|Raffle salesman Brandon Styles, local entertainer Jason Brock, REAF Executive Director Ken Henderson, Don Berger and Mistress of Ceremonies Pollo Del Mar gather at the Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants’ World AIDS Day fundraiser. Photo by Marques Daniels.
Notorious Sainted Glamazon About Town
When Chris Hastings called a few weeks ago to say he decided to end BRAIN FARTS Trivia, my first thought was, “How am I going to pay my bills?”
For the past three years, I’ve had a regular gig at Lookout, hosting the weekly trivia night. Though the event has never been the runaway success everyone associated with it might have hoped, it’s provided a consistent source of income – not to mention some terrific perks.
It should be noted that a guaranteed weekly paycheck is more than most performers in my industry, particularly in this town, can brag. It’s certainly more than I would have imagined when BeBe Sweetbriar first called me in late 2007 to suggest it!
Three years ago, the Castro-area bar long known as The Metro had just switched owners. Though the changes were so brand new the venue didn’t even have a name yet, BeBe had already approached the management about hosting a then-undetermined weekly event.
“When I talked to the owner, he asked if I knew a drag queen named Pollo Del Mar,” she told me during that early-December phone call. Even though I had just won the final Miss Trannyshack Pageant a week or two before, I still felt very new to the scene, certainly not someone a club owner might seek out.
“He asked for me by name?” I repeated, incredulous.
“Yes, girl,” BeBe said. “And he was very excited to hear we’re good friends!”
A couple months before, apparently, the bar’s staff was on-hand for the Mr. & Miss Gay San Francisco Pageant. BeBe bested five other contestants to take that year’s crown, and bartender Jonathan Gaffney, who just-so-happened to work at the place which was eventually reborn Lookout, became her counterpart.
As luck would have it, after having my ass served to me on a silver platter the year before by eventual 2006 winner Mercedez Munro, I was invited back to emcee her stepdown. That, as it turns out, is how Chris “discovered” me.
“The guys at this new bar thought you were really funny during the pageant,” BeBe told me. “Are you willing to meet with them about maybe doing a weekly party there?”
Of course, I was!
The next week, Chris, BeBe and I were face-to-face for the first time. I was surprised to discover how young – and, of course, incredibly cute – he is. Good-natured, upbeat, and a genuinely nice guy, too, I liked Chris from the start.
During that initial meeting, BeBe and he went back-and-forth with ideas for different types of events and possibilities. As anyone who knows her can attest, BeBe’s ambitious, and prepared a list of ideas. I mostly just took notes, nodded and contemplated what it would mean to cohost a weekly party or show. After all, it was something I had never done before. I found myself unusually quiet as I took it all in.
“We were thinking it would be really fun to have a trivia night,” Chris said finally. “What would you girls think of that?”
I was sold almost immediately. Not only is my head a wasteland of useless tidbits of information and random facts, but the idea also seemed unique and fun. Nowhere else in the city was a bar’s trivia night run by drag queens – much less two. And, of course, I had something of a history with these kinds of events.
Years before, my fraternity brothers and I enjoyed trivia nights at the Hooter’s in our small, suburban Ohio college town. How oddly appropriate, I thought.
A few weeks later, after narrowing an exhaustive list of names to only a handful, BRAIN FARTS Trivia launched at Lookout. We were one of the bar’s first weekly events – and, over time, would become its longest-running.
For two years, BeBe and I held down Wednesday nights. At first the crowds were existing friends who came out to support us. Those familiar faces were soon replaced by new ones, people who started as strangers but grew into friends. Numbers temporarily burgeoned when San Francisco Bay Guardian readers named us “Best Trivia Night” in the 2008 “Best of the Bay” voting.
In many ways it felt like school, where classes “graduated” and were, eventually, replaced by enthusiastic newcomers. I would love to name all those individuals here, but the list is far too long – and the risk of forgetting one and hurting someone’s feelings too great. However, probably the most unique story of someone who became a regular, even if only for a few months, was Ben Thompson.
Last year when hate-monger reggae star – and now convict – Buju Banton was scheduled at San Francisco’s Rock-It Room, I led a protest against his performance. As part of that, I sent a scathing email to the club’s booking manager. The next day, I received a call from Ben.
“I didn’t know anything about this guy’s history with the LGBT community,” he told me honestly. “I was just trying to do my job, which is to fill my club. What do you suggest I do?”
Ben’s open-minded, nonconfrontational, upfront and apologetic response made it impossible to dislike him. After we navigated the unusual circumstances of our meeting – with Ben even coming to my defense when a local publication falsely and libelously accused me of attacking the singer during his concert – he showed up one night at trivia. He spent the next several months with us, often bringing his girlfriend Kelly Carlson to play.
As I said, Ben and Kelly are only two of so many, many memorable individuals BeBe and I met during those first couple years. Then, last year at this time, Chris contacted us about changing BRAIN FARTS’ time slot. Rather than putting trivia back-to-back with MARY-GO-ROUND, the weekly Weds. night drag show I cohost with Cookie Dough and Suppositori Spelling at Lookout, he moved us to Mondays.
In a tough decision, BeBe ultimately bowed out. Suddenly, I was flying solo!
The last 49 weeks have been crazy – and quite the learning experience. While I first thought it might be difficult filling a two hour time-slot with sufficient “witty banter” all on my own, that never proved the case!
Most of the audience arrived week-in and week-out not just to play trivia! They also showed up curious about the latest updates on my career, dating life, celebrity interviews or simply to gossip. We laughed, bonded, bitched and grew together. For me, it was better (and certainly cheaper) than therapy!
Dec. 6 proved bittersweet. Not only did it mark BRAIN FARTS’ three-year anniversary, it was, ironically, also its last night. Forced to make some tough business decisions, Chris chose to end the event he admittedly still personally likes. Not the least of the reasons for his fondness, of course, is that we outlasted nearly everything else on the bar’s line-up.
“You’ve only missed a couple weeks over the last three years, which is pretty amazing,” he told me when we discussed how and when best to bring things to a close. “I know you’ll miss it, but just think of what you can do on those nights now.”
That’s true! Before BRAIN FARTS moved, I spent Mondays with my drag family. It was a time to watch RuPaul’s Drag Race, gossip and be together. We would eat, laugh and catch up. Certainly, I’ve missed that this past year and look forward to returning to that schedule.
My initial concerns about how I would make ends meet have already started to subside. My new Sunday night show — The GlamaZONE at The Café – is taking off and might soon compensate for any financial impact.
Still, I’m not sure what to do about the people! They drove from as far as away as the Peninsula to spend their time with me, answering silly trivia I spent afternoons writing, and listening to my stories. For the last few years, I have enjoyed their smiling faces once a week, and I became part of the fabric of their lives too. That last night, as we stood saying our good-byes, snapping pictures and joking about gathering in my living room for trivia, I realized something so important.
While it was the paycheck I was most worried about first, it’s those people – the “unexpected perks” of that job – which I know I’ll miss the longest.
Follow “The Glamazon” at Twitter.com/TheGlamazonPDM. Email her directly at Pollo_DelMar@Yahoo.com.