Trixie Mattel is a drag superstar. It’s a simple fact. Created by Brian Firkus, Trixie has built up a fervent following around the world thanks to her forthright points of view, commanding presence, and hilarious anecdotes. She has just under two million subscribers follow her antics on YouTube; almost four million people keep up with her ventures and adventures on Instagram.
Wherever you look these days, it seems like Trixie is there, from trolling Ted Cruz with Jimmy Kimmel to touring her podcast with fellow RuPaul’s Drag Race alumni, Katya Zamolodchikova (Brian McCook), around North America.
In a few weeks, Firkus will bring his beloved Trixie alter ego to Australia for DJ sets in Melbourne and Sydney as part of ALWAYS LIVE’s Summer Camp Festival, an all-inclusive event from day to night featuring live music, DJs, art, and more.
Chatting to Rolling Stone AU/NZ ahead of his trip Down Under, Firkus is in a reflective mood, acknowledging that his alter ego has helped knock down walls around the perception of drag, helping to encourage inclusivity and freedom of choice while challenging societal norms.
“As drag queens we funhouse mirror and parody a lot of the worst parts of being a person,” he says. “We parody being completely self-involved and delusionally confident and we make fun of the aesthetic of what beauty is, we make fun of the expectation of a woman, and we make fun of the expectation of a queer person. Weirdly, a drag queen couldn’t exist without social problems.”
Firkus is able to recall a time when drag wasn’t so popular, when RuPaul’s Drag Race didn’t have 20 international versions and celebrities like Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga, and Khloé Kardashian weren’t on the show.
“I crossdress for a living. I know we live in the world of ‘drag is so cool’, but it was not long ago that drag was not cool, and I didn’t start crossdressing because I wanted everyone to like me.”
Speaking over Zoom, Firkus (who uses he/him pronoun; Trixie uses she/her), dons a casual look, stripped back without the typical Trixie glam, sitting in his studio where his popular YouTube videos come to life – earlier that day he was recording a podcast with co-host Kayta for their podcast, The Bald and the Beautiful.
Surrounded by make-up brushes and cameras under a big bay of studio lights, it’s a fitting location for the evolving performer who has grown so accustomed to being in the spotlight.
Appearing on season seven of RuPaul’s Drag Race in 2015 and taking out the top spot of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars in 2018 are an important chapter in Finkus getting to where he is today – but certainly not the whole story.
Sitting in a packed-out Chicago bar five years ago, where Firkus once worked when he was barely making ends meet, the room was full of people awaiting the final announcement.
“They say moments like that go by fast but for me, the moments leading up to RuPaul reading my name, it was like time just slowed down,” Firkus recalls.
“I’m looking out to a sea of gay people and seeing them looking at me and looking back at the TV screen. A lot of them are filming because they’re there, they want to get this moment no matter what happens, and I remember thinking, ‘If I don’t win, this is the last time a room full of people are going to look at me like I could win so I might as well enjoy it.’
“When they read my name, I had no way to be prepared for it, it was like my whole life dedicated to drag worked out in that way. You have to imagine, it is the Olympics for us drag queens, it was crazy.”
While the exposure created a launchpad for plenty of successful pursuits, it’s evident during our interview that Firkus was destined for some form of stardom through his hard work.
“I guess Trixie, for me, always felt worth it,” he says. “Doing stand up or learning to style wigs or learning to do make up or DJing, it always felt like a worthwhile return investment even before it had not started to become one. It does open a lot of doors, but if you’re going to have a bunch of people looking at you, you’ve got to have a plan to do something good.”
Firkus admits that RuPaul’s Drag Race was marvellous in many ways, but he really unlocked his full potential through Trixie’s YouTube channel. “YouTube really gave me everything – my musicianship, my beauty company, my channel and the audience.”
By learning everything behind the scenes, from lights and sound to camera and editing, creating videos from scratch completely transformed him as a performer. “Drag Race was a wonderful way to get my foot in the door for sure but YouTube just changed my life,” he adds.
Away from YouTube, Trixie’s output includes the aforementioned The Bald and the Beautiful, and Trixie also appears alongside Katya in the Netflix web series, I Like to Watch.
“Our talent is being thrown a prompt and being told to talk. That’s what we just excel at, I think,” Firkus says. The pair discuss topics in a group chat each week, and on the day of the shoot float some of the ideas they feel like exploring further.
“We come up with the three topics we want to talk about that day and the ones we don’t use, we save, because who knows? Maybe next week we’ll want to talk about the dentist,” he laughs.
But it’s never just Trixie and Katya discussing what they want: they’re always thinking about their audience, mindful of what fans might want to see more of.
“Having a platform or an audience isn’t necessarily a good thing if you don’t have something great to show,” Kirkus says.
“As a creator, I will try things to see how it’s going to be responded to. Sometimes it helps. I like to read comments as an entertainer – it’s like my Yelp.”