Happy 60th birthday, Charlie Brown
It can’t be easy being the Bitch of Southern Drag for 41 years, and it’s even harder to stay on top. But that’s just what Wednesday’s birthday show celebrates as gay Atlanta’s most infamous drag queen turns 60.
Mr. Charlie Brown, as you better call him if you know what’s good for you, may best be known for his talk time between performances that takes no prisoners and makes no apologies to any audience member in his sights.
“Charlie Brown is my name, and fake pussy is my fuckin’ game.” Longtime fans know that when that line is spoken, it’s best not to be sitting on the front row.
Famous for his dirty mouth, Brown (photos) became legend during nearly 20 years at Backstreet, the now-defunct 24-hour gay dance club. His cast—which kick-started the careers of many a famous name—gained a reputation that soon saw even straight people standing in line to get upstairs for Charlie Brown’s Cabaret.
Brown’s particularly biting dart aimed at straight audience members earned the show a national reputation with documentaries and features on HBO, The Travel Channel, VH1 and TBS.
Donning drag since the tender age of 19, Brown has seen the ups and downs of Atlanta’s nightlife and has even had to pull out those famous metal claws a time or two.
When the city pushed bar hours back in 2003 and Midtown neighbors took the cue to throw their moneyed weight around in 2004, it spelled doom for Backstreet. But the end of “Always Open and Pouring” didn’t mean the end of the club’s infamous Charlie Brown’s Cabaret.
Mr. Brown dusted off his popular cast and opened his own New Orleans bordello-style venue with Brown as the resident Madame. They were soon shimmying up and dressing down crowds—gay and straight alike—in Underground Atlanta. The venue was the first to hold Atlanta Drag Idol, a weekly elimination competition that revitalized a waning drag scene and gave up-and-coming young performers a chance at the title.
Unfortunately, Underground was an ill-fated destination in the city’s attempt to draw partiers downtown. Brown still managed to claw his way back: The cast was performing at Hoedown’s before you could bat a fake eyelash.
Not only did the shows see guests like Leslie Jordan and Savannah’s “Beyond Good & Evil” legend The Lady Chablis, while at Hoedown’s, Brown went to war for domestic partner benefits for club employees—and won.
“People ask me if I miss this club or that club,” and I say, ‘I miss it, but venues come and go,’” Brown says in a 2002 interview available on YouTube. “It just means it’s the next era, the next level for drag.
“Drag is always changing, and I try to make fond memories every night, every club, every show.”
Like any career, spending two-thirds of your life in drag has come with its lessons and disappointments for Charlie Brown. Somehow, he just keeps finding a way to make it work. It may not surprise you that Creative Loafing named him Best Drag Queen, but did you know that he won that honor again for 2009?
Yes, Charlie Brown is still on top.
His weekly “Beauty & the Beast” shows co-hosted with Heather Daniels—guess which one Brown is?—are currently running at Paris Decatur on Wednesdays. The Dec. 30 Charlie Brown Birthday Bash show will see Bianca Nicole, Alexandria Martin and Atlanta’s first Drag Idol, GiGi Monroe. Bonus: the Birthday Boy is scheduled to perform as well as emcee.
Brown and his girls also kicked off a new Sunday brunch and cabaret in October. Charlie Brown’s Sunday Brunch at Joia is taking off, mixing bawdy humor and amazing female impersonators with contemporary cuisine and three shows each Sunday.
The Cabaret gang also gets together to make a special appearance on Jan. 9 at Jungle as part of the Studio 54 Disco Party.
If you haven’t been to a Charlie Brown show in a while, or heaven forbid, you’ve never seen one, here are two videos to give you a taste of Mr. Brown’s singular style. The first is a 2006 video of his audience talk at Hoedown’s, and the second includes a Brown interview with performance clips from the Backstreet shows in 1997.
Charlie Brown- What happens in Atlanta…
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