Dayton’s Taj Mahal on getting through the pandemic one wig and a lot of makeup at a time

“You are not in this alone. We are all in the same proverbial boat,” drag performer Tommy “Taj Mahal” Rumpke says. “You can be below deck wondering why it is leaking or up on the balcony.”

Like so many others, Dayton's "eighth wonder of the world" was in a state after Ohio's governor ordered the closure of barbershops, beauty salons, tattoo parlors and hair and nail salons on March 18.

It wasn't because she needed her hair did.

Credit: Tommy “Taj Mahal” Rumpke

Credit: Tommy “Taj Mahal” Rumpke

Gov. Mike DeWine's order came just days after Tommy Rumpke — a Dayton hairstylist with more than 30 years experience — effectively lost his other revenue stream — hitting the stage as alter ego Taj Mahal — when bars were ordered closed to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

>> ‘Stir crazy and slap happy,’ Kettering ‘Diva’ broadcasts nightly Zumba classes

But Taj Mahal — one of the most outlandish members of the outlandish Rubi Girls comedy drag troupe — was not ready to hang up her wigs and high heels and wait patiently in the corner.

Credit: Tommy “Taj Mahal” Rumpke

Credit: Tommy “Taj Mahal” Rumpke

“I needed something to do. You wake up and you don’t have any plans,” said Rumpke, who goes by both Tommy and Taj Mahal and uses his and her pronouns interchangeably. “I’ve done video in the past. Normally it was for a reason. This time it was for an opposite of a reason.”

>> RELATED: Downtown club to reopen with drag queen car hops, cocktails and food 

Thus explains the origins of the nearly almost always blonde bombshell’s nightly Facebook Live comedy shows.

The quirky videos included unscripted monologues about this and/or that, fun exchanges with fans and makeup tutorials.

Taj Mahal has been kind of surprised by the popularity of the videos, which are for him as much as they are for fans.

“Apparently I am amusing,” the self-described chatty extrovert said. “I didn’t initially attempt to be fun. I just needed to check in with people. I definitely do it to keep myself sane.”

Credit: Tommy “Taj Mahal” Rumpke

Credit: Tommy “Taj Mahal” Rumpke

The shows typically start between 9:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. on her Facebook page linked here.

Taj Mahal says she tries to make at least one point — even if it is just a small point — per video. The shows are nearly 100 percent improvised.

Her videos are lighthearted, but Rumpke said there is nothing at all funny about the coronavirus.

She feels the uncertainty.

“I am shocked by how many people think this is not real,” she said. “That it is a hoax.”

The Dayton resident said she understands why the businesses were ordered to close.

Credit: Tommy “Taj Mahal” Rumpke

Credit: Tommy “Taj Mahal” Rumpke

On any given day, Rumpke said he would come in contact with 40 to 60 people while working at Salon EXP Ink Hair Salons in Beavercreek.

Before the pandemic began to impact life in the Dayton area, Taj Mahal said she’d frequently go out on the town for drinks and dinners with friends.

>> PHOTOS: Positive messages keep spirits up across the Miami Valley

The videos have been a great distraction and they’re helping people, she added.

“People love it, at least that’s what they’ve told me. It brings a smile to their faces,” Taj Mahal said. “You are not in this alone.  We are all in the same proverbial boat.  You can be below deck wondering why it is leaking or up on the balcony.”

Stories of Hope

We all need inspiration in these difficult times. And as always, this community delivers. We are sharing these stories of hope in action, every day in the Dayton Daily News.

About the Author