This morning I woke up to a video from the Huffington Post claiming to be “hilarious” and “feminist burlesque”. I thought, how fabulous and clicked gleefully on the video. Imagine my disappointment when it turned out to be an average comedian taking a cheap shot at an art form at which many of my (feminist) friends excel so wonderfully. I’m not posting it here, but you can easily look it up. I adore burlesque, it was a scene that made me feel so welcome when I was just an opera singer seeking to send up opera by mixing it with striptease. Now, having evolved, I frequently host shows with some of the best strippers, ecdysiasts and showgirls that the business has to offer. Women so at home, so comfortable with their bodies and their sexualities that nakedness and nudity is not even slightly taboo. What could be more feminist than that?
So, Nadia Kamil, let’s look in detail at your ‘feminist burlesque’ for a second, shall we? Let me first explain the meaning of burlesque to you, since when you created your ‘routine’ you obviously didn’t seek to explore the rich history of the art form which you feel is ‘shaming’. Burlesque at its very purest means to send up, to take the piss out of something, to make people look at role models or people deemed important and laugh at them. Very much like your stand up comedy. Although, being a women, you wouldn’t know about funny, would you? Whoops, a hack cliché slipped in there, how silly of me. Not something you’d expect from someone with a degree…but more of that later. So, by sending up a burlesque routine, you are almost the pure distillation of burlesque itself. Well done you.
You start with your explanation of how someone’s routine made you feel icky. Was it her comedy? Was it her comfort with her own body? That a woman can be both sexy and funny? That must have stung you a bit, as many female comedians struggle with being sexy and funny. Lucky that in the burlesque world, that isn’t an issue we struggle with, it’s so liberated over on the dark side. I draw your attention to the fabulous Kiki Kaboom if you need an example. Hilarious. Sexy. Liberated.
Then you go on to give away her punchline. Just like that. So the gag that she so carefully sets up over the five or so minutes of her act, you give away. Just. Like. That. Intrinsically, that laugh that you got when you revealed her reveal. That was hers. You are basically a joke thief.
Then, taking off your glasses, so we “can’t see your shame”, you start your routine. Using The Stripper. A piece that has been used to parody stripping routines since it was written. How original of you. How funny. How multi-layered. I say routine, but that would imply some level of choreography or skill. Do you know how long and hard burlesquers work to make what they do look effortless? Hours and hours and hours of rehearsal and self discipline. Hours of watching the greats from the forties and fifties, the mothers of our craft, watching them to discern how they get each bump and grind absolutely perfect. Studying hand positions and leg angles so that it shows our feminine curves off to the most perfect advantage. The hours spent gluing crystals (and the accompanying E-6000 headache that goes with it) to costumes, the bleeding hands and blisters from fans (like the amazing twerking Aurora Galore who frequently cuts her fingers to ribbons, she goes so hard with those fans!) and pointe shoes, the bad backs and necks from hauling heavy costumes from one end of town to the other, (for burlesquers, like comedians, also do a double – or sometimes even a triple)
If you had done a little research into the art form you were parodying, you’d know that 90% of our audiences are female or couples. It’s very hard to do a sleazy show designed to titillate men when the majority of the audience are women (with degrees – that’s important, apparently). That must mean that burlesque is for girls? No, surely not? Women with degrees, watching other women with degrees, bump, grind and sparkle? Could there be anything more feminist in the world? Stand up comedy perhaps? Ha. Don’t make me laugh.
Then your reveal, it’s ok for me to reveal your reveal isn’t it? You have hack feminist statements. The obvious ones. Equal pay? Hilariously, burlesque and variety are probably the only professions where women command equal (if not more) money than the boys and frequently top the bill above the men. It is the only profession that is almost solely produced, promoted, paid for and performed by women. Women, paying women, to perform for women.
No mention of the more monstrous feminist issues. FGM, forced marriage, corporal punishments and gang rapes in Africa and India among many others. Surely, a more satisfying pay off would have been to shock your audience as well as making them laugh? After all, many burlesquers succeed incredibly at this. There is nothing more satisfying than shocking and bewitching your audience all at once.
I hope that this has given you an insight into our world, maybe you can understand why many of us are upset at your cheap joke. I’d hope that, if it doesn’t offend your feminist ideals too much, you would go and see some burlesque, see some of the best. There are heaps of feminist burlesque routines out there. Burlesquers who aren’t afraid to play with the idea of expected norms, or to appear both sexy and funny at the same time. Maybe look up the amazing Audacity Chutzpah and her ‘100 years of Women’s Liberation‘ or the utterly incredible Queen of Burlesque, Julie Atlas Muz or the amazingly gorgeous, liberated, confrontational and multi-talented Wau Wau Sisters. Hey, one of them even won a coveted Foster’s Comedy Panel Prize talking about rape. Did you Nadia? Try harder, lady, try harder.
So maybe you could stop bashing other women doing what other women gotta do, artistically or otherwise. Surely that is the very meat and bones of our modern feminism? And don’t give away the punchlines….!