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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Stand-up delivers more anxiety than comedy on RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars

Illustration for article titled Stand-up delivers more anxiety than comedy on iRuPaul’s Drag Race/i iAll Stars/i
Photo: Courtesy of VH1
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There’s something fitting about having a comedy challenge as the final hurdle before a Drag Race finale. While editors can work wonders, at a certain point, if the audience isn’t laughing, there’s little that can save a struggling queen. All Stars has arguably over-weighted comedy in season five—every challenge save the talent show at least partially tested the queens’ comedy chops—but it’s hard to complain about the structure of the back half of the season. Going from Snatch Game Of Love to a backyard ball to a stand-up challenge is a great way to test the queens’ versatility and creativity and see who can rise to the top. While the top four queens don’t exactly hit this one out of the park, “Stand-Up Smackdown” makes a compelling case for the eventual top three and keeps viewers on their toes along the way. It’s not much, but in an underwhelming season, it’s enough.

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The episode begins with the queens reacting to Alexis’ elimination. Jujubee makes a point to commend Alexis and the other queens concur, taking a moment to celebrate their former competitor. Cracker shakes off her lip-sync loss and leads her fellow queens on an entertaining misdirect about whose lipstick she chose. The tension deflates as she reveals Alexis’ name, Jujubee chastising her and Blair going in for a grateful hug. When Cracker opens up the voting box, they find the vote was nearly unanimous, with the top four unified in their choice to eliminate Alexis. Blair appreciates the other queens’ confidence in her, and all four reiterate their determination not just to make the top three, but to snatch the crown.

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The next day, the queens head into the workroom with gusto and an honorary, “Bam!” RuMail teases a comedy challenge—Cracker is thrilled—and Ru fills in the specifics. They’ll be writing comedy routines and facing off in a stand-up showdown. With no specific brief, there’s a lot of room for creativity, but Ru is clear on one thing: They need to bring the jokes. After one more reminder that this challenge determines who will go to the finale, Ru heads out and the queens get to work. Right off the bat, Shea is concerned. Jujubee is the funniest, most present queen of the lot, Cracker does stand-up in her shows all the time, and Blair has had a strong comedic rapport with the judges all season. Comedy is not Shea’s strength, and she knows it. Blair feels much the same, plus she knows how badly she needs a win. If she wants to make it to the finale, she needs to shine.

As the previous challenge winner, Cracker gets to decide the performance order, and she makes a meal out of announcing the lineup. Jujubee is first because she’s funny and she needs a handicap. Opening to a cold crowd is a great way to hobble the queen Cracker sees as her biggest competition this challenge. Then Blair will be second, either having to follow an on-fire Jujubee or forced to win over a disengaged audience. Cracker will be third, having used Blair as a buffer from Jujubee, and Shea will be last, having to deal with a crowd that’s starting to tire and the always challenging task of ending on a high. This is Cracker’s best social play all season. Not only does she get into each of her competitors’ heads, she does it while being hilariously honest and upfront and she serves up a memorable Drag Race moment in the process. Well done, Cracker.

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The episode wastes no time heading to rehearsal. Jujubee is thrilled to see Jane Krakowski sitting next to Ross, both there to offer advice. After gushing over Jane in the talking heads, Jujubee is reassured by Jane that going first is actually a good thing. Jujubee will be able to set the tone for the show, rather than having to pivot from another queen’s style of comedy to her own. When she settles into her material, though, a trend emerges. Ross and Jane are laughing at everything Jujubee does, but because of her personality and concepts, not her specific material. The actual jokes aren’t connecting and likely won’t work with a crowd. Jujubee has some tweaking to do to get her ideas to land with a larger, noisier audience.

Blair is similarly excited to see Jane, who raves over Blair’s Instagram. Despite her trepidation, Blair does great in rehearsal. She goes for a roast format and has plenty of material and a relaxed, friendly delivery. If she can stay this confident in the performance, she’ll do well. Cracker, another Jane fan, is theoretically in her element, but her material is overworked and wordy. She needs to streamline her ideas, land some jokes, and as Jane reminds her, do her best to stay in the moment, rather than reeling off a fully scripted set. Shea is last and while she gets a few chuckles from Ross and Jane, nothing is fully connecting. Ross suggests she go more for a storytelling approach, channeling season 12 mentor extraordinare Whoopi Goldberg and drawing on her experience in the season nine finale. Shea is on the fence, not yet ready to laugh about her elimination, but willing to try.

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Illustration for article titled Stand-up delivers more anxiety than comedy on iRuPaul’s Drag Race/i iAll Stars/i
Photo: Courtesy of VH1

The next day, the queens are excited and in at least one case, extremely nervous. Shea did not sleep well and wasn’t able to settle her stomach. She’s still burping as they work, her gut tied in knots over her set, which she only managed to sketch out that morning. She pulls out a gorgeous read gown and starts steaming it. If she isn’t funny, at least she’ll look fabulous. Jujubee, seeing the dress, is gagged. As for Blair, she’s riding high after her rehearsal, ready to slay the challenge. Her confidence is not appreciated by the still anxious Jujubee, who cheekily vents in the talking heads. Jujubee has come to terms with going first however, buoyed by Jane’s comment in rehearsal, while Shea is still less than enthused to be going last.

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On the main stage, Ru walks the runway in a lovely blue and black gown and formally welcomes Jane and fellow guest judge Sam Richardson. When Jujubee comes out for her set at RuPaul’s Shady Shack, it’s easy to see why she was so thrown by Shea’s red gown. She’s in a cute blue minidress and blue wig. She looks great, but her look is a far cry from Shea’s eleganza. Jujubee gets the crowd chuckling right away, but the laughs are a bit strained. She belabors her opening plastic surgery joke before moving on to a more successful roasting of Blair, Ross, Cracker, and Michelle. Blair starts her set out confidently, looking beautiful in a light blue sequined dress and red hair, but she’s clearly nervous. She keeps returning to her notebook, clutching to it like a life preserver. Rather than using it as a jumping off point, she reads from it, putting a wall between herself and the audience and ruining her comedic timing. It doesn’t help that the jokes aren’t all that funny. She was much more at ease in rehearsal, able to react to Ross and Jane. With the crowd in front of her, she falters and never finds her feet.

Cracker comes out next in a royal blue jumpsuit and is immediately at home. She hits with her first few jokes and it’s smooth sailing from there, combining a conversational stand-up energy with some zingers towards herself and her fellow queens. The crowd is engaged and she manages at least chuckles from the entire panel. While Shea doesn’t quite connect at that level, she comes closest to matching Cracker’s energy. She looks absolutely gorgeous in her red gown and she gets a solid response going with some quick punchlines before pivoting to talking about her season nine loss to Sasha Velour. She keeps it light and considering she had all of a day to brainstorm material, she does well. Shea and the producers have been building and returning to her narrative as a robbed rightful winner all season. Playing into that in her set is a smart, effective move.

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After the queens wrap their stand-up sets, it’s time for the runway. Category is Freak Out: Let Your Freak Flag Fly. Jujubee is the first down the runway and she looks amazing. She’s in a multicolored, clashing check and houndstooth bodysuit and corset, carrying oversized fabric chains and wearing a pointed headpiece and mask. When she takes off the mask, she’s painted with her standard face, but is crying glitter. This is the best look Jujubee’s worn all season and it’s a great time to pull it out. Blair’s look is similarly colorful and bold, a spotted black and white body suit with lime green accents beneath a purple, pink, and blue bikini and tail, poof ball accents, and an orange harness. She’s painted as a cat and is wearing black hair and hot pink heels, and she looks terrific.

Illustration for article titled Stand-up delivers more anxiety than comedy on iRuPaul’s Drag Race/i iAll Stars/i
Photo: Courtesy of VH1
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After Jujubee and Blair’s high-impact runways, Cracker’s unintentionally timely plague doctor-themed look feels tame, but it’s still good. She pairs a giant black hat and death mask with a black and white robe, before taking them off to reveal a sheer black and silver bodysuit with long black hair, a personification of death. Last is Shea, and while her look is certainly colorful and fun, it’s not quite up to the others’. She’s in a bright pink body suit and harness with a colorful, fuzzy coat, Cookie Monster shoes, and black hair. She’s channeling ’90s rave culture and earlier in the season, this would have stood out. In the top four, compared to the others, it feels safe.

It’s time for the judges’ critiques. They love Jujubee’s look, but are tepid on her stand-up, which took too long to click into place. Blair is similarly praised for her look, but the judges acknowledge that her set didn’t work. There was too much dead time and as Michelle comments, too many of her jabs lacked a punchline and were just mean. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Cracker, who Ross and Sam compliment for her joke structure and timing. As for Shea, Michelle and Ross ding her look as fun, rather than freaky. That’s a minor complaint, though, as they really responded to her stand-up. They applaud her for going with such personal material, which helped her connect with the audience. Ru ultimately declares Cracker the winner, leaving Jujubee, Blair, and Shea all up for elimination, and the queens head back to deliberate.

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All things considered, the queens and the editors do a decent job building some suspense, but from here the elimination feels like a foregone conclusion. Blair is the clear under-performer in the challenge and she’s the only remaining queen without a challenge win. Jujubee, Shea, and Cracker have already shown a preference for voting diplomatically, rather than strategically, so when no side conversations or scheming materializes—and of course the editors would show it if it existed—Blair’s fate is clear. Fortunately, the episode speeds through deliberations, acknowledging the queens’ emotions and journeys, but not lingering any longer than necessary.

After voting, Cracker heads up to the stage to face the final Lip-Sync Assassin of the season, who is revealed to be Kennedy Davenport. Kennedy is an excellent pick, particularly for the final lip-sync, but the same cannot be said of the song. Reba McEntire’s “Fancy” is a compelling song, but it’s a poor choice for a Drag Race battle. Cracker and Kennedy do their best to serve face and attitude, while chewing through the song’s many lyrics, but the slower tempo relegates this to a strut-off. Neither performance is particularly captivating, though Kennedy embodies the energy of the song just a bit better. Ru gives the win to Cracker. The moment has come, and Cracker reveals the last pre-finale elimination: Blair.

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Blair has done very well this season, consistently delivering memorable, beautiful looks on the runway and solid performances in the challenges. A top four All Stars finish is nothing to sneeze at, and she’s certainly shown her growth since season 10. That leaves Cracker theoretically in the lead heading into the finale with three wins, Shea right behind with two, and Jujubee in third with one. Right now, the narrative momentum points to a Shea win, but Jujubee picked an excellent time to up her runway game and Cracker is building momentum. Anything could still happen, and it’s exciting to see three deserving queens in the finale. Hopefully they’ll make it as tough a decision as possible.

Stray observations

  • Drag Race season eight and All Stars season three queen Chi Chi DeVayne announced that she’s been hospitalized with suspected kidney failure. She’s tested negative for COVID-19 and is undergoing treatment. Fans and fellow Drag Race alums are sending their support and Chi Chi has been giving updates via Instagram.
  • Little of the guest judging this season has been memorable—Nicole Byer being the standout so far—but Sam gives good feedback this episode and Ross and Jane are excellent coaches to the queens as they prep their sets.
  • I began season five predicting a Shea and Jujubee showdown and it would appear we are heading that way. Depending on their performances in the finale, I would be comfortable with any of the top three winning. At the moment, my money would be on Shea, but I’d love for Jujubee to finally get her crown.
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