Yikes. Watching comedy challenges on Drag Race always feels like toeing the line between cackling and cringing while wearing six-inch stiletto heels. This week’s stand-up smackdown challenge led to a bit too much of the latter.
Something of a hybrid between the standard roast and season 12’s more personal, storytelling-style one-queen shows. Most of the gals leaned more heavily on roast-style jokes, but the ones that suffered forgot one key concept: Good delivery can save mediocre material, but great material can’t save bad delivery.
And thus is the ballad of Blair St. Clair, a young queen who thought the collection of haphazard notes she pitched at rehearsal would carry her on the main stage. Ditto Juju, who should have dominated a comedy challenge, but felt like she was phoning it in. All in all, it was a disappointing showing ahead of the finale, especially on the cha-cha heels of two strong episodes.
But let’s back up.
We join our queens following Alexis’ departure. Cracker tricks the girls into thinking she picked anyone but Alexis, but jk they all picked Alexis. (Alexis picked Blair.)
But Cracker’s light cruelty doesn’t end there. As the winner of last week’s challenge, she’s given extra power for this week’s challenge. The gals will each present a few minutes of stand-up, and Cracker picks the line-up.
Now, in a refreshing change of pace, Cracker makes no secret of her machinations. Cracker knows her way around producing a show. She knows opening the show is tough, and it requires eating some time out of your material to get the crowd warmed up. She smartly gives the spot to Juju, who is known for her sense of humor.
Next, she slots Blair. Cracker knows that Blair is the weakest comedian in the bunch. She’s going to have to struggle to maintain momentum after Juju, and, if she bombs, Cracker puts herself third to look even better by comparison.
Cracker feels confident enough to put Shea after her, assuming she’ll crush the performance so hard, Shea will be left performing to nothing but rubble. She also logics that if Shea does well, the judges may believe it’s some sort of recency bias. (I’m not sure I buy that theory, but it’s the right call regardless.)
The fact Cracker lays this all out so plainly for the other girls almost saps the strategy out of it. The other queens can’t accuse her of secretly manipulating the lineup from the shadows when she states her intent so baldly.
The gals get a little one-on-time before the performance with Ross and guest-judge, the incredible Jane Krakowski. The effortlessly charming Jujubee has a harder time constructing a fully-realized set. It shines a bit of a light on something that’s bugged me about Juju. Yes, she is very funny, but sometimes it feels like she has an over-reliance on cribbing basic meme-humor; the sort of internet ephemera that finds itself inexplicably printed on an oversized Look Human coffee mug in a Facebook ad (e.g. last week’s “Sorry I’m late, I didn’t want to come”). With Ross and Jane, her material seems underbaked and lacking rhythm and structure. These are nitpicks for sure, and expecting comedic mastery (in addition to sewing, dancing, lip syncing, etc.) is a tall order. But! This is a tight race, and this is what we’re down to.
Blair fares significantly better. Like way better. Like, wait a minute, are you sure you mean Blair? Blair ST. CLAIR?! I’m as shocked as anyone to see Blair confidently stroll into this rehearsal and fire off jokes in rapid succession. In fact, they tell her she has TOO MUCH good material. Watch out! Blair must’ve been hitting open mics and Zoom shows, because she’s a secret stand-up assassin!
The confident Cracker enters rehearsal next with a stiff TedTalk character that is definitely too high-concept for the challenge. The self-aggrandizing, earnest presentations are ripe for ridicule, but to do it justice requires a familiarity with the subject matter that I’m not sure this audience is going to have. Jane and Ross don’t get it, and encourage Cracker to come harder with the comedy.
Finally, Shea has a few ideas, but Ross is quick to press her to explore her loss to Sasha Velour. I mean. I get it. It was a huge moment in Drag Race herstory. That lipsync battle changed the game. But Shea still killed it that whole season, and her loss was much more a reflection of Sasha’s ingenuity than Shea’s shortfalls. I reject the narrative that Shea has been agonizing over rose petals for the last few YEARS. She’s always been more than that moment, and, judging by her strong performance this season, she’s been too busy sharpening her skills to wallow.
Going into the actual performance, it seems as if Blair is coming in strong, while Shea is thrown by the judges’ suggestion to basically scrap her whole routine.
And yet? The mainstage unfolds in complete defiance to the earlier foreshadowing. Juju is FINE, but sloppy. She lands more than a handful of zingers on Ross, but reading off her notebook kills the energy.
Blair is next, and it’s worse than flat. It’s a plodding, excruciating few minutes wherein Blair fires off just ruthless slams on the judges and competitors that don’t feel earned or justified. I can almost envision a world where Blair’s trying to set up a contrast between her sweet, naive exterior and the horrifying things coming out of her mouth. The problem is that her delivery is so stilted and awkward reading from her notebook that it just feels like a stuttering drumbeat of viciousness with pauses to paw through notebook pages. It’s bad-bad-bad. Not the kind of utter failure you’d expect from a top-four competitor.
Cracker kills by being Cracker. She’s clearly a pro here, and she delivers the sort of breezy confidence a performer needs to mask the masterfully constructed set underneath. Cracker has material, but she knows the secret to make it seem like it’s all off the cuff. First, no notebook. She’s got this stuff down, memorized. Then, she mixes in just enough interaction with the live audience that the whole show feels special — like it’s live alchemy. She wasn’t shooting for a Netflix special of Grade-A material; she was putting the audience at ease, taking them on a journey and putting on a SHOW.
Shea follows a similar path, eschewing her notebook for a more powerful connection to the live audience. I don’t think she manages to hit the ease Cracker did previously, but Shea’s comedy still plays with the audience expectations, crafting set-ups, punchlines, misdirects and little emotional arcs. If Cracker had the audience in the palm of her hand, Shea at least is leading them in the right direction. Both display admirable control from the stage, but Cracker is just slightly more successful.
The runway sealed the deal. This week’s theme is “Ahhhhh … Freak Out!” so trigger warning for all my coulrophobes out there. I’m a big fan of all the lewks up there, but the judges are tougher on Shea’s brightly-colored, psychedelic chic ensemble.
Cracker is awarded the win, and … do we need to even huddle before voting? It’s Blair. We all know it’s Blair.
Oh, fine. Juju and Shea act like there’s a chance they’re going home, and, sure, Cracker did openly display her cunning earlier in the episode, but sending fan-favorites Juju or Shea home at this point to boost your chances of winning would absolutely lead to a flaying by the throngs of Drag Race internet superfans.
Our lip sync assassin this week is Kennedy Davenport, but don’t get too excited. The song is Reba McEntire’s “Fancy,” and, believe me, typically, there are few people who would be more excited to hear this classic country tune. It’s just not the most exciting for a lip sync BATTLE. Kennedy mostly struts and spins, while Cracker aims for lyrical accuracy.
Ru gives Cracker the win, and she reveals Blair’s lipstick. No shocker there.
But! Before we end the week, Ru gets a mysterious phone call. The preview for next week reveals the returning queens, so … there goes that mystery.
Where does that leave our remaining gals ahead of next week’s finale? Let’s dive into our rankings.
- Shea Couleé continues her steady march to the win. It’s been clear since the beginning that this is Shea’s redemption story to tell. Hopefully, this episode marked the final time Shea had to “confront” her loss or whatever, and we can finally put the whole thing to bed. I thought her set was good, and I was less put-off by her outfit than the judges. As much as I’d also love to see a win for Juju, it just seems like Shea’s win is inevitable.
- Sadly, that means the third time is not the charm forJujubee. One of my all-time favorite contestants, Juju is responsible for some the best moments in Drag Race I find Juju funnier off-the-cuff than in these scripted challenges. She’s quick-witted and clever, and it’s clear she’s bringing her best to this competition. I really dug the Vivacious-spiked headpiece and sky-high heels she wore with her freaky runway.
- Riding a wave of momentum into the finale, I still don’t think Cracker will be able to snatch the win away from Shea. I’m so glad we got to see what Cracker does best this week. She radiated star power on stage, served scary (and prescient) plague doctor realness (too real, actually) and out lip-synced Kennedy Davenport (even if the track favored Cracker). She’s displayed incredible talent, and I’m excited to see what she brings to the finale performance. I just can’t imagine what it could be that would unseat Shea at the top.
- Oh, Blair. It was your time, dear. (Actually, last week might have been your time, to be honest.) The comedy was bad. You know it, I know it, we all know it. That’s not what matters though. Blair didn’t need an All Stars No one got the redemptive “growth” edit this All Stars more than she did. She definitely got to relaunch the Blair St. Clair brand with a bit more edge. (Plus, she got to address her D.U.I.) All in all, despite falling short, Blair maximized her opportunity to reintroduce herself.
How would you rank the remaining queens?