By Albert H. Fulcher | Editor
Remington Scott Kienbusch’s Mariam T has a signature look that cannot be mistaken. With Mariam’s Tea Party, held monthly at Urban Mo’s Bar & Grill, this September mark’s the first-year anniversary of the Tea Party, now nearly sold out for every performance. These themed shows are filled with things that Kienbusch loves. First, being a stand-up comedian, second, his passion of producing, and third, his art of drag.
Although the rise of Mariam T has accelerated at a rapid pace, Kienbusch said that with Mariam’s Tea Party, he (and she) are exactly where they should be and is excited as prospects grow as quickly as the Tea Party.
“I definitely have a signature with Mariam. She’s big hair, big color, big print clothes,” Kienbusch said. “She’s like this extension of who I am. She’s a bit much for me to handle every day, but she’s there. To me, Mariam is almost like a real person. Mariam is a culmination of things that Remington doesn’t incorporate into his everyday life.”
Mariam's Tea Party: Blockbusters
Kienbusch said that on any given day, you will see him wearing some kind of short shorts, a cartoon t-shirt, glasses and a hat, and that’s it. That’s what you get.
“I’m simple, “ he said. “You’ll catch me jamming out to Stevie Nicks and having my own time and having my coffee. And Mariam is a psycho. All over the place and massive amounts of energy. It’s like the duality of me.”
Even though Mariam T is signature in her look, the comedian and artist is continuously pushing Mariam T to progress and show the many facets of Remington’s standup comedy, production and drag.
“I’m learning to break out of that box,” Kienbusch said. “Sometimes Mariam is played by male characters. Doing a scene from ‘The Goonies’ was really fun for me because I came out of that Mariam box I had created. I got to incorporate some male body positivity. I just let my big, fat furry body hang out. And I also got to perform with no undergarments, padding, heels or tights and that was really great. Performing in tennis shoes, no tights, no couch cushion strapped to my body, that’s great! So, it’s been really fun.”
Kienbusch said a quote by RuPaul that he really likes is, “I’m just an introvert parading around as an extrovert.”
“I think that a lot of performers in general, feel that way,” he said. “Remington is bubbly and personable, but Remington gets exhausted easily. I wear out very quickly whereas Mariam just never stops. She’s like a battery pack. She’s a pick me up, or like a drug, I guess. But it gets you through it. And there’s a crash that comes with it too. ‘Paris is Burning’s’ Dorian Corey talked about drag being a high, an addictive high, but it won’t hurt you unless you let it. It’s similar. There’s a high and a crash that comes with being Mariam.”
Kienbusch said he has struggled with drag, which is still something that he deals with today.
“I don’t consider myself a drag queen first. I consider myself a comedian first, a producer second, and a drag queen third.” He said. “I am very much a producer and the Tea Party has kind of been my saving grace because I get to funnel my energy into the production and creation of it. I am happy.”
He said the struggle comes from working with incredible drag queens who are drags to the core. They sew everything that they make, they do their own hair and are constantly looking at and creating new fashions.
“The wheelhouse in my brain works a little bit differently. I was struggling because I had this urge to do drag, but really didn’t see where I was going to fit in,” Kienbusch said. “I’m not a nightclub girl. Nightclubs give me crazy anxiety. One of the reasons it took me so long to do drag as a job or career path because I thought there was no space for my drag. I realized, that of course there was, but there was nobody doing it.”
He had his group, or his “favorite girls” and reached out to all of them. They are the core cast for my Tea Party. Mariam calls them her Teacups, the original cast. These are the performers that Kienbusch anchors his shows with first. Glitz Glam, Evelyn Rose, Keex Rose, BB Gunn, and Michelada. He then pulls performers from San Diego and beyond to produce the shows.
“Those girls, to me, all represented five very unique styles of drag. Each one of those girls have their own following, have their own niche in what they do and what they are known for,” Kienbusch said. “What if I take each of these girls’ style and then challenge them to do what they do best but make it funny? In turn, I realized that I could learn to take funny and incorporate their styles.”
And this combination has been a winning one for Mariam’s Tea Party, which just recently acquired a major corporate sponsor with Skrewball Whiskey, a local company that is making its mark with its peanut buttery sweet smoothness.
“My partnership with Skrewball Whiskey (Peanut Butter Whiskey) helps financially,” Kienbusch said. “Each Tea Party takes me about 40 hours to produce. Now, having a corporate partnership I am able to pull back a little bit and focus on other things. It’s financially rewarding, but also having the support of a company stands for the same thing that the Tea Party stands for. It’s called Skrewball and there are a lot of screwballs there, I know them. My friend Scotty Cottrell is one of the partners, and his title is national brand ambassador, but you can also call him the ‘Prince Pauper of Peanut Butter.’ They are goofy, fun and a great group of screwballs. I’m the first artist that they sponsored. It is a local brand that is going national, they are in 26 states now and will be in all 50 by Oct. 1.”
“It’s really great having something local supporting something local,” Kienbusch continued. “It took it a couple of months to put it all together, but I had a bunch of the corporate Skrewball reps at a table at the ‘Broken Blockbusters’ Tea Party and they were really happy with it. It’s a cool experience having this partnership. It is the only night at Mo’s that you can get a Skrewball Peanut Butter French Macaroon (courtesy of pastry chef Christian Molly), and Skrewball really wanted a menu item. And while you can order the Mariam T cocktails any night of the week, that is the only night that they are really advertised. It’s a sweet shot.”
As a producer, Kienbusch produces 75% of the songs and videos and backgrounds. Some of the girls bring in ideas with new songs, video clips and want to perform it. Kienbusch said he takes their ideas, puts his little spin on it and makes it for them. Next in line is Mariam’s Tea Party shirts.
“All the staff at Mo’s will be in Tea Party shirts, so we are just going to continue theming it,” he said. “That’s my next goal is to theme and brand more. September will be a year of doing Tea Party’s which is crazy. We sell out nearly every month which is so nice to have that support in the community.”
If you’ve been to the Tea Party, it’s a high caliber production. Kienbusch reached out to Glitz Glam with his ideas. He was adamant that he wanted it to be a comedy cabaret show with drag, burlesque, standup and improve acting and more.
When he started doing standup in drag as Mariam he would just go out and network. He met Glitz Glam at Mo’s Pride 2017, just shortly after he had done his first performance as Mariam at Lips.
“She and I were instantly attracted to one another,” Kienbusch said. “All night we just kept running into each other and chit chatting. It was kind of like a little love affair that night. After Pride, I reached out to her because I had started producing standup comedy shows at a coffee shop in North Park. I was looking for anywhere to get started. We’re not making any money, but it was great. We were packing out the coffee shop. I sent Glitz a message on Facebook and told him I was doing a stand-up show at a coffee shop and wanted her to come and see what I do, because what I do is a little bit different. Her and her husband came, she loved what I did, and she told me to keep in touch with her. I messaged her a few days later and asked if Mo’s was interested in a standup comedy night, let me know and I would be happy to produce it. She said, ‘Absolutely.’”
It didn’t happen then, but later, he contacted Glitz again, specifically with the Tea Party in mind.
“Glitz told me, ‘You are the funniest queen I’ve ever seen before.’ Glitz has been in the biz over 15 years and she’s performed all over,” he said. “It was a huge compliment. Mo’s gave me the green light, and that is how the Tea Party was born.”
Kienbusch said the show was actually never supposed to be themed. That idea came afterwards. The first Tea Party in September 2018 was just drag queen comedy cabaret. He said it was a free for all, just do whatever you want.
“It was a smash,” he said. “People came up to me and said they had never been to a show like this, never seen drag like this before, and I thought we were really on to something.”
Kienbusch said Mo’s does so much on top of paying him, hiring the DJ, the spotlight person and the servers. They also set up and break down, performers get a tab for drinks, feed the girls and more.
“The staff and marketing team at Mo’s was very happy with it and they gave me the green light again saying that I was on to something really cool here,” he said. “I have a great partnership with Mo’s. They just trust me, and I trust them. They let me do whatever I want to. I know what I can and can’t get away with. Do I push that envelope? Yes, I sure do.”
Kienbusch said he sees new people at every show and the feedback is commonly that the show is so much more than drag with the comedy and production, more of a theater performance.
“So, overtime with the Tea Party, each month progresses, and I try to curate an even more fun theme,” he said. “And it’s an experience. You come in and have dinner if you want. It’s definitely set up like a cabaret. We have the preshow before. I have an hour long of funny videos, a lot pulled from my favorite sketch shows, movies or whatnot.”
Kienbusch said he wants people to come in and eat and have an experience.
“I want people to sit down at our gorgeous pink sequined table covers, eat and watch these funny things. That kind of sets the tone for a night of fun. The videos are based around my theme,” he said.
With the help of Mo’s, he said now when you go in, each table has an icon table topper with one of his favorite comedic icons on the front and on the back, drink specials and items with Skrewball.
“It’s a small way for me to pay homage to people like Bette Midler, Paul Reubens, Robin Williams, Bea Arthur, Anna Nicole Smith and all of these people that inspire Mariam,” Kienbusch said. “So, when you sit at a table you can see that these people inspire this idiot’s drag. I’ve worked really hard and I am going to continue to work very hard to make this a niche experience. You’re never going to go to a show like this and that is the goal of Mariam’s Tea Party.”
“One of the things I love about the Tea Party is you are going to see a number that has never been seen before and will never be seen again,” he continued. “Most of the numbers that you see at the Tea Party, the costumes are made, mixes are made. Everything is made for that one performance. One reason is that what we do is so obscure that you really just can’t take it to another bar and make it work. If I’m backstage half naked, I’m still talking to you guys, I won’t shut up. I am a little bit of a diva, and it’s my show, I’m going to talk a lot.”
Kienbusch said he has a great DJ, John Williams who does great work with lighting effects, smoke machines, and spotlights. He said this great team is what he loves about the Tea Party, it’s a onetime thing.
“Where else are you going to see Lolita Von Tease running around in a dinosaur costume?” he said. “Lolita is one of the most polished queens in San Diego and is going somewhere. She’s very focused in on details and it’s great to work on a number with someone like her. Our ‘Jurassic Park’ number was a true joint effort. I don’t get to have her very often, but it is great when I do. She’s a great singer and she always does such a good job. So good. She makes all of her own clothes, a great seamstress.”
That’s why Kienbusch always tells people not to miss a Tea Party, because there will be something there that you will never see again.
“Occasionally we will bring back a number, but for the first part it is all new production,” he said. “It’s a long drag show, but it’s like it’s long but nobody ever leaves. If they are going to stay for a two hour drag show, I’m going to give them a two hour drag show.”
The birth of Mariam T
Kienbusch said he’s been doing drag since the age of 4, after his infatuation with a VHS concert of Reba McIntire singing “Fancy,” which had a quick-change reveal from a black to red dress at the end.
“I would watch it over, and over and over,” he said. “One night my mom and dad and my grandparents were sitting in the living room and I had little red baby blanket (that I still have to this day) and I wrapped it around me and then I took a black blanket. I put the VHS in a did my reveal and that was my first drag performance.”
Kienbusch said he has many pictures of him playing in his grandma’s high heels, pantyhose and hats, and was always doing make up on his grandma, mom and always getting into their makeup and stuff.
“I was really lucky, especially coming from a religious background, my parents were always very open,” he said. “All my toys were Barbies’. I had the house, the boat, the car. They did try to push me to play with more ‘boy’s toys’ but it just never worked. I threw a fit. There were no tractors or cars or GI Joes’, I had zero interest. It was all dress up and make believe.”
He channeled all of this through middle school and junior high with the introduction into theater. He said it was cute as a kid but as he got older, society, his parents, his grandparents told him, “This was great when you were a kid, but now that you are a young boy, this is what you do.” That’s when he figured out the theater was a way for him to play dress up as much as he could, where it was okay.
He found drag when he first dressed up as a drag character when he was 19.
“My original drag character was a punk rock. rock n’ roll girl,” Kienbusch said “Strangely enough, I had a lot of teenage angst. That was really fun. Her name was Reagan, and I used to perform in clubs with her near my home in the South.”
Mariam was born shortly after Reagan at a Halloween party.
“My friend and I, we had very little money and it was a birthday/Halloween party combination, and everyone had to wear a costume,” he said. “We wanted to go as something together, like a joint outfit. So we went to different thrift stores and found this crush velour running suits. They were awful. We got those, I got a fur purse and she got a fanny pack, we had these terrible wigs and we went into her grandma’s house and we filled the bags with prunes, senior vitamins, fleet enemas and things like that. We went to the party as Mariam and Yetta, sisters from the Bronx, and people thought it was really funny. I had another Halloween party and they said, ‘Bring Mariam again.’ So I did.”
Kienbusch did YouTube videos for quite a long time. He used the punk rock drag queen Reagan that he would perform in the clubs and this old Yiddish, whatever, (Mariam). After he moved to California in 2013, he initially didn’t bring any drag with him. Wanting to be a serious improv actor, standup comedian was his major goal.
“After a couple of years, I kind of missed Mariam,” he said. “What can we do with her? It was one of those finding what’s right in front of you things. Doing standup comedy as Remington was fine, but one day in 2017 I thought, ‘What if you do standup as her?’ It was one of those things I just had to do it. It was crazy that I just celebrated Mariam’s two years of performing.”
Having never performed with Mariam outside of a YouTube camera, on July 10, 2017, Mariam appeared in a contest over at Lips. And in two years, it’s his main job.
“It was like one of those things, like I accepted a calling,” he said. “And Mariam’s like, ‘Thanks for coming. Thanks for listening finally.’ After that I quit my job after a couple of months working as a server/bartender. I got hired at Mo’s, Lips. It happened so fast. Again, Mariam’s like, ‘Hey dummy.’ I never got paid as a standup comedian doing normal stand up shows or with people in LA and traveling groups. And then I was like, ‘Oh, you dress up like a woman and you get paid for it. There’s something there.’ That has bubbled over to drag performances, hosting events, fundraisers, private parties, and even bartending in drag.”
“I kind of think about it like writers who have ghost names,” Kienbusch said. “In a way, Mariam is like that. She allows me to have that extra little bit of oomph, putting on a mask and playing pretend. And then I can just take it all off and chill out at home. That’s my favorite thing about drag, putting in on and taking it off. There is a separation there and it’s really nice. Mariam provides that for me.”
Mariam’s Tea Party: Back to School is playing on Saturday, Aug. 17 at Urban Mo’s Bar and Grill. For tickets, visit: https://urbanmos.com/teaparty/
— Albert Fulcher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.