Drag queens and variety shows are a perfect fit. Both are known for campy, cabaret-style entertainment. Both have a penchant for tongue-in-cheek humor and sensory overload. And both gravitate towards glitter, sequins, and the spotlight: all the world is a stage.
In this tradition, here! TV premieres She’s Living for This on Friday, Feb. 24. The variety show will air every other Friday after that. It features celebrated drag performer Sherry Vine, who has appeared everywhere from YouTube to Barcelona to Project Runway.
She’s Living for This styles itself after the “classic” variety shows such as “Sonny & Cher, Carol Burnett and Benny Hill.”
But can it live up to its predecessors?
Of course, the variety shows of the 60s, 70s and 80s were of their time and place, and so is She’s Living for This.
What are the new influences? Of course, the aforementioned YouTube. Sherry Vine has made a name for herself by posting Lady Gaga parodies on the video-sharing web site. One of her most popular videos is her take on Bad Romance: “Sh*t my pants.”
Yes, it’s that kind of party.
If you don’t like a little vulgar in your variety show, then stay out of the kitchen. The premiere for She’s Living for This reflects this influence in a gratuitous moment of full-frontal male nudity as well as in a John Waters-esque parody of the Helen Keller story.
But many of us have been singing in the key of vulgar for years. From South Park to Family Guy to any comedy by Judd Apatow, the envelope has been pushed again and again.
In a way, this is exactly what we should expect and encourage from any variety show featuring a drag queen hostess. Let’s push the boundaries, test the limits of good taste—so we can get to the truth of things.
Yet the question becomes: is it funny?
In the Helen Keller parody, a Super Nanny (Justin Vivian Bond) acts as the miracle worker for Helen (Sherry Vine). But the skit falls flat with predictable tropes: the Keller parents drink liquor for breakfast, and Helen spits up oatmeal and pea soup as the “Super Nanny” tries to feed her. The twist is that Helen learns to spell the word “dildo.” This envelope has been pushed before—it is shock for the sake of shock.
Throughout the half-hour show, Sherry and the other cast members deliver intentionally bad jokes between sketches and musical performances: “What does bungee jumping and a hooker have in common? They both cost about a $100 dollars and if the rubber breaks, you’re screwed.”
But where is the real humor? It comes out in unexpected places such as a memorable scene with “Busted,” a drag queen aptly named for her bad make-up and bad attitude.
An intriguing musical highlight is guest star Justin Vivian Bond, who performs a song from her album, dendrophile. Afterwards, she is interviewed by Sherry and the show’s humor becomes more authentic as they reminisce about the club circuit in the 90s.
In some ways, the premiere of She’s Living for This is trying to deliver what’s expected—the YouTube vulgarities, the old format of the variety show.
Yet the show has more potential when it leaves behind those expectations and becomes more of itself. Whether that means a more subdued sense of humor or more interviews, She’s Living for This would do well to create its own direction.
She’s Living for This
Friday, February 24, 2012