One day when Scout Durwood was a teenager a flyer advertising a beauty pageant arrived at her home in Mission Hills, a suburb of Kansas City, just across the border from Missouri. At the time she was a self-proclaimed tomboy with no interest in such things. That is until her father saw the flyer and laughed, saying, “Imagine you in a pageant.” It wasn’t a slight, just an observation, but Durwood took it as a challenge. She entered and won. And the next thing she knew, she was on a plane to Disney World to compete in the Miss American Coed Pageant, setting her on a course of ironic exploration of gender, comedy, and the crest of third-wave feminism.
Durwood left her Kansas home to study at Amherst College, where the fact that she had won a pageant became the strange factoid she’d surprise people with at parties, especially since she was a lesbian, a demographic not associated with tiaras and crowns. A friend was interested in making a student documentary about lesbians in pageants and asked her to enter one so she could be a subject. She did, and by the time her friend became too distracted by her thesis to do the film, it was too late to drop out. Durwood was crowned the new Miss Greater Holyoke and went on to compete at the Miss Massachusetts Pageant in 2006.
“I think at their core pageants are still really hip,” says Durwood. “But most people in the pageant world don’t get that and others unfairly dismiss them.”
To Durwood, her time in pageantry was about gender play. Pageants, she maintains, are just drag shows. Previous generations of women, lesbians, and feminists might have viewed some of the trappings of femininity as just that, traps. For Durwood, they’re options when they are self-defined. When makeup is makeup it’s fun, she says, but when you have to wear it, it’s a prison. But, she adds, you can’t sit in the struggle so long that you can’t see progress and you judge those that make decisions you wouldn’t make for yourself, like being in pageants.
Now, as an actress and a comedian, Durwood works in her generational viewpoints, sex and body positivity, gay pride, and feminism into her shows, which she’s bringing to Provincetown in her debut this Women’s Week. Her brand of comedy and view of the world can feel downright foreign here in Provincetown, where for a variety of financial and cultural reasons, Millennials have little to no presence, especially on stage and in other creative capacities. Any lack of diversity can lead to cultural stagnation, and that is especially true for special events like Women’s Week. But her coming here is part of an effort to keep events like Women’s Week flourishing by welcoming in younger people.
Durwood is a rising star in comedy for her generation, and she is finding projects that match her commitments in empowering and funny ways. These expressions of increased gender equality take on all forms, as is evident by the MTV show Mary + Jane, that premiered in September. She and her co-star Jessica Rothe play best friends who develop an all-female marijuana delivery service in Los Angeles. Her character was written to be an “unlabeled bisexual” who hits on women as frequently as she hits on men in this show executive-produced by rapper Snoop Dogg. It’s a 21st-century, feminist Cheech and Chong.
“I love that it’s sneaking in the revolution,” says Durwood. “There are two girls that never fight and they never fight over a man. That’s one of the rules.”
Did you catch the casual use of the word revolution? Durwood drops the “R” word so confidently and frequently that it acts as a reminder that the revolution she speaks about isn’t coming, it’s well underway. Millennials, which recently overtook Baby Boomers as the largest living generation, believe they can change the world, and they are, in rapid and massive ways. Add that confidence with their digital and technological nativism and one could argue there has never been a generation more equipped with the tools for self-expression and communication, even if that means they can’t make eye contact or carry on a face-to-face conversation.
“We were the first ones to have bad social skills and get away with it,” says Durwood. “I love Millennials, but we are eternal children.”
Durwood began her career in New York, where she was especially popular on the burlesque circuit, something viewed from her generational standpoint as being pro-woman, as long as it celebrated sexuality rather than sexualized, something she notes happens to women without their permission anyway, but which is a sign of weakness by the men who do so, not the women. When Durwood moved to Los Angeles, though, she found burlesque and nudity in performance was associated with the world of sad strippers, so she let it go when she performs in California, and she won’t be doing it here in Provincetown, as she’s performing alone, so there is no one to pick up her clothes when she is done, she laughs. Here she’ll stick to standup and singing with her ukulele. And she’s thrilled to be performing at Women’s Week, to be a part of a new generation of this long-running event, bringing a fresh viewpoint and voice to Provincetown.
“When I was young I looked up to the old dykes,” says Durwood. “Then there was a movement that really wanted to move away from lesbian stereotypes. But I never gave up my admiration for the older generation. That’s like giving up on your childhood heroes. I don’t want Paul McCartney to be Bruno Mars I want him to be Paul McCartney.”
Scout Durwood performs on Friday, October 14 at Paramount at the Crown and Anchor, 247 Commercial St. at 8 p.m. For tickets ($30/$40 VIP)and information go to the box office, call 508.487.1430 or visit onlyatthecrown.com.