by Steve Desroches
Tammie Brown is California dreaming in New York City on an unusually cool, wet June day. The drag star is on the East Coast recording her new album, but thoughts of her home in Long Beach are never far away. It is, after all, where she became a fixture on the Southern California drag scene long before she appeared on the very first season of RuPaul’s Drag Race. The New-Wave-infused queen comes at drag from a delightfully rakish angle, performing original songs like “Love Piñata” and “Porta Potty Prostitute.” But now she’s working on her new album titled Schubert̄ (the macron means the t is silent) and just wrapped up work on a track called “See You In The Magazines.” It’s apropos not just because she’s appearing here in the pages of Provincetown Magazine, but on one of the 37 covers of New York magazine’s current issue listing their choices for the “most powerful drag queens in America.”
How times have changed, and how quickly. “Powerful” and “drag queens” were words that did not often go together. For a long time drag was treated as a lesser art, even in the LGBT community. It’s been a long struggle for recognition. And now, many drag performers are able to quit their day jobs as opportunities that were previously well out of reach are know wide open. In the not so distant past, for drag queens to be on television usually meant that some sort of humiliation was the price for the airtime. Talk shows like Maury had episodes like “Turn My Drag Queen Back to My Son” with the audience screaming “That’s a man, Maury!” Now, drag queens win Emmy Awards. In large part RuPaul and his work have helped to change that, and Tammie Brown was one of those queens that saw the potential drag had and was prepared.
“I guess when I started, drag it wasn’t so popular,” says Brown. “I mean, it was popular, but not this popular. I remember when I started drag I read everything about drag I could find. Lypsinka once said that people will say that when you aren’t attractive you do drag to get attention. My friends would say, ‘Oh, but you’re so talented. Why are you just going to do drag? Are you sure? It could hurt your career.’ I love drag. I love everything about it. And nobody says those kinds of things anymore.”
This is the eve of “twenty years with Tammie” as Brown first began drag back in high school in Fulton, Texas, where the town had an exceptional theater and music program, says Brown. It may be surprising, considering the state’s homophobic reputation, but at his high school with less than 1,000 students, Brown (whose real name is Keith Glen Schubert) portrayed Cha Cha in Grease and Cinderella’s Stepmother in Into the Woods in their spring musicals. After high school Brown moved to Los Angeles and quickly was cast on The Surreal Life, a reality show starring Tammy Fay Messner, Erik Estrada, porn star Ron Jeremy, and Vanilla Ice. And Brown’s career has followed a bit of a surreal path, both in terms of a performance aesthetic and the path to drag superstardom.
Brown first came to Provincetown in 2013 when she performed at the Whale Extravaganza: A Whale of a Drag Show, a drag revue benefit for the World Wildlife Fund and the Center for Coastal Studies. She spent the next five years trying to land a season long gig, an accomplishment that is getting more and more competitive as Provincetown’s reputation as the top spot for drag performance grows. Brown echoes what so many drag queens say: there is nowhere in the country, perhaps the world, where performance is as supported as in Provincetown. It’s the drag Mecca.
“Everyone goes there,” says Brown. “All the biggest queens do their shows in Provincetown. All the big names. It’s where everyone wants to be. Everyone.”
Brown opens her show A Little Bit of Tammie this weekend at the storied Post Office Cabaret, joining drag colleagues Raja, Aurora Sexton, and Mama Tits this summer. The show is just as it sounds, a sampling of this drag sensation, and it is based on an EP of the same name released in December of last year. Come 2020 Brown will perform a special show at the 300-seat performance space at Hamburger Mary’s in Long Beach, celebrating two decades of Tammie, featuring special guests Kelly Mantle, Jackie Beat, and Sherry Vine. It will be a fitting punctuation mark after her long awaited summer in Provincetown, something that puts a neat bow on Brown’s career thus far as he lists his hopes for his summer on the Cape tip.
“I hope I can engage with my audience,” says Brown. “I hope people will leave my show happy and feeling good. And lobster rolls. I want lobster rolls.”
Tammie Brown presents A Little Bit of Tammie at the Post Office Cabaret, 303 Commercial St., Provincetown now through September 4. For tickets ($30/$40) and show dates and time visit the box office or go online at postofficecabaret.com. For more information call 508.487.0006.