When Boston won the bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics, Brian McCook’s now famous drag alter ego Katya planned an old-school Russian boycott. “I’m so torn about it,” says McCook, who was in the top five out of 14 performers featured on the current season of RuPaul’s Drag Race. “While I would love to physically watch the women’s gymnastics competition at the Olympics, I think it would be a nightmare. I think the city will explode.”
McCook, who was recently eliminated from the competition reality show but is a top contender for the program’s “Miss Congeniality” laurels, breaks into spontaneous laughter and then composes himself. “This is the worst city to host the Olympics. There’s no infrastructure. It’s already hard enough to get around. It would be a clusterf–k. I think it’s a terrible idea and I hope they don’t do it,” he says. “I love the Olympics. But, I don’t know if I would love the Olympics in Boston. I mean, we don’t even have enough hotel rooms for when people come for college orientation. What are they going to do with all of these people?”
When asked if Katya, a chain-smoking former Russian gymnast turned prostitute with a painfully long last name, would carry the torch for her home country, she quickly bites back. “I will carry anything. But it’s 10 years away. I’m not sure if I will even live here then.”
McCook is a walking dichotomy in Divine-inspired cha-cha heels. The 33-year-old local, originally from Marlborough, is a creative, somewhat shy guy. However, his brassy blonde, larger-than-life femme fatale alter ego is, well, ballsy.
And she’s all about regional pride. Well, kinda sorta.
“I love Boston. I love how rude people are here,” he says. “But I also love junkies and I have this morbid fascination with heroin addicts. I’ve never personally done heroin, but I get it.”
McCook continues: “Boston has this really rough charm. In New York, people can be rude but also be really helpful. In Boston, they’re rude and they might not help you. I’ve never been a fan of regional pride. It doesn’t make sense to me, especially with sports.”
Katya is getting a kick out of what she calls the “Red Sox of drag” experience. However, McCook says he had no clue what he was getting into when he signed up for RuPaul’s Drag Race. Not even fan favorite and Boston native, JuJubee, could have prepared him for the mainstream balance-beam act. “After the reveal, I’ve been able to talk to [JuJubee] and she’s been great about giving me advice about what’s going to happen. The sense I get from her is that you have to go through it yourself to understand,” he explains. “Having gone through the experience, there’s nothing anybody could have told me that could have prepared me. It’s so crazy and surreal.”
“I have a hard time keeping secrets. Before you go, they give you a little bit of time before taping the show, so all you want to do is tell people,” he explains. “You don’t have a lot of time to blab about it because you have to go to work. It’s a frenzy of activity before the show. After taping the show, it’s tortuous because all you want to do is tell people.”
McCook says Katya is eating up all of the post-show buzz. “My desire is that it reaches this cultish, Jonestown-y kind of fever. So, no matter what happens, I’ll have this legion of very devoted cult-like fans who will do whatever I want,” he jokes. “What I’ve learned from other contestants is that fights will break out online and you don’t need to respond to any negativity. That’s the advice I got from JuJubee. Don’t even engage with the haters because your fans will fight them for you.”
McCook’s prowess on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook is already vaulting Katya into international stardom. In fact, he had two extremely successful Youtube series, RuFLECTIONS and RuGRETS. McCook says his now public life has become a Twitter hashtag. “Let me tell you something, I’m having a blast on Twitter,” he says. “Before the show, it was like shouting out into an empty well. Now that I have a little bit of an audience, it’s great. I’m glad people are responding to my bizarre, non-sequitur sense of humor. I feel special.”
Obviously, Katya is used to being in the spotlight because of her past as a Russian gymnast. But how is McCook handling all of the attention? “I like it,” he says. “When I’m not in drag, I like to keep to myself and I’m a private person. I’m like a hermit. I like to roll up in my apartment and fire things off on Twitter so I think I’m in for a rude awakening.”
McCook says his fans oddly identify with his subversive drag alter ego. “There is a girl in Russia that calls me ‘mom.’ I was tweeting like 1 a.m. last night and the Russian girl is like ‘go to bed mom.’ I love the strange trend of my fans calling me ‘mom’ which I can’t get enough of,” he says.
For the record, Katya was inspired by McCook’s Russian teacher at MassArt. “When I was in college, I already knew French and I wanted to learn a different language. I was like, Russian sounds good. I had this teacher. She was a terrible teacher, but she was an amazing person. She came to class dressed like a hooker spy from La Femme Nikita. She had this thick, Russian accent that kind of sounded like a man and was terrible at explaining things. She spoke Russian, which was her only qualification to teach, but her degree was in naval engineering or something like that.”
Does McCook’s former Russian instructor know she inspired a reality TV superstar? “I don’t think so,” McCook playfully responds. So, nyet.
While studying at MassArt, McCook claims he came up with the “drag race” concept. “Yeah, I thought of it first. Although, my interpretation of ‘drag race’ was very literal,” he says with a laugh. “Of course, I never got to do it. There was this big courtyard in the middle of the school and I wanted to have a bunch of guys in drag, all in beautiful dresses and face down on the grass. And they would be dragged along the courtyard in a very slow, durational rate. I was going to call it ‘drag race.’ Nobody else was as excited about it as I was.”
Katya got her start with the experimental, queer theatre show, TraniWreck, and then she hosted her own subversive, drag show called Perestroika at Jacques. McCook, a trained yoga instructor, says he generally pulls from his bag of tricks, which includes bizarre, contortionist moves, handstands and the splits. “I took gymnastics for about a year when I was younger. When I was 11, I taught myself how to be a contortionist. In retrospect, it was very dangerous to do that on your own. It was before puberty set in, so my body was a lot more pliable at that point,” McCook explains.
McCook, who came out on the show as sober, says his Bond villain-style gymnastic moves were a major factor during the show’s taping. In fact, his slow-split lip sync against Sasha Belle to Olivia Newton John’s Twist of Fate is arguably the most memorable performance of the season. “As a performer, I like weirder stuff. Sometimes you find yourself in a position that you’re doing something that’s a little weird and the crowd is definitely not on board with you. So, I jump into the splits to get people back on the same page.”
“It’s helpful to have some tricks,” McCook muses. “Kids love tricks.”