Everyone (all right, almost everyone) loves drag queens. While there’s something inherently amusing about a dude in a dress, there’s also something poignant about a man embracing his femininity and paying homage to influential women. And thanks to RuPaul’s Drag Race, drag queens have now twirled into the mainstream and staked a claim to the “dude in a dress” sector of comedy that was previously inhabited by straight comedians. Additionally, it seems that a recent well-received surge in female comics dressing as men — chief among them Saturday Night Live’s Emmy-winning Kate McKinnon — may be a sign that the future of comedy (finally) lies in women impersonating men.
Take McKinnon’s Jeff Sessions, for instance. He’s a mealy-mouthed, bucktoothed possum relative with Keebler Elf ears and an “aw shucks” guffaw — and none of this would be funny without McKinnon. The openly queer McKinnon plays Sessions with a knowing grin, as if she’s well aware of how absurd it is for her to impersonate one of America’s most prominent homophobes. There’s also an inherent righteousness in a woman mocking a powerful sexist who regularly breaks the law with impunity. Similarly, McKinnon’s all-too-brief take on Senator Lindsay Graham was hysterically accurate, if only for McKinnon’s spot-on mimicking of Graham’s chief facial expression (we’ll call it “ironic forbearance.”) Both of these characters have vibed strongly with the beleaguered American public. Additional male personalities she’s spoofed include: Keith Urban, Ed Sheeran and Julian Assange.
Of course, McKinnon hasn’t been the only king of drag comedy lately. Another recent bright spot of drag-driven subversiveness on Saturday Night Live has been Melissa McCarthy’s guest run as former White House Communications Director Sean Spicer. Gamely sporting a bald cap and an ill-fitted suit, McCarthy bullied and blustered her way through all of her sketches — and, in the process, nailed some of Spicer’s mannerisms. Moreover, as McCarthy spat out obscenities and sexist, racist baloney, it became increasingly clear that her performance was not just cathartic but also groundbreaking. Here, finally, was a woman mocking the worst hallmarks of male privilege — misplaced confidence, high-powered incompetency, and compulsive bullying. And all it took was a simple comedy routine.
Another popular example of a prominent actress skewering male incompetence was Meryl Streep’s oh-so-orange 2016 impersonation of President Trump, which honed in on the man’s shocking stupidity and insecurity. Ditto Carrie Brownstein, who has made her rugged and mustachioed Lance one of the most beloved recurring characters on Portlandia. Her deep, autotuned drone and dull-eyed bravado are a perfect representation of hetero-masculine mediocrity.
Still, McKinnon reigns supreme among drag king comediennes. Her impression of Justin Bieber, which she reportedly accomplishes by “looking like a puppy who just piddled and is sort of sorry about it,” continues to make Top 10 lists. It has also been heralded as a major dog whistle to lesbian viewers, who tend to see themselves in McKinnon’s fashion-conscious, soft-butch version of the pop singer. Plus, her Bieber is just a perfect example of what makes man-drag great: It carries a more political element of gender performance, but it never shies away from incorporating sex appeal. Let’s just hope that McKinnon continues to keep the tradition alive. We don’t want Amanda Bynes’ performance in She’s the Man to be one of the only existing examples of man-drag when the aliens invade. Below is clip from said film, featuring a mighty fine Channing Tatum.