This is the eleventh installment in an ongoing series that explores drag culture and the nightlife scene in Brooklyn, N.Y. Over the past several years, following the large-scale exodus of artists across the East River and into northern Brooklyn, those engaged in drag culture in this outer borough have created a new, queer world entirely their own. Accompanied by a larger movement to understand drag culture outside of the pageant circuit, many individuals engaged in the drag community in this borough approach drag culture through a nontraditional lens of “alternative” drag or performance art, enabled largely by the malleable and queer nature of this part of New York. Visit HuffPost Gay Voices regularly to learn not only about the individuals involved in Brooklyn’s drag community, but more about the culture of the community itself.
The Huffington Post: How did you get your start in the drag world?
Hamm Samwich: By failing repeatedly to get any kind of real job.
How would you characterize the kind of drag that you do?
Describe the drag scene and community in Brooklyn — how is it different from drag culture elsewhere?
Brooklyn drag is like an experiment where the people in charge said let’s take away all the stakes, take away all the straight people, take away all the pressure to be pretty and see what happens. I’d say it’s worked out pretty well so far, even though there’s been an internal upsurge in political correctness lately that makes me wonder if Brooklyn drag is perhaps too isolated from the genuine intolerance of the outside world. Aside from that, I don’t know how it’s different. Drag culture everywhere else is ugly and lame and stupid and has too many sequins and sucks?
What role do you see drag culture playing in the trajectory of the changing landscape of Brooklyn itself?
Hopefully more people will realize there are places you can go in Brooklyn where you won’t be forced to listen to someone’s shitty band. Having read through the comments on interviews you’ve done with some of my lovely colleagues, I’ve noticed there’s always someone going, “Listen, I’m gay but I just don’t get drag. I mean don’t get me wrong I’m gay, but I just don’t get drag.” Who are these people? What is there to get? Just shut the fuck up and come to the bar. All we’re doing is trying to dress up and have fun and distract each other from the struggles of waking life. Or would you rather that Brent Corrigan hosted everything?
What does it mean to you to be a drag queen or a drag performer?
I think the essence of drag is saying no. Your body says, “You’re a man,” and you say, “No.” Your head says, “You’re going to go bald now,” and you say, “No.” Society says, “Who do you think you are, faggot? Go get AIDS and die,” and you say, “No, fuck you — for the next five minutes I AM Beyonce and I OWN society.” To the command that we all be more pious and more polite and more serious and more respectful, the drag response is to say, “No.” Because we’ve seen your piety, and we’re not impressed. Your piety is just more drag.
(The interview with Hamm Samwich continues after the slideshow.)
Why did you choose to showcase yourself for this interview through only selfies in mirrors?
That’s all I look at for hours every day is my stupid face in the mirror while I put on makeup — it’s only fair your readers should have to suffer along with me. Plus I’ve had it up to here with these drag photo shoots where I’m supposed to pout and pretend like I’m a beautiful celebrity. I’m not a celebrity. I’m a joke, and I’ll take my own picture thank you very much. Enough with this bullshit.
Do you find empowerment through drag?
The most empowering thing about drag is being able to operate as a gay person in the gay community without being constantly sized up as a potential sex partner. I also find empowerment in the fact that I’m occupationally encouraged to drink a lot, which can give a person the sensation of being very powerful indeed.
Drag is becoming increasingly more mainstream, particularly with the popularity of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” How would you say this has affected drag culture and the nightlife community?
First of all, I don’t think “Drag Race” is the reason drag has suddenly become popular. I think drag and “RuPaul’s Drag Race” have both become popular because every aspect of mainstream culture has increasingly revealed itself to be full of shit. Everybody lip syncs. Beyonce lip-synced at the inauguration. She pulled out her ear piece. I mean give up, it’s all drag now. The queens are the only ones who aren’t lying about it.
As for the effects of “Drag Race” on nightlife, I think it’s great that everybody wants to be a drag queen. The more there are, the less special it is to be one. And the less special we are, the harder we all have to try. And the harder Courtney Act will have to try, especially.
You’re known for rapping during your shows — can you describe your performance style?
I quit rapping when people started liking it too much. Now I’m known for having a temper tantrum every time some tech glitch bungles my attempt at a poignant moment. I’m trying to quit performing altogether and just focus on checking Facebook but Merrie Cherry keeps booking me for things.
Where can you be found throughout the week?
Facebook. And I’m lucky to have a show called Marry/Fuck/Kill with future “Drag Race” winner Cher Noble which, in theory, happens once a month at Tandem but we’re never really sure if we’ve been asked back to do it again. So, again, check Facebook. Another monthly show people might like is called Showgasm where I get to be Robin Quivers to my friend John Early’s Howard Stern, and that takes place at Ars Nova in Manhattan. I’m not on Grindr so don’t bother looking.
Any parting words?
Let’s see. I think the Neil Patrick Harris revival of “Hedwig” is an extremely stupid idea. The greatest drag movie ever made is Fassbinder’s “In A Year of 13 Moons.” I don’t give a fuck if the Pope likes gay people. Neither Tom Daley nor Dustin Lance Black was ever that interesting to begin with but they’re both much less interesting now that they’re together. And God Bless America. That should cover it. I hope I’ve managed to offend at least some portion of your readership.
Missed the previously featured drag performers and installments in this series? Check out the slideshow below.
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