Metrosource Minis: The LGBTQ World & Beyond
Metrosource Minis: The LGBTQ World & Beyond

Episode 48 · 6 months ago

World of Wonder's Randy Barbato & Fenton Bailey

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey are superheroes of reality TV. This dynamic duo, along with their award-winning team, have not only made RuPaul’s Drag Race a mainstream success but have been designated by Variety for having the biggest impact in reality TV. The team celebrates 30-plus years since they founded the multi-media empire that is World of Wonder, responsible for some of our community’s most trailblazing queer content, giving voice to underrepresented artists, icons, and activists. What started out as a dream with barely any money to buy a fax machine has turned into a global conglomerate with award-winning TV shows, web series, live events, podcasts, films, and documentaries that have bridged the gap between LGBTQ+ and mainstream programming.

On this episode, we chat with Randy and Fenton about the early days of World of Wonder, the evolution of drag, the reality of reality TV, the power of social media, breaking into Hollywood, their special relationship with RuPaul, DragCon, and their message to their fans for Pride…with host Alexander Rodriguez. Check out the latest issue of Metrosource available on newsstands or visit Metrosource.com

This is metro source minis, the official podcast to Metro source magazine and home of short form interviews with your favorite personalities from the lgbtq world and beyond. Quick, Fun and informative. It's metro source on the go, out in cround since one thousand nine hundred and ninety's that up Helas well. Hello, hello, hello, this is metro source minis. I'm your host, Alexander Rodriguez, writer for Metro source and Queen of the PODCAST. You better to see that Walker Room. Today we are chatting with the Fabulous Randy Barbado and Fenton Bailey. As creators of the RUPAUL's drag race franchise, with versions in seven countries and counting and more and more, and Co founders of the Multi Platform Media Company behind some of the most trailblazing queer content of the twenty one century, the two have been uplifting and giving a platform to underrepresented voices in the LGBTQ plus community for thirty plus years. Beyond bringing some of the world's most talented queens to fame on drag race, Randy and Fenton take it a step further by giving many the opportunity to establish themselves further as brands. The chart topping shows podcast musical records across world of wonders, robust collection of platforms, which include on demand presents, plus, of course, with subscribers in every territory worldwide, Youtube Channel, while presents world of wonder records and more. The two are also behind award winning documentaries and films that give voice to the members of the lgbtq community. And what better way to celebrate pride than with a little t session with this dynamic duo. Please welcome Randy Barbado and Fenton Bailey. Hello, gentlemen, Hello, I feel so old. I want to make one comment about somebody said because taste do we're not. We're not the creators of we're not the creators of Roupulse, drag racee. It...

...takes a village people. It takes a village people and there's some amazing people who have worked, including Rue Paul, on it from day one. So I just needed to that is very true and I just want to add to Randy's thing about how old we are. I am drinking. I'm drinking tea right now and I'm drinking from my Shady Pines Mug. I love that drinking tea. Well, and you know also, I don't even know where to begin, because the credits and projects read longer than the TVs receipt and so when you look at the the expanse of content that you've both had your hands in, it makes me feel old because I like, Oh my God, yeah, I remember that, and how it's changed. LGBTQ P representation in in the media is just astounding. But I want to know, I want to go back to I want to know what piece of entertainment. Was it a TV show? Was it a movie, something that you could remember as a kid that gave you that first kind of buzz that hey, you know what, I want to be a storyteller, I want to get into the Biz. Well, you know, I for me it goes like goes way back to last centuries, when I saw the Batman TV the the TV version of Batman and Robin, because I love DC comics and I love all those serious movies in the very intense violence and what have you. But I think seeing Batman and Robin on TV in one thousand nine hundred and sixty six was really inspirational in the sense that it was the campusing actually campus thing ever made, I think, perhaps often by race, and it really did inspire me, because nothing was really speaking to me before that. Plus, you know, the tight pants, you know, the SPANDEX didn't hurt either and made me want to get into TV. PA, Randy and and how about you? For me, I think it was probably the Brady Bunch and it was that was probably the beginning of me understanding camp and, you know, growing...

...up in suburbia and sort of seeing this perfect reflect like this reflection of perfection that I knew was untrue and didn't exist, just really titilated me and it was definitely my beginning of not necessary my story telling obsession, but more like my gay obsession and and looking at things through a slightly different Lens. So inspired to be filmmakers. You both met as freshman at Nyu film school. What was that initial meeting like? What was it about the other person that was like, Oh, you know what, I think we could make some magic together. No, that was not what happened at all. I think we don't. Thought we were ridiculous, Randy, as she had a Masha Brady t shirt on. How funny. I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. Right Randy. Yeah, it was hand painted, hand painted t shirt made, as I who have made a t shirts. How's the crazy is that? But Um, but fenton is very dismissal, but it's not true. We met like the first day of school in the lab lobbied Nyu, and we both were outsider. So clearly fenton had his hair up in a bone and was wearing diamond ear rings and had on high taps sneakers and like these leopard pants. I mean he was a freak, he was a punk, he was exotic and he like I do think we connected instantly because we were outsiders and we collaborated very early on and and we hid the extent of our relationship from our classmates for a while, but we eventually got busted. And how I but I'm going to talk about also early career moves,...

...a pop a pop singing group. What was that about? Yeah, we will called the fiber, those pop tarts, and we were sort of like the pet jock boys, but only Kampa. I thought, if that's possible, imaginable? Yeah, but it was possible because we were in. But that the whole motive of joining the group or getting the group together was because you thought, Oh, you could make all this money to make your films by being a pop group, right, yeah, because Hollywood wasn't a very easy place to get into in those days and independent film didn't really exist, and so that was all that was all thinking and we start younger estimated how hard it would be to have a string of big pulp hits. So but I think I think Fenton's point about like how difficult it was to break into Hollywood. It just was not it was like an old boy network, right, and our desire to kind of tell stories and to be filmmakers and like it really didn't seem like there was going to be any opportunity to do that. We were going to have to create some different entry point. It's so doar. I mean I think today it is truly different on so many levels, but that would that's definitely one of them. Well, I don't want to talk about you know, we're tie of thirty years ago. What gave you the courage at that time? We know LGBTQ media look different, even if there was any, but what gave you the courage to hit the industry out of the closet, kind of knowing that it would probably limit your voice would probably limit your career at that time. I mean, I don't think it was courage, I just think we were living our lives. It's just who we were and we were never in and we were living in the East village and we were surrounded by people who were in Spoite, who inspired us and who were all like out and just they it wasn't that they were out,...

...they were just authentic, and so we didn't really know any other way was. It was a real sort of crossroads culturally, because you were, we were living in these villages round, he says, and all these artists, formas and Queens doing that thing. And then also the same time there was a sort of energy in New York and those this East Village Art Scene Out of which Jeff coons came and you know, Madonna came out of downtown as well. Suddenly all this stuff was was happening in downtown that wasn't just staying in downtown, it wasn't just on the Morgins, it was breaking through. So it was a real shift, conscious shift. I think the culturally there was an opportunity like never before in the course of of Your Business Relationship and everything that you've done. We know, with being an owner for business, especially entertainment, you share the losses, you share, you share the winds, you share the blood seat and tears. Some partnerships don't make it through and I know that your personal relationship with each other kind of shifted, but what have been the keys to maintain this successful, healthy business relationship through the last thirty plus years? Who Side? How the relationship? We argue all the time. That's right, that's creativing. I do think. I do think there is this thing about like not being able to pay rent, like we so much of fet in my relationship, like the first ten years of it, twelve maybe even, like we really struggled, and that brings you together in a way that you know, we really know each other and we really know what we did to survive and you experience. We have this kind of history that just bounds us together. I mean, I also think,...

...to its slightly different extent, but but similarly, that that has a lot to do with our relationship with rue because we knew him back then as well. We were all sort of, you know, struggling to get by and had dreams and ideas and believed what we were doing and what we had to say, that there was a large larger audience for it and go on that journey. You can't and do that. It's like it's so great having that kind of journey and history with somebody. It really does feel like a kind of chosen family. You know, and I think that that's true for tons of us in the LGBT colpost community, is that the sense of like oftentimes that chosen family is more the bonds are stronger than the family are born into, who may or may not accept you, who may or may not see you. So I think the Rendy's right and I think that that is very much the sort of vibe of world wonder that a lot of the people we work with. We're very fortunate because we work with them for years, like decades in some cases, right, and so it does feel. I love that you put up that picture of row at the Emmy's with all everybody around. Is like it's is like this big, I'm not gonna say one big happy family, because it's not, and no family is a happy, kind of go lucky base, but it's it's real and it it's a real it is it is like a chosen family. I remember when the first season of drag race hit, I was like, Oh wow, this is great, how fun. Never in my wildest imagination ever what I think that it would be so mainstream to the point that the idea of drag is is in households across the nation, around the globe, and now even straight households are now participating in this drag culture. I want to know why do you think drag race has become so popular outside of our bubble? You know, ru...

...said it. You're born naked and the rest is drag. It doesn't matter who you are, man, woman, you know you are. Everything you put on is a statement about your identity. That is drag. Clothes are drag. You know, Vegas is a city in drag on it. It drags everywhere and it's universally relatable and you know I was. It was. There's a famous I say about camp and Susan Sontag, I think, wrote this. I say and said nothing in nature is camp. What is a giraffe? What is an octopus? What is a peacock like? And I could just go on for the rest of the entire time that we have. You know, nature is incredibly camp. Is Incredibly Gay, is and so you know, it isn't so much drag as maybe it was seen once as a niche thing, but it's actually a universally relatable thing for everyone and and specifically when it comes to Rupaul's drag as. Like, I would say there are three things that have made it so wildly successful and has been this sort of fueled the growth of its success. One is Rupaul, because he is kind of everything and he really does have a kind of a heart and spirituality and wisdom. That that is he's always had, and so he's that are sort of leader and and you can feel that. To are the queens and you you know, they we fall in love this show. It's a vehicle to meet and connect and fall in love with with with people and to recognize our artistry. So I think people do do that and people connect to them and they become part of their family. And then the third thing are the...

...like, the unbelievable talented people who make this show, many of whom have been there from day one. Tom Campbell, Steven corf, Mandy's, the lads and you know me, shmells. These are these are and there's so many more fanans, mothers. I mean I'd love to name all of them, because they are they the world of wonder is about them and about their talents and about their artistry and like we try to surround ourselves with people who are more talented than we are and and as passionate as we are. So that was too much, but but it's, you know, it's worth spending a few minutes on it because like it is. It is unlike other shows out they're like, yes, there's technically there's a winner at the end of every season and there's drama, but the show really is designed to for people to get to know these in amazing artists and and you know, this year, you know, we just crowned willow pill as the winner, and you know, which is really special. And it's funny watching her how much she kind of remind did me of like ust in the East village, like it really I felt like this nostalgia I felt. I felt I could feel my youth reflected in some way, and that, you know, that that feels kind of special because so much of what fuels everything we do comes from those hopeful, wistful, inspiring days in the s in the East village. And even being nostalgic in that kind of time period, and this is with all of your projects. You you seem to have your finger on the pulse of what's relevant, what's going to be popular, what's going to be relevant.

And how do you do that? How do you keep ahead of what the cool kids are are into nowadays, because you literally are leading the times, you're ahead of the Times. How do you keep your finger on that pulse? I'm not sure we do. Nice to hear like. I think they like again, it's being surrounded by like. I think it has to do with being surrounded by so many talented people. I also think, by the way, drag, that's that's part of the engine of drag is to sort of be aware of everything around you and to kind of regurgic, regurgitate pop culture. So, you know, I think it's more a reflection of the company we keep than us. Hmm, I like that. I just have to know why. I have this conversation many different ways, especially this last week. Despite the last administration we've been through and our current lawmakers looking to silence our communities voices, how do you explain the boom in openly lgbtq entertainment, entertainers in this boom of our stories. I mean we now have gay Christmas stories on hallmark. How do you explain that boom, with that as a counterpoint to the crap we've been through recently and are still going through? Well, the crap we've been through and still going through is all based on the idea of like you know, you remember, don't Aust don't tell in the s the whole idea that you could be gay in the military. Just don't say it, just don't be public about it, don't be visible. But the problem with visibility is if you're if you're invisible, you don't exist. And I think especially in the time that we're living in, which we so much follows those to do with screens. We're on a zoom now, we be on mobile phones, on a laptops, watching TV. You know, we're really in the screen age, and I think that the screen age...

...is all about showing people other people who've normally been ignored or hidden or don't whose existence hasn't been acknowledged. So I think the very time we're living in, funnily enough, lends itself to seeing the lgbtq people and that we have so much to give and contribute to to this kind of society. So it's a weird thing to seeing these like attempts to dial it back or erase it because it's nice. Look, it's not going to work, it never has worked, it never will work. It's doomed to fail. That's the exciting that's the that's the headline. We mustn't lose sight off. And in looking back at the career and the material you put out, what, in your memory, was that kind of defining moment where it clicked and you're like, you know what, we're going to survive, we're going to be okay, we are making it and we've made it to this point. was there that kind of one arm moment? Maybe it's right now and this interview, hearing you say that. I mean we're always driven by anxiety. We suffer from starving Kitty at. Some starving Kitty disign ad a, S at, Saysondremer, and the other real staring kitties, s ks. Is it? Oh, yeah, there's. Yeah, but I want to know, as a content creator, to how do you know what to focus on? Because you've added the web series, you've added the PODCAST, you're adding new shows, you're working on films, documentaries. How do you know really where to put your energy, like when you sleep? It's really all about storytelling, honestly, really, and it's not so much like a well, this is a documentary, all, this is a feature film, all this is a podcast. You know, we've always believed that it's about storytelling and the story will always tell you the way. The talent, you know, the story will...

...tell you whether it should be a series or whether it should be a podcast or webisode. It's so it's not really it's kind of all the same thing in a way. Yeah, it is kind of all the same thing. And also, though, like in terms of like how do we know what to you know where to focus our energy, what stories to tell, what to do? I mean that that is, you know, partially, that's that's a challenge. Also partially like I've lost my te you doing your world all randy. It's not word of my ware. You were talking about that like it is for world of like world of wonder is an independent production company. Right, we're fiercely independent. We've never had we've never borrowed my me, we've never had investors and, you know, we endlessly reinvest. It's apparently it's not a good business model. Like it's not the way the rest of the entertainment industry works. Industry works, but for us it does work because it it we are just endlessly feeding our own passion and we're and you know, there are a number of projects we've done that have made nothing, not a penny Uhum, but we love having done them and and there's never enough time and energy and we are, you know, part of why we like success is to be able to create more opportunity. I don't know what Fenton saved me from this, because I'm not what is my point? I'm not making one right, I'm just sort of not just do your thing right. Maybe I'll edit part out. No, I thought that this is it...

...live. Yeah, this is in line. Did you win the world today? Did you gonna? Yes, I haven't lost for a while. Win It? No, but I think you make a good point. It's it's having your own voice and being you know, I need to be strong and you know, not take the easy out. Like you said. You didn't have infestored, you didn't have other voices. You both were telling stories from from your point of view, distinctly from Your Voice. We know when it's a world of wonder project. We know that right away. But the interesting thing is, though, that that with the growth of world of wonder, with the growth of will, presents plus what's what's super exciting, is that there's more opportunity, there's more voices, there's so many incredible artists who inspire us who we are would love to support and help produce more content with. But there's also, on the flip side of that, there is the challenge. There's a challenge of time, there's a challenge of money, there's a challenge. So we're just endlessly fuel to keep growing things bigger because, you know, we have always you know, twenty years ago we used to joke like our big ambition is to have our own network, so there could be, you know, drag Queens on a twenty four hours a day. People would laugh at us, but that's kind of where we are. Yeah, I mean, look at that. Look at that and no matter what part of the world you want to there, that is right. I mean, you know, the the change in technology has been amazing because it's allowed so many of these things to be possible in a way that they just want and they it goes back to what we're saying the beginning. You know, studing out making films. In the s there really wasn't an inventive film business. You couldn't even do that. But now, like you can do anything, you can just pick up the phone and do it. And it's especially during covid. You know, we had kids that were isolated in the Midwest, somewhere way out, not near, you know, lgbt center, not near a club, but they were tuning into the content that that you all were created from the podcast, from the web series, and so people were able to not feel alone during well, that's that is the miracle of the screen...

Haitch. You know, you can connect with people that geographically right next door to you, that you don't meet and necessarily meet in a bar. You can, and especially if you're in a family situation where you know maybe you're not supported by your family and if they knew you were going to would kick you out, but you can, thanks to the Internet, thanks to the screen age, you can connect with all these people and mortual these shows, like one of the shows that we did, the kind of covid really had a shaping influence on it was painted with Raven. That's one where it was ince blus because their kids in the bedrooms compete in this makeup competition that Raven hosts, and it's all done remotely and it's amazing. Whether you want it to or not, you have both become activist with your work and with a success comes all eyes on you. With success, you know, can also come some criticism. I don't know how you handle the pressure of all the eyes been on you. Being politically and socially woke and correct, you know, you kind of can't really make a misstep. How do you deal with that kind of pressure or how does that monitor or sensor that kind of stuff that you put out? Well, I think, and when we made the eyes of Tammy Fay hundreds of years ago, yes, the Timmy had an expression talked about running to the RAW, which means not raw ur aw raw are a AH. So instead of like running from what you're afraid of, like run towards it and embrace it. And I don't know that we necessarily do that, but I think the whole thing is is no point in letting that not everyone's going to like you and everyone's got an opinion, and on twitter everybody has. Someone's got something negative to say. And Fuck it right, I mean it, just don't let it all that you. I think, and what do you think, that you've learned the most from each other.

Hm, I learned so much from fan because he's so smart, so so I just like truly like I just learn. I learned. He's like smart in that way. So he's constantly sending articles or read this or read that, like if I send them an article once a month, you know, but he's he just absorbed so much information. That's one thing that I've also learned not to hit send when I'm angry, like a tool, not a very right and angry email, even though sometimes I still do. That is a gifted itself. I will tell you what, if I love from Randy, I said so, it's a lifetime. It really is. You know, it's like translation. Nothing, it's I no, tanization everything, really, I mean everything. Yeah, I think. Yeah, I got that. Put it this way, I can't really imagine life without Randy and I couldn't imagine, you know, when I look back on it, like the meeting Randy that lust in build school. I had no idea, but but none of this would have happened without meeting randy. And so you know, it's like a you end up it almost like you end up becoming extensions of each other, right, you know, for this and so I just got him. I can't make you a long list of things I've loved Mandy, but also I can't imagine having lived this life without randy. I mean maybe there's a parallel universe where I don't meet Randy. That's a very sad universe. I would going to be in this one. Really listeners at home...

...tears are streaming. Pop, pop. Gentlemen, I want to know what your pride message is to you are fans, especially now we're heading into pride season. Live events are back. We are now going to see each other facetoface. What's your message to the community? You know what? I think this time we have more in common than what divides us. And you know, yes, there are is using, there are conflicts within our community, but really, fundamentally, what we're up against is so much bigger that. Really what we have in common far exceeds what divides us. And and I'm sometimes a little nostalgic for those s days when it was just everybody was sort of thrown together and we didn't really define each other all see each other as separate and distinct. It wasn't like we were all sitting around saying come by our or rating each other's hair, but there was just an acceptance that we were all in the same boat, and I think that that's kind of true today. And so I supposed, as an extension of that, it's just being kind. You know, I think twitter is such a toxic brew and I think that it's just simple not to get triggered by that shit exactly. It's hard not to, you know, I second that, like pride, have fun, be kind, love one another and use all that energy, use all the stuff we have in coming to fight what. Yeah, like like to focus on the real enemy because, you know, our community is is you know, we're queer, we're here, we're great where we and you know the thing is, I think what people, but straight people, don't understand, and those Republicans in Florida and what have you, they don't understand that actually they're stuck in a closet to and they have this malformed idea of what is expected of them or how they're supposed to be. It isn't...

...really who they are. And I think the great thing that the quick community can demonstrate is that actually, everybody's quick. You don't have to be gay, but it helps. But it is like that thing that we have in common. And so ingay isn't it's yeah, everybody's quit every even the straight people quit. They just don't know it. That's right. And and they have the most boring drag of all. Help when they do. Yes, I'm gentlemen. Oh, and to that point, you know, what I love about the show is, you know, whenever there's a new cast announced or certain aspects have changed about the show, everybody's quick to judge. But what we've seen from episode to episode, because we get to see the behind the scenes, we get to see those touching moments that you know, unless you're a robot, you are deeply touched by, no matter what a circumstance you come to that story with. And so we see the haters evolved because we see the person behind the makeup and for you to give that kind of opportunity. And so by the end of the season it is kind of that Kumbayah, you know, that excitement for that finale, and it's because we've worked through it, we have communicated and I love to see how that energy shifts through the course. It's special. It's so nice to hear you say that. I got to say working on the show it is so exciting because you really never know. You don't you don't know where it's going, what's going to happen. All your efforts to kind of produce things, it really comes down to the girls, their their energy, their love, their connections, whatever, and it's it's always a surprising and delightful trip. Gentlemen, I cannot thank you enough for for taking time out of your busy, busy schedule to chat with us. I cannot wait to see what the future brings. Was So lovely Chub to you. Thanks for having us. Thank you, gentlemen, and happy pride. Happy Pride, all right, everybody better to see that walk. That has been my chat with Randy Barbado and Fenton...

Bailey. You can read my indepth article with them in the pride issue of Metro source, available on newstands around the nation or at Metro sourcecom. And that's our episode. I'm your host and lead writer from Metro source, Alexander Rodriguez. You can follow me on Instagram at Alexander's on air until next time, stay true and do you boo happy pride. That has been another metro source mini like. Share, subscribe on your favorite podcast player and check out the latest issue of Metro Sports magazine on newstands or online at Metro sportscom. Follow us on Facebook, instagram at natural source and on twitter at Metro Sports Man. Until next time, they fast.

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