Good-Bye To The Hasty Pudding Show

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.

19 thoughts on “Good-Bye To The Hasty Pudding Show

      • I see an easy solution to appease the PC gods while still preserving a sense of tradition: just make the rule that a cast member must perform as a different gender than they self-identify as.

        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.

        Does Harvard not provide opportunities for women to perform in shows of similar prestige to this one? If not, I could see the complaints, but I’d find that hard to believe. But if there are equal opportunities for them to perform, then there’s nothing wrong with keeping this an all-male show.

        • “I see an easy solution to appease the PC gods while still preserving a sense of tradition: just make the rule that a cast member must perform as a different gender than they self-identify as.”

          Is that really that easy? The premise of the show hinges on the absurdity of men dressing as women. That requires a general notion of normalcy of men dressing as men and men being presumed to “self identify” as men. The show *cannot* survive in a culture that insists it is not absurd for men to dress as women nor absurd for men to “self identify” as women (or vice versa). To preserve the humor, one would have to have a list of the cast, which identifies what nature says they are, what they say they are, and what role they play. Exactly 0 people will see any quirky fun in that.

          The show is dead so long as the community no longer holds the premises upon which the show relies.

    • What if the women played the female roles but as burly stereotypical tough guys. Might work for one iteration, but making it a staple would be awfully hard.
      Then, Robert DeNiro managed the cross-dressing, soft-hearted pirate captain pretending to be tough, whose whole crew knew about it and made it work in Stardust. Stranger things may just work.

      • Thanks for that, Jack. It’s been a long time since I have seen a performance by them, and they are magnificently talented. You and I share a love for many if not all performance arts. My ex-wife (#2, not the most recent) was a dance and movement therapist, and was, herself, a dancer. She studied one season with Alvin, and I think could have made a career in dance. She and I both loved the Trockadero.

    • The legendary Trocks – formally: Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo – were and are brilliant. Polished, professional, seriously comical and comically serious, and passionately dedicated to ballet. They have a punishing schedule this year (Jan-Nov) of no less than 58 performances, … all but three exclusively in the “red” and Southern states … and in 18 cities in Europe and the UK. (They’ve already “done” Texas (Irving, San Angelo, San Antonio), New Mexico and Berlin, Germany. Next up is Fairfax, VA. The Trocks are a living object lesson for those who hold to the stereotype that drag means any man can be a casual hairy clown who puts on a dress and make up and prances about lip-sync-ing Judy Garland, or that drag is an insult to women.

      The trailer is for their documentary film, Rebels On Pointe, to be released in November:

      • Thank you, Penn. I not only missed them here in San Antonio, I never saw an ad for them. They are, indeed, sensational. No doubt you are aware that , when ballet was young, ALL ballet companies were all-male, all the time.

  1. I always thought that the Hasty Pudding Show was an immigration of the English penchant and enjoyment of silly men dressed in drag and playing silly English dowagers. Harvard was founded in 1646 after all, so it would seem obvious that this very British form of humor would emigrate with the British in the Colonies. Anyone know if the Brits have also succumbed to PC and erased this (just one) eccentric form of humor from their culture post-Monty Python? Hope not.

  2. So funny Monty Python made an entire career out of mocking British public TV and dramatic and educational films and earnest, Anglophilic Americans can’t get enough of them on PBS.

    I’ll see you and raise you a Monty Python skit:

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