Shade is a dish best served saucy. And plenty of shade is served The Drag Roast of Heklina as well as outright insult humor. To roast storied San Francisco queen Heklina before a live audience, her friend and roastmaster Jackie Beat brings ups a string of celebrity guests, including Sister Roma, Peaches Christ, Earth Girls Are Easy’s Julie Brown, and RuPaul’s Drag Race all stars Alaska Thunderfuck, Jinkx Monsoon, and Bob the Drag Queen. The library is open and everyone will be read to filth.
There’s a thrilling freedom to the roast format, where no subject is too taboo. And you may well gasp as often as you laugh over jokes are about race, addiction, AIDs, Kevin Spacey, and Bill Cosby. Recorded last February, this show gets personal. Long-faced Alaska is repeatedly mocked for the “horse face (she) rode in on.” The plus-sized queens are teased about their weight. And Katya—who was supposed to be on the bill but pulled out to check into rehab—was read in absentia and without pity. It sounds in bad taste, and that’s pretty much the point. Nothing is to be taken too seriously. And some queens land even the harshest jokes with aplomb.
As a Drag Race fan, the Ru girls were all standouts for me. I’m more familiar with their sense of humor, so that makes their barbs feel less abrasive. Bob, who showed up out of drag, was a reliable delight, missing none of his bravado even without a garish getup. Alaska’s dozy tone and sharp comedic timing make her segment a laugh riot. But Jinkx owned this stage, gleefully whooping at her own jokes, setting up clever callbacks, and bringing in a perfect bit of prop comedy. Even when she’s not at the podium, her cackle and reactions win laughs. And the popularity of the Drag Race stars is not something that goes unnoticed by the other queens.
There’s a resentment on stage that’s as subtle as Trixie Mattel’s makeup. Beat is known as a Drag Race hater, and she doesn’t shy away from that on stage. There are slams made not just against the celebs the series has made but also Momma Ru and the show itself. At first, it’s a bit titillating to see queens swinging up at RuPaul. But before long it just seems like sour grapes. By the time Heklina takes to the podium—in what should be her big moment—punchlines about the Ru’s girls are earning boos! Which means the star of this roast is getting heckled for mocking her guests! She responds with a fast and frustrated, “Fuck you.” But it taints the good times, and this isn’t the only awkward bit.
At one hour and 42 minutes, The Drag Roast of Heklina feels belabored. There are too many bits that just don’t work and are confoundingly left in. Some jokes that bomb are worthwhile, because the recovery or lack thereof is amusing. But some lay there limp and underwhelming like a fallen Farrah Moan. As much as I love Brown’s bonkers songs and irreverent attitude, her number for the show felt half-hearted, messy and mercilessly long. That’d be hard to slickly excise, but perhaps a trim? Likewise, gone should be the jokes that are repeated from one queen to the next, and cut down should be the growing resentments against Ru. Because while these salty queens may have just cause for their frustrations, it’s not cute. It’s not funny. It’s not the time or place when you’re using the Drag Race stars to draw your audience.
This roast is a wonky ride, nearly derailed by its rough cut and bitterest bits. Still, if you can’t get enough of drag queens, Jinkx’s cackle, Bob’s barbs, and Alaska’s dry deliveries, you’ll likely appreciate this celebration of shade.
The Drag Roast of Heklina is available on February 1, on Revry.tv
Header Image Source: Revry