BenDeLaCreme Uses Puppets to Get Deep About Love and Loss

The Seattle-based queen is inspired by her parents, Jim Henson, and self-exploration.

BenDeLaCreme with puppets Nanog, Harpy, Dorito, Peppy, Death Cat, and Gluttony | Photo by David Martinez for Thrillist
BenDeLaCreme with puppets Nanog, Harpy, Dorito, Peppy, Death Cat, and Gluttony | Photo by David Martinez for Thrillist

Most people know BenDeLaCreme from her iconic self-elimination on the third season of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars. But her time on that show is just scratching the surface of this multi-faceted performer and producer’s oeuvre. I caught up with her recently to talk about her touring show, puppets, and the creativity-honing effects of loss.

Thrillist: I’ve seen your show “Ready to Be Committed” twice. Once before the pandemic started and recently this summer. Can you talk about how the show has evolved?

BenDeLaCreme: It was interesting taking all this time off. I premiered the show in New York and Provincetown in 2019, and was going to take it everywhere in the spring. At first it was like, ‘Oh okay I guess we’ll cancel the first few weeks, and then okay, we’ll postpone until next year.’ And it just kept getting pushed back.

Finally going back to the material, you’re sort of like, is this where we are all at now? Is this still going to resonate with anyone else? Is this still going to resonate with me? Am I still passionate about this subject matter? I was ready to go through and figure out not just revamps but really how to reignite my interest in it.

Combing through the script, I realized that this show is still about loneliness, connection, and the fear of mortality. All those things felt even more relevant and immediate to me. I’m grateful I didn’t have to go back in and do a bunch of revamping. It makes you feel like it was hitting on something universal.

BenDeLaCreme | Photos by David Martinez for Thrillist

Back when you were writing it, what was the story you wanted to tell?

I’ve been with my partner for eight years now. It’s the longest relationship I’ve been in. You get into new depths and new experiences with a partner and I really started to realize that, only through a relationship, can you really access certain things about yourself. You can work on yourself as much as you want solo, but there are different things that come up in a relationship—romantic relationships or anything else.

There were things I didn’t even understand about myself that were holding me back from deeper connections with my partner, and with people in general. When I write, I really try to write from a place that’s much more universal. Something I learned in my fine arts schooling is that diary entries as art are not particularly interesting. You need to take the thoughts and feelings and turn them into things that trigger those thoughts and feelings for others.

“Puppets can talk about heavy shit and people will go along with the ride because it’s fun and colorful.”

The inspiration for me came from my parents, who had a very strong and happy relationship. My mom died and I watched my dad just really mourn her and feel very lost and blindsided. Love is not just vulnerable in sort of a general, day-to-day way, but vulnerable in that you are giving yourself over to some sort of tragic ending: either the relationship ends or life ends.

Wow, that’s actually really profound. I saw your holiday show with Jinkx Monsoon right before everything got shut down (again). Was that a pandemic baby?

We did our first holiday tour together in 2018. We rewrite the show every year so there’s always through lines and things we revisit every year. We made the film when we didn’t have the option to tour in 2020. Rewriting it for 2021, we had to talk about the pandemic head on but it was a tricky line as an artist right now, like, how many people want to talk about this? How much do people want to escape it?

I didn’t have much else to say other than that it’s really hard getting back into the world. That really wound up informing the show and how the Peppermint character came about as like, oh DeLa is always the chipper one who carries the show and this year I don’t feel like I can manifest that character. So there’s got to be someone else that she manifests to pull her through. The first thing I wrote for the show were the lyrics to the final song that’s just about being sad on Christmas. So much of the work I do comes from these really dark places.

BenDeLaCreme | Photo by David Martinez for Thrillist

I want to talk about puppets. They seem to be a theme.

I’ve always loved puppets—I share a birthday with Jim Henson. I was obsessed with Muppets as a kid and Pee Wee’s Playhouse is such a big influence on me. For me, that’s why I try to manifest with my drag character, she doesn’t really live in reality. She is a human-adjacent creature who couldn’t actually exist in the world. She’s a puppet herself.

Puppets can talk about heavy shit and people will go along with the ride because it’s fun and colorful. And you put enough jokes in there and that’s how you get a penis bottle talking about how fucked up the origins of marriage are.

What made you decide to start your own production company?

It started in 2017, the same year I filmed Drag Race. I’d been doing production work in Seattle but never in an official capacity and it was hard because I was still learning how to describe my work adequately. It was a hard sell. I would just get booked for these things that I was not quite passionate about and finally I was just like, if nobody’s going to do it, I’m going to do it.

Can’t wait for the 2022 holiday show.

Jinkx and I look forward to it all year and we’ve been texting a lot about it lately. It’s just so much fun and we have such a good time.

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John deBary is a drinks expert and writer. His first cocktail book, Drink What You Want, is available now, and his next book, Saved by the Bellini, is expected in early 2023. He is also the co-founder and president of the Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation, which is dedicated to improving the lives of hospitality industry professionals through advocacy, grant making, and impact investing.