Originally posted November 8, 2011
BOYELSQUE IN A NUTSHELL
The fervor over male burlesque performers is reaching a fever pitch. Before they take off to Liberace-level fame, I wanted to get to know their personalities and inspirations a little better. Interviewing performers that I have seen recently at BHOF, NYBF and in Toronto, B.B. Heart helped me compile all their responses. And this is the end result. Enjoy!
DEFINITION OF BOYLESQUE
TIGGER!: Boylesque is a term I naively thought I'd coined in the mid-90s, simply as a way to promote myself. In the early days I worked with amazing women like Julie Atlas Muz and Dirty Martini, and I wouldn't dream of placing myself above them, so I said I was “New York’s premier Boylesque performer.” This suggested I was #1 in boylesque, which was an easy claim because for 6 years I was the only man we knew who was stripping in a burlesque style (as opposed to go-go or Chippendales stripping). I was actually stunned there was no one else doing it for so long. It seemed so obvious. At the first Tease-O-Rama in 2001 there were other men, but they were doing the same old shit men have always done in burlesque. They were in the band or hosting in their retro suits (that they never take off) while making lewd jokes about the naked women. We didn’t see any men getting naked -- and that’s the bottom line of boylesque. Then in 2003 I met San Francisco's Roky Roulette and later, Baltimore's Evil Hate Monkey, and I thought “AT LAST!”
TODDY: I really dislike the term. I prefer to just say burlesque, or if I'm joking around, "burley-esque.” As an adult male, any term with 'boy' in it feels a little silly. The word feels like a sub-category of burlesque, as if it were less or “cute” that guys are doing burlesque. Although it is traditionally a female form, it's just as valid now for men to perform it.
MONKEY: To me, boylesque is no different from burlesque except with the possibility of penis. Or at least penis jokes. There's not a lot of difference. Although boys seem to do more comedy and don’t generally go for straight forward classic. Inherently we’re doing some parody because this is a female art form- so just by a male doing it, it creates parody. But if men are going to be in this world, they have to first honor it before they mock it. It goes back to theater cross-dressing and drag...the male performers still had to be skilled actors before they could play a woman. They had to honor the craft before the parody. It’s the same for us, we better be good before we flaunt our sexuality in a feminine art form.JOHNNIES: In a way, we feel like the term "boylesque" is almost offensive - like it separates our art from the same art of burlesque that females perform. We really approach our pieces just from a guy's perspective. We are the same artists as the girls - only a little anatomically different!
GO-GO HARDER: Boylesque draws from so many performance forms: theatre, drag, classic burlesque, stripping, go-go dancing, dance, etc. It's this fusion of sex and sexuality along with stylized movement which creates these monologues, whether there's speech or not.
PACO FISH: Boylesque is theatrical striptease and/or staged satirical skits performed by men. Burlesque by men.
FERRO: Boylesque is the same as Burlesque, the only difference being its practitioners!
DEW LILY: As much as burlesque plays on its own stereotypes, Boylesque amplifies them even more. The most fun is watching boys conjure up 'classical' burlesque routines that would normally be performed by women. Women are our inspiration, and more and more boys are coming up with amazing original material.JETT: I try not to define "boylesque" because I've found that the word means so many different things. My aim in male burlesque is simply to create a male counterpart to the historic art of burlesque.
WHERE DOES BOYLESQUE FIT INTO THE SCENE?
TIGGER!: The girls in NY and I were never concerned with the fact that I had a penis and they had pussies. I was a sister. We were all artists together and had a show to do. Boylesque only started to mean something to me after there were more men involved. Now I feel paternal about boylesque. I really care that men respect this female art form and do their part well.
TODDY: This is a valid counterpart to the female form. Although I know men performing is a "newish" phenomenon in the burlesque world, I feel that the men I see performing are stepping up to the plate and taking the art form seriously, truly paying homage to the form while trying to figure out how to translate a "celebration of the female" into male terms.JOHNNIES: In our experience, unfortunately, a good deal of boylesque out there is intended to spoof the females - making fun of them rather than honoring them. There are a few well known males out there (like Tigger, Monkey, and Hot Toddy) really helping guys just to be included and we really look up to them as mentors and role models.
MONKEY: It's really gaining momentum in a good way. For a while there was a handful of men that were serious about it and then just the boyfriends of burlesque dancers getting up there. But now I'm seeing more men who are dedicated to the art of striptease. So that's the common thread for boy/burlesque- there still has to be a tease. I hope that the female form will always be more prominent but it's useful to have boys because it adds variety and helps balance out the show. Audiences are definitely up for it.
GO-GO HARDER: A big difference from classic female burlesque is that we don't have a classical "form" to draw from. We have to find our own way and because of that, we have a lot more freedom to be creative and use our sexuality. For instance, I?m not going to unroll my stockings necessarily because it?s a move that was designed by women to seduce and tantalize. Boylesquer's have to discover our own "powers of seduction" and then find creative ways to use them in our strips.
PACO FISH: Boylesque seems to be something of an anomaly. Those within the community realize there's a fair amount of it out there, but the average stranger is often surprised to find out about men doing burlesque. It seems to break up their understanding of what burlesque is.
FERRO: Boylesque is an extension and expansion of the burlesque scene, allowing 'boys' to explore erotic and exotic theatricality in a way once considered only for women.
DEW LILY: Boylesque follows on the coat tails of the legends: the women. Boys are a treat, a novelty in burlesque shows almost in the same category as the singers and vaudeville acts.
SINCE BOYLESQUE IS INHERENTLY AN INNOVATION, HOW DO YOU SET YOURSELF APART?
TIGGER!: A key mission of burlesque is to explode gender stereotypes and laugh at them. I knew this was a woman’s world and I consciously took on that role. Stripping along with women is my form of feminism. Men should always respect that we are lucky guests in this world and accept no special privileges. We should always ask ourselves, 'Would my performance fly if I were a woman?’ If you don't work as hard and don’t get every bit as naked as a woman, then you are a sexist asshole! Your job as a burlesque performer of any gender is to be an actor, to make yourself unique, and to connect with your audience. It should also be a heightened experience for the audience, so make your clothing special & put on some damn make-up!
TODDY: I actually try to think of it as fitting in, to make a male equivalent to all of the amazing female performers, past and present, who have perfected the form. The first time I went to Exotic World I was nervous and excited to see if what I was doing was staying true to the form. If I do set myself apart it is primarily because of my dance training and experience with choreography.
JOHNNIES: We're aiming to set ourselves apart in the same way that female burlesque dancers do; by working hard at the craftsmanship, construction, forward concepts, etc. We're constantly trying to come up with the next great idea and learn new skills (i.e. Chinese pole, acrobatics, aerial) to keep our approach fresh and flexible. Also, there is a trend right now in making burlesque shocking and extreme and we're really trying to focus our energy on the classic forms and the tease, without giving it all away.
MONKEY: Well, I'm a monkey. I try to constantly work in new genres like singing or ballet where I'm taking it up a notch...I want to have skills in acts. I like the idea of taking something that's supposed to be female/feminine, becoming skilled at it, then transforming it and making it your own. I like moves and facial expressions that you wouldn't see a woman or even a human do, but a monkey would. I think I also have the advantage of being a duo with Trixie and also being able to branch off and be a solo artist. It’s important to incorporate all the parts- costumes, choreography, skills and to consider this a craft and art form...not just getting up there as the boyfriend of a performer who has an itch to be onstage.
GO-GO HARDER: Just like there are all sorts of female burlesque performers, so too are there different styles and aesthetics in the boylesque world. Man: A Tease! 2010 was a great example of this because you had Tigger! combining rock 'n roll, drag, and monologue-ing, the Stage Door Johnnie's who appear to come from a more classically trained dance background, and the Evil Hate Monkey whose performances all revolve around the same theatrical, stylized character.
When I see artists that really turn me on creatively and sexually I feel like I take a piece of them back to my rehearsal process.
PACO FISH: I'm working to dismantle the notion that boylesque is an innovation in itself. It's a break from tradition, but the fact that men are doing the same types of things as women is, by definition, unifying. However, it does present different opportunities for humor and sexuality using the structure of the body.
FERRO: I follow my own interests and curiosities, both in music and in theme, and see where that takes me. I think that if you explore your unique interests and talents and perform with authenticity you naturally set yourself apart.
DEW LILY: Dew Lily was an accidental creation. As are the ridiculous acts that followed, ranging from funny, gory, sexy, gay, bloody and messy sometimes all combined. Dew has become a figure of vanity and beauty that makes you love him as much as he loves himself, even though you want to hate him.
JETT: I aim to create a character who has a playful sense of humor, without sacrificing legitimate sex appeal; to explore masculinity and to draw on images which promote it, exploit it, twist it, exaggerate it, expand it. I never intend to “bend gender,” but I ask, always as a man, what can be provocative in the contrasts between delicacy and masculinity, softness and brawn? Is there a bit of fancy in football?
ROLE OF GENDER
TIGGER!: Gender is exaggerated in burlesque and boylesque. It is always a performance of the myth of gender, no matter what your gender may be or how you portray it. Straight, white, wealthy men get to run the world, but they're constantly afraid of doing the wrong thing as a man, of looking like a fool or being unmanly (whatever that is). Although many men think they can get away with anything, they are shackled in a way that they don’t understand. Women and faggots have already had to face being less-than-equal. We have been laughed at all our lives, and that has made many of us more fearless. We have learned to protect ourselves with a sense of humor and by adapting to circumstances beyond our control. Men are generally far more afraid to participate than women, afraid to laugh at themselves, and terrified of being laughed at. It’s important to put men on stage as sexual objects too. It's important to laugh at the almighty dick. Genitals are fascinating and fun, but they're also ridiculous and funny. It's hilarious that men fight to keep a built-in mystique around their dicks, around something that 48% of us have. That is why I’m fond of making my penis a punch line, because at the end it's just...laughable.
TODDY: At the risk of repeating myself, burlesque is traditionally a female form, of course. So a male performing burlesque, which glorified the female form...how do you do that? Women obviously have a whole slew of burlesque templates to draw from and be inspired by. What does the male draw from? And how do you then glorify the male form? To me that IS the challenge of the male in burlesque. It is probably what every male performing burlesque has to figure out for himself. The exciting thing is how different all the answers are. Look at Tigger, Monkey, Sexy Mark Brown, or any of the other men in burlesque. No two are alike, but they are all amazing and exploring the form as men. I find that incredibly inspiring and exciting.
MONKEY: An advantage to being a guy would be when you are in a mostly female show, you provide variety and are like a special novelty. Like during the first New Orleans Burlesque Festival I was a HUGE hit because there were almost no other guys around. It was great! I don't see a lot of disadvantages, as long as you aren't a scum-bag backstage. I like to think of myself just as an equal among the other performers. In the beginning of my career before people really knew who we were (like at The Slipper Room where it's really tight backstage) I used to make sure I didn't seem creepy so I’d try to give girls more personal space to change, but Tigger said something that made me think differently. He said if the girls are getting naked, I have to be an equal and not run off to the corner to put on my g-string. I took that to heart and get naked backstage with everyone now. Regardless of gender we’re all performers together.
JOHNNIES: Well, we've found it pretty successful to keep 'masculinity' in mind when creating our personas. Yes, we are in a female-dominated world, and yes, we still have all the rhinestones and glitter, but at the same time we try to use our masculinity as a turn on for both genders. Incidentally, in doing so, we get a lot of response from straight males who find this particular style more accessible than male burlesquers who are drawn to the more sexually ambiguous or effeminate vices.
GO-GO HARDER: Queering of gender (or my personal fav: "gender-fucking") is definitely apparent in the work of Tigger! and Waxie Moon. Even the act of a male performer putting on stylized make-up or Evil Hate Monkey putting on high-heeled boots starts to queer the more conventional (if not boring) male aesthetic.
PACO FISH: The role of gender in burlesque is the same as in any other medium and our society at large: it's a criterion for classification. Because burlesque is such a sexualized art form, the audience's sexuality, which is rooted in gender identity and perceptions of the performers' gender, determines the judgments and response to the performances. In short, the audience determines the role of gender. If burlesque were a purely sexual medium, I would not be able to entertain straight men, but I do. And plenty of straight women and gay men love girlesque. So gender really doesn't make much of a difference in the performance, as long as the performance is compelling.
FERRO: Gender is immediately apparent in boylesque because the art form is traditionally female dominated. Because everything in burlesque can be so theatrical and exaggerated, exploration of gender and its extremes fits well within this paradigm. In many of my pieces I try to be very butch, and that's a fun role to play because I'm really not that way in real life, but it allows me an avenue to explore different aspects of myself as a person and as a performer.
DEW LILY: Boys will be boys, even if they are dressed as girls or dressed as an Inuit. They will eventually be undressed, and that what we all want to see. We know they are boys, and just like the girls we want to see that package unwrapped.
JETT: Burlesque is universally arousing regardless of a performer's gender or an audience member's sexual preference. Though the crowd may roar at the glimpse of an exposed bottom or rhinestoned nipple, what they are applauding in that moment is an innovation, a surprise, a brilliant bit of artistry. What I have found fascinating is the positive and enthusiastic feedback we get from straight men. They come for the ladies, but to their astonishment (often it’s all they can do not to groan and squirm as soon as a male performer is announced), they somehow find a cleverness and theatricality to our acts which allows them to watch, enjoy, be roused, even inspired and empowered by a guy getting naked. That's breaking down boundaries. I love that.
THE FUTURE OF BURLESQUE AND BOYLESQUE...
TIGGER!: What is important is that we don't let ourselves get lazy or take our place at the table for granted. Because we could very easily become a flash in the pan and go right back to being a novelty. We definitely have an added responsibility as boylesque performers. Because there are so comparatively few of us, there is a good chance that every time we perform we represent what boylesque is to much of an audience. We have to be skillful and fearless and not hold back! We need to ask ourselves “What can I contribute?” This isn’t just a gender question, it's something that everyone should ask themselves. This is how you become a contributor and not a consumer. Men should all challenge themselves to make a contribution that defies the sexist hierarchy of our world AND is entertaining. If that continues to happen then boylesque will get bigger. Personally, I’m interested to see what will happen when burlesque is no longer trendy. I care about the people who can't help performing, who are in it for life.
TODDY: In 5-10 years I think we'll see a lot more men jumping in the game and I can't wait to see what they come up with. I love my boys in Chicago, The Stagedoor Johnnies. They keep coming up with more and more material and are really setting a bar for new male performers.MONKEY: It seems like guys don't generally want to be naked on stage, but I think more men will attempt it. Especially the more skilled guys. Burlesque should remain a female run art form, but it can't be denied, the men are "coming." And it's going to only get better. The men are definitely going to push themselves for higher quality. Just look at the Stagedoor Johnnies. That’s the future.
MONKEY: The future is being skilled and having new tricks. There's no limit to the talents you can add with nudity.
JOHNNIES: Well, hopefully, it will become so integrated that there won't be a differentiation between 'burlesque' and 'boylesque'. The really interesting thing is to see the staying power of individual performers. Hopefully, guys won't be just a passing fad, but instead will stick around long enough to make their names known as burlesque icons.
GO-GO HARDER: It surprises me that there aren't more guys in NYC doing Boylesque, but at the same time, I feel like there are a lot of male performance artists in this city who are creating unconventional work that is sexually charged, queer, and creating its own performance values.
PACO FISH: Boylesque will grow in the future. The more people see it, the more they will feel they can do it, and will be inspired to do so. I would like to see it merge with burlesque and hope that audiences will want to see men performing as much as they want to see women performing.
FERRO: The interest in boylesque definitely seems to be increasing. I believe there will be a much larger number of male performers in the coming years.
DEW LILY: I hope to see more naked boys in the next 5-10 years. I love originality from new performers. It inspires and makes me green with envy (as in, why didn?t I think of that?)
TIGGER!: Alice Cooper and Iggy Pop. Alice Cooper brought Grand Guignol theatre to rock and roll. He's like the hellspawn of Bela Lugosi and Liberace. Iggy Pop is a purely animal, sexual, Dyonisian celebration of chaos. And they both love their audience to death. And of course Bowie worked both of their lessons beautifully and made the world a better place.
Other major influences are Carol Burnett, the Muppets, Bugs Bunny, Divine, and the women I’m surrounded by constantly. We are always raising the bar for one another. Being a friend and partner-in-crime with brilliant artists like Julie and Dirty forces me to work harder.
TODDY: My original inspiration was classic burlesque. Lily St Cyr, Gypsy Rose Lee, etc... Watching and seeing how I think men would do burlesque if they had been doing it in the 40's and 50's. I adore Michelle L'amour, of course. I've probably seen more of her than anybody and nobody gets the tease better than her. Also old movie musicals, or the Rat Pack, slapstick comedies or the showmanship of Liberace. Anything that makes me say "I wanna do that!"
MONKEY: Coco the painting gorilla, Pee Wee Herman's zaniness, Jim Carey for over the top physicality and facial expressions, Tigger is a big influence on refining my performances, Julie Atlas Muz who's willing to fail for one good trick to see if it works, the Jackass guys. I just try to be funny.
JOHNNIES: Of course Tigger, Monkey and Hot Toddy! Right now, they're the only guys we have to look up to. But also Michelle L'amour, Julie Atlas Muz, and (we hesitate to mention you, cause it's your blog, but we're going to say it anyway) Trixie Little, those who are innovative and find new ways to play on old ideas. Also, since we're classically trained dancers, Duane MacGregor, Nicholas Leichter, Bill T. Jones and even good ol' Martha Graham and Loie Fuller.
GO-GO HARDER: I draw from performers like Tigger!, Julie Atlas Muz, World Famous BOB, Stormy Leather and Rosewood. I'm attracted to their work because a lot of it is unconventional even in the burlesque world, yet they've created these beautiful visual and emotional pieces that people know by name. I get inspiration from local artists and performers: The Daisy Spurs, House of Yes... I'm a big fan of collage. Of taking bits and pieces of pop culture, fashion, sex and just seeing how things "fit," or... how they don't...
PACO FISH: I draw a lot of my inspiration from performers of every medium. These include comedians like Bill Cosby and Bill Hicks, whose commitment to expressing their beliefs through their humor is powerful, musicians like Jason Webley, whose charm with an audience is unyielding, and burlesque performers like Trixie Little and Little Brooklyn, who are geniuses at bringing unique concepts to fruition and creating extremely clever parodies.
FERRO: I was at a performance festival years ago in Portland, OR and happened to see show by Tigger!, Julie Atlas Muse and Taylor Mac. I had seen burlesque before, but nothing as modern and innovative as I'd seen that evening. At that moment I knew exactly where I wanted to be and what I wanted to be doing, and moved to NY to explore performance and burlesque a year later. I'm still inspired by the work of these three, as well as so many other amazing performers I've been lucky enough to work with in NYC. I also find a lot of inspiration in the images of James Bidgood. The dream-like, pin-up boy aesthetic he created is always in the back of my mind.
DEW LILY: Tanya Cheex for her fearlessness, Roxi D’Lite for her energy, Tigger! for his commitment, Hot Toddy for his originality and masculinity, Jett Adore for his sexuality and Charlotte Webber for determination!
JETT: The rest of Jett Adore is mystery and secrets and plenty of gemstones, and to try to sort through it all would spoil the magic.
Posted 8th November 2011 by Trixie Little, Founder Burlesque Innovation Guild
Founded by Trixie Little. Exists to honor the pioneering artists in neo-burlesque whose innovative, inventive, surprising, clever, weird, ambitious and ridiculous creativity is the future of our art. There is no application process, committee or competition. Just one woman's opinion. BIG name. Little's opinion.