The Drag of the Punchline

The other night I was lucky enough to be invited with a group of friends to see a well-known drag queen at an equally well-known gay club. Having recently got in to RuPaul’s Drag Race (yes, I know I’m a latecomer) I was expecting one heck of a show.

The drag queen came on stage and let out a tumult of jokes that absolutely levelled the floor; everyone was enjoying themselves. After the introductory remarks, the drag queen moved to the main event – a dance off. Calling up members from the audience, each was greeted with their own cutting insult: the “ugly dyke,” the “bottoming faggot” and the “boring, desperate het woman.” Aside from the severe issues that I have with the word ‘faggot’ (no derogatory word for ‘homosexual’ offends me more), the fact it was said by a drag queen seemed to make this moderately acceptable. After all, is it not the purpose of a drag queen to shock and offend?

Well here I think we have found the limit. The next person to be brought up on stage was someone of Asian descent and a whole rafter of jokes spewed forth: were his parents in the beauty industry, how small his cock was etc etc. A lot of the “jokes” uttered were of a deeply racist and stereotypical nature and whilst they were taken in good jest, I still found it difficult to watch. You wouldn’t belittle someone for something they had no choice over now would you? That wouldn’t be funny at all.

After it was decreed that “none of these sissy fags can dance,” the dance off culminated with the invitation of two black men onto the stage, the rationale being that any black man can dance. As they walked up on the stage, a new barrage of racial slurs began: “last time I had a black guy this close to me, he nicked my purse,” growled the drag queen, before rattling off a whole host of other gibes and japes.

Whilst I said to the friend I was with that I thoroughly enjoyed the show, I couldn’t help but feel uneasy. I understand that, often, humour tends to work by exploiting someone or something: the forgetfulness of fish, the choice of chickens when it comes to roads or the death of a certain parrot. The “humour” that I was presented with that night however, I found of a base kind, that wouldn’t have been all that different coming from the mouth of certain comedians from the 1970s and 1980s.

In short, I would classify what I saw on that night as deeply, deeply racist, but because it came from the mouth of a drag queen, does that make it acceptable? Just because it was said by somebody who has undoubtedly been marginalised in the past, does that make it okay?

In my opinion, racism is racism. By using these stereotypes to make jokes continues to be extremely damaging to the people these stereotypes allegedly represent. They’re not outdated enough for them to be funny enough (despite the reactions from the audience on that night). Nothing exists in a vacuum and just because drag queens transcend the accepted social norms does not mean it is acceptable for them to belittle other members of society. Especially when it comes to their race.

A would like to thank E for providing the opportunity for sharpening the ideas in this post.


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