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2 drag queens have advice for women in 'Working Girls'

ADRIAN FLORIDO, HOST:

Trixie Mattel and Katya Zamolodchikova are two of the country's most famous drag queens. You might know them from their time as contestants on "RuPaul's Drag Race," where they dazzled viewers with their massive platinum blonde wigs, and more recently from their YouTube videos, where they talk about movies, epic drag performances and, yes, even straight people.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO, "UNHHHH EP. 131: STRAIGHT PEOPLE")

TRIXIE MATTEL: Listen, we all have moms and dads, and they're probably straight. They're not all bad.

KATYA ZAMOLODCHIKOVA: No, I came from a gay lake.

MATTEL: Do you think the ratio of...

ZAMOLODCHIKOVA: I was fished out of the water.

MATTEL: Loch Ness Monster.

ZAMOLODCHIKOVA: A toddler.

FLORIDO: Now Trixie and Katya have poured their comedic chops into a new self-help book. It's called "Working Girls: Trixie And Katya's Guide To Professional Womanhood." And they're here to offer us some of their tips. Trixie, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

MATTEL: Thank you. Hi, NPR. Hi old people commuting. Hi.

FLORIDO: And welcome to you, Katya.

ZAMOLODCHIKOVA: Thank you so much for having me. This is a truly an honor. Listen, I love NPR - lifelong listener. And I've got a poster of Terry Gross in my bedroom since I was 16. So this is a dream come true, actually. This is a dream come true.

FLORIDO: And a lot of fun for me, too. You know, there's no shortage of advice books out there. And in your intro, you acknowledge that this is a book offering career advice for women written by to out-of-touch drag queens with less than 10 years of professional experience between you.

ZAMOLODCHIKOVA: Yeah.

FLORIDO: What did you think women trying to succeed at work could learn from two out-of-touch drag queens?

ZAMOLODCHIKOVA: Well, I think it's probably technically more of a self-harm book rather than a self-help book. But your description, I think, reveals the pretty, like, heavy-handed irony or satire of the whole project. So, you know, it's all a grain of salt and tongue in cheek, I would say.

MATTEL: And also, we're very Hollywood. So, you know, when it comes to self-help, just be happy we didn't make you pay $40,000 to go to a retreat in Modesto or something, you know?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTEL: I say swindling you for, you know, a few bucks for a book, I think people got off easy.

FLORIDO: Twenty-eight dollars is what it says. Yeah. Not a bad deal.

MATTEL: Yeah.

FLORIDO: (Laughter).

ZAMOLODCHIKOVA: Yeah.

FLORIDO: Well, can we jump into a couple of your tips?

MATTEL: Sure.

ZAMOLODCHIKOVA: Absolutely.

FLORIDO: I think something a lot of people have really struggled with is how to move ahead at work now that we're in this new sort of remote work environment. A lot of people have so little face time with their bosses. So it's kind of tough to navigate this new work environment that everyone is living through. But you also seem to think that remote work presents all kinds of new potential. Like what?

MATTEL: Well, for example, like, I have employees, many of them. And sometimes, they work from home, and sometimes, they don't. And I'm sure that everybody will say that they're super productive. But I know that when I'm on Grindr and I talk to some guy who works from home, I'm like, what are you up to? First of all, he's on Grindr working from home - time theft. Second of all, sometimes they flat out say, oh, I'm just, you know, working from home, so I move the mouse every 10 minutes so that the server thinks I'm doing something.

ZAMOLODCHIKOVA: Right.

MATTEL: So the truth is somewhere in the middle. There are the busy bees at home. And then there's the, you know, flying under the radar. But that's sort of why Katya I present - we present really well as co-authors in this interest because I'm a psychotic workaholic. And she's whatever the opposite of that would be.

ZAMOLODCHIKOVA: Let's say a work-hating recluse.

MATTEL: Yeah. What do you call retired if you never really did anything to begin with?

ZAMOLODCHIKOVA: Lazy (laughter) unemployable. I mean, I think that one of the things - you know, like, especially the - establishing any work-life balance or work-life boundaries when all of the work-life invades the home space, I think it's just really important to make sort of, like, invisible barriers. And for example, like you can have a policy in your living room, like, if that's where your computer's set up that you have to wear a suit there no matter what. And then you change - if you go into the bedroom, even to just grab something, you have to take off the dress shoes and put on the slippers and then get a - put, you know, the dress shoes back on. And then I think if you have those, like, really rigid, invisible boundaries where the dress code is, like, starkly different from room to room, I think that sets you up for success.

FLORIDO: I've got to ask, what does that look like for two drag queens whose work is dressing up?

MATTEL: Well, I'm just going to say, for us, we also represent like - you know, she has a separate studio for her drag. Like, all of her drag is in a different place than her home. And for me, I, like, wake up and I'm living in a YouTube studio. So it's just kind of about what works for you, I think.

ZAMOLODCHIKOVA: Yeah, there were just too many moments where I would find sequins and feathers and, you know, little shiny payettes (ph) on the body of a lover in my bed, and that was just such a huge turnoff, both for me and for them. And it ruined a lot of, you know, relationships that could have turned into some kind of marriage situation. So I just have to establish that boundary. And also I hate work. So that helps, too. So no drag in the house.

FLORIDO: You know, I've got to say, for a book about succeeding in the workplace, so many of your tips seem to be really about how to succeed without actually doing a whole lot of work.

ZAMOLODCHIKOVA: Well, that is a completely unscrupulous accusation. I can't - I have to say, I am a little taken aback, especially from NPR (laughter).

FLORIDO: You've got a whole section on how - you've got a whole section on how to take as much paid time off as possible.

ZAMOLODCHIKOVA: Well, I think that's...

MATTEL: How do you think I feel when I was reading her sections that are called, like, "How To Steal From Your Business Partner?" And I'm like, interesting.

ZAMOLODCHIKOVA: Well, listen, listen, listen. I was just - you know, when you do even the most rudimentary sort of research on what this country offers for, let's say, maternity leave, it's just absolutely horrifying that the modern woman, in this country especially, has no support at the workplace. It's really terrible. So I think it's just - it's wild. I mean, we can't all move to Sweden and get, you know, 3 1/2 years maternity leave. But it's very troubling.

FLORIDO: I think that's one of your suggestions in the book, though, just have more babies, right?

ZAMOLODCHIKOVA: Well, foreign babies abroad.

FLORIDO: (Laughter).

ZAMOLODCHIKOVA: Yeah. Yeah. But sometimes that's not an option.

MATTEL: And why do I have to have a baby to get that maternity leave?

ZAMOLODCHIKOVA: Thank you.

MATTEL: You know, I don't have to smoke to get a smoke break.

ZAMOLODCHIKOVA: Thank you.

MATTEL: When I worked in retail, I had a manager every 17 minutes, I would say, stepped out for a cigarette. And this was the same woman who used to, like, write me up for, like, you know, punching in a minute late. And I'm like, what's the reality we're living in here? Where are we?

FLORIDO: I think one of the things a lot of people dream of is figuring out how to turn the things that they love, their passions, into their work. And that's something that both of you seem to have been able to figure out pretty well.

MATTEL: I think it's about expectations. Like, we both do drag, but I don't think either of us ever expected to have it be our full-time, like, careers, you know?

ZAMOLODCHIKOVA: No.

MATTEL: Like, you could expect to do it for work. You just can't expect to make the same money you would make at maybe your boring job.

ZAMOLODCHIKOVA: Yeah. And I think, like - I mean, first of all, we're so lucky. But it's remarkable how the human brain can turn any passion or, like, a pleasurable pursuit into a laborious slog once you clock in at 40 hours or more a week of it, you know. Oftentimes, like, the hobbies that, like, give us the most pleasure or the activities that provide the most relief exist in relation to, let's say, a more boring or tedious kind of work situation that is required, you know. So, like, a lot of times people will leave their job to go start a bakery and realize that, oh, baking is just as much hell as working at, you know, Kinko's or whatever.

MATTEL: Yeah. Plus, you know, backstage at a drag show, we might look like we love it, but, you know, it's really like - it's like a game of Clue. Like, I have a rope. She has a revolver. Somebody has a candle. We're all thinking of killing ourselves or each other.

(LAUGHTER)

FLORIDO: And do you ever think of quitting your own work, a career change, not having to get dolled up every day?

ZAMOLODCHIKOVA: I think about it every day.

MATTEL: Yeah. And there's no quiet quitting when you're 6'5" in a blonde wig.

ZAMOLODCHIKOVA: (Laughter) Yeah, totally.

FLORIDO: Well, before we let you go, what are you hoping that people, specifically women, will take away from your book?

ZAMOLODCHIKOVA: I would hope that it provides some relief, a laugh and maybe some hope for the modern woman who doesn't necessarily have to be female and some kind of hope for some success in the workplace, even in this really bleak, unpredictable world we're living in.

MATTEL: Yeah, I mean, this is heavy, heavy satire, right? So it is based in truth. And it's true that having no job sucks. Looking for a job, hiring processes, working somewhere, getting fired - every part of working in some way sucks, depending on how you look at it. And I guess, honestly, what we don't really ever joke about in this book is we don't joke about encouraging people to do a job they hate. And we don't set up unrealistic expectations for any type of work. I think that's just, like, really honest, which is why people will actually laugh at it and relate to it. We're not lying because we've done all the [expletive] jobs and we've done our dream jobs, and we can tell you there's a lot of parallel truths there.

FLORIDO: That was Trixie Mattel and Katya Zamolodchikova. Their book, "Working Girls: Trixie And Katya's Guide To Professional Womanhood," is out now. Trixie, Katya, thanks so much for joining us.

MATTEL: Thank you.

ZAMOLODCHIKOVA: Thank you so much for having us. What an honor. What a privilege. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Adrian Florido
Adrian Florido is a national correspondent for NPR covering race and identity in America.