Last Thursday, “RuPaul’s Drag Race” viewers found themselves sitting shiva for the untimely elimination of Miz Cracker.
Miz Cracker, otherwise known as Maxwell Heller, emerged as an early fan favorite, turning both looks and jokes at the drop of a hat. And she was unabashedly Jewish throughout her time on the show. Her catchphrase? “Shabbat Shablam.” Her weekly recap show is called “Review With A Jew.” At times, it seemed she mentioned her Judaism in every talking head segment.
America has certainly seen Jewish drag queens sashay across the Drag Race runway before — both season five winner Jinkx Monsoon and season nine winner Sasha Velour were loud and proud Jews. But Cracker’s embodiment of Judaism is groundbreaking.
The self-described “Jewish Barbie on Bath Salts” showcased a melancholy sense of humor throughout her time on the show, from uproarious moments as Dr. Dill, a pun-filled therapist who is also a pickle, to quieter moments ruminating on being brought up in poverty. Every joke had a dark side, and every vulnerable moment had a joke: what could possibly be more Jewish than that?
For Cracker, Judaism was never supplemental to her drag, but a driving force. One of the judge’s most frequent complaints about Cracker was her inability to get out of her own head, constantly constructing and analyzing her own narrative. Cracker, in discussing her “Review With a Jew” YouTube series, chalked this up to the inherently Jewish desire for analysis and deconstruction.
“I’m a Jew! We’re writers. We’re thinkers. We’re analyzers. I was writing the Rashi for Season 10, if that makes sense,” Cracker said in an interview with The Huffington Post. “There’s no way for a Jew to have an experience without analyzing, documenting and reading the subtext. That’s a proud part of my heritage that I brought to the situation. That’s why I called my show “Review with a Jew,” damn it. There’s a Jewish sensibility to looking at the world, which is to carefully think and go over and ask what things mean.”
She also spoke extensively about her experiences growing up in poverty as a child in Seattle, as well as her closeness with the women in her family. In them, and in herself, she saw the possibility for greatness and for the pursuit of justice. Cracker has been a passionate advocate for social justice, first getting into drag for marriage equality advocacy. She’s also a prolific writer, penning essays on everything from LGBTQ culture in Uganda to the intricacies of gender.
In Cracker, we saw a Jewish drag queen plagued by neuroses, a queen who was perhaps too thoughtful for her own good. But we also saw an immensely talented entertainer and thinker who saw defiance, rule breaking, and paradigm-bending as inherent to her identity. In her, we saw the Jewish experience as never before.
As drag skirts the line between underground and mainstream, there is perhaps a salient parallel to be drawn with that of American Judaism. Both cultural groups have been issued conditional acceptance, one that may be revoked by the systemic powers that be at any moment. For Cracker to not only exist, but to constantly push for more equity and revision in the world, is a powerful Jewish statement.
Suffice it to say, we’ll miss seeing Cracker as a vision in pink and glitter on our TV screens every Thursday. But her legacy has only just begun. As Cracker herself put it in an interview with Paper Magazine:
“I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m Jewish. Culturally, we have lost so much, there is nothing that we’ve been allowed to hold onto, form property to jobs to family to safety. As a people, our way of dealing with that is through laughter. When you see a Jew making jokes about the suffering of the past, that’s not because they’re choosing not to be vulnerable, they’re using humor to show you how they feel about something. Laughter is healing for us, and I think I carry on that tradition in the strongest way.”