There is a God.
For the first time ever, I attended the Dina Martina Christmas Show, held each December in the divey Rebar, a mixed bar in downtown Seattle. I was not disappointed. What the hell was I waiting for?! Words cannot adequately describe the surreal and carnivalesque experience of peering into the colourfully twisted imagination of what may be the most deliciously bizarre drag comedian of our age. In fact, I would even suggest that Ms. Martina might be Seattle’s most boast-worthy import to the rest of the world.
While drag comedians such as Shirley Q. Liquor often exploit racist stereotypes to engage and shock their audience, Ms. Martina is able to achieve the same effect without resorting to cheap shots–instead, what we observe is an innocent, almost childlike naiveté characterized by a whirlwind of perfectly-placed malapropisms, random, out-of-the-blue references, horrifyingly unflattering fashion-pieces, and dyslexic lyrical errors. (Yes, she does poke fun at Irish culture, the elderly, and rural, southern Americans, but it’s all done so sweetly and harmlessly, and it’s so silly and over-the-top, that it can’t possibly be taken seriously.) The result is a charmingly old-fashioned self-mockery which is so outrageously pathetic as to make one rupture an intestine from crying with laughter. Imagine Dame Edna on a cocaine bender after inhaling helium from a balloon.
Unfortunately, this is over the head of most Americans, who are so accustomed to humour of the artlessly normal, safe, and straightforward variety. But maybe that’s why she does so well in Seattle–which produced the likes of Almost Live!–a corner of the U.S. which seems to have developed a wackier, more ironic comic tradition than the rest of the country, a tradition that is reminiscent to some extent of British or Australian sensibilities, and which just may be as irreligious as these (Seattle is supposed to be the “least-churched” city in America). This might also be said of the gay subculture, which, I personally believe, is more humorously subsersive, whether this is because they have been motivated to be subversive as a reaction to the mainstream, or because they are deemed subversive for being outside the mainstream in the first place. At any rate, Ms. Martina might be said to embody this much-beloved, off-the-wall buffoonery.
Despite the fact that my cheeks were so sore from laughter that I thought my face would explode, I was able to retain a few tidbits from the show I attended. In the first half of the show, which was a matinee, Dame Martina graced the drunken audience with her rendition of “Angels We Have Heard on High”, which is memorable not only for the fortuitous substitution of “angles” for “angels”, but also for its totally out-of-leftfield allusion to the early ’80s disco classic by Laura Branigan, “Gloria”. This was followed by the teary ballad about Christ’s birth, called “Christmas”, in which she reverently describes Mary’s water breaking, her violent contractions, and a Christmas dinner inside the barn followed by a campfire replete with roasted marshmallows and campfire songs. Then there was an original version of “Edelweiss”, which merged seamlessly into “I’m Every Mountain”, a soulful homage to the Chaka Khan hit “I’m Every Woman”. Then there was the gift-giving–I mean “jift-jivving”–ceremony, in which Ms. Martina bestowed on a random audience member the jifts that keep on jivving–a stick of Cheetos-flavoured lip-balm, an inflated plastic turkey, and, perhaps most generous of all, the world’s largest pair of underpants, which she thoughtfully pressed against her face, leaving an imprint of her caked-on make-up on the crotch, before jivving it away to the lucky fan.
Perhaps the highlight of the show, however, was a story of hope in the midst of tragedy which Ms. Martina related whilst sitting next to a plastic Santa Claus statue. In it, she told about the goiter which cursed the neck of her 11 year-old adopted daughter, and how, one night, while her daughter slept, she tied one end of a string to the goiter, and the other end of the string to the door, and then slammed the door shut, removing the goiter quite effectively. She then told how she dried the goiter and filled it with candy to give to the poor Mexicans who lived on the other side of the railway tracks in the apple maggot quarantine area she calls home. You see, this Mexican family was celebrating a birthday and had no money for a real piñata. It took them several hours to finally break the makeshift piñata open, after which all the candy…and stuff…spilled out onto the gleeful children. The end.
One London reviewer was less than impressed with Ms. Martina’s graceful and elegant performance–the “ironic homophobia” was not to his liking, and, for him, the spoken interludes between songs dragged. This I cannot understand. I couldn’t take my eyes, nor my ears, away from the otherworldly spectacle gracing the stage throughout the entire show, and I couldn’t wait to get back after intermission to see what else the gal might pull out of her plastic shopping-bag of delights, or what other disco tune she would integrate into her deferential commemoration of Christ’s birthday. Could you?
If you get this humour, and you’re in Seattle, you can buy tickets to the Dina Martina Christmas Show at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/46945. In addition, you can celebrate the holidays with particularly horrifying pathos by purchasing the Dina Martina Holiday Album at either Amazon.com or iTunes. She is also on Facebook, for your enjoyment. I can’t wait to go back next year! Or maybe sometime in the crevasse that begs to be filled between Christmas and New Year’s. Or maybe on St. Patrick’s Day. Or possibly Easter. Perhaps Lammas, the harvest day.
<<News Update: I’m going to another Dina concert tonight (12/27/2010)! With my SIBLINGS. I know. I hope they get the tongue-in-cheek, burlesque humour.>>