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“It wasn’t until I was 15 that I discovered I was funny”: Drag performer Jimbo on winning RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars

Before Jimbo, a.k.a. James Insell, was an internationally celebrated drag clown and Drag Race fan favourite, she was a shy queer kid growing up in London, Ontario

“It wasn’t until I was 15 that I discovered I was funny”: Drag performer Jimbo on winning RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars
Photo courtesy of Paramount+

RuPaul’s Drag Race is the biggest televised platform for drag artists in the world, and while it’s now spawned more than 15 international franchises in countries like Canada, Thailand and France, the American versions of the series still get the biggest spotlight. Since its inception in 2009, a few Canadian drag queens have tried to snatch an elusive American crown, and all have failed—until now. On July 21, Jimbo, a.k.a. James Insell, the Victoria-based drag clown and perennial fan favourite, won Drag Race All Stars, a version of the American franchise that sees queens from previous seasons return to compete against one another. Now, not only has Jimbo broken Canada’s curse, she’s also earned herself $200,000 in prize money. But, before she was an internationally celebrated drag artist, Jimbo was a shy kid growing up in London, Ontario. Here, she tells us about the moment she realized she was funny, her biology degree from Western and what she plans to do with all that cash.


Congratulations are in order—How does it feel to be the first Canadian to win an American Drag Race franchise? Surreal. It’s something I dreamed about. I can’t believe I actually won.

Not even Brooke Lynn Hytes, arguably one of Canada’s most famous queens, has managed that. Have you called her to brag? She phoned me! She’s so sweet. I’ve been a fan of hers for years, and we’ve toured together. Brooke Lynn is so supportive and sort of a mentor to me, so she was over the moon.

I’ll admit, I was surprised to learn that you were from London. What’s it like for a burgeoning drag clown to grow up in Ontario? I definitely didn’t fit in. I grew up in a conservative neighbourhood up in Windermere, and there wasn’t much of a gay scene. I basically had to leave in order to find my people and figure myself out. But nowadays, when I visit, I’m always happy to see how much the queer scene there has grown. I would have loved to have that growing up.

Were there early indications that you’d go on to pursue drag and comedy? Roles in school plays perhaps? I wanted to audition for school plays, but I was so awkward—really effeminate and shy. I tended to take up as little room as possible because, as someone who wasn’t a straight boy, I didn’t really know how I was supposed to act.

So you weren’t the class clown type? For a long time, no. I was kind of an outcast and didn’t have a lot of friends. But then I have this strong memory of being on my school bus when I was around 15. I made some jokes, and people laughed. It was a turning point—suddenly, people wanted me to sit with them on the bus. I remember being like, Okay, I can use my sense of humour to make friends. And that was how it all started.

Your drag persona is a riff on “bimbo,” but back in the day you studied biology at Western. How did that happen? It’s partially just that I’m curious about nature and how things work. But also my dad is a microbiologist and environmental scientist, so there was pressure to follow in his footsteps. When I was in high school, I started gravitating toward theatre, drama and writing—all the creative things. But, when my dad found out, he called my school and changed all my subjects to science and math. He said he wouldn’t pay for any education unless it was science-based. So I ended up going to university for biology. It was amazing, but I left it behind as soon as I graduated.

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Do you ever break out the microscope these days? Ha, no. But I think that, the more you know about the science behind everyday life, the more appreciation you have for the environment and your own footprint, which is never a bad thing.

Jimbo while filing an interview with RuPaul on Drag Race All Stars season 8
Photo courtesy of Paramount+

After graduation, you moved to Victoria and pursued costume and production design. What kind of projects did you work on? I worked in theatre. I did a play called Ride the Cyclone, which went on to do an off-Broadway run and tour. It’s really big on TikTok now, actually. And then I did some films—some Hallmark stuff—and I made costumes for dogs and cats in the Air Bud series.

I came across a picture of you in Victoria wearing your now-iconic cowboy shirt, which you’ve worn in all of your three Drag Race appearances. Where did it come from? I got it in this old antique shop in New Orleans. It was hanging up in the rafters, and it looked so magical to me. I assumed it was going to be insanely expensive and too special for me to have, but when I asked about it, the guy was like, “Oh, that old thing? It’s 10 bucks.” That day, every single person in New Orleans stopped me and was like, “That shirt is amazing. Can I buy that shirt?” I said, “No, this is my lucky shirt.” And ever since then it has been.

When did you come up with the name Jimbo? Well, my birth name is James, and Jim was what my dad called me. Jimbo was a nickname. When I applied to Canada’s Drag Race, which was my first time being on Drag Race, I thought about picking a punny name. Ultimately, I stuck with Jimbo because it felt more natural.

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I have to ask: What’s the story behind your infamous baloney-throwing act? It reappeared this season. As a kid, I was never allowed to play with food, so there’s something rebellious about being able to take a food item and throw it around. Plus baloney is ridiculous. It’s more like a thing than a food, you know? There’s just so many ways to use it—you can throw it like a Frisbee, bite holes in it and make a mask, wear it as a hat. That’s part of the appeal.

This recent turn on All Stars was your third run at a Drag Race crown—you first appeared on Canada’s Drag Race, and then on UK Versus the World. Did you do anything differently this time? Yeah, I won!

Ha, fair enough. But, really, I wanted to show a bit more of who I am in real life—calm, positive, supportive. It’s easy to get into competition mode when you’re exhausted and fighting and in drag. It can get a bit spicy, and you don’t always act your best. I wanted to show people that I’m more of a lover.

So the competitive aspect doesn’t come easily to you? Oh, no, I’m naturally competitive.

Jimbo performing an original song in the finale of RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars
Photo courtesy of Paramount+

Drag Race is known for filming alternate endings so that the contestants don’t find out who won until they’re watching it live. Where did you watch the finale? I was with the other finalist, Kandy Muse, in New York. You can watch it on YouTube, actually. I was ready to be happy for Kandy and to celebrate her, but I was also ready to have an absolute meltdown if I lost. I’m so glad it happened the way it did.

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Now that you’ve got a crown, what’s next for Jimbo? I’m planning a drag cruise with a few other Drag Race alumni, including Heidi N Closet and Jessica Wild. Guests will be able to try drag themselves, watch us perform and generally just party and have a great time. I’m about to go on my own North American tour, which will stop in 56 cities. And then I’m hosting a talk show called My Special Show, where I’ll be interviewing celebrities like Charo and Dustin Milligan from Schitt’s Creek.

Any big plans for your prize money? I’m planning to buy a house on Vancouver Island. It’s very expensive to own land there, and as a starving artist, I always thought home ownership would be an unattainable dream. I’ve very excited.

Speaking of expensive real estate, you were in Toronto for Pride last month. Have you spent much time in the city? Absolutely. Growing up in London, I came in all the time. These days I’m in town at least once a year. I love Toronto. Unsurprisingly, I tend to spend a lot of time on Church Street. I like how you can just bounce from one place to the next and have a little choose-your-own-adventure night.

Earlier this month, there were protests against a drag story time in your hometown. Any words for the haters? I think we live in a time when people are looking to be incensed about something. I hope that everyone just realizes that someone needs to read to these goddamn kids. And if the straight people won’t do it, then the gay people will.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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