Dan Savage Turns Helen Keller Into ‘Raunchy Drag Burlesque’


Reporter Misha Berson got to see Miracle!, Dan Savage's take on the classic Miracle Worker story of how Helen Keller, born blind, deaf and dumb, learned to communicate with the outside world.

Here's a portion of Berson's Seattle Times review:

Awash in Keller jokes, gritty repartee and sexually graphic (though clothed and wigged) routines, Miracle! is rather like a naughty kid trying to get a rise out of his uptight parents.

Yet it's also a messy, nostalgic paean to the old-school cabaret drag where male entertainers are padded, dolled up and spangly-gowned (by the laudable Erik Andor) to glam, snipe, bond and lip-sync to the Andrews Sisters and Gloria Gaynor.

Director-writer Savage, noted author and gay activist, twists the saga of the untamed, disabled Keller and devoted teacher Annie Sullivan into the taming of a deaf, blind and mute drag prodigy, Helen Stellar (Jonathon Pyburn), by butch therapist Annie (a strong Hannah Victoria Franklin).

The more ludicrous gags, as when little Helen stumbles and bellows in her pathetic act, score big laughs — and big winces. And some bits (undescribable here) are just gross-outs.

Berson also notes that a sign outside Miracle! both warns and boasts that the show includes "disgusting language," "simulated sex acts" and "vulgar, nasty jokes," all of which can make some pretty great theater.


  1. Dale says

    You’re probably going to get a ton of email and comments over this…

    “Helen Keller, born blind, deaf and dumb,…”

    I believe you mean mute, not dumb, and your deaf readers are going to probably be all over you about this in 3… 2… 1… :)

  2. Jonathan says

    You’re also going to get slammed about “born”. Keller contracted some illness (speculation is scarlet fever or meningitis) at 19 months old that rendered her deaf and blind. Technically she was not mute. However, since she stopped hearing before she was able to talk, she never developed spoken language skills.

  3. MarkUs says

    The word is “indescribable”, Miss Journalist. I think someone is trying to out do Trey Parker and Matt Stone. When they draw Martha Stewart queefing out glitter on South Park, at least it can be described.

  4. DrJWL says

    I would definitely see this, but then again I have absolutely no political correctness gene to ruin my sense of humor. Ill leave it to the flaming liberals to do that.

  5. kelehe says

    It’s been said already, but it can never be enough. Deaf-Blind (and Deaf) people are not dumb and “mute” is offensive to tack on as well. For a member of a community that is so often victimized and mischaracterized that chides the ignorant, this is pretty reprehensible (as is Dan Savage’s production).

  6. Mark says

    Sad..very sad..Dan we expect more out of you and now you will only give the right more ammunition against you…you have lost my respect . I’m a gay man who thought the world of you and your ” it gets better” campaign.

  7. TANK says

    Tank is a believer in equal rights for all people, and so I have to say that I agree with the people who are saying that this show is offensive to those who face various physical challenges. As gay people we don’t like to be ridiculed or treated like trash and so we need to be called out when we do that to others. And I have to say, I am sick to death of stories about drag queens here on Towleroad. Believe it or not, most of us who are gay don’t dress up as Ginger Robards or Ingmar Bergman every weekend, and some of us don’t even own a single dress! I’d like to see more stories here about macho, he-man gay guys… like yours truly!

  8. Derrick from Philly says

    “…and some of us don’t even own a single dress! I’d like to see more stories here about macho, he-man gay guys… like yours truly!”

    TANK, you need to find Jesus. I’ll pray for you…after a few drinks. I promise.

  9. Jeff NYC says

    TANK says: “most of us who are gay don’t dress up as Ginger Robards or Ingmar Bergman”

    I think you meant “…Ginger Rogers or Ingrid Bergman.”

    I can’t think of the last time I saw a drag queen dressed up like Ingmar Bergman.

    Or was that a(n unfunny) joke?

  10. Rob says

    To describe someone who cannot speak as “dumb” is not only massively offensive, it’s also inaccurate. And, as others have already pointed out, Helen Keller was not born blind or deaf, but instead lost her ability to see and hear as a result of a childhood illness.

  11. We are Here says

    ” rather like a naughty kid trying to get a rise out of his uptight parents.”

    That’s Dan’s career in a nutshell – anything to get attention.

  12. Sarah says

    I can certainly appreciate some comments made by the readers. I am a DeafBlind individual. I can certainly tell you that “dumb” and “mute” are two of the very offensive terms towards the Deaf community, including us DB folks. If Helen Keller was actually dumb, would she be able to attend Radicliffe back then? If I was actually dumb, would I be able to write this comment. to see how smart is DB folks really are, come and check us out at DBTT.org. You will enjoy the articles. :) Cheers.

  13. Dback says

    First off: yes, people did used to say “dumb” instead of “mute.” I remember it vividly from the ads for the movie “Tommy.” People still using it in this context are in error, but not bad people.

    Secondly, as Jonathan pointed out, Keller contracted supposedly scarlet fever just before age 2, and that’s what left her blind and deaf. However, as anyone who’s seen the play knows, she did have a couple of sounds (“Wa wa” for water) in her vocabulary, and she did learn to speak in her adult life. (If you want to cry a few buckets of tears, track down Mare Winningham in the TV movie “Helen Keller: The Miracle Continues” from the 80’s, where Keller gives a speech at the film’s climax.)

    As to this production: I’ve always thought this sort of humor and drag was cheap and easy and unnecessary in its reliance on gross-out tackiness. I don’t have a problem with drag, I do have a problem with lowest-common-denominator drag. And not to lecture Dan Savage–whom I adore and think has made the world a much better place, and is generally a very smart man–but surely he must have anticipated how this could boomerang on him? A guy who’s told millions of LGBTQ young people “it gets better” now making fun of the handicapped? (And yes, I’ve heard and laughed at some of the Helen Keller jokes over the years, but I’m not a world-famous journalist with a reputation I’m trying to protect.) Surely he knows that the right-wingers are going to have a field day with this, and it’s going to cost him some allies due to its flagrant insensitivity?

    If I was going to write a drag satire, I’d have it focused on Michelle Bachmann or someone else in that vein–someone who is a genuine enemy of our community, and has regularly shown that her “Christianity” is a sham. Satirizing the powerful is essential. Satirizing Helen Keller is just lazy and declasse.

  14. LuckyLinden says

    Sort of appalled. I have been on the fence about Dan Savage for a long time: appreciative of what he’s done for the community at large, but finding him personally offensive and far less tolerant/accepting than his cause. This is offensive on so many levels and beneath the stature of self-appointed leader in a civil rights movement. It’s helped me make up my mind. I don’t respect or appreciate Dan Savage, though I respect his individual contributions to the movement, and I do not recognize him as a civil rights leader. Because, honestly, he wants equality and respect and understanding for gay men like him, while being discriminatory and or offensive (and accusing the rest of us of being PC) of bisexuals like me, some lesbians, some minorities, and the handicapped (now). Many “gay” jokes that Dan rightly recognizes contribute to a culture that drives young men and women to feel so broken and “other” they want to kill themselves are defended as just being “non-PC” or “funny” or “pushing the envelope,” but Dan recognizes that they take away self-worth and esteem from young people facing a culture where they are already outsiders. And yet he mocks, sexually and vulgarly, the greatest inspiration for deaf, blind, etc. youth in American history and challenges us to lighten up and not be so PC. Hypocrisy and blindness. Not worthy of my respect at all.

  15. JJ says

    I left during intermission. Don’t get me wrong, I love being offended, but this show was simply unfunny and he lifted material from past artists. I was really looking forward to a walk down memory lane, but “Miracle” is amateurish and vulgar.

  16. DanO says

    Well, technically, we’re all born dumb, but then most of us learn and become less dumb. But some, not feeling dumb enough, become born again.

  17. patrick says

    Not surprising in the least: when one delves below the surface of Savage’s rhetoric, a quite grotresque and hateful attitude emerges. The gay community is making a giant mistake in appointing him its spiritual leader.

  18. FML says

    “The gay community is making a giant mistake in appointing him its spiritual leader.”

    Jesus H. Christ, that sentence is so wrong on so many levels I can’t even begin …..

  19. Shelly says

    I used to think the good this guy did outweighed the bad, but it’s increasingly clear that Savage is as Savage does, and to continue to support this crude, immature jerk only besmirches us all by association.

  20. stranded says

    Savage becomes more of an embarrassment and liability every day. Helen Keller jokes? Really? This from a man who counsels others for a living? I suggest that anyone who wants to ridicule two of the most extraordinary women of our recent history, two women who devoted their lives not just to each other but to creating a better, more loving and compassionate and understanding society for all people, ask what kind of sickness it takes to ridicule such truly heroic people. The story of Annie Sullivan is one that should inspire anyone with a conscience to believe in the power of human will to conqour disabilities and reach out to benefit others. Her ability to reach into the unimaginable darkness of Helen Keller’s world when most others would have considered it a lost cause is inspiring beyond words and frankly, to disparage that is just evil to me. What’s next for Dan, the Stephen Hawking parody? Utterly vile.

  21. make good choices says

    I honestly can’t believe that the “It Gets Better” guy would write a play consisting of “Helen Keller jokes.” Is this a hoax?

    There is something insanely inconsistent on the matter of empathy here.

    Is this what young people with sensory impairments have to look forward to? People who don’t know what it’s actually like to have the actual impairment — f’real, not as a joke, off-stage, 24/7, as well as on — making humorous entertainment out of it?

    I hope Dan Savage never loses his sight, hearing, or both. If he does, though, I’d like to ask him if it changes his thoughts and feelings about the play he’s written.

    If I had to identity the #1 single source of evil in the world it would be: Failure to empathize.

    At minimum my opinion of Dan Savage is very different from what it was 15 minutes ago, before reading this story. Wow.

  22. ASL says

    It is incredibly offensive that:
    A. Helen Keller is being mocked in such a way.
    B. That the article itself is using derogatory terminology to describe not only Helen Keller, but the Deaf and DeafBlind community.

    As a minority group ourselves, we of all people should understand the impact of the language choices we make and how they can offend. Shoddy work on this post.

  23. milou says

    The word “dumb” may have shifted meaning in the last century or so, but its original meaning was most definitely “unable to speak”, so people should just get over that. “Dumb animals” are called that because they lack the power of speech, not because they are stupid. “Dumbbells” got their name from devices used to gain the strength necessary to ring church bells, so they were bells with no sound. It would have been the term used when Keller was a child.

    Keller WAS unable to speak—that is, she didn’t know how—because her illness took her hearing when she was so young, but she later went on to be a very successful public speaker and political activist.

    I probably won’t see Savage’s show, but it sounds like the parody is of the play/film “The Miracle Worker”, and not necessarily of Keller herself, just like the SCTV sketch someone linked to earlier, which could hardly be said to actually be making fun of Keller.

  24. Jay says

    If Dan can make fun of the handicapped, where was the real compassion in “It Get Better’s” victims? Seems the real motivation was for Mr. Savage. Just because you work at McDonald’s doesn’t mean you have to eat the food.

  25. HaHa says

    It’s amazing how the most accurate comments are eliminated. The gay world is supposed to be so open. It’s bull. I said if Dan doesn’t care about handicapped people, his “It Get’s Better” was ingenuine.
    No tattoo editing on this one. Hey, did you hear that Romney has been ahead of O for two days in the polls? That would be one heck of tsunami if it happens. Keep praying…

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