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How ‘Drag Me to Dinner’s’ Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka Assembled Their Dream Team for Dinner Party Series

The art of drag asks a lot of those who practice it. Bare minimum, you have to be a makeup artist and hairstylist who knows how to put an eye-catching outfit together — and it also really helps if you also know how to model, tell a joke, sing, dance, and sew. Hulu’s new reality (or surreality) series Drag Me to Dinner adds a few more must have skills to the job listing: cooking, decorating, hosting, and generally serving Martha Stewart eleganza extravaganza.

In Drag Me to Dinner, two teams of two legendary drag queens — so that’s 4 per episode, times 10 episodes equals 40 icons in one season! — go head to head in a competition to see who can throw the best dinner party. The queens cook and decorate as well as prepare numbers to perform for the panel of judgers (yes, they’re called “judgers” in the world of DMTD), with one pair ultimately deemed greater than the other.

If you’re wondering who came up with this madcap competition, look no further than Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka. The superstar power couple used their love of drag as a platform upon which to build a TV series with the culinary expertise of Nailed It!, the intensity of a Drag Race challenge (“Club 96!”), the comedic sensibility of Mystery Science Theater 3000‘s host interstitials, and the coherence of Pee-wee’s Playhouse. All that is to say, Harris and Burtka have created a show that is — like drag itself — weirder and more wonderful than the sum of its parts.

Decider caught up with Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka ahead of the show’s Hulu debut and got the tea on assembling their dream panel of judgers, wrangling queens in a brand new kind of competition show, and how Drag Me to Dinner is the right show for these incredibly wrong times.

Decider: What was the impetus for Drag Me to Dinner? Do y’all just have drag queens come over to host dinner parties all the time?

Burtka: It was funny — when we were doing Wig, William is one of our best friends and he is family, so he’s often over. Is he in drag? Not so much. But when we produced Wigstock 2.0 and the movie Wig, Lady Bunny would come over for dinner in full Lady Bunny outfits. So… sort of? But that wasn’t an impetus to have [Drag Me to Dinner]. I had a cookbook and I had drag queens in the cookbook, but there’s more of a reason we did this.

Harris: I will say this: we don’t always have drag queens at our parties, but every time we have a drag queen at a party, it is a better party.

Burtka: True. It’s so true. You’re so right.

Drag Me To Dinner -- “Big Bottom Big Top” - Episode 110 -- It’s a fantastical Big Bottom Big Top Carnival Dinner Party! Queens Meatball & Biqtch Puddin’ battle Heklina & Peaches Christ. Neil Patrick Harris, Bianca Del Rio, Haneefah Wood, & David Burtka star, Murray Hill hosts. Best episode by far! Bianca Del Rio, Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka, shown. (Photo by: Jeong Park/Hulu)
Photo: HULU

The host and judges — Murray Hill, Haneefah Wood, and Bianca Del Rio — have such great chemistry. How did you cast that trio?

Harris: I’ll say, when you create a show from scratch and it’s really an original idea, full stop, you assume you’re going to have to have some creative conversations where you meet in the middle of things, and you have to give in to the network or the producers —

Burtka: Or that person’s not available. Who’s your second choice?

Harris: Hulu as a partner has been so amazing. We were saying to them, “In our perfect world, we I would be a judger and it would be Bianca Del Rio, who’s probably completely unavailable, but would be amazing. And Haneefah Wood — do you know her?” And [Hulu is] like, “Yes, we love Haneefah. Yes, yes yes.” And then they said, “As a host, who would it be?” We’re like, “Well, you’re probably gonna want some male — “

Burtka: Hot Guy.

Harris: “— hot guy host person. Our favorite choice would be someone like Murray Hill.” And they’re like, “We love Murray. Yes.” We’re like, “Wait, what? Really?”

Burtka: Our dream team happened right away, no questions asked, and everybody could do it.

Drag Me To Dinner -- “Whoring 20s” - Episode 102 -- It’s a scandalous Whoring 20s Dinner Party! Queens Trinity the Tuck & BeBe Zahara Benet battle Thorgy Thor & Kiki Ball-Change. Neil Patrick Harris, Bianca Del Rio, Haneefah Wood, & David Burtka star, Murray Hill hosts. Best episode by far! Bianca Del Rio, Haneefah Wood, Murray Hill and Neil Patrick Harris, shown. (Photo by: Jeong Park/Hulu)
Photo: HULU

Harris: Even with the queens, when we were picking, we gave them the list of queens that we wanted. They said, “This is a great list.” I said, “Wait, are you — this is not how it works.”

Burtka: There were some girls who weren’t available and there were some girls we couldn’t fly in from London and stuff. But other than that —

Harris: They didn’t nix people.

Burtka: No, never.

In regards to drag, the climate around it has gone completely nuts — and that’s all happened since you filmed the show. But now Drag Me to Dinner is coming out at a time where drag is highly politicized and ignorantly vilified by conservatives. Has that changed how you view this show, or how you want it to be received?

Burtka: Honestly, I’m — I’m not grateful, but I feel like what a great time for it to come out, because it is such a great show to celebrate drag. It makes no excuses at all and it shows what it is. And I’m so proud of it. How could you be upset at this? It’s crazy!

Harris: In the seriousness of the drag conversation, I think oftentimes people don’t have points of reference. They often haven’t experienced things, and so it is a gift for me that Drag Me to Dinner is able to come out at a time when people might not understand how positive and how fun and how enjoyable these queens are and can demonstrate.

Drag Me To Dinner -- “Divorce Party” - Episode 105 -- It's a messy Divorce Dinner Party! Queens Alaska & Willam battle Latrice Royale & Manila Luzon. Neil Patrick Harris, Bianca Del Rio, Haneefah Wood, & David Burtka star, Murray Hill hosts. Best episode by far! Latrice Royale and Manila Luzon, shown. (Photo by: Jeong Park/Hulu)
Photo: HULU

And queens can do it all. We’ve seen drag queens on TV act, sing, dance, renovate motels, and now we’re seeing them host dinner parties, cook, et cetera. Compared to how well they give makeovers and do impersonations, how well do drag queens cook?

Burtka: They’re not really cooking that much. There are a few of the queens that are actually really good at cooking. Latrice Royale is fantastic, so is Pixie Aventura, fantastic in the kitchen. But the reason we wanted to do this is to show the queen’s personality, who they really are, what they really do. If they want to do a performance and they want to show what they do best, then we showcase them in that. That was the reason. It wasn’t necessarily “let’s have them cook” because it’s not really a dinner party. Let’s be honest! Everything turns out all right in the end, but we wanted to showcase who they were.

Harris: That’s not a quiet little secret. The time limit clock is its own comedy bit. The budget, the timing, all of it is kind of nonsense. When we pitched the show, we said we don’t want this to be a show that’s redundant that’s like, because these other [drag] shows are successful, we can now have them do a dinner party. We want this to be a comedy show where the people who watch these shows and drag will appreciate that we are wanting them to be a part of the sense of humor. We’re trying to honor everyone’s appreciation of drag as opposed to trying to utilize them for our own singular benefit. No agenda.

David Burtka, Jinkx, DeLa
Photo: Jeong Park/Hulu

Burtka: But that being said, they have produced their own segments, all of the queens. Like Jackie Beat and Sherry Vine came up with the idea of an exploding volcano full of cheese. And Selma Nilla and Chelsea Piers came up with loaded bases sliders. Those are all their ideas. We sort of coach them and like, maybe we do this or maybe we do that, but but they came up with all of the content. They came up with the menus, they came up with what they wanted to do. We didn’t say, “Okay, this is what you’re doing.” They decided what they wanted to do, which is great.

Harris: I think ownership and agency in a show like this is important. We didn’t want them to feel like we were asking them to come on to a show where then we would show them fail at cooking or lose in a contest.

Burtka: We wanted to celebrate them as opposed to laugh at them. We want to laugh with them.

All 10 episodes of Drag Me to Dinner are now available to stream on Hulu