For eight seasons RuPaul’s Drag Race alums Trixie Mattel and Katya Zamolodchikova have opened their darkly twisted brains for their World of Wonder shortform series UNHhhh, in which the duo discuss a range of topics – such as jealousy, the weather, telephones and domesticity – while sitting in front of a greenscreen. Riffs and tangents follow, with Trixie and Katya expanding on the episode’s topic surrounded by animation, clip art, and text added in the edit. UNHhhh sometimes feels like a trippy visual podcast, a scrappy public access show that has fueled viral memes among the online drag-obsessed. After crossing a 200-episode milestone this season, the show — which is about 10 to 13 minutes long and streams on YouTube and WOW Presents Plus — has been submitted for Emmy consideration for the first time. Trixie and Katya spoke to THR via Zoom about their years of collaboration and the Emmy nomination they have in mind.
Did you have an instant connection when you met Drag race?
KATYA Our cycles naturally synchronize by staying close together. There was a lot of biological and psychological glue holding us together. But she still doesn’t know when my birthday is, so…
TRIXIE To be honest, Katya is probably someone I’ve talked to the least. We didn’t really bond until later.
KATYA We spent a lot of time talking on the phone together (after the show) and we quickly realized we weren’t exactly the typical ‘Yas! Work! Diva!” kind of dragging people – not that we don’t like that, we’re just not part of that rug. We felt like outsiders and we bonded with that. We were big fans of the WOW Presents videos – basically they just throw some queens on a stool and say, “Hey, what do you think about birds or whatever?” Trixie felt that we should actually be criticizing one of the longest running and beloved shows on the network called Fashion photo RuView, where we take a look at the reviewers’ outfits. And that formed our one-on-one relationship.
TRIXIE It was a bit loose at first because, at the risk of sounding gauche, a show like ours didn’t really exist yet. We were just talking (in front of) a greenscreen, and we didn’t really know what it would be comparable to. We went in a bit blind. Personally, I had never worked with a lady where we could throw the ball back and forth. When she and I first started having frank discussions about the world of drag, it was like, “Oh my God, someone else feels like the chaperone among these demons.”
Eight seasons and more than 200 episodes later, do you still find ways to surprise each other?
KATYA Well let me tell you something: a great way to stay surprised is to get dementia, which I apparently have. I don’t remember anything. Every day is like the first day for me.
TRIXIE To be honest, the only surprise we can count on is that some days you’ll find I’m not in the mood. Or some days you notice that Katya is not in the mood. And then, some days we’re both not in the mood. Those end up being the best because we’re both like, ‘Girl. We’re in an episode, about 5 million.
KATYA It’s like senioritis. For example, we can see the comet coming towards Earth.
TRIXIE There was one particular day when we were just at the end of our tether. Improvise when you’re really burnt out – it’s like running out of batteries.
Do you film multiple episodes in one day?
KATYA Three. We used to do four, but the episodes were shorter back then. And we were so ugly. Oof!
TRIXIE I think we just kept doing it because, I mean, how many shows seven years later can say people keep watching it?
KATYA All that needs to be done is to get an Emmy. (Grabs a foot figurine from a plank.) This is a gold foot, but it’s the closest thing to an Emmy. Please!
Funny you say that. In the 200th episode, Trixie says she never wants to be nominated for anything because she hates losing.
TRIXIE You can’t say you want it. That’s illegal right?
KATYA Tell that to Melissa Leo! No one deserves anything, but I would really love it. And you know, maybe things happen. Or we don’t get it, and then Hollywood Boulevard can endure a series of horrific events.
TRIXIE Sure, we have beautiful bodies and pretty faces and hilarious personalities, but the editors really make the show.
I’m very curious how the edit works. Do you have expectations about what the final product will look like? Or is it always a surprise?
KATYA I walk out of that studio feeling like, “Well, that was some steamy shit that nobody’s going to look at.” And then – gold.
TRIXIE Through this show, I learned that sometimes things don’t feel funny (right now), but they will later on. We sometimes leave that set like, “Wow, I just went in and talked about my breakfast and I ruined the whole shoot.”
KATYA I’ll say, ‘Hey, Trixie, did you enjoy filming? August: Osage County today with me?”
Part of the fun of watching is that you both have such infectious laughs.
KATYA I think the density of jokes per minute this season is actually overwhelming just in terms of editing. I mean, I never tell a joke. The things that (the editors) will associate through puns, and it’s so fast – bam, bam, bam, bam, bam! They are so talented.
TRIXIE Most of our stories never show us as the smart person, the person who won, the person who did the right thing. In any case, they are cautionary tales about what being human can bring. The editors end up making it funny.
Are there any stories you’ve told each other that still stick with you?
TRIXIE She told a story about being misgendered by a colonial (re-enactor) at school. Just the thought of that.
KATYA It was a traumatic event. Thanks for bringing that up.
TRIXIE When the lights are on and we’re all wearing wigs, we feel invincible. It feels like we’re in a room where no one will ever hear what we’re saying anyway.
So now you’ve been submitted for an Emmy. Have you imagined what you would say in an acceptance speech – or do you have any thoughts on what makes a good speech?
KATYA It all depends on the location and the price. If it’s the Oscars, it’s a whole thing and you get 40 seconds max. And if they don’t know who you are, you get 20 seconds.
TRIXIE One of our biggest pet peeves is when people win big prizes and don’t prepare anything. We hate that.
KATYA You are one of five people! “Oh my God! I’m Cate Blanchett! I just had no idea I…” You knew it, come on.
TRIXIE We’re watching you, Jodie Foster in bed. And all award shows all have sections of comedy that aren’t funny. Like the way people present, it’s never funny. And when someone is actually a third (of the way) into their heartfelt speech, the music comes in hard and fast. I want to hear Jennifer Coolidge talk about all those years she took small B jobs to make ends meet! I don’t want to hear a presenter tell a lame joke about the parking lot.
KATYA I think if I won an Oscar, I’d go up to the stage and say, “Thanks to the Academy for letting me be my real self,” and then pull off a prosthetic mask. I’m Judi Dench underneath. Short and sweet.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the political attacks on drag and queer people. Do you feel like your show resists that in any way?
KATYA Personally, I feel like I’m Julianne Moore in the remake of carry: “These are wicked times.” I honestly think the pendulum swings from left to right. It’s so fascinating to see how these stupid, ignorant right-wing legislators have weaponized this bony mush of paranoia and hatred.
TRIXIE People literally google images on “drag queen,” post a picture on a conservative news story, and say, “Drag queens are groomers.” They did that with pictures of me! And no one loves children more than I do. No one! At the end of the day, they give us too much credit. None of us sit around the dinner table thinking, “Whose children should we have now?”
KATYA Or like, “Which child can I positively influence tomorrow?”
So you’re not voluntarily reading to children in a library.
KATYA Oh my god, the worst mistake a drag queen has ever made.
TRIXIE I was taken to every sporting event. I never got athletic. But to answer your question, do you know how many people say this is the first drag they’ve seen? The show demystifies drag.
KATYA And you wouldn’t believe how many times we’ve heard (from) people who got cancer, and during the hospital chemo treatment, we got them through it. That’s the sweetest hyperbolic compliment we could ever get.
TRIXIE We’re lucky enough to work in drag, because frankly, we work in the final frontier.
KATYA We’re first responders, she tries to say.
TRIXIE We’re there with people doing cleft palate surgeries in the Middle East.
KATYA (The ranking is) us, and then there’s Doctors Without Borders.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in a standalone June issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.