By Mike Fleming
Project Q Atlanta

It takes a thick skin, good humor and great comic timing to be a drag superstar. It’s a moral not lost on the remaining seven queens of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” who take on standup comedy this week.

To test their ability to take a joke, Ru enters in an embarrassing black leather jacket, skinny capris and beret (top photo) and asks the queens to throw shade at each other for the mini-challenge. They’re all pretty good sports, though that may be because most of them aren’t very good at hurling insults, deferring to sophomoric name-calling like too-easy fat jokes about Delta.

Shangela’s shade doesn’t make us laugh, but she is by far the best of the bunch. As a reward, she gets an extra 10 minutes with comedian Rita Rudner to polish her act for the main challenge: standup routines in front of a live audience. She also wins the privilege of determining the order in which the queens will take the stage.

With so many queens accustomed to manning the mic during drag shows, you might think this gig would be easier for them than other folks. But let’s face it; standup comedy is one bitch of a challenge. Speaking of bitches, most of the cliquey contestants are quaking in their heels over the challenge, so the workroom sniping is replaced by silence as the girls try and figure out how they’re going to make this thing work.

One exception is Shangela, who is in her element. A former standup comedian, she has a leg-up this week and, for once, doesn’t have to rely on the other girls for tips. But she does anyway, asking for and finally procuring much-needed advice on blending her makeup so she doesn’t look like she’s wearing a carnival mask.

Raja does a whole act based on the movie “Carrie,” complete with upturned bucket of blood. She doesn’t kill it, but the act doesn’t kill her, either. The rest of the sight gags don’t go over as well: Carmen puts on a fat suit, Delta puts on a skinny suit (second photo), Alexis dons giant breasts, and Yara walks on her knees as a little person. None of their jokes rise above the initial grin of the gimmick, but Delta’s meltdown is particularly hard to watch.

Bookending those middle-grounders, Manila bases her been-there-done-that set on how gay “Sesame Street” is. It bombs, but props must be paid to her glamour-drag interpretation of Big Bird. As predicted, Shangela destroys the competition in her character LaQueefa PMP (Post Modern Pimp-Ho, third photo), scoring not just giggles but unabashed laughter.

The combination of a better look and comedy experience serves Shangela well on the main stage as the girls perform for yucks with an audience that also includes Ru, Rudner and “Mad TV” and “Chelsea Lately” alumna Arden Myrin (bottom photo with Ru) on the judges panel with regulars Michelle and Billy B. Stop reading if you don’t want to know what happens.

The middle-grounders are sent to safety one by one. Predictably and deservedly, Shangela is named the Drag Queen of Comedy and wins the night. Left to their own devices, Manila and Delta must Lip Sync For Your Life. Love ‘em or hate ‘em—and we do—these two provide the best showdown so far this season.

We called for Donna Summer’s “McArthur’s Park” in last week’s cake challenge—Hello? “Someone left the cake out in the rain?” “It took so long to bake it?” “I’ll never have that recipe again?” —Well anyway, like they heard us, that’s the song the bottom two must perform this week, when of course there’s not a cake in sight. It’s Delta’s third time in the bottom three, and even though she does an admirable job, no matter how well she does, her time is waning.

And like Ru’s final decision, we have to hand it to Manila. She channels the emotion of the song so well that we are actually taken aback, smearing her makeup, sobbing, going all psycho when the tempo lifts and crumbling as the song ends. Sashay she stays!

Though Ru patted the show on the back for bringing three plus-sized queens to this season’s show, Delta becomes the last of the big girls—and the first of the  cliquey “Heathers”—to leave the competition. See you next week when the six remaining skinny minnies battle it out to become the Top Five.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.