling at the top of his lungs the whole time. It was the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen.

You’ve met some incredible people along the way!  Yes! They say you shouldn’t meet your idols, because your idol might really be an old man who’s a fucking pig. I always idolized Lady Bunny – and now I know Lady Bunny. I worship her! Parker Posey recently came to one of my shows. Such a scary moment, “Trixie, you’re on in five minutes, and by the way, Parker Posey is here tonight.” I’m doing this interview with you on break from writing music with Jackie Beat. I mean, seriously, here I am writing music with Jackie Beat. So great! Obviously, meeting RuPaul was a huge moment for me.

Any time I get to meet a celebrity, it’s exciting to me. But it’s only the celebrities that are important to me. For example, I was at a comic book convention, and they told me the voice of Ms. Keane from the Powerpuff Girls was attending. That’s huge to me, even if it’s not important to anyone else. I’ve met Julie Brown, the comedian who did “Cuz I’m a Blonde” and “The Homecoming Queen’s Got a Gun.” I ran into Michelle Collins on Access Hollywood. I was on American Horror Story with Kathy Bates – one of my all-time favorite shows – that was such a special moment.

Moments like this will never NOT freak me out. I don’t care if someone’s famous, I only care if they’re famous to me. Famous means doing something that I admire. If I ever met a Kardashian, I wouldn’t give a straight fuck.

Do you have any advice for up and coming queens?  Like Eddie Murphy says, my best advice is not to take anyone’s advice. One thousand percent. If I changed something about myself every time someone said I should, I wouldn’t be Trixie Mattel. Like they say in the Broadway musical, Title of Show, “I would rather be nine people’s favorite thing than 100 people’s ninth favorite thing.”

Entertainment and drag are not industries that value weak choices. Be 1000 percent who you are. Be 1000 percent every single day. Use your own references, know who you are and who you’re going to be. And the other advice is, if you’re going to work in entertainment, have actual skills. Dressing up cannot be the talent. Can you sing, can you dance, can you act, can you do comedy? That’s the talent.

You’d be amazed, me being a drag queen, and doing guitar, and tap dancing, and working with puppets, people think I’m from another planet, because the bar has been set so low for drag queens. Nowadays, someone can just get dressed up and become famous on Instagram, you know?

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Do you feel drag has gone mainstream? Is it too easy, too safe?  Oh, absolutely! Audiences who claim they love drag only watch it on TV. And that’s like saying you love music, but you’ll only watch it on American Idol.

Drag was born in gay clubs on 1am on a Monday. The version of drag you receive on your couch on Tivo is dramatically different. It’s your responsibility as the fan of an art form to be more open and investigative about what that art form looks, sounds, smells and tastes like. The real art, not what you see on TV.

For example, I’m on this Haters Tour, which is a roast tour, and clearly, we roast each other. Fans are shocked at what we say to each other! “You can’t say that about your fellow artists, it’s horrible” and I’m like “it’s a roast. For a drag queen to read someone is the utmost piece of respect. Drag queens only read someone they truly love. Drag is subversive at its core, it’s always going to be against the grain.

If you want to see drag queens put on sensible dresses and say nice things about each other, well, I don’t want to go to that show. Do you?

Does Trixie Mattel ever get homesick for Milwaukee?  Yes! I miss everything about Milwaukee: the food, the gentlemen, the bars. Milwaukee is a magical place that is very underrated. It’s so amazing in the summer, when the city blows up, everyone comes out of hibernation and there are just people everywhere. The people in the Midwest are genuinely nice. When people in the Midwest ask you how your day is, they genuinely give a fuck, In LA, if someone asks how your day is, it’s because they want you to ask how their day is.

You know that This Is It is my home forever. It’s one of the oldest gay bars in the country and will be celebrating its 50th anniversary next year. That’s huge. I want to be at that party!


Trixie Mattel: Ages 3 and Up runs May 17 to May 21 at Oasis (298 11th Street.)
Tickets available online at SFoasis.com

As a lifelong Milwaukeean, Michail Takach became fascinated with its nightlife culture, venues, and neighborhoods at a young age and has committed himself to researching and documenting those stories not told in history books. Through the Wisconsin LGBT History Project, Takach seeks to make our history and heritage accessible, visible, and portable for future generations–before it is too late.  Twitter@michailtakach

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