How Fucking Good Is The Filthy Swearing In ‘Drag Race Down Under’?
Hearing a bunch of drag queens say "cunt" on television almost made me patriotic.
In the first minute of RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under, we are treated to the extravagant sight of Melbourne queen Art Simone, strutting into the workroom. She pauses, and with a thickly smeared ocker accent says, “Well, I’m not here to fuck spiders”.
You can’t get much more Australian than that.
As the queens continue to file in, iconic Sydney drag queen Maxi Shields enters, literally overflowing with fake boobs.
“Maxi is a dickhead on stage, but still sexy with my big boobs and big bum,” she tells the camera. “My biggest strength is that I don’t fucking shut up.”
If you’re a fan of the US version of Drag Race, you’d probably have noticed one massive difference between the Antipodean version and its mum (apart from how insanely small our workroom is) — the profligate and extremely enthusiastic use of swear words and profanities. In the US, the swears are censored and sparse. In Australia, they are gloriously free flowing.
“Hey Maxi!” yells Art Simone.
“Oh not you, you cunt”* Maxi Shields responds.
“How the fuck are you?”
* UPDATE: Apparently the captions were wrong, and Maxi Shields actually says “you dog”. Nevertheless.
the queen speaks pic.twitter.com/aVqkuuY6aU
— %PCName (@johnnytrashbag) May 5, 2021
I don’t have a lot of patriotism for Australia, and there’s not a lot to be proud about imho, but this conversation, and seeing our unfiltered passion for profanity on the world stage did manage to make me feel weirdly proud. And the more I watched, the more I realised that a lot of the joy of Drag Race Down Under — messy, campy, fun– was expressed precisely through that love of swearing.
But I also had to wonder what the rest of the world would think of it? The Australian and New Zealand accents are already thick enough that I imagine the US will have trouble with them (which reportedly was the case with the Scottish queens in Drag Race UK) — but I imagine the cultural shock of hearing the word “cunt” dropped in the first five minutes would be a bigger hurdle.
— Omar Sakr (@OmarjSakr) May 1, 2021
“I forgot how fuckin’ foulmouthed us Aussies are, my roommates were like OMG at how filthy the jokes were,” actor Zoë Rae, who watched the premiere with her US flatmates in New York, told me.
“They don’t watch any Drag Race (weirdly hard to watch here without cable TV) so it probably also could have been the sexual innuendo too. They’re from the Midwest,” she explained.
“It was definitely the swearing that they found surprising, but that was more of a lol because they’re used to me now.”
But beyond the shock value of hearing so much swearing, it seems that the ATTITUDE in which the swears are delivered created a “nasty vibe” from the queens to Zoë’s flatmates.
This could perhaps be a combination of Australian and New Zealand swearing culture — in which a word like “cunt” can be used interchangeably as both an insult and a term of endearment, depending on nuance, and drag/queer culture, where being a spiteful bitch to each other is kinda how you show love. It’s complicated, but shady behaviour from drag queens is often hard to read. I didn’t think there was much venom in Down Under — more shady banter.
They also apparently found the innuendoes and sexual profanity a little more “full on” than the US show, which also makes sense.
“They really didn’t like ‘I’m going in dry’ if you need an example for the sexual component,” Zoë helpfully supplied.
Drag Race, I believe, is at its best when it’s being silly and funny and campy — and profanity, innuendo, and crude jokes are definitely part of that. New Aussie host, the wonderfully cheekboned Rhys Nicholson, definitely seems to understand that, and uses profanity and crude humour with high wit. Notably, such as his joke from the judges table:
“My boyfriend always says: this is a strong opening, and I hope you can top it” — which is a perfect mixture of crudity and wit. That’s a lot of clever wordplay, wrapped in an absolutely filthy innuendo.
Or look at the iconic Jojo Zaho, who made several important and moving points about First Nations culture and rights, and also followed up with a joke about “colonising their colons”.
— yana (@alyananico) May 4, 2021
— Jymone Jon Joulash (@terrasphynx) May 1, 2021
Mama Ru loves herself some crude humour, and Rhys and several of the Down Under queens really tickled her — but you have to do it right. Just look at examples like A’Whora in the most recent UK season who was marked down for being too filthy and crude in a comedy routine, without the cleverness. It’s not a sure win to be disgusting.
So it seems that while Drag Race has a love of crude humour, it is Australia which perhaps has a love for crude language in particular. I talked to Victoria Morgan, the Senior Editor of the Macquarie Dictionary, to try and work out why this might be. She told me that a lot of Australia and New Zealand’s love of swearing can possibly be dated back to convict and class origins, which has been embraced as a part of the country’s collective identity.
“If you’re in a formal setting, or if your grandma’s there, we know not to use this type of language [profanities], or maybe we shouldn’t be using that type of language. But when we’re around people who we’re close to, it’s actually a way of us showing, I guess, love of these people as well. We can be rude to them. We can sort of take the piss out of them and it’s a way of showing affection.”
#DragRaceDownUnder has the word C**t in the first five minutes and a queen walking the runway as the big prawn above the Bunnings in Ballina. I LOVE MY COUNTRY.
— brisbanebravo (@brisbanebravo) May 1, 2021
I also asked about the difference between us and the US viewers of Drag Race Down Under.
“In general, the US do tend to be more conservative with the use of language. So, they are often shocked when they come out here and how freely they sort of see us using this language,” she told me.
But I think it’s the delight and innovation that our region takes with bad language that makes it such a great part of Drag Race Down Under, which Victoria Morgan agrees with.
“I think in general, and this isn’t just for profanities, I think we’re very inventive with language as well. So, we have phrases like, ‘mad as a cut snake’ and ‘roos loose in the top paddock’. And while they’re not particularly taboo in the slightest, the imagery… it’s just so much fun to use these when they’re available, instead of something else.”
She draws the parallel between Australia’s love of inventive swears and classic drag language — which also has such a similarly fun and camp attitude.
“I love the term ‘hunty’ as well. And now that’s something that’s used very, very affectionately. But, the origin is a blend of honey and cunt. So…”
And I think that’s part of the beauty of Australia’s love of profanity — it’s something we delight in. There’s a simple brutal poetry in the over-use of the word “fuck”, and an elegance and joy in our profane phrases, such as Art Simone’s “I’m not here to fuck spiders”. A phrase known routinely in Australia — a baffling crudity to anyone else.
And that’s why I’m so excited to see it on Drag Race Down Under, where drag queens will elevate swearing and being rude bitches to an actual art form — because that’s what drag does, elevates the absurd and crude into ridiculous art.
Drag Race Down Under is streaming weekly on Stan, watch it cunts.
Patrick Lenton is the Editor of Junkee. He tweets @patricklenton.