I was chatting with one of the UK’s top Theater Press Reps yesterday about public perception of burlesque and we noted that there slowly seems to be an awareness that burlesque is an umbrella term that comprises of many styles. This is a definitely good thing. For a long time artists have been frustrated by the constant comparisons of all burlesque by the media and the public generally to Dita Von Teese who is in fact the champion of a very specific style of burlesque defined by a particular era.
When Lola LaBelle and I created Shipwrecked we wanted the emphasis to be on comedy and I have come to realise that even within the industry the term comedy burlesque is much misunderstood. The central feature of comedic burlesque is that the striptease takes second place to the main parody or storyline. Or as my friend Anil Desai the wonderful comedian described it, the routine begins and you are so caught up in what the performer is doing that its almost a surprise at the end when she finishes in her tassels and undies. True comedy burlesque works more like a skit essentually and there has to be a reason to keep watching and a punchline or pay off at the end that is not just the striptease itself. This to my mind is what makes true comic burlesque one of the hardest acts to create and I’m sure I have not been alone in lying in bed till the small hours wondering ‘what’s the payoff???’. Its this idea of payoff or punchline that makes comic burlesque a different style to cheesecake that is cutesy and often domestic and neo-burlesque which has modern or satirical scenarios but whose focuses are still traditional striptease.
As Burlesque is still a growing artform these terms are subject to personal definitions but over time these are the defiitions I have personally found most useful and logical. Some people I know do not enjoy watching comedy burlesque as they do not find it sexy or elegant, but I disagree - done properly can there be anything sexier then someone who makes you laugh? The joy of burlesque to me is its rich tapestry of styles but each must be respected and its differing techniques noted. It seems to be the fashion for newcomers in London to apply the term comedy to their biogs regardless of whether they are actually performing comedic burlesque….the question you have to ask yourself is this…..can you actually make an audience laugh?