Badass Burlsesque Revuve Review, Part 1
Because here's the thing: I spent all day Saturday, from noon to ten, running around Manhattan for The Haystack---which was, in my opinion, one of the finest puzzle scavenger hunts I've ever been on---and after the first five hours I had blisters on the bottom of my feet, and for reasons I don't understand, my thighs were so sore and burning they felt lacerated. I spent the last hour or two merely tottering from place to place, mentally going "owie owie owie owie" every time I had to walk another six goddamn blocks from Union Square to whatever ice cream stand is six blocks north. I should have brought talcum powder or worn silk boxers or a long flowing dress or something, but really in the end I don't think anything would have helped. Mankind was not meant to walk around that much. Not when it's hot.
I should be reviewing the Haystack. And I obviously should have gone home right after. But I also have a friend who, that very evening, was performing at the Badass Burlesque show at midnight at the Bowery Poetry Club. She had invited me. And, as one of my teammates put it, "no one ever invites me to burlesque shows; do it for my sake, and for posterity." And that's how I found myself at 11 o'clock at the Bowery Poetry Club, trying not to move my legs to much and nursing a $7 whiskey to numb the pain. (And by the way, it's very hard to numb pain with whiskey when you have the additional pain of paying $7 a shot.) This is for Spelvin!
Our host was The World-Famous *BOB*--a brilliantly funny emcee and comedienne who looks like she came straight out of the early sixties and borrowed Kim Novak's hair on the way. (Kim Novak if she dressed like Marilyn Monroe. Or a Marilyn Monroe if she was good with crowds and skilled at ad libbing.) I was so taken with her I can scarcely express it: with the eye twinkling! And the lightly ironic laughter! And dimples so pronounced you could see them from several tables away! She looked positively iconic, and I can't imagine anyone else doing her job. As it happened, I was sitting next to a woman who was learning striptease from Bob ("she's my mentor," she said), and she told me "That's what her identification says. If you look at her driver's license, it says 'Bob, The World Famous.'"
I should have written down some of Bob's patter, but I was really woozy and in pain. I remember her opening line, where she said, "Thank God it's Badass Burlesque! Finally I can get onstage and be naked and have people stare at me! After a week of going around wearing clothes? With no one cheering? This is the best thing ever!"
She did the opening act, and it was in many ways an extremely traditional burlesque tune---pretend you're in a fifties dive and hearing the stripper music and that's what she played for her act---only with one difference. Bob is a lovely-but-non-anorexic woman. Which is to say, she has a real body, and she's obviously very proud of it. So her act involved doing all the standard moves---the shimmy, flipping the fringe, the twirling of tassels---to music that had an obviously added voiceover as a series of men said rude things like "You'd be really pretty if you lost ten pounds," and "I do it from behind so I don't have to look at your face." And at every taped insult she simply smiled and winked and kept dancing. It was subversive and wonderful.
And then, in what promised to be a dangerous programming error, they brought out Professor Jo. And the reason I say it was an error is because Professor Jo is the best burlesque performer I have ever seen. She's a tiny woman with brunette hair. (Oddly, that seemed to be true of about half the performers; not as many tall blondes as I expected.) And she probably gets "You look like Sarah Jessica Parker" all the time. She came out in high heeled shoes and stockings, a tight-fitting purple jacket, and a fez with the symbol of Prince on it. (Since I'm colorblind, I only figured out later that everything was purple---the color of Prince, for those of you who missed the eighties one way or the other.) And here I'm afraid words fail me, except to say that where Bob was rambunctious and hell-raising, Professor Jo was such a perfect mixture of steam and elegance that when she took her shoes off my jaw was on the floor. I'm not normally a foot guy, but at the end of the song, when she was stripped down to star-shaped pasties and purple panties, and was wrapped in purple rope (I didn't even notice it was bondage until it was over; cutest BDSM ever!), when I thought back on it, the part I really remember was how expertly she played the audience when all she was doing was removing her right stocking. I think this is the essence of good burlesque: the power of sexuality, lightly and artfuly wielded, to rivet an audience. I've never seen it done better.
And by the way, I was very well placed, because when she came off stage she sat right behind me, still in the pasties and the ropes, so close that our ankles occasionally brushed together. So I got to meet her up close, and I may have even gushed about her performance a little.
It's only wise to cleanse the palate after something like that, and so the next performer was a man---and that's the first sign I had that this was Badass, rather than traditional, burlesque. His name was Tigger, and he apparently won the first ever Mister Exotic World award (at the World Exotic Expo or whatever it's called, which has been going for sixteen years and only last year or so added a category for men). And I have to say that I think if I was gay, he'd have amused me terribly. Because he came out in a black trenchcoat dragging a small bit of rolling luggage, opened it---there was clothing inside---then threw off his coat and pulled out...a vintage wedding dress! And the music started into something about getting married (nothing I recognized, but if you think "Going to the Chapel" you'll get the idea). He had fake eyelashes and was covered in glitter, so this odd conflation of fifties primness and seventies glam was really visually interesting. He put on the dress, campily mimed being a blushing bride, and then...pulled out a large dildo. And then, I'm afraid, as a climax, he bent over and stuck it up his ass. And I believe a "my goodness" may have escaped my lips.
This was my first sign that this was probably going to be closer to a sex show than a burlesque performance. What I like about burlesque, personally, is that it teasingly, winkingly, asypmptotically approaches sex without actually removing the veil. This? Not so much. And I wasn't alone in my assessment. One of the burlesque performers I talked to later (name withheld) told me, "I agree. I mean, I'm straight, but every time he does that part of the act, he bends over and I think, 'Oh, gross. Scrotum.'" But of course, neither of us were Tigger's targer audience, so I withhold further judgement in the matter. I assume he knows what he's doing, since this was---ahem---not the only time in the evening that something got rammed into something else on stage. So it wasn't a lapse; it was foreshadowing.
The amazing Deity was next, but it's time for me to get to work. More later.