The wild, wacky, witty, uncensored world of Trannika Rex has captivated Chicago's drag scene

Thu. March 31, 2016 10:38 PM by Ross Forman

Trannika’s Most Wanted returns – at Berlin – on the first Wednesday of the month

Trannika Rex is celebrating her 5th year on the Chicago drag scene, where she brings a double shot of sass and a splash of spice to her shows, primarily at Roscoe's Tavern and Berlin.

"I found out quickly that my interest (in drag) is in curating, promoting, and hosting – and less in performing songs, which isn't usually the case for a queen," Trannika said. "One thing I didn't like when I started was that a host would still perform a song or two, so (she) would have to change outfits, (thus) there would either be a break or someone else would take over the host role and it totally fucked up the cadence of the show. 

"You can call me lazy for not performing, but it's also a feat to get the train running and get it all the way back to the station through 15 performances. I wrote skits and performed improv and was in local Theater With a focus on comedy for the majority of my childhood, so when I started hosting I approached it like a play that I was the narrator of.  

"There's a strategy to building energy and maintaining it, and that's the ultimate rush for me. It's my job to take the temperature of the room and turn it into comedy and bring it all home in a certain amount of time."

The real-life Trannika Rex is 27, lives in Chicago's Andersonville neighborhood and certainly has a strong wit, even without a microphone in her hand. Consider some Trannika Rex:

When asked to describe Trannika Rex to the world, she replied, "Everyone has that one aunt."

She lives in Andersonville "because it's easier for me to maintain my love affair with Boystown if I'm not there all the time," she said. "Plus we just got a Mariano's Fresh Market down the street, above a gym, and the sitting area overlooks the salad bar. It's the best dude-watching in the city heard it here first."

When asked personal info, she answered, "I'm single as hell and I'm gay, I guess."

Trannika claims she sold the most World's Finest Chocolate bars in all of Fairlawn Elementary, in both third- and fourth-grade, beating out rival Sara Alan "by a God-damn landslide, both times," she said.

Obviously, humor is ever-present with this local diva.

"If you have ever said to yourself, 'I don't like the drag scene here,' then go to a bar you like and offer to throw a show on a slow night; there's a pretty good chance that (the bar) will let you do it," she said.

Trannika Rex is one busy queen on the local scene. Just consider her current, local roles:

Trannika's Most Wanted, held every first Wednesday of the month at Berlin, from 10 p.m.-midnight.

Drag Matinee at Berlin every Saturday, 10 p.m.-midnight.

XYZ at Roscoe's every first Sunday, 9 p.m.- 2 a.m., with all mid-1990s to early-2000s music, hosted by Trannika, with performances by local queens and special guests from across the country.

Crash Landing at Berlin, every second & fourth Monday for two-hours, starting at 10 p.m. "Crash Landing is an amateur drag competition that focuses on weirdos and club kids that I cohost with Nico and drag bartender Lucy Stoole," she said.

Yep, Most Wanted is coming back, just at a new venue.

"Four years ago when I started working at the Drag Matinee at Berlin, it was bi-monthly and was really the only option for non-pageant queens, (so) I decided to start my own show. I'm fascinated by the little details that the audience doesn't think about that shape their experience of a show. It's a game of strategy and you have to really think emotionally about it as an audience member. A good show feels like it's living and breathing not only over the course of a single night, but in the grand scheme of things. 

"I established connections with the weirder queens by working at Drag Matinee at Berlin at a time when there weren't that many places for non-pageant centric drag in Chicago. I wanted to create another option."

At first, the queens were simply working for tips, as the bar wasn't normally open that day. "It was right time, right place," Trannika said. "We set up a dirty step-and-repeat in the back and took pictures like we were somebody, and just tagged the shit out of them on social media. Slowly a cast of regular queens formed. 

"At the same time, Fireball was trying to get into the gay market, so they asked to sponsor the show, (yet) I didn't know what Fireball even was, but was just happy to have help and a budget."

Within the first three months of Fireball joining Most Wanted, the bar became one of the top Illinois accounts for Fireball.

"That's when shit started to really jive," she said. "We upped the budget; we established the cast; and we started to get really specific with themes."

One of the biggest turning points was anti-gay comments from a star on the TV show Duck Dynasty. Trannika countered his comments by inviting him to the show.

The move worked, though he didn't show – and the girls did redneck-themed numbers.

"The bar was packed," Trannika said. "We're talking 150 people in a 100-capacity space, on a Monday at 10 p.m. 

"That was our first stunt and it changed everything. We found that the more ridiculous we went with themes, the better. We had really established who we were, what we were there to do, and we weren't afraid of stunts. Also, Trixie Mattel had been doing my shows on a regular basis and when she did her Drag Race promotional interviews she told everyone about how great the Chicago drag scene is and called us out by name. (That) was another huge turning point."

Trannika quit the venue that Most Wanted was held at last summer and the show was put on hiatus while she regrouped. " When I left we were pulling in the biggest crowds in three years and really had momentum. I didn't want to transplant the show somewhere else all of the sudden because we had started so small and slowly become this really specific show and all of the pieces were in place for a certain reason. If I was going to start it back up, I wanted time to tailor the show to a new night, meet with management, and make sure Fireball was able to come with us still. Starting a show is a huge task and a different one at every venue and I wasn't going to fuck up one of my favorite shows by rushing all of that."

Guess what, bitches, Trannika's Most Wanted is back – and some are already saying, better than ever. Most Wanted is now a Berlin staple.

Trannika said Most Wanted circa 2016 will feature a rotating cast and more wacky themes, plus, "my girls at Fireball will be back to keep me at my most obnoxious," she said.

Most Wanted has celebrated outer-space, pizza, cats, and more. Nothing is out of bounds. On Wednesday, April 6, Trannika's Most Wanted presents: Tyrannosaurus Wrecks, a prehistoric themed drag show with Dida Ritz, Kat Sass, Nico, Sara Andrews, Alexis Bevels, and the grand return of Birdy. Trannika said audience-involvement segments will be returning, for sure.

So where is today's local drag scene?

"The days of promoters and drag queens being two separate things are mainly in the past; queens have to promote to keep working," Trannika said. "At this point, if you're in one of my shows and you don't invite people to the event, then you might not be asked back. As I see it, if you don't promote yourself as a drag queen on social media, then you must not want people to see you. If you don't want people to see your drag, then maybe you should get into accounting or something (else). I'm not just hiring a girl to come twirl the stage, but (rather) someone to help me promote a night. That works out for all of us."

Yes, Chicago's drag scene has changed over the past five years. Even from a year ago.

"When Trixie Mattel went on RuPaul's Drag Race last year, she plugged Drag Matinee and Most Wanted in tons of interviews and would post pictures with the local queens all the time," Trannika said. "The exposure was huge and it pinched a lot of us locally. You think 'someone with 150,000 followers just posted a picture with me, so what does my Instagram page look like at first click?' You start to clean up and think on a bigger level. Now we aren't just appealing to our friends in the neighborhood anymore; now we got teens in Ireland who know about the shows. 

"Chicago's drag scene has entered the international dialogue and that's benefitted girls who maintain a social media presence."

So who's worth watching on Chicago's up-and-coming drag stage? Trannika offered three to watch:

Nico (@NicozWorld on Instagram) – Nico moved to Chicago from Orlando about two years ago and has really taken to the local scene. "She's an energetic, but controlled performer and she looks like an alien who landed her space ship in a flea market," Trannika said. "She rave dances to MySpace music you forgot about and bad 2004 throwback music you love to hate. She's self-aware enough that it works but she, like me, is also a product of the Florida Public School System and there's this proud, trashy air to her. She knows what she is and she's laughing with you about it. She's punk rock, dude."

Imp (@Imp_Kid on Instagram) – Imp Queen is a club kid/singer who seemingly came out of nowhere about a year ago. "She's usually wearing a custom dress by local weirdo designer Authentic Skidmark, like this one she has with a giant horse's ass connected to it, and she's singing hilarious original music like her instant Chicago club hit, 'Are you my Uber driver?' or this (other) song where she just recites different car models and every now and then says 'OK, give me money,' and people give her money. She's part observational humorist and part spoof of drag itself. Her looks are incredibly detailed and well executed."

Serena Fiierce (@iifiierce on Instagram) – Serena Fiierce is a Latin queen who can dance you off stage and has this very playful, present way of connecting with the audience. "She's hitting every point, but she doesn't feel rehearsed," Trannika said. "She's always sparkly and while she can perform sing-a-long radio music for a bachelorette show down the street, she also can come to my show and perform the Gossip and have people freaking out. I love a versatile queen who isn't afraid of a challenge."

Want more Trannika Rex? Sure – here are her thoughts on other local drag stars:

"Kim Chi is, hands down, one of the best drag queens in the world. Her level of detail and taste is unrivaled, but she also has a very morbid and wacky sense of humor. You haven't lived until you've seen Kim scratching sticky rice out of her hair to a 'Lice mega-mix.'"

"Sara Andrews has lived here for a little over a year, but she's been doing drag all over the South for 18 years. For someone who's been doing the same thing for so long, it's insane how much she reinvents herself and is always trying to pull a new creative look or silhouette. She moved here at just the right time for me. I would book her at every show if I could. She's a gorgeous trans girl who can keep your interest in nothing but pasties doing a Katy Perry song, but she's also willing to be a total fucking weirdo."

"Trixie Mattel is one of the funniest people in the universe and she used to take the Greyhound here from Milwaukee and do her makeup on the bus to save time. Give me and Trixie two mics and we'll crack jokes together until we fall over. It's rare to find someone who you can co-host smoothly with, yet Trixie really understands the balance of give and take that improv comedy takes. She is the dream stage partner." 

For more about Trannika Rex, follow her on Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter at @TrannikaRex.