This article first appeared October 3, 2014 in my Chick on the Draw column at Luna Station Quarterly.
Sometimes animation is sort of like SNL in the early 90s–it assumes men dressed as women are funnier than actual women.
I’m not saying Cross-Dressing Voices is always men-as-women. Where would animated boy roles be without June Foray, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Christine Cavanaugh, E. G. Daily, Laura Torres, Tara Strong, and Cree Summer? Not every show dares to let their male kid lead grow up –as Avatar: the Last Airbender and Adventure Time did.
And I’m not saying men posing as women can’t be funny or subversive. Divine as Edna Turnblad, the Kids in the Hall as their lady counterparts, and Jordan Peele as Meegan are all comedy gold. But what’s vital to their success is that the funny comes from the characters and situations, and not simply the drag itself.
And I’m not saying the male performers don’t deserve the part. Many of the cases I’m about to describe are actually male show creators who took on female roles in development and never let go. Who could say a show creator doesn’t know the character?
What fan would single out one not-entirely-satisfying drag performance in an otherwise satisfying movie or show?
Who could ask a show creator to give up their sweetest plum?
Who could suggest the character might take on a new dimension in the hands of, say, a professional female performer with decades of experience?
That person would have to be a bit of a nit-picky dirtbag.
Let this dirtbag say it: unless a man-in-drag voice performance is damn funny or damn subversive, it’s frustrating to see.