“I think I really showed how much I wanted it, how much was on my shoulders and how disappointed in myself I was,” says Art Simone. The Melbourne-based entertainer is speaking with GAY TIMES about her now-iconic exit from the first season of RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under, where she “bit back” at a producer who tried to, erm, reassure her that making it onto the franchise was more important than her placement in the competition. “That means nothing,” Art memorably answered as she looked up at the camera in her sea-sickening-inspired eleganza. The terrifying yet hilarious moment has become the first viral moment from the Australasian spin-off and has been inducted, officially, into Gay Twitter’s hall of (gif) fame.
Diving into that moment further, Art explains: “I got pushed in front of the camera and had to talk. The producer kept reminding me of everything that I had just lost… She basically just kept reminding me of that and when she finally said to me, ‘But you were here,’ it’s like saying, ‘Aww, you tried!’ When somebody dies you don’t go, ‘But they lived!’ In the moment, it felt like she was invalidating my feelings and my hurt and basically being like, ‘You’re overreacting.’ So, that’s why I kind of bit back a little bit. But, I think it’s so refreshing to see raw emotions being displayed on that show.”
While Art is disappointed to sashay away from the competition so soon, the fierce queen – who still ranks as the most followed contestant from Drag Race Down Under on social media – is welcoming her new status as a viral sensation and, because she’s a businesswoman, capitalising on it with merchandise. (Check out her incredible line of “That means nothing” t-shirts here.) Art is also excited to perform her one-woman show, Art Therapy (to a crowd of one woman), and to unleash her upcoming series of the same name. She’s just getting started, honey! Here, Art spills the T on her Snatch Game impersonation as Bindi Irwin, the juicy behind-the-scenes moments that didn’t make the edit and her plans to slay the world post-Drag Race.
Art, I love you but speaking with you this soon doesn’t make me happy.
I’m not happy speaking that I’m speaking to you too!
Social media are in uproar. What is it like for you to see that much support online?
It was wonderful. You film the episode, go home and then you sit on it for a couple of months. You run through it a million times and I began to think that I’d imagined it all, that it wasn’t as shocking as I thought in my head and that I overreacted. Seeing the episode and seeing how everyone is feeling at home, I’m like, ‘Okay, cool. I’m not psycho!’ So, it’s been really wonderful to see that support and know that I’m loved. There’s been really wonderful messages from people, especially because of me saying that I was going to be disappointing a lot of these people. A lot of people reached to me like, ‘We’re happy that you’re there and you’ve done us all proud. We’ve been following you from when you had 5000 followers to now. We don’t care.’ It’s really wonderful to hear.
Watching the elimination back, did it play out like you remember?
I honestly blacked out! I do not remember what came out of my mouth in the werkroom with the exit interview because I was just so shocked. I just walked off set, off the runway and the girls were crying, I was crying, Rhys [Nicholson] was crying, the cameraman was crying, the sound people were crying. Everyone was so confused. Then, I got pushed in front of the camera and had to talk. The producer kept reminding me of everything that I had just lost… She basically just kept reminding me of that and when she finally said to me, ‘But you were here,’ it’s like saying, ‘Aww, you tried!’ When somebody dies you don’t go, ‘But they lived!’ In the moment, it felt like she was invalidating my feelings and my hurt and basically being like, ‘You’re overreacting.’ So, that’s why I kind of bit back a little bit. But, I think it’s so refreshing to see raw emotions being displayed on that show. It’s too often that girls get eliminated and they’re like, ‘Thank you so much for having me,’ and then they say their catchphrase and leave. I think I really showed how much I wanted it, how much was on my shoulders and how disappointed in myself I was. It was nothing about me barking back about the competition, it was about me being so disappointed in my journey.
This is the beauty of Drag Race, you can say three simple words in the heat of the moment and it can become merchandise-able.
I know! Before I left for Drag Race, my beautiful housemate said to me, ‘Look, at the end of the day, whatever happens, just become a meme!’ I did that so he’s happy! Yeah, it’s crazy how it’s all blown up to be quite honest. It’s quite funny and I think it’s good because we’re now creating humorous, dark moments from such a dark situation. That’s how I deal with stuff generally, you know? I’m the one who tells jokes to make myself feel better. It’s good. I’m happy something fun has come from it, at least!
It’s already become one of the most legendary eliminations ever. I’ve used the meme countless times since watching the episode. Even if someone simply says hello to me, I’ll just reply with: “That means nothing.” If someone asks how my day has been: “That means nothing.”
[Laughs] I’m never gonna live this down! That’s fine. In my exit I said, ‘I’m never gonna live this down,’ but I don’t think I realised what I was referring to at the time. What I thought I was never gonna live down was not actually what my legacy has become! [Screams]
You Down Under girls are really slaying the merchandise game because those t-shirts…
Thank you! You’ve got to roll with it and make some fun out of misery. I have bills to pay. I’m very poor at the moment – Drag Race isn’t cheap! If I can make some money back, let’s do it.
As a viewer, I really enjoyed this Snatch Game. I thought it was chaotic in the best possible way. Were you surprised when the judges weren’t as receptive to it during critiques?
Yeah, the Snatch Game has been really polarizing, and it was polarizing on set. You’ve seen the footage! We walked back like, ‘That was the best one ever!’ On set, Ru was laughing at everything. Everything that people said, Ru laughed. I don’t know whether that’s an editing thing so they can cut around things differently or to throw us off the scent, I don’t know. But, Ru was laughing at everything so we thought we were doing great. We were all like, ‘Yeah, we were really good. There were no big mess-ups or anything.’ Then, when we walked onto the runway they were like, ‘No, you were all bad.’ I later spoke with Michelle [Visage] for a How’s Your Head type thing after the elimination and she said, ‘It wasn’t that you were all bad, you were all just so equally prepared and good that you seemed bad.’ I don’t understand!
I don’t know. I really don’t know and I will never know until this day. I think that’s also what’s been hard for me coming home, there’s been no way to process it logically, the whole situation. It’s just like, ‘Okay… That happened.’
That must be so confusing for you, to have RuPaul unleash his signature cackle at everything you and then slay the runway in that gorgeous ensemble, only to be told, ‘Ehh.’
It was just so hard for my brain! I have confidence in my surroundings and I go off what people are saying and people’s reactions. I’m a live performer so I’m at my most comfortable when there’s a microphone in my hand, interacting with an audience. So when I’m hearing laughs and everything I’m like, ‘Great. It’s working, let’s keep doing it.’ That was my negative critique, that I kept doing the same thing. But… Yep. I don’t know. Someone please work it out for me! Please! I would love to know. Actually, I don’t want to know. I’ve moved on. Let’s not revisit it.
Has Bindi Irwin been in touch?
No! The episode came out just before Mother’s Day so I think she’s very busy with her newborn at the moment, thank goodness. I’m waiting for a cease and desist. I’m waiting for a lifetime ban from Australia Zoo. I didn’t do anything offensive on her behalf…
How do you think the Snatch Game would’ve turned out if you impersonated Jane Turner?
Critiques would’ve been the same as Maxi Shields’. If I did Jane Turner, I would’ve been spouting a whole list of quotes, or even the same as Jennifer Coolidge, where they were like, ‘You’re not using your own jokes, you’re using someone else’s jokes.’ I felt like I could’ve been trapped in that. My other worry was that I’m really similar to the character Kath, it’s just ingrained in my brain. I was worried that they wouldn’t see a transformation at all, ‘Oh, it’s just you with a small wig on, saying some quotes.’ It’s hard to judge because what Ru said, which was cut out of the episode, was, ‘Why didn’t you just do Bindi Irwin’s next door neighbour? That would’ve been funny! Or why didn’t you do her aunty?’ I was like, ‘What? What are you talking about?!’ You get the list of things for Drag Race and it says ‘celebrity impersonation’ it doesn’t say, ‘Celebrity’s next door neighbour who lives across the road’. At the end of the day, there is no format to Snatch Game. The only rule is to make Ru laugh. I guess we didn’t. Every single thing we think is a rule about Snatch Game is thrown out of the window, just as long as you make Ru laugh. That is the main aim of the challenge and that’s where I didn’t hit the mark.
There’s so many queens who have impersonated characters before with their iconic quotes, for example Alyssa Edwards as Joan Crawford. Again, it must be a bizarre as someone who’s studied previous Snatch Games and realised what does and doesn’t work…
That’s the thing. You come in prepared. It’s not like I walked in with no practice. I was doing weekly meetings with a local bunch of comedians just to get ideas and get advice. I practiced with them. They’d read out questions and I’d write them down and deliver them. Everything that has worked on previous seasons wasn’t a positive thing anymore. On previous seasons they were like, ‘You’re too short with your answers.’ Bindi Irwin talks a lot, but then that’s a negative thing? I don’t know. There’s no format to it. You just have to make Ru laugh, be present in the moment and respond accordingly. If anyone asked me for advice about Snatch Game… Coming out of it, I had zero bits on what could help you or hinder you. I don’t know!
This Snatch Game has proven that you can never be prepared.
Completely. Another thing that Michelle said to me was, ‘It’s just the luck of the draw. It’s just how everything ended up.’ It made a great episode though, bloody good TV!
What is next for Art Simone? Can we expect That Means Nothing: The Single?
I’m not sure about that, but I have a one-woman show called Art Therapy that I’ll be touring very soon. With COVID restrictions, the one-woman show is just being performed for one woman at a time, so it might take a while to get around. But, it’s there. We’ll get around eventually. It’s hard as a single girl to go to a show, it’s embarrassing to go by yourself, so I thought, ‘Let’s make the perfect environment for them.’ There’s a lot more exciting things. I’ll be releasing a lot of exciting stuff through my social channels every week, all my runways. I’ve actually got a video series called Art Therapy as well. There’s gonna be lots of content for everyone, so don’t worry – you won’t miss out.
RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under airs every Sunday on BBC Three.