What is it about the English that draws them again and again to cross-dressing as a cornerstone of comedy? You’d think that three-hundred and some years on from Charles II’s allowing women on the stage – thereby making pre-pubescent male Juliets a thing of the past – we’d have long ago seen the last of stubbly-faced ladies. Oh, but we have not, and it’s a good thing too.
The most popular recent incarnation of this phenomenon is Matt Lucas and David Walliams’ two-man sketch comedy extravaganza Little Britain. If you’ve somehow managed to miss this, it is well worth a search on YouTube (at least). The cross dressing skits are hilarious (Emily Howard, Vicki Pollard, and Anne are fine examples), though my favorite pair is Andy and Lou, an indecisive faux cripple and his benevolently idiotic friend and minder.
For those of a more venturesome disposition, I recommend the League of Gentlemen. The title refers to the four actors who play virtually all of the inhabitants of the eerie fictional town of Royston Vasey – Jeremy Dyson, Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith. While Little Britain occasionally verges into the scatological (a woman who vomits profusely whenever she encounters a racial or ethnic minority, for example), The League of Gentlemen can be utterly baffling and disturbing. There’s a short, impenetrable skit with two minstrels – men in blackface – eating cereal and listening to a broadcast on the radio about the recent mass influx of minstrels. Explain that one if you will. I have suspicions that the writing of certain skits may have involved psychotropic substances. Nonetheless, for Tubbs and Edward, a husband and wife team who keep the “Local Shop,” the show is worth a watch. (I wish I could find the one where Tubbs nurses a piglet – you are intrigued now, I know! – but, alas, I could only find this.)
Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie are also exceptional in drag and if you’ve watched House, M.D. and don’t know where it all began, A Bit of Fry and Laurie is a must. Hugh Laurie in a head kerchief and over-applied rouge, speaking not a word, is a side-splitting, pants-wetting thing to behold
But the inspiration for this post was my most recent encounter with this genre, a clip from a show called The Might Boosh. I warn the faint of heart against Old Greg, but for those fuzzy little man-peaches out there who dare to drink Bailey’s from a shoe, chin chin!