It’s rare that RuPaul’s Drag Race ever devotes an entire episode to pure comedy. Sure, a lot of the challenges have a comedy bent, but none of them have ever involved the queens going wall-to-wall with no-frills, standup comedy. But last night saw the queens reading each other for filth before reading Ru herself in a classic roast. Let’s look at the shit that worked and the shit that shat . . .
One of the things that’s been bugging me about this season, as opposed to, say, Season 4, is that comparatively speaking, these queens don’t have the smarts of previous seasons. In Season 4, you had Sharon Needles, Chad Michaels, Latrice Royale and even Willam schooling the younger queens about Stonewall and the drag queens that had come before them. This season, only Jinkx Monsoon and Alaska seem to have an understanding of their herstory, and it’s put them as the frontrunners to win.
Meanwhile, we have a trio of queens who, quite honestly, couldn’t tell their asses from their ankles. Alyssa Edwards and Roxxxy Andrews, in particular, though both lovably dim, seem to consider comedy as “shtick,” while Coco Montrese just seems too openly caustic toward everyone to actually extend herself mentally. For the love of god, last week saw Roxxxy spend 10 minutes contemplating the correct adjective for a dress covered in sequins. (Her answer: sequinesed.) As I said during the Snatch Game, the best piece of advice Ru ever gave her girls was not to let themselves be the victims of what they don’t know, and as it stands, all but two of them are stepping right onto the landmine.
But enough with the overanalysis; I just realized I’m three paragraphs in and I still haven’t said anything about tonight’s episode in particular. Anyway, the queens enter the workroom after the loss of everyone’s favourite little pony, Jade Jolie. But no one really cares because they’re still dwelling on the judges’ critiques. Alaska, taking the advice of the judges, decides to formally break off from Rolaskatox. Whether this disbands the trio permanently or whether the two remaining members simply become Rotox is debatable. But who cares, because as Ru enters the work room, she announces that it’s time for the annual reading mini-challenge! The library is open, and this season the queens know its layout like the Dewey Decimal System.
Sure, this isn’t the smartest batch of queens ever, but they are the bitchiest bunch, and it makes for a delightfully catty session. The queens are pretty even across the board, with Alaska, Jinkx and Detox bringing out the sharpest knives of the bunch. A few of the better reads . . .
Detox: “Roxxxy Andrews. Congratulations on the weight loss, but to me you’re still boxy, Mandrews."
Jinkx: “Roxxxy Andrews, there are two types of peanut butter: creamy and crunchy."
Alaska: “Detox, you’re so seductive, but unfortunately, it’s illegal to do it with you because most of your parts are under 18 years of age."
While everyone does a great job, Alaska knows well enough to bookend her reading by getting in one last jab at this season in general ("Long story short, the season of the fish smells like trout") and wins herself another mini-challenge. Her reward is a bit of a doozy: the queens are going to have to flesh out their reading into a complete roast, as they take aim not only at Ru, but also the other queens and the judging panel, which this week features Jeffrey Moran representing Absolut Vodka and the always wonderful Leslie Jordan representing the Lollipop Guild. As her reward, Alaska gets to decide the turn order.
Alaska, deciding to play this one smart, asks the other queens if they have any preference as to when they go. Since no one wants to bite the bullet, she decides to just go first and get it over with. On a normal comedy night, this would be a hindrance, but the thing about roasts is that the first one up sets the tone for the rest of the evening. As one of the strongest comedically, this means Alaska can set the bar high and watch all the other queens (aside from Jinkx) smack into it. It also offers Alaska the hidden advantage of claiming all the good jokes first, leaving the rest of the girls to work around her.
To be fair, though, Alaska could have read a phonebook from cover to cover and still have done better than most of the other queens. Alyssa in particular seems to have no idea how jokes work; all her jokes consist of asking the judges to commit suicide, then laughing hysterically. That’s not a joke; one of her jokes ends with asking RuPaul to walk off a cliff, apropos of nothing, before Alyssa explodes into a squawk-laughter hybrid.
Roxxxy doesn’t fair much better with her material, although a lot of it has to do with her lack of comedic timing or confidence. In order to help the queens prepare, they’re given the opportunity to air their sets in front of a panel consisting of Deven Green (aka FREAKING BETTY BOWERS), Nadya Ginsburg and Bruce Vilanch. While the editors cut it so that everyone looks like they sucked, Roxxxy is the most despondent, and the blow to her ego will cast a shadow over her performance for the rest of the episode.
But enough with the talking; on to the roasting! Alaska goes up first in a black cocktail dress that looks like Lady Bunny lost 200 pounds and then went to a funeral, which is to say I like it. Alaska’s poise on the mainstage makes it feel like she’s hosting a Comedy Central roast, and she holds her own powerfully. Roxxxy is up next, and she fares . . . less well. Roxxxy may be talented, but she lacks the creative spark to really be a self-sustaining unit. With Rolaskatox disbanded, both she and her performance are kind of directionless.
Coco, despite not being naturally funny, knows how to pull focus, and she does so by creating a character, in which she plays Ru’s childhood friend. It’s a great way to set herself apart and frame some really great jokes, but her delivery is straight-forward sass without a lot of breakroom. Jinkx is up afterward, and to the surprise of no one, she kills. Despite being the youngest queen left, she’s the most experienced comedienne of them all, and her glamorous runway look is deadly. Ivy Winters is up next and —
Oh look, here comes Alyssa! To say that Alyssa bombs would be a disservice to explosives everywhere. Alyssa may be an excellent dancer, but she doesn’t really have much else going for her. Shockingly, Alyssa’s masterplan of telling the judges to kill themselves doesn’t go over so well with anyone, and the audience spends most of the time looking at the top of her head since she’s speaking all of five millimetres away from the mic. At one point, she either manages to turn off the mic without knowing it or the microphone actually takes pity on her and decides to cut her off. Thankfully, Detox rounds out the show with a technically proficient set, although she blanks a lot and fills in most of her set with variations on the theme of “Fuck."
Detox and Ivy are clearly safe, thanks to their good-if-not-great sets, and the top three goes to Alaska, Jinkx and Coco. Surprisingly, Coco ends up with the win, which . . . really? Top three, sure, but saying that she was funnier than both Alaska and Jinkx? Nope. Not buying it. The bottom two are obviously Roxxxy and Alyssa, whose lack of comedic skills have finally come back to bite them in the ass. They’re tasked with lip-synching to Willow Smith’s “Whip My Hair.” It’s a high-energy song, and considering that half the lyrics are “I WHIP MY HAIR BACK AND FORTH,” it’s an easy one to dance to. Regardless, both of them crush the lip-sync, with Roxxxy pulling off her wig to reveal a more whippable hairpiece underneath and Alyssa convulsing on the floor.
When the song ends and Ru moves in with her decision, Roxxxy breaks down. Huh? Well, in the Untucked, Roxxxy brought up the fact that her mother abandoned her and her sister at a bus stop when they were little kids. Was it a calculated move to bring it up onstage after the lip-sync? Maybe, but Roxxxy is still clearly in pain over what happened, and thanks to her ability to show vulnerability, Ru lets them both stay. Once again, was it a calculated move after this season’s double elimination? Once again, maybe, but calculated doesn’t necessarily mean heartless. If you do the right thing, knowing it’s the right thing to do, that doesn’t necessarily detract from the overall goodness. So the final seven remains the final seven, at least for one more week.