Courtney Act on her upcoming chat show, dream guests and sexual racism

© Jack Alexander for Gay Times

“If you did find all races attractive, imagine how much more sex you could have?”

She competed on the first ever season of Australian Idol, reached the top three on Drag Race’s most popular season, and made HERstory earlier this year when she emerged victorious in the 21st season of Celebrity Big Brother. Courtney Act is conquering the world left, right and mother-tucking centre honey.

Her triumphant stint on CBB resulted in Channel 4 commissioning a late night talk show for the Aussie kween – aptly titled The Courtney Act Show – which will feature musical numbers, celebrity guests, and a variety of topics. We’re talking politics, pop culture, drag, all while Courtney serves high fashion lewks.

Next month, she’s headed to the Edinburgh Fringe with her new musical show Under the Covers, where she’ll showcase just how gender (and genre) fluid a classic track can be. We sat with Courtney to discuss all of that, why sexual racism needs to stop once and for all, and her relationship with her Drag Race sisters Adore Delano, Bianca Del Rio and Darienne Lake.

There might also be something in there about objectifying Andrew Brady, so, enjoy!

You’re headed to the Edinburgh Fringe with Under the Covers. What can fans expect? 
I’ve really upped the ante on the set and costumes which seemed like a good idea until you have to carry them around the world in a bag, but it looks great on stage. The set is kind of like a bedroom – my bedroom – my imaginary bedroom, and Courtney’s bedroom.

So, quite pink? 
Pink and blue and – I don’t like to keep it too gender stereotyped. Pinks, blues, purples, greens, all of the colours. There’s gonna be lots of songs, Brian Nash on the piano, and some fun videos. There’s a vegan cooking parody which is a lot of fun, and a Celebrity Big Brother supercut, including a Shandrew montage. We’re giving the people what they want.

You’ve recently moved to London. Why?
For many reasons! One – the big one – Channel 4 have asked me to do a variety chat show.

We are so excited. What kind of discussions can we expect on the show?
I mean, it’s late night, so a lot of potty mouth things. One of the things that I want to make sure of is to be really aware of diversity, and it’s my show, which is exciting. The premise is that everyone is welcome, so I wanna make sure everyone does feel welcome. It’s funny when you’re in a position where you get to reach out to other people. There is a responsibility in that, and I feel like the more I talk about it now, the more it’ll be forced to happen later. I just want to make sure it’s really inclusive and diverse, and tells a lot of different stories. I also want it to be a show where you get to see people you know – and people you don’t know – doing something different to what they normally do, so they’re not just plugging their latest book or their latest movie. Maybe there will be duets, performances, conversations that are not about their latest thing they’re plugging.

So, we’ll see celebrities engaging in something other than promo, and have them talking about real life issues?
Yeah, in a late night context.

Why do you think the UK has taken a shine to you? 
They really have, haven’t they? Which is nice, because going to the US, it was difficult having a different accent, and being understood. Whereas, here, the sense of humour is very similar, and you understand what we’re saying because you were waned on Home and Away and Neighbours. There’s also a long line of Australians – Dame Edna and Kylie – who are so loved here, and it’s nice to come somewhere and feel supported and loved, and it makes it feel natural being here.

Did they not understand your sense of humour in the States?
It’s more that I felt like on the outside. Whereas here, Brits are just… In the US, I had to slow down my speech, and sometimes put an ‘r’ on the ends of words, so they understood me.

On season six of Drag Race, they edited your Australian sense of humour to make you seem really shady…
Yeah, and if you have the set up and punchline, but you don’t get to hear the laughter afterwards, it can sound out of context, but it’s nice to have had that Celebrity Big Brother experience to showcase more of Courtney. You get to see so much more of somebody on CBB than Drag Race, which has 14 people times 42 minutes a week. I’m not a scientist, but whatever 42 divided by 14 is… three minutes of television? Then there’s RuPaul and Michelle Visage, Carsson and Ross, everybody else. When you cut together what you get to see of one person on one episode, it’s very small. Drag Race is great at creating strong two-dimensional characters that have a catchphrase, and a look, and that’s why we love them. We get it, and we repeat it, “Miss Vaaaaaanjie”. Big Brother… there’s a lot less of that. I thought there’d be catchphrases that would go on merchandise but there’s not any of that because it’s not a two-dimensional experience. You get to know a lot more about the person, so I think it’s cool to be in the UK, where people naturally understand me, but also have a bit more of an insight because of Celebrity Big Brother.

Who were your inspirations for your talk show?
The Sonny and Cher Show has always been… That whole era of variety television. Bianca actually force feeds me seventies variety specials and things. Julie Andrews and Carol Barnett especially. Every ten years they would reunite for a TV special, and I think it was four of them over four decades… I should fact check that, but it’s funny because Bianca would say, ‘Get it? Because I’m Carol Barnett and you’re Julie Andrews’, and then she would make me watch these Mitzi Gaynor specials which Bob Mackie costumed. They all just had so much going for them, visually. Like, Bob Mackie? Amazing. Sonny and Cher, The Judy Garland Show, I’ve got all the DVD boxsets – back when we used DVD players. I just love all of that, so I’d love to bring all of that to a 2018 context.

Can we expect some high fashion lewks on there?
Definitely. Fashion will be very important. We haven’t gotten that far down the track yet, so this is all speculation. I might just end up wearing a white lab coat.

Who would your dream guests be?
Kylie. Harry Styles. Bianca Del Rio, Adore Delano and Darienne Lake. I’d love to have the ABCD of drag on.

Andrew Brady?
Yes, we can objectify him like in normal, traditional formats where women were objectified with cute little outfits. Like Wheel of Fortune, that sort of thing, and use men in that way. Although in this current climate, I don’t know…

What about Anne Widdecombe? Not to sexually objectify, but as a guest?
Gosh, I doubt she would do it. It’s an interesting question, ethically, because whilst I have history with her, part of me thinks – of course she’s welcome on the show – but I think, ‘Are you making her cuddly?’ Shows like Strictly and Celebrity Big Brother make her cuddly, and likeable and fun, and I don’t think she deserves that. The more I looked into it, especially after the show, I came to understand not just her opinions on things, but what she actually legislated for and against. We’re not talking the whole bigoted grandma at Christmas lunch, this woman was in Parliament for 23 years. While she’s not in Parliament anymore, she still has a public voice and while we’re all, ‘Oh, look at Anne rolling her eyes again!’, we need to remember that she voted to keep Section 28 in 2002. And just recently, she said she would vote the same again, and said I had become a bore or a broken record for caring about people’s human rights. The thing is, conservatives and politicians who have been in Parliament for 23 years have so many rehearsed reasons behind their oppression, and Anne always had an answer for everything. She would be like, ‘Section 28 was about the promotion of homosexuality’ but she knew exactly what it meant. It meant you couldn’t talk about LGBTQ topics in schools. You can’t recruit people into being gay, you can’t promote the idea of being gay, and Anne was trying to use promotion as a slanderous idea, so even her justification – which she fully understands – has so much ignorance in it. So, giving Anne a further platform in a queer centred show, I don’t know.

Watching CBB, it became extremely frustrating because she was often painted as the – like you said – cuddly bigoted Grandma, and it was worrying that she nearly won. So, yeah, maybe it’s not a good idea…
It’s 2018, and it’s Pride, and I think there are probably other voices that are much more constructive and yeah, I think everyone would love to see her on the show, but quite frankly, she wouldn’t do it. Although, she said she wouldn’t do Strictly Come Dancing, so…

You mentioned Bianca, Adore and Darienne. How important is your relationship with them?
It’s funny because people think of us as the top three, but we think of ourselves as the top four because you film all the episodes in June the year before, and the final episode we filmed, there was still four of us. Then, they filmed four alternative endings of someone going home – I was first – and the producer had said earlier in the morning, “Just so you know, when we get to the elimination, we might film alternative endings”. And I said, “Okay, if that’s the case, can I go first?”, because it’s horrible to pretend to be leaving this thing that means so much to you, like, four times. So Ru told me to sashay away first, and I was like, ‘They might be filming alternative endings, or did they just decide that I was the one going home?’ I said my goodbyes, and was genuinely upset and shocked, then they walked me into the hallway, and I was told to stay there because they were going to reset to film the rest of the endings so I was like, ‘Oh! Thank god!’ After we filmed four alternate endings, we went on hiatus for eight months, so as far as we were concerned, we were the top four. It wasn’t until the week before, that they said Darienne is the one they were eliminating, so we spent the whole time being the top four and we had a group text that we talk on every single day.

What have you called the group chat?
It did have a name, and I can’t remember what it was called, it might’ve just been ABCD, then it got a bit complicated so it doesn’t have a name. Maybe I should give it a name. We were speaking about the Trixie saga earlier, and I also have lots of voice notes of Adore laughing [plays voice note of Adore’s laugh]. It almost sounds like a doll in a horror film.

It sounds like something out of The Shining.
Yeah it does.

We saw your video for how to be an ally. Do you think other Drag Race queens – specifically the popular white ones – should speak out about this more?
It’s interesting how powerful allyship can be. Our queer movement wouldn’t have been anything if it wasn’t for straight people understanding and getting on board, and we fight and fight and fight for the understanding, acceptance and equality with a heterosexualised society. So, being allies is what we’re fighting for. A bunch of girls such as The Vixen and Monét, and people out in public have reached out to say thank you. I was having a conversation with someone the other day, and they said we never hear white people talking about those issues, but you do hear people of colour talking about sexual racism, or racism in general. And I think it’s really easy to say, ‘Oh, there’s a person of colour talking about racism again’. I just think the response I’ve had from people of colour makes me realise how important it is. On Instagram when I posted it, people are like, ‘Oh my god, Courtney you’re so amazing, thank you, wow!’ I’m like, ‘No! This is not about me!’ It’s that funny thing where I was trying to make this video about being an ally, and I’ve been made out to be a hero. It was completely not the point of this. I know I’ve also had to unpack my own sexual racism. I was talking to my friend Mitch, who is mixed race, Asian and Australian, we were talking about when we were growing up and our role models, and I was talking about queer visibility. He was like, ‘Yeah, there was this one female model who was Asian, but apart from that, there was nobody’, and it made me realise that there was no Asian men or women in pop culture or media who were sexy, who were desirable. Maybe there was Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee, but I was never socialised with the idea of anybody other than white people being attractive. White is your preference because you’ve been socialised in a world that didn’t allow you to form an opinion one way or another. If you did find all races attractive, imagine how much more sex you could have? Gay men need to start thinking about it in real terms.

It still baffles me how we live in a world where people can state their racial preference on apps like Grindr. Like, what the fuck?
It’s like saying, ‘Could nobody message me here who I’m not definitely going to be attracted to?’ Just stop. That’s why the race ally video was the first step. I want to do a sexual racism video, because I’ve had sexually racist thoughts, we all grew up in a world where we were socialised to be racist. It’s not that I was born in some strange Utopian society at all, I just got lucky somewhere and managed to unpack some things, and I decided to make some videos about it because I thought it was important. It’s nice when you feel like you’re doing something that is different and entertaining people.

You can catch Courtney’s live show Under The Covers at Edinburgh Fringe Festival from 4-18 August. Tickets are available to purchase here.

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