Don’t mess with a drag queen! They tend to be the quickest, tartest-tongued entertainers on the planet, and I pity any fool who tries to throw them off their game. Heckling a drag performer is a masochistic form of expression that inevitably leads to them return—reading you big time, as the crowd—who’s on the drag performer’s side—cheers them on. It isn’t called a comeback for nothing. To learn just what kind of personal humiliation such a transaction would entail, I asked a bevy of drag fabulosities for their best putdowns—whether to a crazed heckler, or to just about anybody. Luckily, they didn’t tell me off.
These are my two go-tos: “This is a scripted show, and you don’t have any lines.” Or, “You paid for tickets to this show, and now you’re the reason it’s bad.”
I say, “Do I come over to McDonald’s and bother you while you’re working?”
I say, “Do I stand next to your bed and talk while you’re working?”
Robert Sandy Beach
Once, I was taking questions from the audience and someone yelled, “How big is your asshole?” I took a beat and replied, “I don’t know. Ask your husband.” Another one I use is, “Oh, great, another fetus who lacked oxygen is trying to talk.” And when someone yells something vile, I just say, “Ah, Republicans are making a difference.”
I was onstage once, talking about my fans, and some dickwad said, “I probably have more than you.” I said, “Sorry, parents don’t count.”
I always say, “Say whatever the fuck you want. I’m being paid to be here, you’re paying to be here. Spot the difference.”
Someone once tweeted, “I just can’t stand the Vixen.” I responded, “Then sit.”
I can’t remember when I first heard a queen utter this putdown. I’ve used it myself: “Our next performer recently lost 10 pounds. She shaved her back.”
I say, “You’re your mother’s constant reminder of a mistake.”
I once told a heckler to back off the stage because I can’t be seen close to someone who eats meth and Marlboros for breakfast.
I love this one from The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert: “There are two things I don’t like about you, Felicia—your face. So how ‘bout shutting both of them?” [Author’s note: Priscilla lifted that remark from Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d. Agatha should have read those queens.]
I say, “I’ve got nine-and-half reasons why you shouldn’t try me.”
I’ve said, “So you’re gonna paint over your injected lips to really get that clown effect, huh?”; “You would charm the knickers off a nun”; and “I would rather arrive late than ugly. What’s your excuse?”
I chant, “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands. Clap, clap. If you’re happy and you know it, SHUT THE FUCK UP!” That tends to work for me, or I just embarrass them until I get the entire audience to boo them and they leave.
My favorite is, “Darling, you’ve made up my mind. I now believe in abortion after birth.”
The Countess Mascara
A while back, I was doing a show and someone yelled, “Yasss, Marie Antoinette!” even though I looked nothing whatsoever like her. I shouted back, “Oh, did they have stretch fabric back then?”
I was hosting a dance-off competition in the West Village and a group of friends of one of the contestants didn’t like that their friend lost, even though it was chosen by the audience. They started booing at the winner and chanting, and I thought that was so disrespectful. I told them that the space they were in was about love, acceptance, and diversity, and if they didn’t agree with the outcome and continued to behave this way, they could leave. The audience applauded and started telling them to leave, and did the job for me. I thought that was kind of cool.
Thorgy Thor and I started Mondays in Brooklyn about five years ago. We played games with the audience, fed people peaches from a can, handed out boxes of raisins—anything ridiculous that we could think of. We garnered quite a dedicated following. On one night of foolishness, a newcomer to the show was highly unamused and, while Thorgy and I were taking turns reading haikus—to much laughter and applause—he shouted out “Amateur hour!” which halted the show instantly. Thorgy offered the man a microphone and said, “If you think it’s it so easy, why don’t you get up here and we’ll sit and heckle you?”
I then launched into a monologue about respecting drag art and not taking comedy so seriously. I suggested that the customer leave if he was having such a terrible time. He then backtracked, saying, “Oh, no, it’s fine,” to which I responded, “No, it’s not. It’s time for you to go.” At this point, all the regulars stood up and formed a barrier around myself and Thorgy, slowly walking toward him until he was backing up toward the door. The strike line continued until he was literally outside. We shut the door and then continued the show. Moral of the story? We know what we are doing. We don’t go into your job and tell you what we think. Don’t fuck with a drag queen. And don’t fuck with our fans. They’ll cut you. … Though sometimes hecklers actually end up being great for the show. I’ve made so many tips from the audience roaring with laughter after I tear some Negative Nancy apart! [Author’s Note: I suggested that Ruby plant a heckler in the crowd for every show, to up her tips, and she replied, “Are you free next Friday? Mwahaha”.]
And as for me…
I’m not a drag queen, but I’ve certainly shared stage time with them. And at my celebrity roast in 2017, when one of the drag speakers went on a tad too long, Randy Rainbow hilariously shot back with, “Sorry, this is not the taping of your Netflix special!” And on other occasions, whenever I’ve been heckled myself, I rely on the old standby: “Hey! I work alone!” Or I should clarify that that’s what I’d say if I ever was heckled. Never happened! Shut up!
That’s What the World Is Today, Hey Hey
Ain’t Too Proud is the new jukebox musical about Motown’s reigning male vocal group The Temptations, and by this point, the genre is so familiar that the result is a little like Jersey Boys meets Dreamgirls via The Cher Show with hints of movies like Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody. We’ve been down this VH1 Behind the Music road before, only with different names, though this story happens to be darker and littered with more fatalities.
Initially, I recoiled from the preponderance of narration (“I’ve got to start at the beginning”) and I have to admit that throughout the show, there’s too much of it, as Temptation Otis Williams (Derrick Baskin) touches on everything from melodramatic developments (“Cortisone shots wreak havoc on the body”) to clichés (“I guess the only thing that lives forever is the music”). The group’s backstory involves five guys who consider each other like brothers, though they clash and self-destruct on the road to stardom, dissension, reconnecting, and loss.
Otis—whose book this show is based on—is the conscience of the group, though he’s far from perfect, since he has a son back home that he rarely makes time to see. Melvin Franklin (Jawan M. Jackson) is the easy-going basso who generally sides with Otis when it comes to career crises. Eddie Kendricks (Jeremy Pope) is the vocalist with the dreamy high notes, who demands an equal say in what happens to the group, coming to resent Otis’s refusal to strike against Motown. David Ruffin (Ephraim Sykes) is the new lead singer who’s a commanding performer, but becomes messy and egotistical and won’t go away, even when fired. And Paul Williams (James Harkness) is the group member who acts as their choreographer, until his demons and health problems take over and he becomes alcoholic and doomed.
Under the guidance of Motown head Berry Gordy (a not-very-convincing Jahi Kearse), the guys attain 42 Top 10 hits—soulful chestnuts like “My Girl” and “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)”—and they even go political (“Ball of Confusion”) and psychedelic (“Papa Was a Rolling Stone” was recorded with anger, but delivered more peppily when it became a smash). Throw in a Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell duet as sung by Otis and Tammi and a Jimmy Ruffin hit delivered by Otis (backed by David Ruffin, who was Jimmy’s brother), and it becomes a little Motown grab bag—and the Supremes make appearances, too, though there’s no mention at all of the Tempts’ rival group, the Four Tops.
But director Des McAnuff (who did Jersey Boys and the Donna Summer show, Summer) and choreographer Sergio Trujillo (Jersey Boys, On Your Feet!, Summer) keep things spiffily moving, and the five guys—and others along the way—radiate sheer talent that makes this more than a Vegas revue. Baskin is sincere and likable, Pope interprets Kendricks’ falsetto vocals rather than slavishly imitate them, and Sykes is pure electricity with his swooping microphone swoons and bravado. What could have been just a TV movie-ish indulgence becomes an uneven but swirling pastiche, with smooth moves and singing. But by the end, you’re still more enamored by The Temptations’ music than their “journey.”