Jackie Beat: America’s Perennial Drag Superstar

I have spoken at great length about my love of RuPaul’s Drag Race, but as gay America prepares to crown its next drag superstar, I thought it would be sporting to take a moment to honor America’s perennial drag superstar. No, I’m not talking about RuPaul, treasure that she is. I am referring to the foremost aesthetic auteur in the drag community that has left an indelible mark on the hearts, minds and mugs of nearly every drag queen that has walked the glittering runway of RuPaul’s Drag Race. I refer to none other than the world’s biggest bitch, Miss Jackie Beat.

For 25 years strong Jackie Beat has reigned as the most hilarious, most outrageous and arguably most influential drag queen on Earth. She is well known for her twisted humor, having set the standard for nearly every comedy queen that has come after her, but I would argue that Jackie Beat deserves far more credit than she receives. Aside from being one of the greatest drag comedians ever, I believe that Jackie Beat has done just as much to cultivate the cultural palettes of gay America as RuPaul has. Like RuPaul, Jackie Beat is a direct aesthetic descendent of Divine and, also like RuPaul, Jackie Beat formulated her character within the now nearly extinct gay underground. But while RuPaul has risen out of the underground, Jackie Beat has retained a connection to it. Though she will never be as sheerly iconic as RuPaul is, she is still just as influential, and her ability to remain just under the cultural radar has allowed her to reach artistic heights that RuPaul couldn’t.

There are those who will disagree with me, but to them I must point out that nearly everything that has been done on Drag Race was either pioneered or perfected by Jackie Beat. Before Sharon Needles was hailing Satan, Jackie Beat was channeling her. Before Willam Belli was haughtily waiving her SAG card, Jackie Beat was acting on Sex and the City and sharing the stage with Roseanne Barr. Before Mimi Imfurst was belting out song parodies, Jackie had mastered the art. Before there was an entire half-drag challenge on Drag Race, Jackie had perfected the look. Hell, even Bianca Del Rio owes Jackie a debt of gratitude, as Jackie Beat was cultivating and refining insult drag while Bianca was just a little Cajun faggette. This isn’t to take anything away from the contestants on RuPaul’s Drag Race. The new queens from Drag Race are extending and extrapolating on the example set for them by elder queens like Jackie Beat. I aim to take nothing away from them, as they are all deserving of their accolades, however it’s difficult to discuss their art without in some way mentioning Jackie Beat. That’s the thing. Jackie Beat is simply that influential and far too few people realize it.

Those that know Jackie Beat know her for her incredible song parodies. No other performer of any comedic genre has demonstrated the absolute mastery of musical parody that Jackie Beat has. She has simply conquered the genre and no one will ever match her. For the benefit of the uninitiated, start with Baby Got Front, move on to Filthy Whore and Beaver, then proceed to her impeccable Christmas material. Jackie Beat tours nationally with her Christmas show every year and her performances regularly sell out. Her sick and twisted version of Santa Baby is a timeless tasteless epic that has come to be played regularly as a Christmas time classic amongst irreverent queers. What’s even more astonishing is that Beat can reliably entertain with even the most absurd scenarios. Take her Katy Perry parody I Kissed a Squirrel. Beat’s ability to draw magic out of such a paper thin premise is unmatched. Her creativity shows seemingly limitless depths and it’s truly astonishing.

From her artistic foremother Divine, Jackie Beat inherited a deep appreciation for that which is generally considered to be crude and tasteless. Case in point, her epic 18-minute 80’s melody that takes the already classless song parody genre to stunning new lows. If I had to pick a favorite Jackie Beat song parody, I’d have to go with her deeply inspired take on Mary J. Blige’s No More Drama. Everything about this is art. Beat is quick to note that comedy is above all hard work, and this performance shows that perfectly. She’s one hundred percent committed from beginning to end, collapsing to the ground in the finale. A lot of queens do parodies, but Jackie Beat is no mere Sherry Vine or Hedda Lettuce. Beat’s the real deal. Why else would throngs of regional drag queens regularly lip sync to her material? There are many small time queens who exclusively perform to her parodies. Some even lip sync her stand-up and onstage banter. Many queens have admirers, a few have imitators, but no other queen can boast the same impressive roster of Regional Krustys that Beat can. The bitch should start a clown college.

What makes Beat’s humor particularly satisfying is that she uses her platform to actually say something. Beat doesn’t just entertain her audiences, she provokes them and never hesitates to challenge her predominantly gay audience. On the topic of gay assimilation, Beat famously opined, “Mainstream acceptance is the worst thing to ever happen to the gay community. Congratulations, faggot. Now you’re boring!” Gays these days are, like the rest of drab society, chained to their smart phones and are conditioning to think of drag as background bar entertainment. Jackie Beat does not suffer texters gladly. Do not let her catch you texting during her show. Regarding this she has memorably quipped, “I hate it when people text during the show. I was performing the other night and I was like, ‘Please stop texting while I’m performing!’ and the girl in the audience was like, ‘For your information, I’m texting my friend about how fabulous you are.’ I was like, ‘Great, that’s like telling a kid I’m only molesting you because you’re adorable.’ ”

More than any other drag queen working today, Jackie Beat represents the power of voice. That can be taken literally, as Beat is a phenomenal vocalist. (Take her parody of Diamonds Are Forever where Beat matches every formidable note of the Shirley Bassey original as proof of this.) But Beat goes beyond that. Jackie Beat has been very open about her distaste for the ubiquitous lip synching that dominates present day drag and she has set an example to inspire her contemporaries to rock the mic as well as the catwalk. Furthermore Beat has used her platform to convey a message with her trademark filth. Throughout her career Jackie Beat has challenged complacency within the gay community. Most drag queens live in slavish devotion to divas like Madonna and Lady Gaga, but Beat has encouraged the gay community to support themselves and not pander for external accolades. She has spoken out against the legacy of gay bullying long before it became the sloppy saccharine cliché that it is today and she has encouraged drag queens to conduct themselves as legitimate entertainers and not just fashion models pantomiming pop hits. Drag Race has injected a bit of this rebellious spirit into the mainstream via queens like Mimi Imfurst and Sharon Needles, but the genesis of this spirit came straight from the overdrawn lips of Miss Jackie Beat.

Creating original music has become the latest craze within the drag community. This trend is largely attributable to RuPaul’s extraordinary legacy as a purveyor of incredible dance jams, but Jackie Beat’s original music is equally inspired. Too few people know about Beat’s electroclash band Dirty Sanchez. Performing alongside nightclub impresario Mario Diaz with beats by DJ Barbeau, Dirty Sanchez is an electrosexual homage to the type of glorious hedonism that pervaded the gay community before its tidy marriage equality reinvention. Tracks like Dig It, Give Head & Be Beautiful and Fucking on the Dance Floor are classic electroclash jams that will live on in the playlists of discerning DJs for years to come. There have been a few quality cuts from the new breed of drag queens, but enterprising queens would be better off turning to Dirty Sanchez (see also: Toilet Boys, Pansy Division and Jobriath) for inspiration rather than providing yet another reiteration of Supermodel.

If there is ever a Metropolitan Museum of Faggotry, it should prominently feature the work of Jackie Beat. While keen viewers will be able to decipher hints of RuPaul’s punk roots in her current work, Jackie Beat is perhaps the most punk queen of all time. Herein lies her enduring relevancy. If I was curating an exhibit of Jackie Beat’s work, I would name the exhibit The Resistance. How did we get from Divine’s punk rabblerousing in the 70’s to the mainstream penetration by drag today? Drag can still be plenty rebellious, but there seems to be a missing link from drag’s punk conception to the firm niche it presently enjoys in the mainstream today. Jackie Beat’s work is the essential missing aesthetic link between Divine’s seminal early art and current mainstream gay acceptance. Beat’s work embodies the rock and roll rebel spirit of the gay underground in all its filthy glory. This is why it needs to be preserved, however it can. Beyond that, Jackie Beat presents a yet unmatched standard of professionalism, creativity and excellence. She is our George Carlin. She is our Joan Rivers. Hell, she even wrote for Joan Rivers, that’s how extraordinary she is. Jackie Beat’s work is proof that gay themes by gay comedians can be the artistic equivalents in quality of their much more famous straight peers.

As someone who appreciates contemporary drag, I would like to thank Jackie Beat for doing so much to influence it. Every single comedy queen on RuPaul’s Drag Race, and a great many of them who don’t do comedy, are direct artistic descendants of Jackie Beat. They crawled out of her cavernous pussy, swathed in rhinestones and mucus, and grew into the fierce queens that they are today. Of course RuPaul deserves a great deal of credit for giving today’s young queens a platform, but may we never forget that today’s legendary children share an essential artistic link with both Mother Ru and Miss Jackie Beat.

While Beat is still actively gigging, recent years have seen Beat concentrating her talents on comedy writing. A proud member of the Writers Guild, she has written for Joan Rivers on Fashion Police and Ross Matthews on Hello Ross in addition to writing for other acclaimed comedians like Roseanne Barr and Rosie O’Donnell. It’s only a matter of time before her writing talents are snatched up and she spends less time touring. Jackie Beat may be a goddess, but even goddesses don’t gig forever. If you’re a student of drag or a student of comedy, do yourself a huge favor and catch Jackie Beat live before she retires from the stage, leaving it forever empty in her wake.

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