The Fakeness

A red carpet gala, properly executed, is a high drama sweepstakes of art and fashion.  Sadly, ever since the late, great Joan Rivers departed this world, red carpet events have returned to their former grim tedium.  If you are anything like me, you yearn for those four magical words, “Who are you wearing?” to be rasped at a terrified dilettante in borrowed Galliano.  Fat chance.  You can’t even say that half the time for fear of offending the fair maidens attending these dreary premiers.  What a world.

For a brief glamorous moment, the queens at the season 8 finale of Rupaul’s Drag Race resuscitated this dying art through the glorious bitchcraft of drag.  In honor of Joan River’s sterling example, I will call these looks in my typical cruel manner, all while grading them on a ten point scale.  Enjoy.

Kennedy Davenport

We’ve all tried to salvage a Dollar Beauty mishap, but such a monstrosity has no place on the red carpet.  The abdominal cut away strains good taste and basic decency all while giving new meaning to the term “raggedy.”  I appreciate the vintage Divine hairline but the gesture’s wasted on a mangled glitter tracksuit.  2/10

Honey Mahogany

A Dorothy Zbornak inspired mastodon motif shows both ambition and taste, but the execution fails dismally.  The hair recalls a failed perm while the seemingly endless layers are just mystifying.  What was she trying to hide?  Unless a hobbit comes out of that robe, I’m calling this a fail. 3/10

Madame LaQueer

What’s the point of wearing soggy selections from Hot Topic at an event attended by Laila McQueen?  That’s just redundant.  3/10

Laila McQueen

Dear God, those shoes.  Will someone please get her a Payless gift card? 4/10

Detox Icunt

I’m getting 90′s TV starlet channeling 50′s movie star.  It’s all a bit too 90210 for me.  Pass. 5/10

Stacey Layne Matthews

How do you salvage a failed dress?  Slap a couple of swollen nuts on the shoulder.  Typical brilliance from the true winner of Season 3.  7/10

Tatianna

Mob wife realness!  I will gladly swim with her fishes. 8/10

Alaska Thunderfuck

The delicate, fawn-like beauty of this ensemble is particularly impressive given that its model consistently looks like a horse.  The exquisite cinching channels shades of Twiggy while the hanky (code) motif recalls all those blissful nights of years gone by. 9/10

Derrick Barry

Redemption at last!  The high arched brows take this look past a mere Britney illusion into a far more glamorous porn-star-parody Britney illusion.  A square jaw set against arched brows is the surest path to glamour. 9/10

India Ferrah

This is what Jocelyn Wildenstein will be buried in. 9/10

Dax ExclamationPoint

In a spectacular act of contrition, this heavenly look atones for the lip sync disaster that banished her to drag hell.  Astonishing.  9.9/10

Katya Zamolodchikova

What do you get when you cross cocaine-era Stevie Nicks with Ghost-era Whoopi Goldberg?  Sheer perfection.  Brava, well done! 10/10

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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.

An Ode to Joan: The World’s Finest Cunt

By virtue of being a gay man who exists in the world, I was deeply moved, profoundly inspired, and endlessly entertained by Joan Rivers.  Her voice sounded like it took two loads and three shots of Jack all at the same time.  Her face was an eerie amalgam of flesh, plastic and collagen.  Her wardrobe dripped in a bizarre mash-up of designer clothing and QVC jewelry.  All of this framed and adorned one of the most blessedly filthy mouths that has ever graced the Earth.  Yes, Joan was an absolute original.

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She’s gone now having ascended to heaven to hold court with the departed spirits of Lenny Bruce and Robin Williams.  I like to think that she’s doing the wheelbarrow with Andy Kaufman right now.  She will be forever missed.

Rather than crying over a corpse, I think it would be far more sporting to take a moment to reflect on just how truly unique and special she was.   Though Joan has inspired and informed countless lady comics during her half-century-long career, there can be no inheritors to her kingdom.  There was Joan and only Joan.  And so it will always be.

Joan Rivers was always a lady, even when she was being a foul mouthed cunt.  See, Joan Rivers was never influenced by modern day feminism.  She helped create modern day feminism.  Joan started her career before the National Organization for Women even existed.  Joan Rivers wasted no time brandishing rhetoric or marching with picket signs.  Rather than endlessly talking about women’s equality, Joan Rivers embodied women’s equality.  There was no template for her comedy.  There was no women’s group congratulating her for working twice as hard as her male peers.  Joan Rivers had to be so visionary as to create her own template, her own genre of comedy.  This was an awe inspiring testament to an indomitable will.  Despite all the flattery that has poured out after her passing, we still have not truly comprehended the awesome breadth and scope of her accomplishments.  She was the ultimate feminist and she accomplished everything without ever once brandishing a single academic buzzword or tired liberal platitude.  Her actions spoke infinitely louder than academic jargon ever could.

Despite her herculean efforts to demonstrate, not articulate but demonstrate, women’s equality, Joan frequently found herself at odds with feminism throughout her career.  The main reason why another female comic will never truly inhabit Joan’s realm is that they are all invariably influenced in some way by feminism.  Feminism was and remains a hugely important social movement, but like all political movements it is hopelessly awash in stigma and dogma.  Feminism works to reaffirm social and political identities; comedy, at its core, works to destroy them.

Comedy serves no master.  It’s commonplace for most contemporary artists to pander in some way to the tenets of liberalism, but art and politics have never had a happy marriage.  Most political movements are built in some way on an idealized version of the people who created them.  It works chiefly for self-perpetuation and by doing so, invariably compromises its sagacity.  Feminism and its sister LGBT political movements are no different.  The bedrock of Joan’s humor was the delivery of unpleasant truths.  A careful examination of Joan’s humor reveals a view of gender as a few immutable truths compounded by a hell of a lot of bullshit.  One gets the impression that as much as things change, they stay just as much the same.  If you’re the type of person who agitates for hope and change, it’s rather inconvenient to be reminded of that.

Upon her passing, Andrea James noted, “Now that Joan Rivers has died, we should retire the word ‘comedienne’ in her honor. She was the last one. Every female comic since is simply a comedian.”  I think this is very true.  Some feminists criticized Rivers for what was perceived to be an endorsement of compulsory femininity.  There is a sense that Joan felt that, on some level, men would always be men and women would always be women.  Joan was a product of her time.  She never altered her act to endorse the long fashionable belief that gender was entirely a cruel social construct.  Had she compromised herself and her humor, she would have stopped being Joan.  Thank God she was such a stubborn bitch.

There was a sense among many that Joan was mean.  There were even laughable assertions of misogyny.  Joan Rivers has done more for women’s equality than all of her activist detractors put together.  Joan Rivers nearly single handedly created a template that all bawdy funny ladies in some way work from.  The woman was making abortion jokes long before Amy Schumer made it passé …and in the 60’s, no less!  The balls.  The absolute fucking balls.  It’s still so hard to believe that she did it.  Joan mocked everything.  Everything.  And she proved just how profoundly healing that could be.  Joan recognized that suppressing things gave it their power.  Joan showed us how comedy could empower and heal.  This was an essential cornerstone to her work and a precious gift to her audience.

Yet still she was derided as backwards and mean.  Jennifer Lawrence provided a typically uncritical analysis of Joan’s work when she criticized her popular TV show Fashion Police for contributing to a hostile social environment for women.  Lawrence was, for a brief time, hailed as a feminist hero for calling out lookism, sizeism and sexism in her industry.  I call it bullshit.  Of course Fashion Police was mean.  Of course Fashion Police was misogynistic.  Fashion Police was all these things because the world is mean and the world is misogynistic.  Fashion Police had the nerve to treat the industry as it was.  Any celebrity who decries lookism in their industry while simultaneously benefitting from it is a twit.  Joan Rivers was not mocking common women for having the audacity to appear gauche or gain weight.  Rather Joan Rivers made a career out of calling out the world’s most cosseted and privileged people.  The beautiful people featured on Fashion Police all made a killing out of pandering to the whims of a shallow, stupid industry.  These people were playing a game, pure and simple.  That’s all it ever was and Joan intimately knew that from her decades-long time within it.  It would be far more pernicious to pretend that the industry was, or could ever be, anything different.  Joan had no interest in entertaining the preposterous notion that these people aren’t benefiting from the same twisted social mores that they professed to decry.  Cutting a Kristie Alley fat joke from Fashion Police would have no effect on the social realities that created and perpetuate sizeism.  Joan’s jokes were a way of calling attention to the world as it really is, savage and cruel, and humor is our greatest weapon for surviving such a world.

For Joan, jokes were jokes.  They were reflections of an absurd world and she adamantly refused to apologize for them.  Joan started to gain the ire of an increasingly hyper sensitized LGBT community towards the end of her career.  This is a sad irony as Joan was one of the LGBT community’s greatest allies.   Joan was completely aloof to political fashions.  She mocked everything and everyone, for that is the way of the comic.  There was sometimes an attitude that Joan should have left some people alone, that if Joan just didn’t mock this one group or this one thing everything would be fine.  To Joan, this was pity.  And pity was death to her.  Joan Rivers had an unwavering respect for gay people.  Even before her death it was not uncommon to see Joan’s smirking, plastic face popping up in a drag queen’s twitter feed.  Unlike present fashion, Joan never pandered to the gay community.  Instead she worked with them as equals, as peers, and created art that was relevant to them.  Whether it was her late night talk show, her daytime talk show, her late career web series or simply guesting at a Gay Pride, Joan never hesitated to engage gay artists as anything less than her peers.  May we never forget that one of Joan’s first career breaks was playing Barbra Streisand’s lesbian admirer in a play during the late 50’s.  Yes, in the motherfucking 50’s.  And playing a lesbian was her idea.  For years Joan Rivers has enjoyed a semi-mythical status as a folk hero amongst slutty queers.  That reputation was well deserved.

Reflecting on the way of the comic, Joan remarked, “We don’t apologize for a joke.  We are comics.  We are here to make you laugh.  If you don’t get it, then don’t watch us.”  It’s hard for more sensitive people to understand Joan’s view that laughter always justified the means.  If Joan was truly driven solely by celebrity and fame as her detractors alleged she would have long since compromised herself for mass appeal.  Joan never apologized, never changed because working was her greatest reward.  For her to stop working was to stop living.  It is fitting that Joan’s last gig was in a small comedy club the night before the ill-fated throat operation that killed her. Her work ethic was awe inspiring; she was a millionaire many times over and had absolutely no financial incentive to perform at small comedy venues.  She did it for the love of comedy and the love of her work.  Her work was her life and she desperately loved life.  Joan Rivers may have been an avid proponent for self-induced miscarriages, but her unyielding enthusiasm for living was one of the most genuinely pro-life aesthetics that I’ve ever seen.

Everyone has seen Joan Rivers on the red carpet, or on a comedy special or, if you were really lucky, at one of her stand-up appearances, but to truly understand Joan Rivers you have to watch her documentary.  Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work was released in 2010.  It remains the most intimate and revealing portrait of her genius.  I have a special place in my heart for that movie.  I was at a particularly shitty time in my life.  My plan B, plan C, and plan D had all fallen out.  I was unemployed, crazy and so incredibly broke that I couldn’t afford drugs.  In short, I was miserable.  I wandered into the theater in a daze.  I was at that very special place in life where I just thought, “This is it.  I guess I have to figure out how I’m going to kill myself.”  I sat there, absorbing Joan’s filthy genius.  Joan knew death intimately.  Her husband killed himself in 1987 and it devastated her.  She fittingly blamed herself remarking, “My husband killed himself. And it was my fault. We were making love and I took the bag off my head.”  Towards the end of the movie I started to hear a little raspy voice in my head saying, “Kill yourself?  What kind of fucking idiot are you?  Think of all the cocks you could be sucking instead!”  Wise counsel, Joan.  For Joan life was the greatest gift and that’s why she never stopped working.  Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work was Joan’s chance to explain her life and work, which she did with her own inimitable mixture of savage intellect and cunning wit.  Do yourself a favor and watch it.

It’s only appropriate that I end with Joan’s stand-up.  Joan hated ass kissing (oops) and preferred to let her work speak for itself.  I present to you Joan’s monologue at the end of her Comedy Central roast.  This is a master at work.  She fittingly declared her intention to never stop, citing that comedy needs her.  She was right then and it’s still true.  We fucking need Joan Rivers and we are poorer for having lost her.

Joan worked and worked, struggled and struggled, but she’s at peace now.  Though I will always miss her jokes and antics, I can take heart in knowing that she’s up in heaven now, cracking abortion jokes with the angels.