Sunday Brunch is a weekly show hosted by drag goddesses Tatiana Mala-Niña and Lady Shamu that’s been happening for a while now in Houston — but in case you haven’t seen it, here are our thoughts — 5/5 stars.
(MONTROSE) — In the rather short time it’s been operating out of Montrose, Hamburger Mary’s has become a staple of Houston’s one-and-only gayborhood. The LGBTQIA-friendly restaurant and bar is just one franchise in a much larger chain of restaurants that operate all across the United States, existing in San Francisco, West Hollywood, Orlando, Chicago, Denver, and many other cities. Opening its very first location in 1972 in San Francisco, the kitschy establishment became an important part of queer history in the United States, offering bites and drinks to the LGBTQ+ community with the added flare of drag entertainment. In the 1970s, drag wasn’t quite the phenomenon it is today. While the importance of drag in queer culture really set roots during this time, there was not the public amory for it then that we see today thanks to the media attention given to films such as Paris Is Burning and television programs like RuPaul’s Drag Race. Still, even then, drag queens were very much out at work in the world, and modern drag divas owe a great thanks to the generations of drag and ball cultures that came before them to make it acceptable to perform so publicly.
That was the very first thing that came to mind when it really registered that Tatiana Mala-Niña and Lady Shamu had a brunch show together at Hamburger Mary’s. Each “entertaintress” (as Mala-Niña introduces the ladies that perform in her shows) headlining the show is from a different generation of drag than the next. And while it isn’t unusual to see younger queens performing in the shows of the queens who have been around the block a few times more, seeing two of them headline a weekly show together really caught my attention. It raised a lot of questions that I hadn’t thought about before: would their approaches to drag be different? Would their style be symbiotic with one another? Would an audience respond well to the shift from one to the next? The answers to these questions were all the same: Yes, yes, and yes. And as soon as I saw Mala-Niña and Shamu on stage together, I finally began to understand exactly what it was about their separate identities that gave them such chemistry:
These two drag queens genuinely and authentically care about what they’re doing.
After a performance by the Sunday Drag Brunch Girls (Lindsey LaRue, Sasha Frost, and Linda D. Crawford) the show began with Tatiana Mala-Niña taking the stage and performing a number in a big, bright, red tutu that found its way scraping playfully against the heads of guests as she performed. At one point, when it seemed as though a young, straight man named Tony — who had tagged along with his family for a birthday — was getting a little bashful as she approached, Tatiana saw and took the opportunity to straddle him in a lap dance, incorporating him into the number. And while her number was authentic and fun — as they always are with Tatiana — what really did and always seems to steal the show was the moment she jumped on the mic. “Y’all, I’m pregnant now,” she bantered to a roaring applause from her audience as she pointed out Tony and asked if he’d known he was going to be paying for brunch and child support at his first drag show. From then on out, Tony became an important fixture in Mala-Niña’s routine as she weaved in-and-out on the mic to introduce the other performers. The wonderful thing about this drag queen — who has done quite a bit to earn her stripes as an entertainer over the years — is that she knows exactly what she’s doing when she takes to the mic. She knows what her audience wants to see, even if she’s just learning it as she reads their faces and reactions. That fact coupled with an incredible sense of comedic timing is what keeps audiences going when Tatiana is talking. And it’s the very thing that bonds her well structurally with her co-host as she asks over the mic to the back room, “Are you ready to go on yet? I know you need a little more time because you’re old as hell.”
There is a solid handful of Houston drag queens that know their salt from being around the track a few times. Whether it be the queen of the Houston drag race, Dessie Love-Blake, the fabulous Roxanne Collins, or the incomparable (and in my opinion, queen of the free fucking world) Kara Dion, each queen from the next-to-last generation has something unique to offer. Lady Shamu is no exception to that rule. Coming out from backstage to perform a throwback number, standing on booths to dance in the faces of men turning red, and ripping her wig off as the punch line to one of her hysterical jokes, Shamu has the sort of command over an audience that’s sometimes difficult to come by in the drag community. People don’t just stop to watch her … they stop to gawk at her because she’s just so goddamn brilliant. The queen among queens leaves no holds barred as she teases audience members sitting on the outskirts of tables near her performance route and discusses in great and glorious detail the exploits she’d like to put the men in the audience through. Picking on one particular audience member, Lady Shamu joked that a woman in the audience was a “freak”, because she knew how to slip a dollar into her breasts and cop a feel, which was just the way Shamu liked it. This was just one of many jokes that left the audiences doubling over.
For the sake of journalistic integrity, I’ll say this: I’ll always be a fan and supporter of Tatiana. She was the first drag queen I ever saw perform in a gay bar (Spring, Texas’s The Room Bar) and actually plays an important role in my coming out story. That being said, I’m not quite as familiar with Lady Shamu, who I’ve only seen at Guava Lamp for Tuesday Night Bingo. Still, it’s obvious that separately Tatiana Mala-Niña and Lady Shamu are nothing short of powerhouses in their various drag shows. But when you pair the two of them together, something kind of magical happens. It’s a little unexpected and it’s a little different from what many drag enthusiasts are used to seeing, but it is magical nevertheless. Their comedy and banter are so extraordinary together that once the back-and-forth ended and the numbers began, I found myself unable to wait to see how the two played off of one another again between songs. After snatching her own wig off and putting it back on, Shamu asked Mala-Niña if her hair was crooked. To this Tatiana responded, “Not … crooked. [Pause] It is a little high though […] You’ve got IMAX forehead!” I nearly spit out my water hearing this. When Mala-Niña explained to Shamu that she’d found her new husband in the audience (the aforementioned Tony), she backtracked to her faux-suitor and asked him what his plans were for their (also) faux-baby. When Tony let her know that he was going to be moving to Canada soon, Tatiana told Tony, “Send me some weed from up there. You know … real child support.” Later when Tony took the stage for shots with the birthday guests (et al), Shamu asked his name, to which Mala-Niña promptly responded, “Mine.” Those two could have gone on for hours and the audience would have kept listening intently to their back-and-forth. Their chemistry on stage is palpable, in spite of the differences in their drag styles and what each brings to the table — although both report that they chose to perform first in the show because neither of their dance skills could match those of Crawford, Frost, and LaRue). But, in fact, those differences may be the very things that make them such a fun duo to watch, because neither queen is afraid to embrace those differences and make them a part of the joke.
As always with both queens, there’s more to their drag than just the performance and shock factor of their jokes. Lady Shamu, for instance, isn’t just up there to take dollars from audience members or to grab the next punch line of a joke. She’s something much more special: a philanthropist. At the show I attended this past Sunday before Christmas, the audience was amazed to learn that over the course of her many performances all across Houston and beyond, Lady Shamu has been raising money for a long while with her drag and has been donating to numerous charities over the years. This past Sunday’s announcement brought the news that her recent charitable works had included providing $500 a piece to four young women in foster care who wished to visit different colleges they were interested in attending, while more money funneled into local charities over the years, such as the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the AIDS Foundation Houston, the Houston Gay Men’s Chorus, the Transgender National Alliance, Friends of Down Syndrome, Open Gate, the Houston Pride Band, the Association for the Advancement of Mexican Americans, Montrose Grace Place, Houston Roller Derby, Orgullo Houston, Pride charities, Main Street Theater, Last Wishes Fund, Tony’s Place, the Montrose Center Senior Housing Project, the Montrose Softball League Association, and Toiletries for Families. Lady Shamu lamented to her audience that she doesn’t do these works for the acknowledgement or the attention, which she proved by revealing to audiences that she didn’t even share the information about the money she’s raised through drag on social media (which Mala-Niña confirmed). But here at About, I think it’s important that we do acknowledge this kind of work being done to service underserved communities. People get the idea that a drag queen is just her makeup, hair, and numbers. But a lot of the time, that just isn’t the case. These queens are working tirelessly to give back to the communities that made them who they are and are doing so quietly most of the time, because they understand the importance of doing good just for the sake of doing good. Shamu took this opportunity, as well, to share with audiences an important message about her time in drag, what it means to give back to the community, acceptance, and love.
While Shamu and Mala-Niña’s one-liners and gags punctuated the event and made it truly worthwhile, they were joined by the aforementioned Girls of Sunday Brunch (and likely some of the best dancing queens I’ve seen in the City of Houston). Each of them performed no less than one Britney Spears Number and enthralled audiences with splits, cartwheels, and somersaults. Sasha Frost took the stage at one point to a mash-up number of Spears’ “Toxic” and Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” (the mix was just as good as the performance, for what it’s worth). She wowed audiences with her flexibility and moves throughout her number and never let her charisma slip away for a single second. Linda D. Crawford tackled the Britney song “Womanizer” and showed off a series of high kicks that left even me — a 6’3″ dude on a high-raised bar stool — wondering just how high she could kick. Then, of course, Lindsey LaRue showed off what she was made of and truly proved herself to be not only a drag queen, but an extraordinary acrobat. After jumping off of the stage into a set of splits on the ground below it (yes … she jumped off the elevated stage and down onto the ground below it several feet down from the height of her jump and landed in a perfect set of splits), LaRue impressed audiences with her rolls across the floors, flawless rhythm, and fierce attitude. I swear to god, at one point I believed that all the hands going up in the air to hand her dollar bills as she danced down the aisles were a choreographed part of her routine. To add to the list of reasons you’d love this show, Hamburger Mary’s’ incredible waitstaff, bartenders, DJs, hosts, and everything in between are always friendly, kind, and attentive, even if the house does get packed with a crowd part of the way through the day. The waitstaff especially doesn’t often get enough credit at these events, but I’m sure I can speak for both Shamu and Mala-Niña in saying that because they have such an incredible support staff at Mary’s (many of whom also perform in drag there), their show runs much smoother.
So what am I getting at here, Houston? Well, if it isn’t obvious, I’ll put it bluntly: you have got to make some Sunday time to have brunch with Lady Shamu and Tatiana Mala-Niña. Separately they’re amazing; but something about them coming together just makes for a truly unique package that you definitely couldn’t have found as easily as you may have other under your Christmas tree this year. With show-stopping performances, well-timed jokes, and a chemistry so good that 11th graders should be studying it during school hours, Lady Shamu and Tatiana Mala-Niña have more to offer you every single week at Hamburger Mary’s.
Catch Lady Shamu Live:
Tuesday Night Bingo at Guava Lamp (10PM – 2 AM) | Sunday Drag Brunch at Hamburger Mary’s (Shows at Noon & 3) | Saturday, The Rumors Report at Rumor’s Beaumont (Shows at 11 PM & 12:30) | Saturday Nights at Rumor’s Beach Bar in Galveston | Charity Game Night at Hamburger Mary’s (7 PM)
Catch Tatiana Mala-Niña Live:
Fridays Cabernet at the Cabaret at Michael’s Outpost (7:30 PM) | Fridays Mary’s Comedy House at Hamburger Mary’s (10:30 PM) | Saturdays Eye-Cons at Michael’s Outpost (7:30 PM) | Second Saturday of Every Month Roomers at the Room Bar (11 PM) | Sunday Drag Brunch at Hamburger Mary’s (Shows at Noon & 3 PM)