Reuben KayeJax Moussa with permission for Varsity

Australian performer, singer and eyelash extraordinaire Reuben Kaye advertises himself as “what happens when you tell your children they can be anything.”

Donning cabaret costume and God-knows-how-many-inch heels, Reuben exudes an unapologetic boldness in his shows, which are, in his words, “a joy to perform, a marathon to perform.”

“Queer people are defined by others before we’re allowed to define ourselves”

Maybe it’s his experience from Channel 4’s Kids React to Drag, but Reuben is patient with my naïve questions on exactly what drag is all about. “I’ve always thought that queer people are defined by others before we’re allowed to define ourselves, so I never really worry about defining what I do, I just do it.” For him, drag is “more than gender play [...] it’s about the interplay of masculine and feminine in the male body.”

Where there is pain in what he describes as the “maelstrom of that tug of war” between the “two poles” of gender expectations, there is also joy. “The best part about drag is that it’s preaching a full body awareness, acceptance and love. It’s world building.”

One of Reuben’s viral moments was the clip from Kids React to Drag. Despite his self-professed terror at the prospect, Reuben found the project “beautiful and surprisingly touching.” Among hilarious outtakes from the children, such as “your eyelashes are a bit too long” and “God, you must be well old”, Reuben tells me that it did something important. “There’s a real sense that what we did in those five minutes made a difference and advanced the conversation, and that makes all the hate and death threats worth it.”

He is no stranger to a backlash, the most prominent being the fallout of a “dirty joke about Jesus [...] When the religious right came for me, they didn’t hold me to account and ask about my views, they incited violence and sent death threats.” Reuben is pro-freedom of expression, “but that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be accountability… I’m trying to put this in a really eloquent way but I get pretty emotional about it.”

It’s hard not to get dragged into endless social media discussions on ‘cancel culture’ and ‘woke’ – and Reuben’s view is that “you can say anything, you can say everything.” On this issue, he aligns himself with the sentiments of comedian Stewart Lee: “I think woke culture is a really good thing […] I think it’s time comedians thought more about the words they use and why they use them, and the possible social damage that they do.”

“My dad had a bit of a stumble when I came out”

A more reflective form of comedy and performance is what Reuben brings to his new show, The Butch is Back! “Even though it’s one of the filthiest shows I’ve done, it is at its heart still a family show.” Surprising, given his promise of multiple “dick jokes”. Reuben depicts it as an “instruction manual for kids and for parents on the social phenomenon that is coming out.” Despite the debaucherous tones, there’s an intensely personal backdrop.

“My dad had a bit of a stumble when I came out, and this just sort of explains how I mended that […] In many ways the show has a pessimistic outlook, as a lot of comedy does, but there’s a lot of hope in it”. But overall, “the show is fast, funny, dirty, and a lovely line to draw between masculinity and the apocalypse. I hope that it addresses the pessimism and tension we’re all feeling right now by being a unifying force.”


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There’s a long pause when I ask Reuben if he has a message for LGBTQIA+ students at Cambridge, and a furrowing of his brows as he looks around the sunny corner of Covent Garden he’s called me from. “I’ll tell you what my mum said to me when I was at school. School is something you have to survive until you get out into the real world and find your people. By the end of your career, nobody will give a shit about where you went to school, what will matter is the person you are and the people you have around you.”

“In general, I would hope that Cambridge, as one of the most elite educational facilities, encourages students of any sexual identity or gender spectrum to follow their dreams, be themselves and feel safe and protected.”

Reuben finds drag “tantalising”, and believes that his shows provide something for everyone: “If you don’t like the politics, you’ll love the music, and if you don’t love that, you’ll love the dick jokes!”

You can see Reuben Kaye in ‘The Butch is Back!’ at the Cambridge Junction, Thursday 19th October at 7pm and 9pm