The Hasty Pudding Theatricals is an ancient Harvard theater troupe that was always a drag show, staging productions since 1844 in which men played all the women’s roles. It has announced that, for the very first time, it would include women in the cast. “The Hasty Pudding Theatricals is proud to announce that going forward, casting will be open to performers of all genders,” the group’s producers, Hannah Needle and Annie McCreery, said in an email.
This is an institution fatally impaling itself on the obelisk of political correctness.
I wondered when this would happen. I assumed it was inevitable once Harvard’s social justice warrior President Drew Faust announced in spring 2016 said that students who participated in single-gender clubs would not be allowed to hold on-campus leadership positions, captain sports teams, nor be eligible to receive endorsements for prestigious fellowships. Last year,Harvard considered banning the clubs outright, which would have included the Hasty Pudding Club which originated the show, but decided in 2017 to continue its policy of sanctions while leaving the threat hanging, like the sword of Damocles.
The Hasty Pudding show was an anachronism even when I was student. Student drag shows were common in the days before co-ed schools, and Harvard’s was the last one standing, which is what made it worth seeing and famous, the same random process that immortalized Fenway Park and George Burns. The show had a budget the size of a professional touring show, and did tour, performing for Harvard alumni clubs across the country, in addition to a month’s long run at the group’s Harvard Square theater. It hired a professional director, much of the orchestra, and the students who participated essentially gave up half a year of their education to participate. Harvard used to make its students who were interested in performing careers get their experience in extra-curricular theater groups like “the Pudding,” as it is called: there was no theater major. Thus stars-to-be like Jack Lemmon and Fred Gwynne got their start on the road to fame in Pudding shows.
The whole point is, however, that it’s a drag show. Many of the laughs come from the running joke that the women in the story are played by men, usually the biggest, tallest, hairiest ones available. The show is far more of a spoof on men than women. I have never known a woman who was offended at drag comedy. I have known many men and women who didn’t find it funny—my father hated Milton Berle especially because of his penchant for dressing in drag. I’m not a fan either, although John Cleese’s female impressions are irresistible.
I was also not a fan of the Pudding show itself, despite being very active in campus theater and having many friends who performed. I only saw one of the productions, “Bottoms Up!”, my freshman year. It was slick, well-performed, the costumes were terrific, and the original, student-written songs were excellent—I still have the cast album–but one hasty Pudding theatrical was plenty. The climax of every show was a spectacular kickline, which was perfectly executed by big, hairy guys dressed like the Rockettes. Again, not my cup of tea: I appreciated it rather than loved it.
I assumed that over the years the performances would be marred by the inevitable added feature of gay students using the premise to indulge themselves. The joke doesn’t work when the men playing women seem overly comfortable being effeminate or wearing dresses and falsies; as a director, I wouldn’t have cast a transparently gay male in the drag roles. With women playing women, however, the Hasty Pudding show becomes just another college musical. Big deal! After this year’s “first Hasty Pudding Show with women!” stories have been written and read, there won’t be any reason for the productions to be famous, prestigious, publicized, or seen.
But they won’t be politically incorrect any more, and that’s all that matters at Harvard. The Hasty Pudding show is dead. It will be a zombie, politically correct version of itself for a while, but what do you call a show that only is notable as a drag show that won’t have men playing the female roles? Pointless. Boring. Dead.
To be crystal clear: I don’t care about the show, the club, or the tradition, and never did. I do care when an institution and a completely benign tradition (send me a comment comparing drag shows to minstrel shows and I swear, you will be sorry) is pressured to sacrifice itself to conformity and progressive bullying, thus removing a bit more cultural diversity and variety from the world. Op-eds in the Boston Globe and The Crimson had called on actress Mila Kunis to reject the Woman of the Year award to protest the Pudding’s tradition of excluding women from its cast: that was just the latest salvo in a mounting campaign that was only going to get louder and angrier. Harvard’s carefully chosen and indoctrinated weenies weren’t going to have the support, fortitude or conviction to fight this. Defeat was inevitable, or perhaps the more appropriate phasing when the aggressor is a totalitarian collective is “Resistance is futile.”
I wonder if the same publications will protest when Melissa McCarthy plays another male celebrity on Saturday Night Live.
Nah. That’s funny.