Caribbean Comedy’s Cross-Dressing Craze

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In The Voice, Nadine White examines the evolution of male West Indian entertainers who cross-dress as part of their acts. It would be interesting to expand the research to explore the role of males donning female personas to include the role of cross-dressing in carnivals, processions, and other events across the Caribbean (thinking here of the Puerto Rican “viejas” or “locas,” but I know that there are similar figures throughout the region). White points out that critic/writer Steven Malik Shelton asserts that “The demeaning spectacle of black male actors parading around in women’s attire and mocking feminine attributes is yet another calculated assault on the masculine strength of the black man,” but, she contends that “the act can also be interpreted as a nod to the matriarchal structure within the Caribbean household.” Read the full article at The Voice (and feel free to comment below).

[. . .] Although Caribbean comedy has yet to become integrated into the mainstream sphere, evidence shows that it has its place on video sharing sites like Vine and YouTube, as well as social media. Among the pioneers behind this movement are predominantly first or second-generation Caribbean men, who impersonate women, adorned in female attire as part of their act. It’s all the rage. Typically consisting of portrayals of mothers or girlfriends in Caribbean society, these skits are charged with real life perspectives, like most good comedy.

Over the last five years, more and more homemade videos have come to the fore, prompting widespread comments and shares on social media. The comedians spearheading this new trend include the likes of Owen Bryan, Chaddy Bwoy, Fatskull and Miss Bomba Claudie, as well as Andrew Trabass, PrinceMarni, Rohan Perry and Majah Hype, who is recognised for his hilarious portrayals of Caribbean characters, including the straight-talking Jamaican elder, Sister Sandrine.

Another entertainer embracing this trend is Jamaican comic PrinceMarni, who is well-known for his comedic character, Suzan. Reflecting on the impact of social media, PrinceMarni reasons: “The advancement of technology and social media becoming more popular means that people are seeing more things, experiencing more and they’re going to become more accustomed to it. In third world countries especially, social media is everything. Across the board though, the media, social media…it runs everything.”

Even in 2016, society at large is patriarchal. Caribbean society in particular is saturated with hyper-masculine ideals, which have long dictated the norms, values and cultural acceptability of certain behaviours. Still, times are changing.

In times gone by, when greats such as Oliver Samuels and Titus were enjoying widespread prominence, male comedians exhibited macho conduct. Fast-forward to the present day and clearly times, styles and audiences have evolved. This cultural reform isn’t just restricted to the Caribbean. Since the 1990s up until present day, African-American actors such as Martin Lawrence, Eddie Murphy and Tyler Perry have all adorned women’s clothing for comedic effect.

Still, Caribbean society has only recently become more accepting of this form of amusement, partly because of its rather radical, homosexual connotations, which has long been frowned upon. It is fair to say that Kingston-born actor/comedian Keith ‘Shebada’ Ramsay helped to legitimise effeminate characteristics within the realm of Caribbean comedy and theatre, when he burst onto the scene with the play, Bashment Granny in 2006. Since then, the Jamaican performer has appeared in a number of successful productions, toured various countries and shrugged off naysayers who have hit out at his ladylike disposition. [. . .]

There have been other male Caribbean thespians/comedians who have dressed up as women, such as actor Paul Campbell in the action thriller Third World Cop and Charles Tomlin’s performance as Mrs Basson in Blue Mountain Theatre’s 2007 production, Blazee.

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Meanwhile, here on UK shores, British comic Wayne Rollins has long entertained audiences with his female, Bajan alter-ego, Dibbi. Donning an array of wigs, high heels and min-skirts, Rollins has, for years, evoked laughter among countless audiences with his rowdy Caribbean character. [. . .]

[Photo above:  PrinceMarni as Suzan.]

For full article, see http://www.voice-online.co.uk/article/caribbean-comedy%E2%80%99s-cross-dressing-craze

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