Jimbo Brings the Circus to Town

Written by | Entertainment, Miscellaneous

In just a few years, Jimbo the Drag Clown has become a leading name in the Drag Race world. First seen in the debut season of Canada’s Drag Race, he would go on to compete in the first series of Drag Race: UK vs the World, and then win the eighth season of All Stars. He has gone from Werk Room clown to fashion maven, and his brand is instantly recognizable. He currently is taking the world by force on the Jimbo Drag Circus Tour, having started his North American leg at the end of February and continuing through the end of June, visiting a whopping 57 cities, before heading to Australia in August.

While drag was not primarily in his plan to dominate the entertainment industry, his clowning with drag started at an early age, to reemerge during his Britney era.

I’ve always kind of been a little bit girly, a little bit feminine. Growing up, my brother and I used to steal my grandma’s clothes and my mom’s clothes, anything that had that kind of sparkler fun. And then we would hide in my basement away from my dad and live our little gay boy fantasies playing around and swishing here and there, wearing towels for hair because we didn’t have wigs at that time. I loved playing in girls’ clothing growing up. Then it was a horrible thing to my dad at that time, he was just like, “No, not my boys!” We were really discouraged from that, and then it became quite embarrassing. But then later in high school, I did a little drag as a sexy schoolgirl, and I, of course, loved doing my Britney Spears fantasy. I got into drag later when I was doing clown, I started performing as another performance artist and I started to weave a little bit of drag into my persona. I really loved it and I was like, oh, okay, I’m going to become a drag queen.

At the heart of his signature looks and outlandish characters is a wit and style of comedy that sets him apart from the other Queens. Where did that sense of humor come from?

My parents are both naturally funny storytellers. We love entertaining people. My parents used to love having parties and inviting people over and going on wild holidays. My mom had a big family, lots of siblings, and that lends to kind of a quick wit. I didn’t really realize until I was in high school, going on the bus to school and no one really wanted to sit with me that I was awkward. I obviously didn’t really fit in very well. One day I ended up making a joke on the bus. I don’t know exactly what I said, but I made people laugh and the next day people wanted to sit with me, and I was like, oh my God! And then I became known for being a little bit funny. I learned that telling jokes and being funny can make you friends, and it shifted for me there.

The drag world almost lost him to biology. Following in his father’s footsteps, he originally studied sciences, including a field course in Uganda with the University of Cambridge and ecology in Stockholm.

As an artist, it’s all about curiosity. I was really curious about how things work, and biology is all about the natural world and how our bodies work and how science works, and all of that weaves into your art form and your understanding of the world. I’m so glad that I have my science background, but when I was doing ecology and everyone was interested in studying the wing of a fruit fly or like the leg of a centipede for 30 years, I was like, where are the people? Where’s the fun? This is fun to look at now, but I want to go do something awesome with people and entertain. So, needless to say, I’m no longer an ecologist.

Jimbo would work in local theatre, some Hallmark films, and even a children’s TV show. He would also get work as a costume and production designer, honing his performance art at the same time. That’s when the idea of being on Drag Race would start to take form.

I watched Drag Race as a fan, while I was working in theater and as a performance artist and clown. I saw a lot of similarities in the competition to what I was doing in real life, which is working with limited budgets and working with unconventional materials to create elevated costumes, or experiences, or to tell stories.

His friends would tell him over and over again that he would win, but the show wasn’t yet an international phenomenon. Jimbo credits fellow Drag Race alum and Canadian, Brooklyn Heights, for opening the doors to the idea of the competition show taking place around the world. A year after Brooklyn’s appearance on the show, it was announced that auditions were underway for Canada’s Drag Race. Together with his partner Brady and his video producer friend, Shiraz, Jimbo’s audition tape was on its way.

From his domination of Snatch Game on his debut season to his controversial elimination on UK vs the World, to his sweeping the wins on All Stars, each iteration has been a spotlight experience for Jimbo. Which experience taught him the most?

I guess they all taught me something different about myself just as who I was at that time as a performance artist and as a performer. I think definitely going into All Stars, I was the most prepared, I was the most comfortable. I was also presenting and operating at a level that I wanted to present and operate at. Coming into Canada’s Drag Race, I was still a baby queen in so many ways, and I had a lot of growing to do as a makeup artist and performer. I was just so grateful to have the opportunity to go back and perform at the level I did.

Like fellow alum Jinx Monsoon, Nina West, and Jackie Cox, representing drag in the theatre world, so too has Jimbo by taking center stage. But rather than playing a role, this is all on his own terms. Kind of a Pee-wee’s Playhouse for adults, with musical acts and appearances from Jimbo’s best-known characters, it is a two-hour show the highlights the many talents that have made Jimbo a standout.

My start was in improv theater, and then I moved into film and television and now I am happy to go back to the theater. I’ve never really done a big kind of acting role. I was always the guy behind the scenes making the wardrobe or making the sets or making the puppets. In my community, there weren’t so many people that could do that part and I always wanted to be in the show and they’re like, too bad, you better make all this. So, I did that for a long time, and I was always wishing that one day I would be the person on stage. One day I want to be the star of the show, one day I want all of that I’m doing to be in service of my stories and my ideas and my creativity. I’m just so grateful I’m able to come back to my community here in Victoria and to work with a lot of the people I worked with in film and theater before to create this show which is an amalgamation of theater and drag performance, all kind of set in an old timey kind of circus vibe.

I really want people to laugh, to be entertained, to leave saying, ‘what the heck did I just watch?’ Mostly, I really want to create an escape for people to come and feel immersed in an energy and a vibe, to have a good time and really just laugh about the absurdity of drag and character work and fun. I love the energy of the circus and the idea that anything is possible. I hope that people come and they have a sense of magic and wonder, and I hope it feels exciting and funny and weird.

Jimbo has become a brand unto himself. His company, House of Jimbo, not only produces his live events but also designs custom props and a series of Jimbo-related merchandise. During COVID, his design house also designed masks. With the character and name of Jimbo becoming the main focus of his career, does he, the artist James, ever feel overshadowed by his drag persona?

Luckily that was one thing that I tried to do with my name being my actual name, and not creating a real divide between myself and my drag character. I don’t feel overshadowed by my drag self. I love my drag self. I wish it was easier to be my drag self and I would just be like that all the time. But it’s so much work to look like that and to be in all that. And of course, once you get into it, all you can wish is to get out of it, but I don’t feel overshadowed. Sometimes, I do feel like I’m peeking out of a garage sale, though, it’s a lot of stuff on.

A lot of stuff indeed. Jimbo is also known for the size of his breastplates, making Dolly Parton jealous. As is the way in live theatre, sometimes costuming and props can be a performer’s undoing. One night, while touring with UK vs the World castmate Baga Chipz, an overzealous fan tugged on the nipples on Jimbo’s breastplate a bit too hard. He didn’t realize how hard until the next night.

I do an act where I put some silicone breasts on my butt and I twerk and I get these going and spinning. I was backstage with Baga and my friend Chanel was there taking photos and she said, get your butt spinning, I wanna take a picture!  I get these breasts (filled with silicone) spinning quite fast and long and he nipples gave out, they exploded green silicone slime all over Baga and the entire dressing room. And I just screamed and screamed …. My ass exploded!  We got a good shock and a laugh.

It happened again, but this time in front of his live audience, while they cowered back in order not to be drenched in silicone slime. The show had to be stopped midway to replace the stage carpet, resulting in a minor injury for the promoter who slipped his way across. Audience – beware of Jimbo’s exploding breasts. Maybe a title of another music single for Jimbo.

For Jimbo’s Drag Circus Tour, he has trained his body and he has gotten himself mentally prepared. No longer drinking or doing crazy drugs, he is hitting the road as a bona fide star. He learned that there was no room for partying or dealing with a hangover while becoming a professional drag queen, a professional artist. Career comes first. Whether he is designing, meeting fans, or starring in his circus, he is a self-diagnosed workaholic. Clearly, entertainment and art are his passions, and he is showing no signs of taking a break.

I love people. I love drag. I love my fans. I’m so grateful. I hope that people see drag for what it is and Drag Race for what it is. It’s artists, community, a spotlight. It’s a moment for people to share themselves on a scale and hope to be received and loved. And that’s all these people are looking for and hoping for everyone when they go into Drag Race is connection, hoping for community, hoping for acceptance and love. I hope that as Drag Race grows and continues to grow. And as the fandom continues to look at itself, that it just continues to try and elevate and lift itself beyond tearing each other down, and really focus on celebrating all of the energy, love and work that goes into presenting on Drag Race.

Tour info can be found at HouseofJimbo.com


[All photos courtesy of House of Jimbo]

Last modified: April 11, 2024