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From “quiet quitting” to the “Great Resignation,” the COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed the way the world thinks and talks about work. Here to help us make sense of it all are two New York Times best-selling authors and all-around life gurus: Trixie Mattel and Katya Zamolodchikova. Separately, they made lasting impressions as contestants on RuPaul’s Drag Race and RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars. (Trixie even took home the All Stars season three crown.) Together, they have formed a ferociously funny comedy duo. (Catch them on their popular web series UNHhhh and their podcast The Bald and the Beautiful.)
In their second book, Working Girls: Trixie & Katya’s Guide to Professional Womanhood, the pair — who out of drag go by Brian Michael Firkus (Trixie) and Brian Joseph McCook (Katya) — answer all of your burning questions about the professional world, from “choosing a career path to sailing into a blissful retirement.” While the book — out today — is characteristically filthy and funny, it does contain a surprising amount of legitimately useful career advice. Or perhaps not so surprising, considering these two advisors have forged some of the most successful and versatile post-Drag Race careers.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Trixie and Katya via Zoom for a chaotic yet thoroughly enlightening conversation about everything from Working Girls (the book) to Working Girl (the movie) to “Werqing, girl!” (a drag state of mind).
Hi, Trixie and Katya. You two have always made me laugh, especially through the pandemic, so thank you!
Katya: It’s our pleasure, Bob.
Trixie: Everybody’s Bob who interviews us.
Where are you Zooming from?
Trixie: Just here in Columbus, [Ohio,] getting ready to do my sickening Monday-night Columbus gig.
Katya: I’m coming to you live from the Hollywood Dell.
That’s somewhere near the Hollywood Sign?
Katya: I think it’s around here somewhere. It’s a very nebulous little portion of the hills. It’s beautiful. It’s when you want to live in the hills, but you don’t want people to think you’ve changed.
Thanks for chatting with The Hollywood Reporter.
Trixie: The Hollywood Reporter!
Trixie: I love both of them.
Katya: What about Julia Roberts?
I once interviewed her, actually. She was very nice. But it was over the phone.
So how many books have you guys now written?
Katya: Yeah. But if you count ones that are published, then this will be our second.
Trixie: Well, to be honest, in the beginning of our literary career, we were kind of writing under pseudonyms. Mine was Stephen King.
Katya: Mine was Danielle Steel.
Trixie: I just was being productive. I wanted be celebrated for the quality of my work, not, you know, my body.
How did it go the first time, writing Trixie and Katya’s Guide to Modern Womanhood?
Katya: Oh, it was a huge flop. It was laughed out of the bookstore.
Trixie: The first one did surprisingly well.
Katya: A New York Times bestseller!
Trixie: Remember where you were, Katya, when you found out about it?
Katya: Yeah. I was being arraigned in court. I told the judge, “I just hit the New York Times!” They were like, “OK. Free to go.”
Trixie: I was in my house. It was right when COVID started, and I was on my patio in Hollywood. And they were doing construction across the street, and I walked out, and it was like a movie. But not cool. And I went, “I’m a New York Times bestseller!”
Katya: Did you really?
Trixie: The construction crew were like …
Katya: “Shut up, fucking crackhead. And I’m the Queen of England.”
And so the new book is called Working Girls. So this is like a professional guide. I think during COVID a lot of people decided to change careers — and this is sort of a guide to help them find their way.
Katya: I mean, yeah. Everything. We cover everything from looking for a job, interviewing, getting a job, behavior at the workplace, dress, getting fired and hired and retired. Pretty much everything.
Trixie: We’ve been hired, fired, had people work for us, we’ve had to dress up for interviews. We’ve had our dream jobs, and our worst nightmare jobs. For once, we are actually a little bit informed.
Katya: But just a little. Let’s not get too crazy.
Trixie: I think you can tell in the office chapter that neither of us have actually ever worked in an office.
Katya: We’ve been to many offices …
What were you doing before you found fame as drag queens on RuPaul’s Drag Race?
Trixie: I was so scared of it all just being a flash that I kept my weekly schedule waiting lunch shifts at Rock Bottom, [in] Milwaukee, while [my season of] Drag Race was airing on TV. And I was front desk at a salon called Scott Free, also in Milwaukee, because I was so scared of giving up my jobs and then in six months being like, “Hi. I thought I was someone. Can I have my job back?”
Katya: I think I was selling Movado watches downtown. And I had just found out that my supply had fallen off a truck, so I was gently looking for plan B. So thank God Drag Race happened.
Trixie: And we were both doing drag. I was doing like four shows a week. I don’t know if that’s a livable wage, but it was for me.
Katya: I was scraping, let’s just say. And I was counting on the check from Drag Race to improve things a little bit. Thank God it did — but I had no idea that it would just be to this extent.
I don’t think people know how, prior to something like Drag Race, drag queens get paid. Is there a flat rate paid out by the club or is it just tips?
Katya: So, it depends wildly. Like so between a college gig — like if you’re hired by a university gay-lesbian alliance — or a private party for some rich person, or like a drag bar, your salary can range anywhere from $1 to a $1,000 a night. It’s pretty inconsistent and unreliable.
Trixie: And then the pride festivals and stuff, you’re basically there for free, you know.
Katya: The thing about drag is anything where you think drag queens will be treated good, it’s actually the event we’re treated the worst.
Trixie: Pride. A street festival. Anything like that, you’re put inside an un-air-conditioned tent with 12 other cross-dressers completely naked. That’s not OK.
Katya: I talk about it in the book, but one of my most lucrative nights working was a random Wednesday where a basketball wife threw a fistful of cash at my face. I was able to pay two months rent after that, so. It’s good.
And then once you’re on Drag Race, is it a game changer in terms of the amount of money you start making?
Katya: It can be.
Trixie: What is rich to a drag queen? I’m rich now. It just means like I can pay back the people to whom I owe money. And I can pay all my bills. So the bar’s set very low because wealth is all relative, right? But you’re probably for at least a few months going to be the richest drag queen you know.
And then what? There are those of us who’ve luckily persevered, but ironically we’ve persevered because we’re not there for the money. We’re there for the enjoyment.
Katya: I don’t want to say it’s all like, um, sex appeal, but we are undeniably the two sexiest queens working and probably who will ever work, so … Look — sex sells in this country, and I think, you know, we just benefit from that.
(Laughs.) Well put.
Katya: Why are you laughing?
Trixie: I don’t know why that’s so funny to you. I guess you enjoy comedy. You laugh at Anna Nicole Smith like that or …?
Trixie: I sure do. You know what? Some people do the most. Some people are like, “I’m like doing the most,” because they like wore hair clips that day. When I’m doing the most, it means I have like five businesses. But yeah, listen. If I’ve learned anything about traveling the world for several years, it’s that the accommodations are not always right, and I wanted to take that into my own hands, and we’re thriving. There’s people there. It was fully booked, and I was FaceTiming with guests at the motel last night. It was really cute.
Katya: Which is strange despite the overwhelming outcry for better hygienic and sanitary conditions that I’ve read about online, but you know …
Trixie: I opened one motel, and now everywhere I go, I’m like, “Hm. What is that — a pillow?” I’m like kicking the walls like I know everything.
Is there anything we should know to look for in a lodging that is particularly well-run or sanitary or first-rate?
Katya: Bring your UV light, if you know what I mean.
Trixie: I don’t want to be gross, but I dare you to find something in my motel that’s not beautiful to look at. When I opened my motel, Paris Hilton’s hair started falling out. The Hilton is going down.
That career pivot really worked out for you. You guys obviously know what you’re talking about.
Trixie: Well, I think we’ve seen me perform, so like …
A lot of people are doing this “gig economy” thing. It doesn’t seem like there’s a ladder in the gig economy. What’s your take on that?
Katya: Well, I think that we’re in a frightening stage of late capitalism and the world is a ticking time bomb. I’m surprised the banks and grocery stores are still open. Not to be grim.
Trixie: We obviously talk about, like, getting money and trying to get a raise and all that stuff. We also talk about the importance of enjoying what you’re doing. If you aren’t, then literally what are you doing? I mean, anybody out there that picks up our book, and is in a job they absolutely hate, I think by the time they finish it, they’re not going to be at that job anymore. We don’t glamorize or glorify any job. Even our own. We have an entire chapter about why doing drag is horrible. There’s always stuff to be complained about when it comes to having to work for money. I think Katya says in one of the chapters: “You have to work. It sucks, but you have to do it.”
Katya: Work sucks, but they pay you for it.
Trixie: That’s what you said. Yes. I think you invented that.
Katya: No, I think that was, um, Maya Angelou.
Trixie: Is that Rhea Perlman? But, you know, Katya and I have been gig-economy people since pre-Drag Race. Some drag queen texting you from a Nokia being like, “Can you perform Friday? Sidney Prescott broke her leg.”
Katya: I got one drag gig because one person had a stroke, and another one because someone, um, died.
Trixie: One time this drag queen — Lady Gia in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. You can print that. She will never find out. She was like, “Can you fill in for me Friday?” I show up at the gig and she’s there, and she’s like, “I actually could do it. I forgot to tell you.” So I just sat in the show in drag, and went home. Humiliation is a big part of employment. Period.
There’s a real drag explosion now. Would you encourage young wannabes to do it? Or are you like, “You know what — don’t do this to yourself?”
Katya: I would say a strong, um, warning to people: It looks like an explosion of money, but it’s not cash flying through the air. It’s shrapnel.
It’s just, if you could get the bank balances of all these “successful” drag queens around here, I think you’d have a sobering realistic picture of what the real tea is. Let’s just say, don’t skip college. Although college is a scam. Ah, fuck. I don’t know. Be a carpenter.
Trixie: If you’re going to start drag, you have to think of it as like you making bracelets on Etsy. You have to enjoy this, and you have to have realistic expectation about it to enjoy it, because when you see a drag queen on stage with one of those cash guns shooting bills, it’s not at all real.
Katya: It’s a hobby that you can turn into a profession. And we can’t say that about anesthesiology.
Trixie: We talk in the book about how drag looks like this get-rich-quick scheme. I know people who are like, “I bought a wig on Amazon, so I shaved off my eyebrows and resigned at my job that has a 401K.” And I’m like, “Good for you, boo.” I don’t believe that that’s going to be something that has a return reward, but people also gamble. People go to the casino and gamble. Drag’s not the only place people are insane with their money.
Katya: I had to steal — literally steal — drag for two or three years when my career was getting started in order to not go in debt.
Steal like the clothing or money?
Katya: Money. It’s OK. I’ve since paid it back. It’s an expensive hobby.
Trixie: And it’s not exactly an industry where the older drag queens are welcoming people. There’s not many jobs. They’re not there for the fun of it.
So it’s not the sisterhood that we’ve been led to believe?
Trixie: It’s a conjoined sisterhood.
Katya: Sisterhood of the Traveling … I don’t know, something. It’s like an evil sisterhood.
There are so many movies and musicals about the working world. Any favorites?
Katya: Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead, Working Girl, and I just saw Emily the Criminal. That’s a great movie about working.
Trixie: I love Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead. And I just watched I Care a Lot, which is kind of a working world story. I would say that’s closer to the drag industry.
Katya: Yes. Totally. Totally. Working Girl is a classic and it’s such a funny thing now to see, to view the ending through the lens of today, because it’s this grand success for this woman, but to our eyes now it looks like she’s just a small cog in this unspeakably horrific machine.
Trixie: I’ve never seen it, and I don’t want to be dragged for that. And I’m sorry.
Katya: Mike Nichols, the director, pulled Melanie Griffith aside and said, “Listen, bitch. You owe me $80,000 because you’re a drunk mess, so get it together.” And then she did.
I’ve never heard that story.
Katya: Yeah. She came to set like pilled and drunk, drunk as a skunk. He sent her home and then charged her for the whole day of filming. Then she got her act together.
Wow. That’s a good story. Thanks. Thanks for the tea.
Trixie: Yeah, nothing like that has ever happened to us. So.
Katya: We don’t drink or ever stumble.
Katya, you’ve been open about your own struggles with addiction. How are you? Are you feeling healthy?
Katya: Oh, I’m feeling healthy and fabulous. My drug dealer is, uh, dead in the bath.
Trixie: Listen, you don’t have to have drug problems to be a mess.
I thought we could throw out some names of people who are in sort of career transitional period, and maybe you could give them some advice. One is Wendy Williams.
Trixie: Yeah, let’s start small.
Katya: She needs a golden parachute, and then she should lead a retreat in some exotic place that’s very safe and beautiful like the Kingdom of Bhutan. Wealthy people could come and for hours a day, [they can chant], “How you doing?”
Trixie: She could honestly tour the country doing like Wendy Williams drag competitions where she like pretends to be someone dressed as Wendy Williams and takes the money.
Katya: She actually needs some rest. She deserves it.
Trixie: I love her. At her best, she really is incredible and I think the drag queens, we all feel like she is one of us. So we all want the best for her.
Katya: I just want her to be happy and healthy and comfy.
Lea Michele seems to be on a career upswing. What can she do to really keep the momentum going?
Katya: Hooked on Phonics, bitch! No, I’m kidding.
Trixie: We were watching videos of her in Funny Girl like the day after she premiered. Somebody whose job is singing, acting and dancing — and they’re a professional singer, actor and dancer? I think she’s doing OK.
Katya: Yeah. She’s not a fucking language-arts teacher in middle school.
Finally, there’s one big job opening right now, and I’m wondering who could fill it: Who should be the next prime minister of England?
Trixie: Oh. I think… Amanda Lepore.
Trixie: “So, I’m just, like, the prime minister. It’s gonna be great.”
Katya: “I think, I think North, uh, North Ireland and England. Thank you.”
Trixie: I think she should be the president of everything.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
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