Exclusive: One-on-One with Assaad Yacoub

Image via Alejandro Ibarra

Growing up in the Middle East with a passion for entertainment, Assaad Yacoub wanted nothing more than to follow his dreams. Little did he know he would become one of the most sought-after directors in the industry and work with some of the world’s most famous drag artists.

Yacoub has become internationally recognized for his work creating music videos for several RuPaul’s Drag Race stars including Bob the Drag Queen, Trixie Mattel, Gottmik, BeBe Zahara Benet, Aja, and many more. Despite his impressive pedigree, collaborating with these queens catapulted Yacoub to a new level.

In the wake of all his head-turning success, Yacoub released his film Cherry Pop, a bawdy, uproarious comedy about a newcomer’s wild night in a down-and-out drag club, which is currently streaming on Amazon Prime and Hulu. He has also established himself as an opinion leader and fearless activist in the LGBTQ rights movement, constantly using his platform to speak up and raise awareness.

Instinct caught up with Yacoub to ask him a few questions.

Thank you for taking some time to chat with me, Assaad! Let me begin by asking, have you always wanted to pursue a career in entertainment?

Yes. I wanted to work in entertainment ever since I was a kid, but I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. I started out as a dancer in high school, and then I did a little bit of singing, even though I wasn’t very good at it (laughs). I was in a professional team in Dubai, but I was good for Dubai in the early 2000s. Then I fell into filmmaking and was accepted to film school, but I didn’t know much about it. I quickly found out I was good at it, and that’s how it began.

Is it true that Bob the Drag Queen is how you started filming drag music videos?

Yes! “Purse First” was the first music video I professionally directed, and Bob was in my feature film Cherry Pop. He was one of my leads, and Bob and I have been friends now for 12 years. We’re very close. He was like, hey, do you do music videos? I completely lied. I was like, yeah! Later on, I told him that I lied, and he totally knew.

But it seems to have worked out for the best!

Apparently so! Bob then started recommending me to all the other queens, which is how I kept booking jobs after that point.

Working with these queens has truly catapulted your career, and you are now one of the most sought-after directors in the industry. What do you enjoy the most about collaborating with them?

It’s always fun on set because every set and each queen you work with is so different. They bring their personalities, all these crazy ideas, and they really go out there. They’re not scared, and it’s fun to work with people who aren’t scared to do crazy things on camera, which makes my work look way more interesting. I’m like, hey, why don’t we do this? They’re like, fuck yeah! I’ll say, let’s go in the middle of the desert and shoot in full drag in a coffin on the ground, and they’re ready to go. They’re down for anything, which has been a lot of fun. Being drag queens, they’re already fearless, so they aren’t scared by much.

In addition to Bob, you have worked with the likes of Aja, Trixie Mattel, Laganja Estranja, Eureka O’Hara, Peppermint, and many, many more. Out of all the videos you’ve done, is there one that is your absolute favorite?

To be fair, I don’t think I have a favorite one, but there are certain queens that I’ve worked with more, which I enjoy. Trixie, I’ve done five videos for. Aja, six. Bob, Mo Heart, Monét – I don’t have a specific video because I’ve enjoyed all the work I’ve done. All of them are special, and each video represents a moment in my life and career.

What do you find to be the most rewarding part of your work?

Reaching people who grew up in countries where they don’t have that much exposure. I grew up in the Middle East, so I wasn’t exposed to anything queer. I didn’t even know what drag was until I was 20 years old and moved to New York. My work is being shown all over the world, and people are messaging me from countries, like in the Middle East where I grew up, saying how special it is to see an out Arab directing these videos.

Image via Alejandro Ibarra

That’s been the most rewarding part, honestly. It’s been really cool to see other kids be like, oh, if you can do it, I can make it. Like, 100 percent. I moved to America and did everything by myself. If I can do it, they can definitely do it.

Is there anything in particular you hope audiences take away from your work?

I just want people to have fun. I’m a fun person, and I make sure my sets are fun, which represents my work. People shouldn’t take life too seriously. Enjoy the moment. My work is supposed to be lighthearted. I’m not changing the world with a drag video. Well, technically I am, but that’s not the point (laughs). I just want people to enjoy it and have a good time.

Is there a queen you would love to work with but have not had the chance to do so yet?

Does RuPaul count? I think I have worked with all the top girls at this point, so RuPaul would be the only one left.

You mentioned Cherry Pop a moment ago, your 2017 debut film that received critical acclaim. Can we expect any more film projects in the future?

I don’t have a feature lined up right now. That has kind of been placed on the backburner because the music videos have been keeping me so busy, but I would like to do another movie at some point. I’m open to it.

What are some upcoming music videos we should be on the lookout for right now?

I have one with Bob the Drag Queen coming out soon. I don’t know the date yet, but it’s coming. It’s for his song “Bitch Like Me,” and I have a few others that I can’t talk about just yet.

You have also established yourself as an LGBTQ rights activist. How will you continue to use your platform to speak up and raise awareness?

The main organization I work with is Outfest. I work with them very closely, and I’ve mentored for their Outset program, where we get LGBTQ youth and make movies with them. I will continue to do that. I have had some students in my class who have been homeless on the street, while others come from good families.

I’ve mentored LGBTQ youth from all walks of life, and it’s very rewarding. I enjoy the program a lot, and I’ve become close friends with some of my mentees. I continue to mentor them after the program, talk to them about their careers, and give them advice. That’s one of the biggest ways I’ve helped our community and given back.

What are some future goals you hope to accomplish with your career?

One would be to direct higher budget videos for artists like Cardi B or Nicki Minaj. That level would be the next step I would want to go with. Also, I have a TV pilot that I’ve written with my co-writer, and we have the Bible ready, so I want to start pitching that. I do have a YouTube show called Yum in my Tum that I filmed 11 episodes for already with Bob the Drag Queen, Monét, huge TikTokers, and it’s basically a show where I interview famous queer people while we eat extreme foods.

I’ve done some crazy shit (laughs). I’ve eaten pig blood, chicken feet, chicken heads, and everyone was so gung-ho about doing it, so it’s been a lot of fun. I’ve gotten Bob to eat chicken feet, chicken skin, intestines – we went all out. I’m going to release the first episode soon, but I’m also pitching if people are interested in buying it.

Before we wrap up, are there any other upcoming projects or anything else you would like to mention or plug?

Right now, I really want to work on getting Yum in my Tum out there. Hopefully the name works because it’s too late at this point!

Stay up-to-date and connect with Yacoub by following him on Instagram or visit his official website.


 

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