"I am swamped with work and probably will not return your call unless it's an emergency. However, feel free to leave your number or call back," states a familiar voice on the outgoing answering machine message.
Reluctantly, I leave my number, then hang up.
Moments later, my phone rings and I am greeted by that same familiar voice. "Hi, Bob. This is 'Bunn-Bunn," she laughs. "I didn't hear the phone. My ringer's broken, I'm working on my costumes, and there's a plumber here fixing the bath tub. The drain must be clogged with wig hair--again!" The salutation is an intimate portrait of drag superstar Lady Bunny. Caught in a swirl of activity, the legendary entertainer is busily preparing A Taste of Bunny, her first all-new solo show in five years. "It's not often I get new material," she says. "I urge everyone to see it while it's fresh!"
Raised in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Bunny made her way to New York in 1984. "My family said that I could do whatever I wanted to do," remembers Bunny. "I called their bluff!" Her first night in town, she arrived at Pyramid, a trendy East Village club, wearing full drag. That evening, and every evening thereafter for several years, she performed. A few months later, she turned an impromptu gathering of drag queens and performance artists into Wigstock, an annual drag-fest that recently celebrated its 15th anniversary.
On stage, she has played to sold-out crowds with 24 Carrot Lady, Hare-Brained Honey and the holiday hit Jingle Belles, which co-starred Varla Jean Merman and Sherry Vine. Bunny then answered Hollywood's call with appearances in Party Girl, To Wong Foo... and, of course, Wigstock: The Movie. "This career chose me!" she beams. "I'm a transvestite. It's only natural that I would have a job where I could wear great clothes and a pound of foundation."
Owning a closet full of glorious caftans, shimmering mini-skirts and bouffant wigs, Bunny has created a signature look to rival Dolly Parton's. "I'm surprised by how many drag queens today can't get a look together," she sighs. "I feel lucky to have started when Pyramid was in full swing. It was a supportive, sisterly sort of place; few clubs today have that same nurturing atmosphere. There aren't a lot of new drag queens!"
As the founder and hostess of Wigstock, Bunny has seen more than her share of drag queens--new and old. "In the beginning, RuPaul and I had the same income," she jokes, referring to her former "supermodel" roommate whose face currently adorns the side of a building in Times Square. "That bitch still owes me some money!" she adds.
Besides RuPaul, Bunny's incomparable, hair-raising Labor Day event has featured performances from Lypsinka, Jackie Beat, John Kelly, Joey Arias, groovy musical group Deee Lite, Kiki & Herb, rock star Debbie Harry and countless others. "I'm the first to admit that Wigstock has changed since its beginnings in Tompkins Square Park," acknowledges Bunny. "But when I ask myself, 'Is it still fun?' The answer is always 'yes'!"
Lately, Bunny has re-created herself as a DJ. Recent gigs have taken her across the United States, from Boston to New Orleans and from Seattle to Richmond, Virginia. With A Taste of Bunny, the entertainer is ready to return to the New York stage in an original one-woman show. "When you perform out of town, the old gowns and the old costumes seem new," she states. "But I'm up to the task of bringing new life into the old act. I've discovered some really sick trash--that's my speciality." A Taste of Bunny features everything from country to disco, a Charo medley, a Kate Bush impersonation and jokes retrieved from Phyllis Diller's trash. "I really love a good joke," Bunny beams. "It's too bad I don't know any!"
Future projects include producing dance music and writing a column for Screw Magazine with Wigstock alumnus Linda Simpson. This summer, Bunny will release a CD featuring a collection of "beloved lip-sync classics" for aspiring drag queens. Bunny's booking agent keeps the star hopping with DJ appearances, and Wigstock 2000 is on the horizon.
The Lady Bunny actually is "swamped with work," as her answering machine indicates. "Oh, that message is really for my boyfriends," she reveals. "They need to know why I can't spend time with them. They don't understand--I've got a show to do!"