Even though she didn’t receive the crown of America’s Next Drag Superstar, Pandora Boxx—who RuPaul dubbed “the Susan Lucci of this competition” due to her eternal bridesmaid status on RuPaul’s Drag Race—came out of the reality-show game a winner. The breakout star (and eventual Miss Congeniality) of Drag Race season two, Pandora has continued to expand her persona on stage, on TV, and online. Speaking with The A.V. Club, Boxx says she considers herself an entertainer first: “I am a drag queen and I am a comedian, but I do most of my comedy in drag.” When she was first developing Pandora Boxx, her sense of humor influenced the character, but now the inspiration goes both ways. “I’m a drag queen, and that gives me a lot of comic material,” she says.
Boxx says that, while there are many variations on the “drag style” of comedy— “Bianca Del Rio is an insult comic and I’m more goofy, funny humor,” she says—the one thing that unites all of them is the experience of hosting a drag show. “There is a certain style to hosting a drag show, to get people to pay attention and get people to listen,” she says. Comparing that experience to doing stand-up, Boxx says they’re similar, but a stand-up set has to be more cohesive. “You can’t just yell at the audience and make a stupid joke,” she says with a laugh. “There has to be some more substance to it.”
With the new Drag Queens Of Comedy tour and the rise of what Boxx calls “YouTube queens” doing comedy online, there’s never been a better time to be a so-called “comedy queen.” So we asked Pandora Boxx to tell us the things she always finds funny, and how they’ve made her into who she is today.
AVC: What do you like so much about 30 Rock?
PB: I just really love the writing on 30 Rock. I’m a huge fun of Tina Fey. I think there’s times that I feel like I am the character of Liz Lemon in my real life. And it just makes me laugh every single time. It’s goofy humor, but it’s smart, too. There’s that mixture that I really love. She’s just a genius.
I’m really attracted to female comedians and I have been since I was a kid. That’s part of the reason I started doing drag. Because I wanted to be like those women that were pretty but they were really funny and goofy, too, and I was really drawn to that.
AVC: Is there an episode of 30 Rock that’s your favorite?
PB: Yes, but I don’t know the name of it.
AVC: I can look up the name if you describe what happens.
PB: Okay. It’s in the first season, and it’s when Jack asks Liz to go to a big function of Gerhardt, this prince of some country, and it’s the social event of the year. She goes there and it’s a knockoff of Pretty Woman and it’s terrible. Isabella Rossellini plays his ex-wife and Jenna Maroney is there, and she’s trying to get with the prince, and the prince is played by Pee-Wee Herman. There’s so many funny things in it, and I can watch it at any point and it’s still going to make me laugh. [It’s “Black Tie.”—ed.]
AVC: Have you watched all these episodes many, many times?
PB: Yes, except for season seven. I usually watch the earlier seasons. I love season seven, but then I get a little sad, because I’m like, “Oh, it’s over.” But I think it had a good run, and it never got stale. It never got old. It’s all pretty consistently funny.
AVC: What do you think about her new show, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt?
PB: I think it’s really fun. It’s so goofy. [Laughs.] It’s crazy, some of the things they say. I’m like, “Did they just say that?”
AVC: I can’t wait to talk about this one. Please explain the well-timed fart.
PB: A well-timed fart is an appropriate moment, an appropriate silence, and there’s a fart. If it stinks or anything, that’s not really funny, but, especially in movies, there’s just that one little toot. And you laugh—it makes anybody laugh. Even if it’s a tense situation, if somebody farts in the room, it’s going to make people laugh.
I remember one instance—I used to be roommates with Darienne Lake, who was also on Drag Race, and she came into the room—it was me and our other roommate—and she said, “Oh, I’m so mad, I could just fart!” And she farted. We laughed for like 20 minutes. We couldn’t stop laughing.
AVC: Are farts ever not funny?
PB: Maybe if they’re really stinky and you have to leave the room. But then I still think that’s probably still funny.
AVC: Maria Bamford said the same thing. Everybody loves farts.
AVC: Is this one that influenced you when you were younger?
PB: Yeah, I probably didn’t even know it. But I knew every line to the movie. Completely. Every line. I still know it. Peaches Christ in San Francisco does all these parodies of movies, and she was doing 9 To 5. I had asked her about doing 9 To 5 before. I was like, “I really want to work with you.” And then 9 To 5 came up and they asked me to be Dolly. I said yes, and then I flipped out because it was like, “Oh, it’s so iconic and I have to be Dolly!” But it was one of the highlights of everything that I’ve done.
Another thing—that movie has such great writing and that cast is perfect. There’s nobody in that cast that isn’t perfect for it.
AVC: Is Dolly your favorite character in the movie?
PB: I don’t know, I love them all. I really love Lily Tomlin. Lily Tomlin is brilliant in that. But I think my actual favorite character is Margaret Foster, the old lush. [Laughs.] Just sitting there all drunk in the office.
AVC: Do you remember the first time you saw 9 To 5?
PB: I don’t know how old I was, but I know I saw it on HBO. It was on TV, at least—I didn’t see it in the theater or anything. I think I recorded it on a VHS tape and, like, wore it out.
AVC: Yeah. I remember those days. When you had to rewind, it would get all fuzzy.
PB: Yeah. And my sister and I would reenact scenes—the fantasy scenes where they’re doing stuff to Mr. Hart—we would constantly reenact them. [Laughs.]
AVC: Are those on tape anywhere?
PB: Oh, no.
AVC: [Laughs] Isn’t there a 9 To 5 musical?
PB: Oh, yeah. It came out a few years back and it didn’t last very long on Broadway, but then they changed it into a touring company and I think it was pretty successful. And Dolly wrote all the music for it. I got to see it on Broadway and I thought it was hysterical. But I loved the movie, too. There was a straight guy sitting next to me. He didn’t find it as funny as me. [Laughs.]
AVC: You’re just sitting there cracking up.
PB: Oh, my God, I was dying.
AVC: Let’s go on to your next universally funny thing, which is a good, dramatic fall.
PB: [Laughs.] Yeah, because even if somebody gets hurt, there’s like a little “Ooh!” but you still laugh. It’s just funny. And that’s why I did it on Drag Race as I left the stage. Because I knew I was going home and I was pissed and sad. It’s just so many emotions going through your head, and I was like, “I have to do something that I know they won’t cut that will be kind of funny, but I don’t want to say anything because if I say something, I’m afraid I’m going to sound bitchy because I’m sad I’m leaving.” And I didn’t want to cry. So I was like, “I’ll just fall. I’ll do a dramatic fall.”
AVC: Did you hurt yourself?
PB: No, I didn’t hurt myself. I might have bruised, but I bruise easily. A couple of people asked me if I had fallen on purpose and I was like, “Yeah.”
AVC: You’re like, “Yeah, obviously.”
AVC: So, the fall. Does it matter if it’s intentional or not?
PB: The only time it would matter is if the intentional fall looks really intentional. That would be the only thing. Like if you didn’t pull it off. But everybody laughed when I did it, so I knew I pulled it off. [Laughs.]
AVC: They weren’t concerned about you, so you were like, “I did it.”
PB: No, they actually weren’t concerned at all, was the thing. They just laughed. So that was the note I wanted to leave on, thank you.
AVC: Did you hear about the café?
PB: Yes, in New York City. I must go. I think that show just makes everyone laugh. That’s why it’s never left the air. It’s been on so long, and it still plays. All the jokes make me laugh, the writing is amazing, the cast is amazing. And there’s never been a show since then like it, with that age demographic. So I just had to get in a Golden Girls shout-out.
AVC: You’re bringing up a lot of ensembles of women comics. That seems to be something that appeals to you.
PB: Yeah, that’s definitely what I base Pandora off of. I recently realized that I’m gender-fluid—I didn’t even know that was a term until recently—but I have a strong effeminate side and identify with women in that way. Because women would make jokes and they were all really funny, but the straight male comics always said “faggot,” or they had some really awful gay joke. And so it’s like, I’m just going to watch the ladies because they don’t—I’m sure there are, but I couldn’t even tell you one woman comic that I’ve ever heard say the word “faggot.”
AVC: Maybe like Whitney Cummings or somebody.
PB: Or Lisa Lampanelli, maybe. But, even then, if she said it, I would think it was funny, because that’s just her style of comedy. But I was listening to Spotify on a comic channel and it was a lot of straight guys, and every single one of them—and it was only a little clip of each one—but every single one of them said “faggot” in it.
PB: Yeah, I was like, “Wow.” The only one I didn’t get mad about was Daniel Tosh, but I think that’s because I think he’s part gay anyway. [Laughs.]
AVC: [Laughs.] You’re like, “You get a pass, Daniel.”
PB: And the way he said it—it didn’t come across that way. And just because I’ve seen his comedy before. The rest of them kind of threw it out there. I was like, “You know, I’m going to change it.” I went to a lady comedy station and not once did they say it. Not once.
AVC: So it’s like a safe space for you.
PB: Yeah. I think that women struggle in comedy, too. Like there’s that 30 Rock episode where Tracy Jordan says that women aren’t funny and Liz Lemon freaks out, and the whole thing is about proving women are funny. I think I identify with that, too. That struggle of being accepted and being a minority.
AVC: That makes total sense. And then farts and falls—everybody loves those.
PB: [Laughs.] Yeah. That’s part of the concept behind Workout’s A Drag, this fitness video that I just worked on with my friend Craig Ramsay, who’s a fitness expert. We wanted to do something that got people in shape, but what’s the one thing most people hate doing? Exercising. And so we added the element of comedy, which is me as the host of this drag show. And [if you’re doing the workout] you’re kind of in the drag show, you’re part of the stage and all that. So it makes people laugh and have a good time and still kind of kicks your ass, but you’re not as annoyed as when you’re working out and they’re like, “Come on, more!” and yelling at you. You’re like, “Shut up.” I’m kind of the voice that says that.
AVC: You’re still yelling at them, but in a funny way.
PB: Yeah, you want to be encouraging. You need to exercise, but how can you do it and still have fun? That’s the concept behind Workout’s A Drag.
If the idea of Pandora Boxx emceeing your workout sounds like good motivation, you can download a digital copy of Workout’s A Drag on its website. You can even order an old-fashioned DVD, if that’s what you’re into. We won’t judge.