It’s a well-known fact in the LGBTQ community that reading is fundamental. So it only made sense that the notorious queen, actor, author, and wig-wearer Willam took over the Owl Bureau bookstore in Highland Park, Los Angeles, to kick off Pride with a series of debaucherous readings and performances. The evening, the first in Owl Bureau’s after-hours LGBTQ+ programming series NIGHTOWL, drew the likes of local L.A. icons Noureen DeWulf, Drew Droege, Tommy Lenk, Deven Green, and Bert Royal. Between sets—and some agave-heavy mezcal cocktails—we caught up with Willam on his way to the pink-lit stage, where he spilled the tea on Pride, Chris Hardwick, and the importance of a heavy bang. And if the legendary photographer Maripol wasn’t there to capture the party, did it even happen at all?
EMILY BERNSTEIN: What are you excited about this Pride?
WILLAM: Funnel Cake.
BERNSTEIN: It’s funny. Other places have different words for it. Some places call it “doughboy,” some call it “elephant ear,” but I grew up on funnel cake too. How did you start performing? Did you do it in high school?
WILLAM: Rocky Horror Picture Show was my gateway drag/drug. I was somewhere between 13 and 16 when I started going to that.
BERNSTEIN: Was it in a theater in your local town?
WILLAM: Yep. In Florida.
BERNSTEIN: And did you study theater too?
WILLAM: No. I never went to college. Got out of high school at 16. Never looked back. I went to L.A. when I was 19, so 17 years ago. Shit.
BERNSTEIN: Have you seen L.A. change ?
WILLAM: I mean, new buildings and stuff, but it’s still as deep as a turtle pool.
BERNSTEIN: What makes L.A. Pride unique?
WILLAM: Well, I think it’s one of the only for-profit Prides in America. I’m pretty sure, or at least it was. Last year’s Pride was a mess, honestly. The amount of people that couldn’t get in. People that had to pay for weekend passes and all the helicopter coverage and people almost rioting. So hopefully this Pride will stand out and there won’t be any hiccups like that.
BERNSTEIN: So let’s talk about your book a little bit. What inspired you to write your book Suck Less: Where There’s a Willam, There’s A Way?
WILLAM: I was Neil Patrick Harris‘s drag coach for Hedwig [and the Angry Inch]. I’ve been friends with him for a while. And at one point we were rehearsing and walking in heels and stuff, and he’s like, “You should write a book.” It was a joke, but I realized: I know some stuff about certain things that other people want to know. So I wrote a book.
BERNSTEIN: Did you learn anything in the process of writing it?
WILLAM: Yeah. If you hit control + F on the keyboard, you can find a word or whatever in your whole document instead of just scrolling line by line by line, which I didn’t learn until more than halfway through writing it.
BERNSTEIN: That is a handy tip. Can you tell us about the art of reading in drag culture?
WILLAM: Reading is pointing out somebody’s flaws in an articulate and sometimes witty or cunty manner, I would say. And sometimes you don’t even know you’re being read until after the book is closed. If it’s good.
I’ve always thought reading was fundamental. But also reading is cum-dump-mental. But that didn’t sound as good on a flyer.
BERNSTEIN: Who are your heroes?
WILLAM: I’d say Sylvester. Divine was cool. People whose careers I emulate are my heroes. I really like Chris Hardwick too.
BERNSTEIN: Can you give some advice to young queens just starting out?
WILLAM: Yeah, don’t.
WILLAM: There’s enough of them. It’s one of those things where, if you need advice … I learned through all my mistakes. I had a drag mom but she didn’t really teach me about makeup. She just basically stuck me into gigs. And then I borrowed clothes from her and her drag to play the gigs. I think just people getting you up in drag and then learning to rely on them and all that is overrated. Learning it trial by fire is way more effective. Fuck it up, you know?
BERNSTEIN: Do you have a beauty tip to share?
WILLAM: Long bangs, heavy powder, head down, walk fast, no spook.
BERNSTEIN: Well, we’re excited for tonight.
WILLAM: Honestly, I should have never agreed to it, because getting people to do something for free on the week of Pride is the worst idea I’ve ever come up with.
WILLAM: “I was an awful child. And now I’m an awful adult. And some of you are, too. So I’m glad you’re here.”
WILLAM: “If you want a picture with me … Google Image it.”
NOUREEN DEWULF: “You forgot to say I have the only real boobs in the house.”