Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

RuPaul's Drag Race: “RuPaul’s Gaff-In”

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As much fun as watching RuPaul’s Drag Race can be, sometimes this show is at its most entertaining when it gets excruciatingly awkward, like when the queens are forced to become stand-up comics or sing live. “RuPaul’s Gaff-In” is one of those episodes, challenging the girls to write jokes while impersonating celebrities. It’s a new twist on the Snatch Game formula, asking the queens to use their heads for something that doesn’t come easily to seasoned professionals, and while nearly all the contestants are hilarious freestylers, they don’t know how to translate that into a script.

Before the girls dive into RuPaul’s Gaff-In, they play a round of In Da Butt Ru (#InDaButtRu), the Drag Race version of The Newlywed Game. The queens are asked to guess their partners’ answers to questions like “What kind of boy underwear does she wear?,” “What is her favorite RuPaul song?,” and “Top, bottom, or versatile?,” and there’s a clear split between the partnerships with a firm foundation and those that are lacking. Years of shared experience make Shad a natural pairing, while Rujubee are best friends and Yarlexis have the Latina connection. Latrila is a couple that didn’t initially pick each other, and the queens are fairly ignorant, although Manila also doesn’t understand that simpler is better when it comes to The Newlywed Game. Tammie says whatever she wants, so Brown Flowers doesn’t really stand a chance, and this week’s challenge shows the flaws in Tammie’s severely oddball personality. She doesn’t make compromises; that fearlessness is what makes her very fun to watch, but a good partnership requires both parties on equal footing. Tammie isn’t here to win, she’s here to extend her moment in the spotlight and she’s going to pull focus regardless of whether that hurts the team’s performance.

Rujubee wins the minichallenge, which earns them two creamy pies in the face, a perfect segue to their Gaff-In challenge. The queens have to write jokes for three different segments: a cocktail party with Vicki Lawrence as Mama, “Howdy Ru,” and the Peek-A-Ru joke wall. All this is to be done while impersonating celebrities, adding another level of pressure to an already difficult challenge. After winning last week, Latrice and Manila hit a bump in the road with their Oprah and Madonna impressions. Like Latrice’s Aretha Franklin, her Oprah isn’t another personality so much as it is Latrice with an updated set of one-liners. When she screams “Deep fried butter!” as a clue for Ru and she wrongly guesses that she’s Paula Dean, it’s clear that things won’t go well for Latrila. Has anyone noticed that RuPaul has been getting a little bitchier recently? There’s even more sarcasm than usual when she visits the queens, offering misleading advice like a Tim Gunn who secretly wants his contestants to fail. Maybe it’s because this is the All Star season, so she’s making things as difficult as possible. When Raven and Jujubee try out one of their jokes as Bea Arthur and Fran Drescher, respectively, Ru responds with a stone-cold face before asking if the joke was over. “Oh, did Ru just clock us?” Jujubee asks. Yes, yes she did.

Brown Flowers’ Tammy Faye Messner and La Lupe combinations sounds like a mess from the start, but once Tammy starts talking about how she doesn’t write jokes, it begins to look disastrous. Tammy Faye is just an excuse for Tammie to be Tammie, but La Lupe isn’t a much better choice for Nina. It’s not just about choosing a big personality, it’s about picking one that can translate well to the exaggerated world of drag, and quick comic gags aren’t the best way to bring La Lupe to the world. Compare La Lupe to Yarlexis’ Charo and Shakira, two smart choices that work out swimmingly for the pair. After Charo’s appearance in last season’s finale, it became a no-brainer for one of the Latina contestants to take on the hip-shaking sex symbol, and Yara completely nails Charo’s look and personality. Alexis’ Shakira suffers because it’s a strictly visual character, but Vicki Lawrence applauds her work as the straight man to Yara’s wacky cartoon Charo.

The taping of RuPaul’s Gaff-In is when things get really awkward, and this show’s editing team deserves major recognition for cutting events to induce maximum cringing. Yara and Alexis’ language barrier seems like it’s going to be a problem at first, and their cocktail portion ends with an unintelligible punch line (“lady bunny?”). The entirety of the Gaff-In segment is painful to watch, just because the jokes are all so bad. As a fixture in her regular routine, Chad’s Bette Davis is one of the sole bright spots, although Shannel’s Lucille Ball leaves much to be desired. Latrila struggles with technical difficulties, and if comedy is all in the timing, their humor is all kinds of wrong. Poor Mama has to be subjected to the first third, Ru has to endure the second, and the viewing audience gets a barrage of bad comedy with the Peek-A-Ru wall. It’s saying something when the episode’s winning couple gets there with jokes about cocaine and smelly vagina, and that something is “RuPaul’s Drag Race is amazing.”

Before hitting the runway with ’60s groovy glam looks, the queens have some time to get to know each other better, so Latrice and Manila decide to strengthen their bond by sharing stories from their past. Manila dated a girl in high school and once tried to kill himself, and it’s a teaser to the emotional catastrophe that will come in Untucked. When Chad gets a message from her estranged father saying that he’s proud of her, it sets off a ripple effect of emotion that might be legitimate, but could also just be another aspect of this show’s performative element. Much of the fun in this series is seeing these queens put on a show for the cameras, and if one contestant is going to be spoon-fed a big emotional moment, the rest of the girls are going to have their time in the sun, too.


The runway show goes well, with Rujubee looking the most in-sync despite Raven’s janky make-up. Like Mimi last week, Tammie doesn’t quite reach the same level of quality in her styling as the other queens, and she turns up the personality to make up for it. The judges don’t respond well, especially Michelle, whose criticisms are met with opposition from Tammie, who reads Michelle on the makeup line on her neck. This is all saved for Untucked, because you know if they showed that in the actual episode it would be way too obvious who is going home. Other than Brown Flowers, the rest of the couples have one person who the judges love and another that falls flat, with Jujubee, Manila, Chad, and Yara getting kudos while their partners get critiqued. Vicki Lawrence is an awesome judge on this show, and she seems to be taking this very seriously, which is always fun. She likes that Manila’s Madonna was full of shit, just like the real one, and being with Yara’s Charo takes her back to the Carol Burnett Show stage, which is one hell of a compliment.

Latrila and Brown Flowers end up in the bottom two, with Latrice and Tammie hitting the runway to lip sync “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” Tammie is able to hold her own, but Latrice has the size advantage here, giving her that dominating Ethel Merman presence. When Latrice whips out the choreography, it’s pretty clear that Tammie is about to pack her bags, and surely enough, Latrila shantays to safety. The departure of Brown Flowers is much more amicable than last week’s elimination, ending with the perfect Tammie Brown image as she says, “May the best woman win,” then honks her giant rubber chicken. Tammie Brown is delightful in small doses, and two episodes seems to be the limit before the judges send her packing. But while she’s here, she sure is entertaining.


Stray observations:

  • Between All Stars and Don’t Trust the B—— In Apartment 23, Busy Philipps has played a role in some very entertaining television this past week.
  • I saw the Kinky Boots musical a couple weeks ago here in Chicago, based on the movie with Chiwetel Ejiofor about the British shoe factory that starts making shoes for drag queens. The book is by Harvey Fierstein with music by Cyndi Lauper, and while the show is definitely entertaining in that drag show kind of way, when it falls into more stereotypical musical trappings, it begins to fall apart. The drag queens are fabulous, though, and the show knows it.
  • You gotta love those crotch-first shots of the pit crew. It was a good 10 seconds before faces were even shown.
  • “I love synergism.”
  • “She who laughs last, probably didn’t get the joke in the first place. Sorry, Jiggly.”
  • “The devil wears nada.” I missed you, Raven.
  • “Come back to Earth.” Tammie is often referred to in extraterrestrial terms this episode.
  • “It’s a laugh riot!”
  • “What? Me? Cross-eyed?”
  • “That’s what we’re about. Drag Race: educating America.”
  • “If I had to pick one person to come out here and just walk around for a while, it would probably be her because I’m just fascinated by what in the hell is going on in that head.” Vicki Lawrence summarizes the mystique of Tammie “Draggy Kaufman” Brown.
  • “Your Bea Arthur was not golden, girl.”