Send in the Clown

After winning RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars, Jimbo is ready to take on the world, one fabulous character at a time.

Send in the Clown - YAM Magazine City Issue May/June 2024
Photo By: Fernando Cysneiros.

By David Lennam

There are clowns. And there are clowns. Let’s sort them.

Happy: Ronald McDonald.

Sad: Pagliacci.

Grouchy: Krusty.

Scary: Pennywise.

Dangerous: John Wayne Gacy.

Then there are drag clowns. And the world’s most famous is Victoria’s own Jimbo.

Since winning Season 8 of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars last summer, the name Jimbo is echoed down cobblestone streets in tiny Irish villages, joyfully announced in Bali beachfront bars and shrieked in North American living rooms full of teens.

“I literally have friends around the world,” Jimbo tells me, confidently, but without any sense of hubris. “I can walk into a café in Mexico and hear, ‘Omigod, Jimbo’s here. Sit down with me.’ Wherever there are gay people or fans of drag or Drag Race, there are people that know me. It’s so fun.”

Fun is what makes Jimbo tick. And winds up everyone who watches or gets to hang out. Infectious fun is Jimbo’s superpower.

He says people just like seeing someone who lives authentically, “someone taking chances and someone sharing what brings them true joy. A lot of people say that they feel, maybe their own sense of, ‘Oh, I can be a little bit weirder,’ or ‘Oh, I’m not so weird after all.’ ”

When you get past the impossibly cartoonish body and the supercharged flamboyance of his live-wire characters (like Joan Rivers, Shirley Temple or Casper the Baloney Ghost), Jimbo is just like Clark Kent — mild mannered. Or seemingly so when he’s being James Insell, costume and production designer, entrepreneur, community builder, the Jimbo of the he/him pronouns (his drag characters are she/her) and the soft-spoken manner. Almost shyly quiet.

“A lot of people say that,” he says laughing, “Like, ‘Oh, you’re way more chill,’ or ‘I thought you were going to be a bitch.’ ”

Confidantes, those in the inner circle, friends — OK, really, anyone who knows Jimbo — they all say two things. One, that he’s just a lovely person, who nourishes other artists, involves pals in his ventures and sets up opportunities for those around him. 

And two, that his mind’s constantly ticking. Even when he’s giving all his attention to, say, an interview, he’s probably concocting another character, another bit, another way to present
on stage or screen.

“I’m non-stop, go, go, go all the time,” says Jimbo. “I’ve basically been on tour, all around the world for three years, around the world three times. I love chaos, I love travel and work and performance.”

Performance really began when the now-41-year-old arrived in Victoria from London, Ontario, 16 years ago and, with then-partner musician Hank Pine, dove into the local arts scene, notably with Britt Small and the comedy cabaret series Atomic Vaudeville. Jimbo learned clowning from Small, and his sets and costumes were integral to projects that sprang out of AV, such as Ride The Cyclone and Rocky Horror.

Jimbo’s been called the best physical comedian Drag Race has ever seen. And that brings a smile to Small’s face.

She noticed his utter shamelessness on Day 1 of clowning class.

“There’s an audacity there and incredibly hard work. It’s remarkable just how much work it takes and Jimbo just puts his head down,” Small says.

Jimbo has acknowledged that working with Small boosted his courage and confidence to come out as gay. And look where it led — winning, basically, the Olympics of drag and creating a solid brand with House of Jimbo.

“I was very insecure and very shy and afraid of being outed and being too gay so it wasn’t really until I moved to Victoria and started working with [the duet] Hank & Lily and with Britt that I started to perform and be on stage.”

The $200,000 prize for winning Drag Race has funded Jimbo’s Drag Circus World Tour (on the road since February and in Victoria in June), billed as a fantastic, freakish tightrope-act of oddities, glamour and unpredictability that, if promoted by P.T. Barnum, would undoubtedly be known as The Weirdest Show on Earth.

Jimbo calls it a chance to take all the work, relationships and community built in Victoria over the past several years and make a splash, telling big stories the way he wants to.

“So this is kind of taking some of that stuff that people loved and fell in love with through the [TV] show and then giving it to them through a new lens, maybe introducing people to a bit of theatre, if maybe they haven’t seen theatre before, and also kind of extending the stories or the characters or the ideas introduced in the show and kind of bringing them to life and giving them a background.”

His teacher Small likes to tell Jimbo that all clowns are conduits. It’s not necessarily about the performers, it’s about the audience. And serving the community, “and trying to change the world through art and joy,” Jimbo says.

“That’s one of the biggest gifts ever is to be able to have this incredible opportunity and I’m coming back to my people and I’m saying, ‘Let’s do this together. Let’s show the world what we can do out of Victoria with this amazing collective.’ ”

And for an encore?

The put-on-hold House of Jimbo TV series based in his must-be-seen-to-be-believed, costume-filled Chinatown loft.

More from his line of fashion.

And, oh yeah, Madonna called. Something about getting together on tour.

“That could happen. Fingers crossed,” says Jimbo. Stay tuned.

Jimbo’s Drag Circus performs at Victoria’s Royal Theatre on June 12 and 13. rmts.bc.ca.