Va Va Voom Burlesque: Exit Strategy, Ear-Hole Entry

One of things I touched on yesterday in my story about actor/doorman Wass Stevens was the concept of exit strategy for nightlife workers. Most people employed in nightlife have other careers that they hope will take them to some promised land. For some, it’s a dream of fame and fortune; for others it’s a law degree and a nice house in Minneapolis. Many have no plans at all and are just trying to get through the week. Sometimes it would bother me if after many years of trying to act or paint, the bartender had not broken out or progressed and they seemed destined to be a gin-slinger for life. I hired creative people. That was my trip. I wanted these kinds of interesting art types to make a decent living and move on. I wanted my patrons to interact with these types. Many of my best friends have and are indeed now facing the realities of being stuck behind the three compartment sink and serving people they no longer relate to. Moving to California is a band-aid often applied. My ex-bartender Scrappy is still in the life but has segued into singing and performing in burlesque shows around town. Catch her act ( and any of the other burlesque shows being offered) if you can. The Box broke this stuff out to a financially viable level, and I think we will see more of it. It keeps getting more interesting. Just ask Scrappy.

Your hair is very feathery. Did you pick out the long feather earrings first, or did you do the hair as a result of the earrings? The hair is permanent for a couple of weeks. It’s my homage to Farrah. It’s called the Margie Bang at Tease Salon.

Scrappy was a bartender for me back in the day, and now she calls herself Melodie Sweets. Do you refer to yourself as a showgirl — a burlesque performer? I call myself a singer. Yes I do burlesque a lot, and I do my own show, Rouge Coquette, but I mainly sing in every show I do.

The first time I saw you was at Corio; you invited me down, and I went. Which was very surprising by the way. The light was kind of hitting you, and I was like, “Is that Steve?”

It was absolutely uncomfortable for me having known you as Scrappy the bartender. You hire bartenders and work with them because they are fabulous and beautiful and cool, but you absolutely disconnect yourself from them in a sexual way. If you’re a pretty good guy in this business, you shouldn’t be hitting on staff, and here you are a number of years later in this incredible feather outfit which had not nearly enough feathers. They were in select spots; very classy with a capital “C,” I might add.

I remember feeling very uncomfortable but anyway your voice was amazing. You’re a great singer. You’re a great showgirl; when I knew you as a bartender, I thought you were very conservative … You did?!

I thought of the entire bar staff, you were the least outgoing, the shyest. I am pretty shy.

But here you are on stage with a fairly sophisticated audience and mixed gay-straight crowd, and you are not shy at all. So on stage, it all comes out. Tell me about this process. How did you start doing it? Well, when my band GoodFinger decided to go into the studio and concentrate on our album that just came out, we stopped playing live shows, and I just really love the stage. A friend of mine was having a burlesque show and was like, “Will you do it?”

Who was that friend? Norman Gosney, who is now in China opening up another club. It was his show, and I loved the performers. Miss Tickle is just genius — everything about her was genius. She is so inspiring, and she’s a really good friend of mine. I saw her do it first. So I said if I’m going to be on stage, I don’t want to just do burlesque, I want to sing. So it was a challenge to myself to write my own songs, perform my own songs, and build it from the ground up. And that is what I loved the most about it. So Melodie Sweets was really born because GoodFinger stopped playing live.

As Melodie Sweets, as a frontwoman of GoodFinger, you are wearing sexy clothes. How do you get almost naked in front of strangers? Oh that’s the easy part, because I don’t care if you’re judging my outsides. That doesn’t bother me. Everyone has nipples — not that you see them.

Some people have three. Yes, some people have three. I bet if they got into the burlesque with three nipples, they would make a killing. I think it’s harder when people judge my singing, because they are judging something that I can’t change. They’re judging my insides. I get more nervous about singing on stage than I do doing burlesque. Because burlesque, when I’m done, I have more clothes on than I do on the beach. Some girls really just go down to the bare minimum.

You’re saying your singing is more naked. Yes, especially when I do covers. I’m even more nervous when I do covers. You know the audience is expecting you to be just as great or even greater than the original performer. So I just get manic backstage. What goes on backstage is just priceless. It’s always a brilliant time — girls just running around.

From what I’ve seen, there is a camaraderie. You guys are like a cult; a lot of the same people at Corio or the The Slipper Room. The Box is more shock burlesque Yeah, I perform there a lot.

How would you act differently at The Box? The Box is actually really great; I love performing there. I’ve met some amazing people there, and it really pushes me to do more modern things. So really The Box has inspired my music, and so I pull from old school.

Which old school? Billie Holiday, all the old jazz and blue greats, Etta James and Ella Fitzgerald, all those wonderful, wonderful women. And Cole Porter … even going back to that style, that genre of music.

Are we in a golden age of burlesque now? I think so. I think it’s really hitting a more mainstream audience. People are opening themselves up to it more. I don’t know how it is in the middle of the country.

Are you performing at Webster Hall now? I have a residency at Webster Hall every second Friday of the month.

I designed this giant iron and glass fan for Webster Hall that would open up so that the burlesque dancers could walk out and be on stage, and then it would close behind them. I haven’t been to Webster Hall in a very long time. Was it supposed to be motorized, Steve?

Yes it was. Because it’s not.

I’m sure they’ll get around to doing it. They’re often late with doing things. Back to the golden age; one of my favorite performers of all time and someone I want to interview very soon is Murray Hill, one of the funniest humans alive. He is so in character, I never think of him as a her. Murray Hill is a drag king — a woman who performs as a man. If you say “she” it just doesn’t register. He’s brilliant to work with. You can come into the theater in the worst of moods, and you just see Murray, and in two seconds you’re laughing. It’s a pleasure to work with him.

I hate to say it, but I think he is carrying the burlesque thing on his back. He is one of the most recognizable and professional characters. Who are the other players in burlesque? It’s a growing community. And I say community because it really is, and we all really help each other. But a few of my favorites, of course, are Miss Tickle and the Pontani Sisters.

How many Pontani sisters are there? There are three, and they are amazing. I’ve worked with them at Corio and with them and Murray for the past year, since the show started. And then you have Amber Ray who is just such a force on stage. You were a bartender with me. You are a singer in a band, and you are a burlesque singing star. Where does this take you in the future? I have about three more songs to finish the album, which is really exciting for me. And I’m forming a band, and I want to incorporate my acts that I do now with some of the girls in my show but really make it more into a music venture. Not a musical. So this way I can take it not only to theaters as a burlesque show, but I can take it to rock n’ roll venue and really focus on the music side of things as well.

Do you believe a club could exist as a burlesque club? Yeah. Slipper Room has existed on burlesque. They do some other things there too; they book bands, but they always try to keep it in the realm of burlesque.

The sight lines aren’t great at the Slipper Room. It’s a very difficult place to see burlesque. They’re reopening. I think they just bought out the upstairs above them and are redesigning.

Is Dita Von Tesse the Babe Ruth of modern burlesque? She definitely has the most notoriety right now. I’ve never seen her perform, nor have I met her. I would like to see her perform.

She performed in a martini glass. It was insane. I love that someone is carrying that torch. And the bigger the community gets, and the more people that get into, it the longer we stay being able to do what we love to do.

Prior to seeing her perform I didn’t see the attraction, but the end of the show I was dying. She was insanely hot. I guess that is the game isn’t it? Finding sexuality in the audience? It’s the art of the tease. You’re not supposed to give it all. It’s about teasing the audience and pulling them into your fantasy.

Are there moments that you connect? Yes, that’s the best feeling ever.

Is it orgasmic? It could be. For me, when I sing, I’m entering inside your ear holes. The best feeling is when you look out and see them singing the songs. You just glow when you’re on stage. It’s such a great feeling.

You’re not shy anymore Scrappy.