Friday, February 11, 2005

Change of plans

Like many gay Madisonians, I subscribe to the e-mail list of the Ten Percent Society, an LGBT organization at the University of Wisconsin. Although the list is putatively a university resource, it's also a source of news and information for the city's larger gay community.

And was the TPS list burning up yesterday! It seems Club 5, the cavernous gay nightspot on the city's far south side, booked a performance for Feb. 25 by Shirley Q. Liquor. That's the stage name of comedian Charles Knipp, a white Mississippi man who performs in drag and blackface. The messages came all morning: we must halt this show. And then all afternoon: we have halted this show.

Apparently a campaign of phone calls succeeded, and Shirley Q. Liquor will not be performing. Club 5 has, naturally, removed her picture from its web site, but I saved the site here, if you're curious. As you might imagine, Knipp has provoked controversy before. In 2002, Shirley Q. Liquor shows were cancelled in New York and Boston when protesters threatened to picket.

I must confess, all of this make me nervous. I'm uncomfortable, in theory at least, with the notion that activists of whatever political stripe can shut down an entertainment event simply because they don't like the ideas involved. I can certainly imagine edgy, important, troubling performance work that uses drag and blackface, and the fact that RuPaul endorses Knipp gives me pause.

But I'm not beyond casuistry. I downloaded some Shirley Q. Liquor material, and I must say: this is not edgy, important performance work, though it is troubling. Knipp's shtick is not only unforgiveably racist and sexist; it's also unforgiveably feeble, predictable, tiresome and unfunny. Good riddance.

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