December 4, 2009

The female female impersonator.

An interesting category, but who would we put in it? Guy Trebay starts with Wendy Williams. (It's an article about Wendy Williams.) But who else? He suggests Phyllis Diller, but then he backs off:
But Diller was a comedian...
(Ahem. Diller lives. Born in 1917 and alive.)
... and so are her spiritual descendants, people like Kathy Griffin and Margaret Cho, women sharp enough and shrewd enough to wade into the cultural scrapheap that is gender and recycle all the trashy signifiers they find there for laughs.
Williams is different, Trebay says, because she's a talk show host.
Like a kooky media divinity, a god in a comic book myth, Williams, 45, is permeable, superpotent and with no observable boundaries. She performs tricks on the air that involve her surgically amplified bosom. She suggests to guests like Omarosa Manigault Stallworth, the confrontational star of “The Apprentice,” that she look into facial fillers to correct the marionette lines that frame her stiff, practiced smile. She vows to keep her audience up to date on her vaginal toning. She cries, but then on television lately it’s hard to shut off the waterworks.

“You just have the audacity and the unmitigated gall to say what you think and let the chips fall where they may,” Williams said.
Nice. But I'm more interested in the general idea of the female female impersonator. The first person who sprang to mind for me is Dolly Parton. And Marilyn Monroe. And then Courtney Love, Madonna, Lady Gaga.

And as long as I'm in YouTube, here's the great Phyllis Diller:



And here she is with Groucho Marx — and she's the one with the drawn-on eyebrows — and here she is with Liberace.

Anyway, the topic for discussion is female female impersonators. And Phyllis Diller. And eyebrows...

24 comments:

nichole said...

Viva la GaGa!

Ron said...

Sandy Bullock in Miss Congeniality is sort of a female drag queen...does that count?

Scott M said...

and so are her spiritual descendants, people like Kathy Griffin and Margaret Cho, women sharp enough and shrewd enough to wade into the cultural scrapheap that is gender and recycle all the trashy signifiers they find there for laughs.

...excepting the fact that Margaret Cho isn't funny in the least. Maybe she was way back when (before her failed show), but now her stand-up is nothing but a bitchfest about how everyone hates her because she's fat and oriental. Even her set pieces, like impersonations of her English-challanged mother, are sixth-grade lunch room fare at best.

Honestly...she's like a short, heavy, unfunny version of Henry Rollins (who was brilliant in his "Sons Of Anarchy" role recently, btw)...without the pithy cultural observations or relevance to anything or anyone but herself.

Granted, I understand comedy is like music in the sense it's a personal taste with no inherent right or wrong. Except in the case of Margaret Cho...she's just wrong.

Pogo said...

My role as male male impersonator has yet to gain similarly deserved accolades.

t-man said...

Oprah!

t-man said...

I've been watching some reruns of the Lawrence Welk show from the late 60's and early 70's and most of the women look like female impesonators.

I picked Oprah because, as her ads used to sing "[She's] every woman, inside of [her]"

wv: "trins" - esperanto for "triplets"

Peter S. said...

If I had to nominate one woman, it would be Pamela Anderson, whose body -- blown up, deflated, covered, clothed -- has become her costume.

But one added point. According to 3rd (and some 2nd) wave feminism, aren't all women "female impersonators"?

Ralph L said...

The first time I saw Wendy on a Soup clip, I thought she was a man in drag. Too much work done on her face, too much wig, too much mouth, just too much.

Bob_R said...

What a great way of thinking of Phyllis Diller. She could be really funny at her best, but as time went on I found her "act" tiring. I liked her earlier when it was less over the top.

In some way all comedians are impersonators. They are clowns who make the fact that they are wearing a mask obvious. If the mask reflects some of their real personality so much the better. But it has to be obviously a mask. A dramatic actor can and usually should get lost in the role and hide the fact that he or she is wearing a mask. A comedian always shows the greasepaint.

Scott said...

Two words: Milton Berle.

I love Wendy Williams. She has a whiff of skank about her, but she's very down-to-earth and lacking in pretense. She's also funny in a good-natured way. I watch her show whenever I have the chance.

SteveR said...

"people like Kathy Griffin and Margaret Cho, women sharp enough and shrewd enough"

uh example=fail

Rachel said...

Mae West was the first female female impersonator.

Bushman of the Kohlrabi said...

Heh, for a second there I thought you meant Wendy O. Williams.

Paul Worthington said...

I second the nomination of Pamela Anderson. She's the first one who came to mind when I read the post title.

vbspurs said...

Sarah Palin? Seriously. She's got the balls as well as the feminine mystique.

TMink said...

Rachel, good point. Spot on. I also concur about Pamela Anderson.

And it makes me think of the Japanese school girl's who dress up in gothic baby doll outfits. They are female impersonaters by way of Tim Burton I think.

Trey

Maureen said...

You know, it's not often that I can say that the very concept of a thread on Althouse disgusts me. This one manages it.

They are women with a funny or exaggerated image. Nobody goes around telling Robin Williams that he's a hyperactive adult hyperactive adult impersonator, but somehow that's okay with women who act funny? Pah.

XWL said...

Adam Carolla's talked about this for years, and his primary example is Pamela Anderson, so no surprise she's come up in this thread.

TMink said...

Maureen, I miss your reason for disgust. What about this topic so offends you?

Trey

Paul Snively said...

I would add Jennifer Tilly to the list.

jeff said...

Whoops, thought we were talking about Wendy O Williams there for a sec. Nothing really to say about that, I do agree that Margsret Cho, if she every was funny, that boat sailed a long time ago.

chuck b. said...

We should dedicate a whole day to Phyllis Diller. A blog, even.

Something to do. I'm putting it on my list. It would be convenient if someone else has already done it tho'. I'll have to check. I'm putting it on my list.

Titus said...

Hello, Where's Cher? She is a total draq queen.

BlogDog said...

Excuse me? Has no one seen the movie "Victor, Victoria?"