Blame It On Bianca Del Rio
To laugh or not to laugh — that is the question
Ru Paul’s Drag Race — a show that has it all. It’s like a combination of America’s Next Top Model, Project Runway, and all the talent shows around the world. In addition to that it is also the first platform I ever came across the talented Roy Haylock, who is also better known as the drag queen, comedian, actor, and costume designer, Bianca Del Rio. Del Rio was the winner of season six of Ru Paul’s Drag race and has gained international success and has already been on three comedy tours. This came as no surprise to those who watched season six as Bianca charmed us away with her quick rapid-fire humour and classic costume designs and…well, let’s say ruthless but amusing observations. It was clear this Drag Queen had talent in its purest form!
This September I travelled to Stockholm with a group of friends to go see Bianca perform a show in her tour — Blame it on Bianca Del Rio. So, come the evening of September fourth, the six of us were all neatly seated in our spots in the Göta Lejon theatre, exhausted from our flights and a sleepless night, dazed by a navigational mishap that almost led us to miss the show, dripping in glitter as the protocol calls for that, but that was all fine because the clock eventually struck well past eight and the show started. And when I say started, I mean it started with a capital S.
I knew Bianca was known for her brash humour and hateful jokes. The fact that she “hates everybody equally” is literally one of her taglines. During this show she went all out, scrolling through her ‘rolodex of hate’, commenting on topic after topic with witty zingers. The audience was captivated; cheers, applause, and screams of delight filled the theatre –including mine. I enjoyed the show.
But as the night progressed and Del Rio twirled in her dress that looked like a diamond waterfall, so did the jokes. They progressed into territory that is under a lot of scrutiny. Topics such as disability, cancer, sexual orientation, body image and even abuse were touched upon in her typical brash manner. While the jokes were still landing, and I could tell there was a mad brilliance to it, I couldn’t help but listen to the little voice in my head saying, “Should we be laughing at this? Aren’t these serious issues? Why is everybody still clapping and enjoying the show? Why am I still laughing? Could it truly be that no one is feeling offended? Or guilty for laughing at such sore topics?” That is when I had to ask a very serious question from the little voice in my head, “Where do we draw the line? And should we even draw a line in the first place?”
They say laughter is the best medicine, but if that is the case then laughter is also a very well-guarded medicine, in a sense that growing up, children are often taught when it is appropriate to laugh and what things are not appropriate to laugh at. Yes, it’s okay to laugh at the silly clown on TV, no it’s not okay to laugh at that lady with a funny nose in the tram. We are taught not to laugh at the expense of others. We are taught not to be mean and insensitive. But just because you laugh at something brash or crude doesn’t make you a bad person. Or does it? And where do we draw that beforementioned elusive line. If it’s okay to laugh at the clown on TV, getting hurt, doing dumb tricks, why is it not allowed to laugh at the lady with the funny nose? Does the tram make all the difference, is the location where we draw the line? But what about being mean then? And insensitive? Won’t the clown feel bad just as the lady with the funny nose? No, because the clown gets paid to entertain, the lady was just riding the tram, minding her own business. But what if the clown makes fun of the lady with the funny nose? Are we allowed to laugh then? It is the clown’s job after all.
This brings me back to Del Rio’s performance, as she insulted a myriad of different groups and probably at least 87% of her audience, it begs the question, why would anyone want to go see a show like that? If we were all taught not to laugh at the expense of others and to be mindful of the feelings of others, why would we want to go see a show where everyone’s feelings might get hurt — most of all our own. We want to be good, right? We want to be polite and correct and laugh at things that are harmless, right?
Every single person who walked into that theatre knew what kind of content the show would include. And most likely every single person bought a ticket to Bianca’s show precisely because they love the kind of content she produces. And if no one knew what the show was going to be like when they bought the ticket, the trigger warning voiced by none other than Ru Paul herself that was played before Del Rio took the stage, should have tipped them off. So yes, most of us were all seated in that theatre because we wanted to laugh at things that are under scrutiny, we wanted to be entertained and laugh at the expense of others and ourselves. We wanted to be shocked. And most importantly, after the initial shock of noticing that the line was not present at the show, we noticed, we did not miss the line very much. And yet, the worlds did not crumble and no one’s feelings seemed to be hurt. Everybody seemed to have a good time, even those who were directly in Del Rio’s line of comical fire.
One way to think of it is that Del Rio’s show was a safe space to laugh and be laughed at. The things she joked about would have been completely inappropriate in the eyes of most people in a different setting and said by a different person to a different audience at a different time in a different way. But you could think of that theatre as a vacuum where nothing that is said is taken seriously and has no real effect on anything outside those doors. No influence on politics, no influence on how minority groups get treated, no one’s feelings getting hurt –just pure good fun.
A lot of art forms get away with presenting shocking and controversial content and we don’t think twice about it, because, well, it’s art, and art elicits feelings and responses. Art is something that is supposed to start conversations, it’s supposed to take a stand and rock the boat so to speak, but comedy often doesn’t get that pass. It gets overlooked. And in many cases, without closer examination it might seem like Bianca Del Rio is just a self-proclaimed ‘shady, unapologetic, hateful clown’ spewing obscenities and spreading negative vibes, but that is, in my experience, very far from the truth. The atmosphere Del Rio created that night was nothing short of warm and welcoming, which might sound insane and impossible given the amount of seemingly awful things she included in her repertoire. But that’s just it; it takes talent to be shady and hateful and still come off as kind and caring. It takes talent to create an atmosphere that is therapeutic in its sheer lack of caring, about everything, so much, all the time.
Now, I have not yet figured out where the line belongs or should be drawn, and I don’t feel completely comfortable with having to draw a line. After all, once the line is drawn, everything on the wrong side of its gets a special status, gets attention drawn to it, gets isolated, gets treated like something you don’t touch. So, I suppose I could keep asking lofty questions about morals and the nature of humour. I could be asking them till the ends of time, changing my mind a million times over. Or instead, I could just recognize that sometimes subjecting yourself to an environment where you’re allowed to laugh at whatever you find funny and accepting that you might be that very thing that others laugh at as well, can be cathartic as hell. And it’s true we need to be kind, and it’s true we need to be good, but it’s also time that we maybe start putting things in perspective. Most importantly, it might be time to start laughing a little more. And if you feel like you shouldn’t want to laugh about something, because it’s so far across the line, maybe stop to think why we have pushed it so far onto the other side? Could it help to laugh at something that hurts or is such a big problem that it feels impossible to solve? Could it feel liberating to laugh at something or someone that frustrates you? Would it be the worst thing in life to laugh at yourself, at your shortcomings, at the things that make you feel insecure? Just ask.
And if you don’t feel like thinking about lines and morals and all that jazz, then I guess you really should just Blame it on Bianca del Rio, because odds are, she won’t mind.
Artwork by Danielle Amorim.