The word “bingo” usually invokes images of a church hall, a smoke-filled room and old ladies.
Then there’s The Hood Bar and Pizza’s weekly bingo event—which has none of these things. Instead, every Tuesday night, this punk-rock pizza bar is the site of Drag Queen Bingo.
The host of Drag Queen Bingo is Sham Ibrahim, a pop artist and television personality. Some may be surprised that The Hood’s regular clientele of punk-rockers, rock ’n’ rollers and lovable misfits has heartily embraced the event—but once you see Ibrahim in action, you’ll understand the popularity. As a host, Ibrahim doesn’t just call numbers; he also tells jokes that are flat-out raunchy, and he’s even known to sing songs between games.
Originally from Peoria, Ill., Ibrahim was born to immigrant parents. He left home for San Francisco at the age of 17. He attended the Academy of Art College and then moved to Los Angeles, where he found his way into films and commercials. During a recent interview at The Hood Bar and Pizza, Ibrahim talked about how he got started.
“The first time I put on makeup, I was about 3 years old,” Ibrahim said. “I came into drag quite naturally. I didn’t really start performing until much later. When I moved to San Francisco, I was surrounded by the most amazing drag queens and performers who were just incredible. … When I was 19, I got a job as a go-go dancer with a fake ID. When I was 19 and a go-go dancer, someone approached me about being in a movie with Timothy Hutton. It was a really small part in the movie. That led to me moving to Hollywood when I was 20. I worked in show business, and when I say show business, I mean you need to get yourself a fucking magnifying glass—but trust and believe me: I am in every fucking movie and commercial from 2000 to 2006. I made my whole living off of it, and joined the union, and I moved to Palm Springs when I was almost 30. I thought it was my retirement, and I would give up on Hollywood.”
However, retirement was not in the cards.
“The whole time I was doing all this, I was an artist. That was my main thing,” Ibrahim said. “I did digital portraits and digital artwork. When I moved to Palm Springs, I had this crazy resurgence of energy. I thought it was over, and I was throwing in the towel on show business and Hollywood. But things are better than they ever were for me now. I think the desert is magical: There’s this magic in the Coachella Valley that is nowhere else in the world. My art and my career flourished more here than I ever could have dreamed. When I thought I was going to give up in 2013, I got a call from an old contact, and they were doing Fashion Week in Los Angeles, and they wanted me to hang my art. I thought, ‘Fuck this: I’m going to get my drag on and do the best art possible.’”
A piece of art that Ibrahim did featuring Lindsay Lohan wound up making him the talk of Fashion Week.
“It was making fun of her going to jail,” Ibrahim said. “Lindsay Lohan came that night to Fashion Week, and I gave her the portrait. Honey, the press didn’t talk about anything else! Read the news! A video guy caught a little piece of it. Her manager took one look at the clown you see before you and was like, ‘No! You stay away!’ Lindsay is walking in, and the cameras are flashing, and I said, ‘Lindsay, I just want to give you something.’ Lindsay herself looked at that portrait up and down—and it’s like a tabloid and has a photo of her crying and shit. She looked at it, knew damn well what it was, and she goes to the manager lady: ‘We’re taking that! We want that!’”
All of a sudden, Ibrahim found himself in demand. He’s since appeared on reality television shows including Vanderpump Rules, K.Michelle: My Life and Botched. He’s also sold more art than ever—and there is more to come.
“I’m taping two new shows, and they’re in the can,” Ibrahim said. “They make you sign contracts, so I can’t talk about it. But I never dreamed this would happen.”
When Ibrahim was approached to do Drag Queen Bingo at The Hood last year, he said he jumped at the chance.
“The Hood to me is like CBGB, or Max’s Kansas City—it’s a historic rock ’n’ roll bar. This place is precious,” he said. “I understand that, and I hope the community understands that, because rock ’n’ roll is a dying thing. Ultimately, I’m a punk-rocker and a drag queen. That’s who I am. What The Hood is, is really me. I feel this is a perfect fit, and I couldn’t be more honored to be where fucking Jello Biafra from Dead Kennedys has stood, or people I grew up looking up to have performed. I don’t look at that as a fucking joke; I would rather be playing at The Hood than Wembley Stadium, because this is real. This is a place where you have to be raw, bring it and be yourself. People know if you’re faking it—and even though my name is Sham, I’m very authentic.”
During my first time at Drag Queen Bingo in December, a heckler in the crowd made the mistake of making some homophobic comments. Dan Wheat, bassist of punk bands Bridger and The Sweat Act, took offense—and quickly shut down the heckler.
“Somebody was saying homophobic things and was angry about me or something,” Ibrahim remembers. “The amazing thing is people got together and stood up for me. I didn’t even see it happen, and they stood up for me. That shows this place is for everybody: You can be a crossdressing clown, and you’ll have homies who have your back.”
If you’ve never attended Drag Queen Bingo, Ibrahim explained why it should become a Tuesday-night ritual.
“I would say that Drag Queen Bingo is a total experience. It’s more than just your regular bingo game,” he said. “You might think of bingo as something grandmas do on a Sunday, but honey, this is a whole different level. If you want to have a great time, see a great show and win prizes for free, come on down to The Hood. I work hard on bringing it every week.”
Drag Queen Bingo takes place every Tuesday at 9 p.m., at The Hood Bar and Pizza, 74360 Highway 111, in Palm Desert. Admission is free. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/thehoodbar.