Atlanta has some fond memories of DeAundra Peek — the “Sordid Lives” before “Sordid Lives” was ever thought of, viewer Drew Plant recalled.
Peek, the character created by now-Georgia Public Broadcasting’s television operations manager Rosser Shymanski, starred in a series of public-access shows in the 1980s and ‘90s. She was known for her trailer park antics, disastrous singing talent and questionable Vienna Sausage recipes.
“My first husband and I even sent her a fan letter and she wrote back. We were giddy about it,” Plant said via the Georgia Voice Facebook page. “I seem to remember her doing a song about a cold gray day in Hapeville. … Please, please, please tell us a comeback is planned!”
Shymanski was coy about the possibility.
“Once I retire, I’m going to have a helluva lot of free time. I might do some more stuff,” he said. “The last time I did DeAundra was a year ago [at a birthday party]. I got all dressed up and the funny thing was, it had been a bunch of years, but I looked exactly the same. I jumped right back into being the character without any issues at all. I stepped into the party and was greeted with thunderous applause.”
The physical process of turning into DeAundra Peek involves two hours of makeup, for starters, but the iconic Peek sister’s story goes far beyond that.
Shymanski, a Bradenton, Florida, native, graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in television production. During college, Shymanski got involved with the drag scene. His character in Gainesville, Druscilla Amarod, was so well-known that his college friends called him Dru.
After graduation, he struggled to find a job, and a friend convinced him to move to Atlanta. Shymanski started off working for a phone answering service, but also dove into found-object art, which garnered him local attention.
Some of that attention was from a public-access show called “The American Music Show.”
“The very first ‘American Music Show’ I ever saw was James Bond on a couch with Dick Richards on the other side of the couch and in the middle of them was RuPaul. I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’ve got to be a part of this show,’” he said.
A few weeks later, Richards and other members of the show were in Shymanski’s apartment, scoping him out for a spot.
“I would occasionally end up on ‘The American Music Show’ as a guest,” he said. “I did that for a while, just going on the show as me, showcasing my artwork, and occasionally to fulfill a guest role. They called me the ‘Fabulous Rosser’ because my artwork was Fabulous Rosser Originals — what I meant was that my artwork was fabulous, not me, so that was kind of funny.”
In 1986, Richards approached Shymanski about becoming a Peek sister. The Peek sisters were a fictitious group of women from a trailer park in the metro Atlanta area whose grandmother insisted they were talented enough to sing.
“There weren’t any boys, they were actual girls. We were like, this would be a special something to have one of us guys play a Peek,” Shymanski said. “After about a year of doing that, the two other girls decided they didn’t want to do it anymore. Of course, by that time I’d been bitten by the bug.”
DeAundra Peek and RuPaul starred together in several episodes before the spin-off series starring DeAundra were developed, first with “DeAundra Peek’s Teenage Music Show.”
“I decided I wanted DeAundra to have a slightly different slant [from the other Peeks]. It’s not a super-conscious decision, but I wanted her to be a little more friendly,” Shymanski said. “She kind of turned into a doofus, but sweet and lovable rather than spiteful and hateful.”
Shymanski made the rounds as his famous character. Occasionally he’d even cook up some of her Vienna Sausage recipes.
“I would make the recipe in front of the audience and have a pre-made tray and take them out. People would eat them. That was the crazy thing,” he said.
‘I run the gamut’ on characters
Shymanski’s characters had a lasting impression on his viewers. Jonathan Kivett said he still has a VHS copy of “Teenage Music Club,” and returns to the catchphrase “that gig was rough” to make him smile after a rough day. Atlanta comedian Ian Aber recalled DeAundra’s rendition of the Madonna song “This Used To Be My Playground.”
“[She] had changed the lyrics to ‘This used to be my trailer, this used to be my double-wide,’” he told Georgia Voice. “There was one segment where they did announcements for the lunches that would be served at ‘vacation Bible school’ and I only remember Friday’s lunch was ‘vy-eeners’ and red, white and blue cake.”
DeAundra wasn’t the only character Shymanski created over the years — Boompah Bailey, veterinarian Dr. PeeDeen Hunkapillar and aerobics expert Adene Salon were other favorites.
“I kind of hesitate when people call me a drag queen, because I really sort of look at myself as a performance artist or as an actor because my characters are boys and girls, little kids and old people. I run the gamut,” he said. “When I figured out what DeAundra was all about, then it’s just a matter of assuming that personality and being that personality in any given situation. … That was my take on how I worked these characters. They’re all just real people who do real things and talk about real stuff, but look ridiculous.”