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Interview: Trannika Rex, the hardest working queer in Chicago

Interview: Trannika Rex, the hardest working queer in Chicago
Photograph: Fausto Fernos

Trannika Rex is hands down the hardest working queer in the city. Before you object and say "so and so" is busier, ask yourself if they've ever had two monthly shows while concurrently hosting three weekly parties and traveling? It's tiring even reading about it, yet Rex has done it multiple times and still brings a hilarious and boozy aplomb to every production. Her weekly show Drag Matinee is even up for a best weekly party nomination from the Chicago Nightlife Awards. I co-host the Piss N Vinegar comedy night every second Wednesday at Berlin with Rex, and asked the self-proclaimed "Belle of the Ball Sack" a few questions about her start, look and dizzying schedule.

Before we get to the whole, "How'd you get started/what's your process" questions, what, in your opinion, is drag?
Well it's 2015 now so it would be dumb to simplify it by saying, "When a man dresses up as a woman." Drag and acting could basically have the same definition, which is, "Someone pretends to be someone else for the entertainment of others," but I guess the difference is that when you go to a drag show, it's probably at a gay bar and it's called a drag show.

When did you start doing drag?
In 2011, I went to a Halloween party dressed as Snooki. It was horrifying for everyone involved. I ruined several white surfaces. I did drag a month later for fun and named myself on the way to Beauty Bar. I started performing about six months later, but I wouldn't say I was presentable until about two years ago.

How has your look changed since then?
I refer to anything before two years ago as Trannika 1.0. I had this weird mindset that since I was a "comedy queen" it didn't matter how crunchy I was because it was supposed to be funny, so I did the bare minimum. I bought everything at costume stores and looked like any other beginner queen. It wasn't until I became friends with Kim Chi and Shea Coulee that I started to think about why I was getting in drag. They taught me to look at a color wheel, read a fashion magazine, do my history, and really give my drag a reason to exist.

Talk us through it, how is doing drag makeup different than a lady doing her face?
Drag makeup is supposed to be similar to theater makeup because it's usually meant to be under harsh light and seen from the back of the bar. Natural, traditional women's makeup can create illusions like a higher cheek or a skinnier nose but it isn't supposed to be obvious.

How long does it take to put a look together?
It takes me about three hours total to get ready, from shave to Lyft.

For those playing at home: Which came first, the drag shows or the comedy shows?
I put on comedy shows in my living room when I was eight-years-old so I guess it was those. I also wore my mom's lipstick in private so I'm not sure how to answer that. Professionally, you dragged me into stand-up a year ago because I was pretty much already doing it at my shows. The reason I exist at a show is to make everything run smoother and put people at ease. In my opinion, drag shows aren't entertaining unless they have a host who can keep it moving and doesn't mind surprises. 

How does your look change depending on whether you're doing a drag show or a comedy show?
I wear more color for comedy shows. I try to look approachable. I mean, I'm still 6'7" in heels yelling autism jokes, so maybe I should say "more approachable."

How many ongoing shows do you currently produce?
Three… and I also put on a free in-my-underwear-eating-pizza show for my neighbors a couple times a week at 4am.

When did you start taking the wheel and producing your own shows?
I started Trannika's Most Wanted at Scarlet two-and-a-half years ago. I had a good relationship with Scarlet and they said basically "Hey, wanna make more money on a Monday once a month?" I've always preferred being a foreman to being a worker bee, so my endgame was always to be in charge.

You can catch Trannika at Trannika's Most Wanted every third Monday at Scarlet, Drag Matinee every Saturday at Berlin and Piss N Vinegar comedy every second Wednesday at Berlin.

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