Slut. It's an ugly word, thrown around for centuries as the ultimate put-down for women seen as unchaste. When Rush Limbaugh used it to describe Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke in February, there was a lot of outrage in the media — and not a lot of levity.
Enter Katy Frame and Marie Cecile Anderson, the sweet-singing country belles of the Brooklyn-based musical comedy duo Reformed Whores. Reasoning that the talk-radio host had called Fluke a slut based on her use of birth control, they decided that they, too, must be sluts. And so began "I'm a Slut!", the most upbeat song about whorish behavior since Reba McEntire's "Fancy." They uploaded a video of the song to YouTube just a week after Limbaugh made his comment and have since racked up nearly a half-million views.
"I went to school, I speak my mind, I'm responsible for my behind, I'm a slut, I'm a slut, I'm a slut," they sing in tandem on the chorus, bobbing up and down in pastel frontier-church dresses while playing ukulele and accordion.
The subject matter was unusual for the duo, as most of their songs to date had revolved around traditional country tropes: broken hearts, cheatin' men, and cleanin' up and comin' to Jesus. But the basic joke was the same as ever: two chipper women, decked out like a family band at a mid-century Grand Ole Opry, singing frankly in language scandalous and taboo.
In character, Frame is the manic pixie sweetheart, playing the flighty blonde to Anderson's sometimes-edgy brunette. At their last performance in Charleston, on the Footlight Players stage during the 2012 Charleston Comedy Festival, their banter was so tight, sometimes a joke wouldn't register with the audience until after a song had begun.
In an interview before the Comedy Festival, they likened their sound to what would happen "if Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn teamed up together and shared war stories — but funny."
Although the Reformed Whores show is a parody of the country acts of old, it is a loving one. Frame and Anderson stand at the end of a long line of wisecracking down-home songstresses, and they readily pay homage.
"I think a lot of those ladies, especially June Carter and Dolly Parton and Minnie Pearl, a lot of them had a lot of humor in what they were doing on top of the message," Frame says. "Sometimes the messages were a little bit sad, but they could deliver them with a wink and a smile."
While Anderson grew up immersed in country music in Nashville, Frame enjoyed a rural childhood in Maryland. "People are always disappointed when they ask where I'm from," Frame says. Since meeting at a mutual friend's birthday party, they have been playing in comedy clubs around New York City, where the down-home humor is not lost on Yankee ears. The themes are universal, and the slut song, after all, was not an aberration in the history of folk and country music. Songwriters have been editorializing on the news since antiquity, and artists from Pete Seeger to Ray Stevens to the Dixie Chicks have pitched in their two cents' worth on politics.
Reformed Whores haven't penned any current-events songs since March, but they're just waiting to get riled up again. "We're kind of like a python, ready to strike," Anderson says.