By Avery Wood
Every Tuesday night at The Hood Bar and Pizza in Palm Desert, a sequin-clad Sham Ibrahim takes the stage to host the wildly popular Drag Queen Bingo as the crowd shouts welcomingly. The event drew a bigger crowd than was expected at its inception, with new people attending every week and regulars requesting reserved tables right up front.
The event was started after Sham was contacted by The Hood’s owner, Brad Guth, who was looking for a Drag Queen to host bingo games. He heard about Sham from locals who knew of his appearances in reality TV shows like Botched and Van Der Pump Rules.
Sham attributes the success of the event to chemistry. “The people that go to The Hood and the type of drag queen that I am… I’m not really… what you think of when you think of a drag queen… I think that the people who go to the hood have very unique taste… very good taste. When you see the bands that play there, you see the musicians from the Coachella Valley, they’re really dedicated and they’re really passionate about their craft. And I’m kind of that way in terms of my art and in terms of my performing… even though its bingo, I try my best to do my best as a performer. I make up songs and I do comedy. It kind of made me discover something in myself that I didn’t even know I had. I’m really grateful that people like it and that people come back.”
Sham’s affinity for performing started out in San Francisco doing drag at a club called Trannyshack and continued with a gig as a go go dancer. He eventually moved to Hollywood to make it as an actor. During that time he had many small parts in commercials, television shows and movies, but didn’t perform in any drag shows. “I developed that look that I have and that persona more from nightclubs… being around drag queens and being around club kids, I developed my sense of style… a hybrid between a drag queen, a punk rocker and a clown.” The persona he refers to is the one on full display at bingo and despite his success, Sham didn’t expect to become a performance artist in that way, concentrating instead on visual art. “I never really tried to carry a show until I had this opportunity and it kind of presented itself as a challenge to me,” He says. “Art has been my main thing for the past decade and a half, but a person doesn’t have to be limited.” He considers drag queen bingo a place to put together his many talents and interests, such as implementing his little known music background to make up songs between games. “I lose my inhibition when I’m on a stage or in front of a camera… the confidence comes from I don’t know where.”
The inspiration for his art comes from pop culture and cites MTV in particular. His experience working in the industry inspired him as well. “I got my start as an extra and I’m very proud of that… that I started at the bottom. it allowed me to see the whole thing.” After witnessing the goings on around set and interacting with celebrities, Sham was inspired to go home and create art and decided to present it to the celebrities he worked with. The consistently positive feedback drives him to do art to this day. “I was so, honestly, desperate to get noticed in some way that I thought ‘I’m going to use the talents that I have to get the attention of the main actor on set.’”
With the popularity of bingo and his appearances in film and television, Sham is regarded as a local celebrity and he has had plenty of celebrity moments. He made headlines at LA Fashion Week by giving Lindsay Lohan a painting. He also hosts art shows, sometimes attended by celebrity friends, including Perez Hilton. “I met Perez… before he was Perez.” He says, calling him the new Andy Warhol. He also lauds TMZ’s Harvey Levin, saying “They redefined what it means to be famous in this era… they are the star makers and the star breakers.”
He was also the associate producer on a documentary on Heidi Fleiss, the Hollywood Madam, who was so impressed by his artwork that she allowed him to film her. The documentary was produced by World of Wonder and Sham had long wanted to do a project with owners Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato. “They heard that I knew her and they ended up producing and directing… they gave me the position of associate producer. They’re just great story tellers. While we were working on the film Heidi was a handful and I became friends with her because there was something in her that I understood somehow. I had a great compassion for her because I think she suffered terribly in prison. I’m very liberal when it comes to social policy.”
Heidi had a plan to open a brothel in Nevada with male prostitutes that would be marketed to women, which Sham, Baily and Barbato thought was a revolutionary idea. This is the topic of the documentary, Heidi Fleiss: The Would-Be Madam of Crystal. “By my moral compass… Heidi is not a criminal. She was incredibly loyal, honest and forthright.”
She doesn’t end up opening the brothel and the documentary shows her instead develop a compassion for birds, which Sham thinks has to do with her time in prison. He also knows professional skater Jeremiah Risk. “I skateboard believe it or not… it’s pretty much my exercise. In PS we have amazing skate stuff. The skate park… in Palm Springs …is one of the best in California. We also have a place called The Yard, which is at Jeremiah’s house. Some of the top pros in the world have been there,” he says. “There’s also a place called the Nudebowl that has such historic significance.” He describes this as the emptied out pool of an abandoned nudist resort where people skate, host parties and camp out. “The Red Hot Chili Peppers even had it in one of their videos,” he notes.
As for what he’s working on currently, Sham says, “Right now…. I’m chasing down Lady Gaga… trying to give her a portrait because she’s in town for Coachella. I just finished four portraits of her. I’m printing miniature ones in case I bump into her, I can give it to her.” He is also working on a pilot for a television series about plastic surgery, is in an independent film that will be released soon, and is working on a drag show fundraiser for The Desert Aids project at The Hood on the 27th of this month. A solo art show in Los Angeles is also in the works.