Which Queens Are Toast At A RuPaul's Drag Race Roast?
Everybody comes for Michelle Visage, but not everybody comes correct.
There is nothing that makes my spirit die quite as quickly as terrible stand-up comedy, and thanks to a few of the queens, my spirit is straight-up deceased this week. But at least there are couple of brilliant jokes to bring me back from the dead. Let's explore the mortal consequences of this week's episode.
Wipe That Mirror, Gurl
Peppermint is a blessing. Every damn week, she delivers a facial expression that explains why she's not having it. This week, she's less than thrilled that, of all the remaining queens, only she and Farrah haven't yet won a challenge.
Farrah's not happy about it either, of course, and there are general rumblings that if you haven't won by this point in the season, you're in trouble. Ru even echoes this theme with Farrah during his workroom walkthrough later, which tells you exactly what the big narrative is going to be this week. Clearly, these queens are either going to soar or crash. Or maybe one of each. WHO CAN SAY?
The Library Is Open, Hooker!
Yay! It's time for the reading challenge. This is always one of my favorites, even if -- as happens this year -- the girls don't quite nail it. Because you'd better believe that I'm sitting at home trying to read these queens myself. If I make my husband laugh, then I know I've succeeded. He is not going to give me a sympathy chuckle, and that insistence on A-game humor is what makes our marriage work.
As for the girls themselves: Farrah is predictably terrible, and she eventually feels bad for making fun of Alexis's weight. Granted, MANY girls come for Alexis in this way, and you can see her getting increasingly upset about it. But we'll get back to that.
The standouts are Sasha and Valentina, which surprises me, honestly. I figured Shea would be slaying these bitches. She does okay, but she doesn't match the read that Sasha does on HER.
Specifically, Sasha says that Shea reminds her of her favorite movies: Shea's clothes are Coming To America, and her smile is Jurassic Park. Ha!
Valentina goes a different route, using timing and facial expressions to great effect.
It really pays off. For instance, she looks at Pep and says, "Peppermint. [PAUSE. PAUSE. PAUSE.] You need one." And then she's on to the next. It's so quick and dirty, and I love it. RuPaul loves it, too, and Valentina wins the challenge.
Michelle Gets Roasted, or: Burn, Silicone, Burn!
Because she wins, Valentina gets to select the order of performances for this year's RuPaul Roast. Except RuPaul's not the target: it's going to be Michelle Visage! And let me tell you right now that none of these girls come after her pop music career, which is a tragically missed opportunity. I know it's easy to armchair quarterback these things, but someone should've pretended to be giving Michelle's induction speech for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The possibilities!
Anyway: Michelle doesn't know she's getting roasted, which ups the opportunity for gag-worthy surprises. Before he leaves the workroom, RuPaul offers this sage advice: "A word of warning, ladies. Michelle never forgets!"
Right away, Alexis announces that she'll happily go first or last, since those are the hardest, most potentially rewarding slots. She's right, of course: first and last impressions matter. Given Alexis's success in the Kardashian musical and the Snatch Game -- and given her training in the University of Michigan's prestigious musical theatre program -- you can see why she'd feel up to the task.
First, though, Alexis expresses her hurt and sadness about being mocked for her figure. Some girls (especially Farrah) are really apologetic. Neither Trinity nor Nina is having it, however. Their argument is that if you can't toughen up during a challenge specifically designed for shade, then it's your own damn fault. RuPaul echoes this during his workroom visit, noting that (a) Alexis sure does enjoy criticizing other people, and (b) one of the hallmarks of drag is being able to turn your insecurities into strengths.
I'm with Ru, Trinity, and Nina, but I also appreciate Alexis's issues. Maybe it's because she's a theatre kid and maybe it's because she's done really well in previous challenges, but I like her. She's a little arrogant and a little hankty sometimes, but aren't we all?
How Shall I Read Thee? Let Me Count The Ways
As they try to write their acts, many of the girls have writer's block, and they all seem grateful when Ru and Ross show up to offer advice. (Apparently, this is Ross's first time in the workroom, which baffles me. In all those years on set, did he never snoop around during a break?)
Ross is especially good with Farrah, who says it's not in her nature to be mean. Ross isn't mean either, he says, and he's learned that when he's required to be professionally snarky, he can start with a compliment and then slip in a read. I'd call this the Mean Girls Method.
This Week In Special Messages
The Very Special Segment feels much more natural this week. That's probably because after Sasha and Peppermint tell their stories about facing homophobia and transphobia in Russia, none of the other girls huddle around them for a stage-y hug. Also, the stories are both harrowing, and they remind us that horrible atrocities against queer people are currently being committed in Russia and Chechnya.
The roast takes the place of the runway, so I'm going to consider the girls' looks and their performances as a set.
First up, Nina...
...who serves us a doddering old grandma who likes to talk smack. (There are shades of Coco's excellent turn as RuPaul's banjee cousin back in Season 5.) Her look is really great (as always), and her jokes are passable. She's certainly better here than she was in the 9021-Ho challenge.
Then there's Valentina...
...who unleashes a stream of non-sequiturs that nevertheless make me laugh. It's like Yara Sofia in the stand-up challenge in Season 3. If you fully commit to your own insanity, it can really work, and one of Valentina's gifts is her ability to commit.
I wish we got similar confidence from Trinity, who plays a trailer trash mama.
Her look is great, but her performance is too timid. However, it's about one billion times better than Farrah's.
You guys! YOU GUYS! I honestly couldn't watch this. While Farrah was making unfunny insults to a deathly quiet audience, I curled up on my couch in the fetal position and covered my head with a blanket. No joke. Her act made me physically suffer.
And then it got worse when Alexis bombed harder than a squadron of B-52s.
First of all: WHY IS SHE GREEN?!?! She alludes to the fact that Michelle hates the color green, but this is a roast, not an "annoy Michelle symposium." You're supposed to mock her, not needle her. Also: how in the round, spinning world could a person who went to musical theatre school dress in this outfit and not make a single reference to Wicked? WHAT IS HAPPENING?
I've already said that I have a soft spot for Alexis, but even I don't have patience for this disaster. And then there are the terrible, terrible jokes. That are told in a Jersey accent. Which is I guess supposed to represent Michelle? I don't see how Alexis could be so good in the Snatch Game and so horrible here.
Thank god, then, for Shea, who opens the show with aplomb.
She's funny, she sets the tone, and she gets offstage. Exactly what she needs to do. Then comes Sasha, who starts with some expected, intellectual humor that's actually pretty good.
But it's when she gets to a run of "Michelle is SO Jersey" jokes that she really catches fire. Time for Sasha to stop worrying that she can't be funny, because between this and Marlene Dietrich, she's bringing it.
But the most special delivery comes from Peppermint, who first of all looks flawless and has great hair.
Second of all, she's charming and hilarious throughout her entire bit, and she delivers the best joke of the night. "Not since Destiny's Child," she says, "has a Michelle become so famous for riding somebody else's coattails." YES GOD YES.
Judging And Kvetching
Ru, Ross, and Michelle are joined by Fortune Feimster and Tamar Braxton, and there's another chance to make a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame bit really work. You can read Tamar AND Michelle!
Nina and Valentina are safe, which leaves Trinity, Alexis, and Farrah on the bottom and Shea, Pep, and Sasha on the top.
Both of the judges are great, delivering spot-on critiques. Fortune notes that while Farrah seems pretty good at mimicking beauty icons like Marilyn Monroe, she doesn't have an identity of her own. Tamar correctly clocks Alexis for the lack of Wicked references, saying she doesn't understand why you'd paint yourself green otherwise. Apparently offended that Tamar doesn't catch her reference to Michelle's hatred of the color, Alexis spits, "Tamar, have you ever watched the show?"
OH NO BITCH YOU DID NOT. Tamar has been a guest judge before. Back off of Tamar!
Unsurprisingly, Alexis and Farrah land in the bottom, while Peppermint is declared the winner. And thus the twin arcs of the episode's opening scenes are completed: one queen rises, the other falls.
Lip Sync For Your Life
This week's track is "Baby I'm Burning," which is a Dolly Parton song I somehow didn't know until now. It reached number 25 on the Hot 100 in the late '70s, and it even reached the top 15 on the disco chart. Because they had one of those back then! This is a nice reminder that Dolly Parton set a template for country divas like Carrie Underwood and Faith Hill who wanted to cross over to other genres. It's also a nice reminder that only Dolly Goddamned Parton can put the sound of a ray gun into a song and make me live.
Oh right: the lip sync. Farrah has nothing to give, as usual. Alexis, meanwhile, opts for the splits of desperation. She's slightly better than Farrah, but she's hardly a superstar.
Ultimately, though, it's Farrah who sashays away. She seems sweet enough, so I hope she can find herself an identity.
Most Watchable Moment
Peppermint's performance in the roast is a keeper, so let's go enjoy it again!