Hilliary Begley in a room of drag queens sounds like a scene from the movie Dumplin.
Known for her role as Aunt Lucy in the Netflix film, Begley brought her brand of punchy humor to the Idiot Box on Sept. 12. The comedian, outfitted in leopard-print and rainbow accessories, kicked off Pride festivities over the weekend. Even before Begley entered the comedy club’s front doors, members of the LGBT community and allies stuffed the space to the max, drawn in by drag queens, drinks and Begley’s featured act.
She pauses her routine to grab a red-sequined fan from a drag queen named Kitty Litter, offsetting the heat of the room. Eventually, the queen stands, and snatches the fan back, pulling up a barstool on her way to the front. She begins cooling Begley off like a shimmering cool breeze. Begley laughs, hoisting each arm over her head and then raising a bit of the tulle of her skirt to help get the sweat off. For her, the stage leaves no boundaries.
“I am authentically the same person onstage,” she says after the show, “as I am offstage.”
Prior to Begley’s introduction, a trio of drag queens work the crowd. Kitty Litter, with thirty years of experience, riffs off the reactions of the audience for material. Along with Brenda the Drag Queen, the duo parade around mystery prizes in a fundraising auction. They encourage the crowd to offer up more, as one person marks their bid by raising a beer glass, and another by waving their baseball cap above their head.
“It is expensive to put on Pride,” Brenda says to the crowd. “We have to sacrifice 15 straight people.”
In a move that makes the night even more reminiscent of Dumplin, drag queen Fuchsia Rage draws from the soundtrack of the movie. The film, with its Dolly Parton tracks, gives Fuchsia Rage the opportunity to don a blonde wig curled and permed to high heaven, denim and a brown fringe vest. The lip-syncing performer dramatizes Jolene, delighting the crowd, including Begley in the back.
Begley walks to the stage, immediately pulled aside by a woman in the front row who hands her a shot glass. Her eyes widen as she laughs, protesting that if she’s going to take it, she needs a chaser. Another person quickly runs up with a glass of coke.
“I guess we’re going to stop and do this now,” she chuckles.
Begley revels in the moments many people would hide away in embarrassment. She laughs through tales of religious family members suspecting her of being gay as a child, or of the reality of Netflix money. Begley mentions her boyfriend, joking about how he isn’t the type to do cutesy things, but he did once.
“He left me a note written in the shower…,” she trails off, smiling as the comedic aspect sneaks back in. “…with my own hair. It just said, ‘Yuck.’”
She runs her hand over the back wall, mimicking how she changed the “y” on the shower to an “f,” and added a “u” on the end to send a reply message.
Begley’s brand of comedy basks in life’s awkward moments. She breezes through a story about getting lost on her way to the red carpet, and her shattered expectations about how the famed entrance works. She works in a bit about standing still next to Dolly Parton for media photos, while the singer whispered to her “Just keep smiling.” Instead of a painful coming-out story, Begley describes herself as “in love with all people,” as she sets up stories about sexual awakenings.
“Comedy is how you create joy out of painful experiences,” Begley says in an interview.
In a brief moment of seriousness, Begley takes an aside to address how she entered the business in 2013, after a period of self-reflection following a toxic relationship. Yet she bounces back to the bright side, finding the eve of Greensboro Pride to be the perfect time to crack a few jokes.
“Pride is joy,” she says, “and comedy is joy.”