No one can cut you with their tongue like a good drag queen. Whether really aiming for blood or just throwing shade for a laugh, the queens know how to read you as if you were a large-print book.
Here are the 14 best of all time.
Sharon Needles and Phi Phi O’Hara
On RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 4, Sharon Needles got into a tiff with dish queen Phi Phi O’Hara. The bristling Sharon ended up calling Phi Phi “a tired-ass showgirl.” Responded Phi Phi, “At least I am a showgirl, bitch. Go back to Party City where you belong!” It was a good read, but Sharon didn’t have to do any such thing. In fact, she won the season.
I once asked Divine, the hilarious plus-size drag queen from John Waters films, if she’d like to play Meryl Streep roles. “No,” Divvy shot back. “Those roles are for ugly people.”
In The Queen, the 1968 documentary about a drag beauty pageant, contestant Crystal LaBeija is shown being none too thrilled when a pale queen named Harlow is crowned the winner. Rants Crystal in the film’s highlight (and lowlight), “She was terrible! And her explanation for why she wanted the money: ‘To put it in the bank’! Ha ha ha. She’s not getting any money because [organizer-MC] Sabrina isn’t going to pay her. They’re good friends. It’s only publicity and it’s bad publicity for Harlow and all the rest because I declare her one of the uglier people of the world!” [And Crystal goes on and on from there. It’s a legendary read. Maybe Meryl Streep can play Harlow someday.]
Bianca Del Rio
On RPDR Season 6, insult comic Bianca Del Rio (pictured above) served a whole bunch of zingers, as is her specialty. When Trinity K. Bonet was irking her with some self-pitying statement or other, Bianca shot back, “Let me ask you a very fair question: What do you do successfully?” Like Sharon before her, Bianca won the season.
Bianca’s had so many other great zingers. “Kirk Cameron’s values are loose—like his asshole”; “Laganja Estranja looks like a dirty Q tip”; and of course, “Beauty fades. Dumb is forever.”
Bob the Drag Queen
But there’s such a thing as tit for t(w)at, and Bianca has had to take some sass in return now and again. At the 2015 roast skewering her, Bob the Drag Queen said to the audience, “Bianca Del Rio is the biggest disaster to come out of Louisiana since…?” “Hurricane Katrina,” shouted the crowd in unison. “Britney Spears!” corrected Bob.
At my own roast two years later, gender bending club doorman-comic Markus Kelle went after the MC, funny man Bruce Vilanch, by snarking, “The last time you got fucked was by genetics.”
Drag performer Charles Pierce was most famous for doing an arm swiveling impression of classic movie icon Bette Davis. In one performance, he—as Bette—dished other show biz personalities by telling the crowd, “We might be here until Angie Dickinson combs her hair. Until Shelley Winters dies of anorexia….How the hell do you have sex with Shelley Winters? Roll her in flour and look for a wet spot!”
In Paris Is Burning, Jennie Livingston’s 1990 documentary about the travails of the voguing ball community, Pepper LaBeija gave a kind of sweet read: “For those children that can’t accept the fact that I still look beautiful….Ha! Suffer! No bags, no lines!” But the best reads in the movie are given by trans diva Venus Xtravaganza (“Touch this skin, honey. Touch all of this skin!”). Check it out if you dare.
In 2014, Irish drag queen Panti Bliss (Rory O’Neill) went on an Irish news channel and blasted the homophobic advocacy group the Iona Institute, along with other haters. As a result, the news corporation apologized to those offended, censored Panti’s comments online, and paid off the haters! But Panti benefited too. He subsequently gave a rousingly insightful explanatory speech at the Abbey Theater and as a result was deluged with touring and book offers. So keep reading, queens. You’ll strike a chord and it’ll help your career too.
Dame Edna Everage
Dame Edna (a sort of pretentious vulgarian character played by Aussie actor Barry Humphries) used to be a funny old cow. She’d say things like, “To live in Australia permanently is rather like going to a party and dancing all night with one’s mother” and “New Zealand is a country of 30,000 million sheep, 3 million of whom think they are human.” But when Humphries himself started putting down trans people with misguided comments a few years ago, we started reading him right back.
Mitzi in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)
Hugo Weaving’s drag character says to Guy Pearce’s: “You know, there are two things I don’t like about you, Felicia. Your face!” Of course it’s a complete rip from Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d, but sometimes a drag queen has to do a little mopping to get a good read in.
Too Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar (1995)
Chi-Chi (John Leguizamo): How do I look?
Noxeema (Wesley Snipes): Like the Miami Sound Machine just exploded all over you.
Noxeema: Why do I feel like I’m in the Tournament of Roses parade?
Chi-Chi: Because you’re as big as a float.
Chi-Chi re: Vida [Patrick Swayze]: Well, she certainly is an oppressive gringa with a pinga.
Vida: And you are a puta Spanish fly.
Chi-Chi: And you are an uptight cellulite dinosaur fossil-faced white honky cracker witch!
Every Drag Queen Ever
And of course, when heckled, just about every drag queen in creation has had the same fabulous comeback: “Hey! Do I stand next to your bed and talk while you’re working?” Snap. See you all at Party City.
Main image: Shady queens extraordinaire Lady Bunny (L) and Bianca Del Rio.