Outward

Can Bianca Del Rio’s Insult Drag Survive in a PC World?

Bianca Del Rio celebrates after being declared the winner of Season 6 of RuPaul’s Drag Race.

Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Before she won Season 6 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Bianca Del Rio was a fixture of the New York drag scene—most notable for her reputation as a comedy queen who made vicious fun of every group imaginable. On the show, she necessarily turned the insult comedy down a few notches to earn the love of the judges and fans. But now that she has the crown and is enjoying the touring success that Mother Ru’s blessing seems to bring, Del Rio is back to form.

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For those who can’t experience the cringe-inducing hurricane of her humor in person, Vimeo released Del Rio’s first recorded special, Rolodex of Hate, on Dec. 2. The hourlong stand-up show filmed in Austin, Texas, is similar in tone to Joan Rivers at her nastiest, but with a decidedly gay sensibility. That this genre of comedy has come under criticism of late gives Del Rio something of a mission statement: “Tonight is not for the lighthearted; tonight is what it is,” she states early in the show.

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Listen: People have been too PC lately. People have been too concerned with things that don’t matter. You can’t say certain words. You can’t say tranny, you can’t say fag … The bottom line is this: I’m a man in a wig who stuffed my dick in panty hose, and you’ve come to see me. Get a fucking sense of humor. It ain’t that serious! We have bigger issues to deal with! Donald Trump running for president! That is an issue!

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Del Rio’s disapproving mention of Trump comes off as somewhat ironic, given that the two share this distaste for the language and humor policing they see in so-called PC culture—indeed, Trump has framed his campaign in similar terms. But unlike Trump’s tendency to belittle only those less privileged than he, Del Rio’s crass jokes punch up, down, and every which way, from an unlucky Asian man in the front row to an (imagined) cheap, judgy “Jewish bitch” in the back. The show truly is, as Del Rio puts it, an occasion “for me to express my hate.” And lest you forget it, every other sentence is punctuated with a gruff “fuck you!”

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Whether you’ll enjoy this special or not depends largely on your sense of humor. I’m not easily offended (as long as everyone is fair game), but the dependence on slurs and ancient stereotypes, like the supposed size of Asian penises, grew boring pretty quickly. (At this point in history, a word like spic honestly registers as more absurd than actually offensive.) But plenty of folks in the audience seemed to appreciate the free flow of hate, likely because Del Rio tempers the easier jabs with stories from her own life about encounters with actual prejudice and strife. Her philosophy for dealing with such things is, unsurprisingly, to dismiss them with an expletive or two, or to assert her own superiority, as with an unfortunately dressed psychiatrist who tried (and failed) to minister to Del Rio as a teenager.

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Of interest to the gay viewer will be Del Rio’s criticisms of those who don’t take the time to appreciate classical gay culture, the canon that comprises the likes of Bette Davis and Auntie Mame. “Nowadays, the fags have no fucking clue, girl,” she complained. “They don’t research. They have all this shit accessible, but they don’t know about the fags. They don’t know about brilliant people who were performers. They don’t know about brilliant drag queens who were performers. They only watch Drag Race and think that’s what I’m supposed to do. Go back and do your history.”

In this lament, Del Rio picked up on a strain of melancholy that, despite her effusive, filthy patter, runs throughout the special: She is a queen from a school of drag that could count on sharing a cultural vocabulary with the audience, as well as a sense that there were indeed “bigger issues” than bad words to worry about. But the audience is changing. Bianca Del Rio is absolutely one of the smartest queens working, but she may need to think about updating her act. If she doesn’t, she risks becoming as dated as, well, a Rolodex. 

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