Each season of RuPaul’s Drag Race comes with recurring highlights everyone looks forward to — good lip syncs, a ball challenge, maybe a makeover or two. But there is one challenge, more than any other in the show’s history, that can make or break your performance throughout the season, and that is Snatch Game.
The rules are simple: each queen chooses a celebrity to impersonate, and they compete against one another in a Match Game spin-off where they try to write the same answers as the actual celebrity guest judges. But of course, there is only one real objective to Snatch Game, as RuPaul says every single year: “Make me laugh.”
Unfortunately for the queens of season 14, Snatch Game did not go as planned. While DeJa Skye managed to get the giggles from Ru with her spot-on Lil Jon impression, the remaining seven queens failed to impress, with RuPaul declaring that everyone would be performing in the series’ second-ever lip sync LaLaPaRuZa in the following week’s episode (Friday, March 18).
What went wrong with the Snatch Game on season 14, and what advice could the queens have used to deliver memorable performances? Billboard reached out to six former winners of the Snatch Game — Alaska, BenDeLaCreme, Bob the Drag Queen, Ginger Minj, Gottmik and Jinkx Monsoon — to get their advice on how to succeed at the Snatch Game. Below, they discuss the importance of character choice, preparation and keeping RuPaul laughing.
Alaska — Winner of All Stars 2‘s Snatch Game as Mae West
“I loved the season 14 Snatch Game — the only thing better than a really good Snatch Game is a really horrible Snatch Game. [laughs] We love to see it! I mean, the thing is, there is such a thing as trying too hard, and you can definitely overthink it, and over-prepare for Snatch Game. At the end of the day, it’s not really an impersonation challenge, it’s an improv challenge! Look, Snatch Game is really hard, and it quickly turns into a highly combustible event.
“Here is something that’s key — do not do an exact impersonation of a person. because that’s not interesting. You have to take those little catchphrases and sayings a person says, and then go ahead and one-up them. So, my Mae West, for example — Mae West never really said, ‘Why don’t you come on up and f–k me in the ass sometime,’ she said, ‘Why don’t you come on up and see me sometime.’ But that’s not really that funny, so I took it and turned it into gay sex [laughs]. So right there, it’s all about taking something like that and then being ready to switch it up. Even think of Chad Michaels as Cher — she took Cher and made her so pissed off that she was booked on this horrible, preposterous, fake game show. That’s really funny! Or Tatianna as Britney Spears — she made her a little sluttier, ditzier, and that’s why it worked!
“Honestly, horny is always good. If you have a character that constantly wants something, and is always looking to f–k somebody in that room, then you have an intention behind everything you’re doing. Like Blu Hydrangea as Austin Powers [RuPaul’s Drag Race UK vs. The World] is a great example of that.
“It’s so important to remember that it’s not really about being funny to the world — you have an audience of one human being, and his name is RuPaul. There is no studio audience, it’s all about Ru, and that comes down to your character choice. Like, are you playing a Real Housewife? Because I’ve got news for you — RuPaul doesn’t give a s–t about a Real Housewife. Ru doesn’t really give a f–k about anything that’s happened in the last 20 years of pop culture — go for the older references, go vintage!”
BenDeLaCreme — Winner of season 6’s Snatch Game as Maggie Smith & All Stars 3′s Snatch Game as Paul Lynde
“I think I thought what pretty much everybody else thought about this last particular Snatch Game, I don’t know that I have that many original opinions about it [laughs]. I was definitely experiencing a weird mix of empathy and being dumbfounded — Snatch Game is very, very hard, and I definitely feel for the girls who struggle with it, but I also am just like … ‘How did they all struggle with it this much?’ Both times I’ve done Snatch Game, I focused on preparing for that more than almost any other aspect of the competition. Like, you get your wardrobe together, and then I would be in my hotel room at night drilling my characters, and I’m very confused when people don’t do that!
“For starters, you have to pick a character you know Ru will resonate with, as well as being someone that I resonate with — I love both Maggie Smith and Paul Lynde, and if I didn’t love them, I wouldn’t be able to do anything with them. And then after that, you really gotta just know all of your references. If Ru lobs you a softball about your character, you can’t whiff on the reference. Like, when I did Paul Lynde, I made sure that I knew all of his main celebrity touchstones — who are his contemporaries that he would refer to casually? You just have to know your stuff, or she will be very disappointed.
“Sure, prepare some stuff, that’s great, but if you’re not really there with Ru in the moment, you’re not gonna give her what she’s looking for. She wants the quickness, she wants the volley, and honestly, she wants a lot of interjecting! The thing that DeJa [Skye] did super correctly is she just got in there — you’re not there to just politely play a game, it’s an improv challenge where you have to build and heighten off of everybody’s characters.
“For me at least, it’s all about rehearsal. It’s something that requires a ton of preparation — some people are naturally brilliant at improv, but for the most part, to know your character enough to stay in it, you have to practice. Once I had my characters on the table, I would just do them for an hour every night. Once Snatch Game rolls around, then I’m already super comfortable with them. When it doesn’t work is when you see the girls nervous and less confident in their characters in the moment, because it fully takes them out of the moment.”
Bob the Drag Queen — Winner of season 8’s Snatch Game as Uzo Abuda and Carol Channing
“Look, season 14 Snatch Game was bad, but also, Snatch Game is the hardest challenge on the show, so I get it. You’re doing long-form improv for an hour — you only see like 10 minutes on TV, but you’re there doing it for an hour, and staying in character for so long. I’m sure there’s plenty of girls who are not feeling super proud of the work they did on that stage, I’m not gonna lie.
“Here’s the thing, it’s not just about making RuPaul laugh. I think the biggest laugh that RuPaul had that whole time was at Angeria’s Tammie Brown, but it wasn’t because she was killing it. So it should be clarified that you’re trying to make RuPaul laugh for the right reasons. I think that if you go in thinking about just making Ru laugh, you’re ignoring how much more there is to it.
“The number one thing when it comes to Snatch Game is picking a celebrity who has a really unique voice. That can be an accent, or a tone, or some Transatlantic affectation, the voice is always key. Alaska is probably one of the best examples of picking a celebrity with a really unique voice that you can imitate, where even if you’re not doing it perfectly, people who know Mae West know who you’re doing. It doesn’t need to be perfect. Like doing Donald Trump, for example — you don’t have to actually sound like him, but the moment you start imitating him, everybody knows who you’re doing.
“You have to kind of be willing to take a little bit of a jab at the celebrity you’re impersonating. If it were a drawing, it’s a caricature. Like Chad Michaels as Cher — Cher would never call it a ‘chicken-s–t gig,’ or change wigs in the middle of the interview, but it works when it’s a caricature of the person.
“When it comes to doing stunts, it’s big risk, big reward. I think big stunts like that are really funny — Chad Michaels pulling out a new wig as Cher was really funny. I mean, me fully switching characters in my Snatch Game was pretty funny. Stacy Layne Matthews pulling out her cigarette and some chicken as Mo’Nique was really funny. But sometimes it blows up in your face — I remember Mariah Paris Balenciaga pulling out a wire hanger for Joan Crawford, and it just didn’t work.
“Snatch Game is really just about being in the moment and finding the honesty within the humor. You want to be honest, not earnest.”
Ginger Minj — Winner of season 7’s Snatch Game as Adele & All Stars 6‘s Snatch Game as Phyllis Diller
“I’ve been really busy with La Cage, but I definitely took some time to watch the Snatch Game. I really don’t know what to think … I think maybe Snatch Game has lost a little bit of its luster over the last few seasons? I certainly never thought we would get to this last week’s level. I was walking down the street in Chicago yesterday, and this girl shouts on the street at me, ‘That was the worst Snatch Game ever!’
“Every time somebody asks me, ‘I wanna audition for Drag Race,’ or ‘I just got cast on Drag Race, what should I do?’ My answer, every time, is ‘take an improv class. All it will do is teach you to listen to somebody and react.’ Because that’s all Snatch Game is! As somebody who has played it three times and won it twice, all you have to do is listen in. All of the clues to the jokes you want to tell are in what everyone else is feeding you.
“Ru loves it when you take something and you completely turn it on its head — I think one of the best examples of that was Alaska as Mae West saying, ‘Why don’t you come on up and f–k me in the ass sometime?’ It’s exactly the kind of thing Ru wants! Find stuff that’s touching on pop culture, because RuPaul is a pop culture whore who lives and breathes pop culture. If you can give her what she’s expecting from your character, but with a funny little twist, then that’s gonna what ultimately makes her laugh the most of all.
“You can only come up with a few jokes beforehand that you can just throw in, because you cannot just start hurling out punchlines if there’s no setup to them from Ru or the other girls. So with Phyllis Diller, I’d found someone who I felt like I knew enough about, and I felt like I could answer in her voice. But I also knew it wouldn’t matter whether or not I had her punchlines down and ready to go, just as long as I was being in the moment and bouncing off of everyone else.
“I would also tell the girls to stick to their guns when it comes to characters. I went into season 7 wanting to do Adele, I got to do Adele, and I won. I went into All Stars 6 wanting to do Phyllis Diller, I did Phyllis Diller, and I won. But on All Stars 2, I kind of let Ru talk me out of doing what I wanted to do, because she really wanted to see me do Tammy Faye. I had Rebel Wilson, Ross Matthews and Roseanne all there ready to go, all of whom I was ready to bring out. But I did Tammy, I think I still did fine, but I wasn’t as into it as I would have been with the other choices. So, if you’ve got three characters that you’ve invested the energy into, as long as you know enough about them to give the caricature of who they are, then listen to your gut, do that character, and just try to take the piss out of people.”
Gottmik — Winner of season 13’s Snatch Game as Paris Hilton
“Going into Drag Race, Snatch Game was the ONE challenge that I was TERRIFIED of. Every night I got back to my hotel after filming I would write down the things I knew about Paris Hilton and would just start writing jokes. Then I would practice them in the shower the next day and if they were still funny it was a keeper.
“The best way to make Ru laugh is by being yourself. This seems like bad Snatch Game advice, but in my opinion Snatch Game is YOUR parody of that person (or at least that’s what worked for me). I emphasized everything I thought was funny about Paris and combined them with expressions and jokes that I would say as Gottmik. This helped me not have to think about staying in character and just focus on having fun. If you’re laughing and having fun there is a strong chance Ru is laughing too.
“As boring as it sounds, my best advice would be to have fun. Snatch Game can be intimidating, so you want to be in a mental headspace of just laughing and having a good time with your castmates around you. Pick someone with an easily recognizable face/look/voice OR pick someone so obscure you basically get to make it up as you go, but either way dive in, get lost in the character, and have fun.”
Jinkx Monsoon — Winner of season 5’s Snatch Game as Little Edie
“I watched the latest Snatch Game, and I thought … that Snatch Game is very hard. [laughs] But it is, it feels like it’s a test of your impersonation skills, but it’s simultaneously a test of your comedic skills and improv skills. I think drag queens are superheroes, and as such, not every drag queen can have every superpower. It’s one of situations where two things can be true at once – yes, Snatch Game happens every season, but also it’s either in your skill set or it’s not, and I don’t think it should really be held against queens for whom this is not their thing.
“Picking the right character is step one, it’s the foundation of how this is all going to go. When I’m working on impressions and impersonations, I don’t touch anyone if I don’t think I can get a solid approximation on the voice. The voice, and the idiosyncrasies of the person you’re portraying are the most important. The look always should come second to that. Are you picking someone with a unique and interesting voice, and iconic enough mannerisms so that if you’re floundering with the questions, you have something funny and easy to lean on? I didn’t necessarily know how to answer every question as Little Edie, but I knew how to answer the questions with Jinkx’s comedy through the filter of Little Edie, and that’s the key.
“In my experience, what makes RuPaul laugh is deep-cut references to obscure things — that is her number one thing. And what makes her laugh the hardest is when she doesn’t get the joke initially, but then you see her piece the joke together, she realizes how funny it is, and then she loses her freaking mind. I managed to do that a couple of times, and it was very rewarding.
“I remember when dear, sweet Ivy Winters was floundering as Marilyn Monroe, I was able to jump in on her ‘politics’ question, because Little Edie and the Bouvier family were intertwined with the Kennedys. Which is actually the next, most important thing — know your character! You don’t have to know every single fact about them, but you need to know enough that you’re able to live in them for a little bit. The biggest challenge of Snatch Game is staying in character at all times — while you’re answering, while other characters are talking, while Ru is talking, the entire time. So find a character that you know a lot about, so that you can easily drop into them and stay there.”