Enchanting. Enlightening. Retrospective. Inquisitive. Whimsically Volatile.
A collection of adjectives, which here describe the podcast currently being produced by two-time RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant and fan favourite Katya (aka Brian McCook), and his long-time friend, fellow Bostonian Craig MacNeill. Fortunately, the last two of these descriptors happen to form the name of this podcast, which has been released in weekly episodes since mid-2018, and a multitude of further content for those who are lucky enough to subscribe to the podcast on Patreon. I must admit that being a top-tier patron has its advantages; however, the sheer volume of content that this duo produces for this project is so exponential that I have yet myself to be able to engage with all of the material. It is therefore by no means, through writing this article, that I claim to be an expert in Whimsically Volatile studies, but as a huge fan of the podcast, I feel like Jasmine Masters: in that I have something to say (and BY THE WAY did you know that she’s an upcoming GUEST?!).
But HOLD UP! Who exactly IS this Craig fellow?
Of course, the readers of DragAdventures will probably be familiar with who Katya/Brian is, but perhaps a small introduction to Craig is in order to enlighten as to the wonderfulness of our favourite Russian hooker’s co-host. Craig MacNeil rather a jack of all trades! A DJ and an online content creator, producer and editor, MacNeil is known for working with the likes of Jake Shears of the Scissor Sisters. Craig is also the founder of Videodrome Discothèque, which is described on his Tumblr bio as ‘an audio/visual dance night combining vintage pop and dance music with video montages of the highlights and lowlights of pop-culture past!’ This sounds to be a utopian cornucopia of queer culture – and a quick google image search, scroll through the Videodrome Discothèque social media pages or the viewing of the viral video MacNeil created for the song ‘Let’s Have a Kiki’ by the Scissor Sisters will prove that this is the correct description for the nights MacNeil organises, and indeed his depth of knowledge into the queer cultural pool.
He seems to have an appreciation and knack for preserving retro-campiness that often goes underappreciated or, more tragically, that falls into the hands of those who try to remake/replicate it while improving it by today’s standards (often to the detriment of the original piece/concept). Susan Sontag’s ‘Notes of Camp’ could be ticked off like a check-list while describing how nuanced MacNeil’s taste and depth of knowledge is, and it is unsurprising therefore that he and Katya would be perfect bedfellows to host this podcast together. I think I speak on behalf of a large majority of our readers when I say that some of the most weirdly specific yet also utterly bizarrely crazy melting-pot drag performances I have ever seen have come from the mind of Brian McCook as Katya Zamolodchikova: some of the most beautiful bonkers-ness was originally performed at Videodrome (and by that I mean problem pattern leotards, painfully bright colours, gymnastics extravaganza and an extra pair of arms).
Bearing All: Seriousness, Existentialism, and Laughter
Cup of tea at the ready, I’m ready for whatever topic the dynamic duo and whoever their fabulous guest that week happens to throw at me. Of course, the conversation can be quite disarming at times, and I find myself having to set time aside to properly listen to every element of discussion.
As is the nature of a good and interesting podcast, both Craig and Brian draw from their real-life experience to speak on a series of matters, from the mundane to the deep and meaningful. Many of the topics dealt with in the podcast are not so light and feathery as some may be used to with other mediums of drag entertainment, and therefore certain episodes are not what can be described as an ‘easy listen’. In particular, the pilot episode, which contains quite a detailed discussion about Brian’s experiences during his hiatus from his work in drag, on social media and as a public figure, in general, earlier this year. From the perspective of someone who appreciates Brian McCook as their hero, I personally find it difficult to hear each detail of his struggle laid before me from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.
Even still, it is with laughter and matter-of-factness that still astounds me that Brian speaks of his demons and his journey in overcoming them. In that line, Whimsically Volatile is nothing if not both existential and funny. Perhaps I am biased, owing to my love for all things niche, retro and scatological, but I find the weirdly specific dark-humour featured constantly in this podcast a true delight. The fact that every moment, no matter how serious or grim, of the podcast is always peppered with a degree of humour (whether it be sophisticated and nuanced story-weaving or cute anecdotal side-tracks or poo-jokes-realness), any darkness that is dealt with conversationally on the show is always lightened up 30 seconds later in a laugh-out-loud kind of way (and I seriously have laughed obnoxiously loudly on the bus while listening to this podcast, too many times more than I can count!).
Special guest episodes make for an exciting treat in the Whimsically Volatile world. Interestingness and inspiration combine to create the humans who are invited to participate as guests in the podcast. Be it fellow Drag Race alums, or veteran members of the drag scene, or real, life rock-stars, or sex-workers and porn-stars: there is something for everyone to enjoy. The guests on this podcast seem hand-picked to share their individual stories and unique lessons, which all have a common thread, it seems: that of humanity, doing one’s best, and loving oneself and others.
A guest I personally found quite interesting was Michael Des Barres, who spoke in depth in order to demystify the seemingly glamorous rockstar/movie-star lifestyle. His descriptions of his experiences getting clean from drugs, of groupies who became wives and of understanding what is truly important sparked some really interesting discussion and advice shared between him and our wonderful hosts. Veteran drag entertainer Lady Bunny also made a rather intriguing appearance in the podcast: for me, her rapport with Katya is a perpetual treat to listen to and her stories reach a new level of hilarity. Deven Green’s two appearances on the show have meant I have immediately dropped everything in my day in order to listen to the beauty and delight of the lovely relationship she and Katya share through their kindred, kookie humour.
The latest episode featuring Miss Green was particularly amusing to me, the contrast between the depressing, morose song choices of herself, Katya and Craig to cover (accompanied by Deven herself on ukulele) and their manic laughter reducing me to teary-eyed laughter that interrupted my day in random bursts long after I had finished listening to the podcast. And, lest I forget: the wonderful, public reestablishment of friendship between Trixie Mattel and Katya Zamolodchikova. The much-awaited NYC Dragcon reunion of Trixie and Katya was preceded by Trixie’s wonderful interview on the podcast, in which she waxed poetic about the importance of her friendship with Katya and the love of the work the two are capable of producing together. The fans, shortly following this (at Dragcon, in fact) were blessed with the news about the return of the much-beloved web series UNHhhh: a long-awaited and very welcome surprise.
From Lady Bunny to Thunderbunz
It is no surprise that the imagination is set ablaze by the madness of the stories exchanged between McCook and MacNeil: in my dreams at night I see scorpions scurrying away under rocks to avoid being hunted, strange individuals sidling up to me outside movie theatres to ask for a cigarette, large tubs of ice-cream flavoured like human guts and cherry sauce. But frequently, these nights, I dream of hotdogs. A recurring theme, particularly for the patreon subscribers among us listeners of Whimsically Volatile is, for some reason, food…and specifically hotdogs. Hotdogs, nestled among their thunderbunz, are gloriously reserved for patrons of the podcast, fondly known by the hosts as ‘Hotdog club’: a myriad of other wonders awaits those who are members of the Hotdog Club. Obvious bonus material such as listener questions episodes with special guests and extra podcast episodes are a few of the privileges Hotdog Club members exclusively enjoy, with the added bonus of being enrolled into ‘Movie Club’.
Again delving into the depths of the two’s collective encyclopedic knowledge of the popular and obscure alike, the selection of movies which have thus far been offered to Movie Club subscribers for viewing and appraisal has, while small, been a dynamic and varied, keeping us guessing as to what is to come next. Following an allotted period of viewing time for each film, during which many listeners submit questions and comments regarding the film, the duo sit down and answer/address questions and issues raised about the material viewed, as well as giving their two cents. My favourite Movie Club episode still has to be the one on Dario Argento’s suspenseful and artistic masterpiece, Suspiria (1977) (I have been repeating the phrase ‘My compliments’ alla Madam Blanc obsessively for many weeks and it is THIS EPISODE’S FAULT ALONE!).
For many Whimsically Volatile fans, including me, the content of this podcast has inspired a change of life or a better understanding of the self and one’s own personal journey. However, whether you are merely a casual listener or a diehard fan, there is something we all can take from it. This is a podcast for anyone, but NOT for everyone (some would merely not understand the rhizomes of quasi-insane discussion that certainly knows no bounds). Yet, that being said, if you’re one of those people in the drag community (or even outside of it) who feel a bit frightened of trying something a little more high-brow (at times), please do not fear. There is a level of accessibility for each listener, and I guarantee, no matter who you are, you will take something away from the conversations between these two gentlemen, their guest stars, and will eventually feel quite at home too in the sonic encapsulation of the Hotdog Club’s ‘Thunderbunz’.
Be sure to follow Whimsically Volatile on Instagram and of course listen to their podcast which is live weekly.
Written by Contributor Frilly, read all her previous articles here