“Take It Off” by Joan Acocella. The New Yorker, May 13, 2013
I have long been nostalgic for the old burle-Q days at Philadelphia’s Troc (see posting of 10/31/2007), even respectfully removing my hat as I pass by the old theater, and now, according to this New Yorker article, burlesque is roaring back, at least in New York City, although in a different form. Today, it is presented as comedic parody, funny rather than enticing.
Acocella describes the performance of “Dirty Martini” the queen of the so-called “new burlesque,” whose real name is the less-catchy Linda Marraccini. Dressed in a sequined, stars-and-stripes gown, “Dirty,” as I assume she is professionally called, begins her act as Justice, blindfolded and holding a scale. She immediately drops the scale and is delighted when paper money spills out. She takes off her dress, spilling more money out of her bra and panties that she also takes off, remaining only in tasseled pasties and a small merkin. (Google “merkin” and view the images.)
So far, not too outlandish.
Now for the rest of her act, remember I am only conveying Acocella’s description who assures us it is a variation of a common magic trick and certainly not as it appears. Dirty picks up the bills from the floor and eats them. Then, turning her back to the audience and with an exaggerated flourish, the zoftig Dirty pulls a 25-foot rope of the rolled up bills from her more-than-ample butt!
Not everyone’s cup of tea, but certainly memorable.
The pick-up girl, Betty Buxom, who comes out to pick up the shed clothes, stage bills, and rope, is an important part of the act. Dressed in a G-string and pasties, she turns her back to the audience and bends acutely from her hips as she tidies up the stage. She is cheered by the expectant audience as soon as she appears.
This is the “new burlesque.” The acts began in the 1990s in a few New York clubs, and now there are dozens. The acts are far shorter than they once were at the Troc. The old burlesque queens would dance to the beat of a tom-tom to stretch out their act to 15 minutes or so, but the new acts have little or no dancing. Some strippers have difficulty just moving to the beat. And as Acocella points out, they don’t have naughty names, they have dirty names like Lucy Fur, Creamy Stevens, and Fanny Frottage.
The new burlesque acts are purposely amateurish. The costumes appear homemade. Slipping down a tight dress sometimes pulls the panties down, too, which then have to be unceremoniously pulled back up. The discarded dress sometimes catches on the heel of the stripper’s shoe as she struggles to kick it away. Unhooking a bra is sometimes a study of frustration. All of this is to enlist the audience’s support, and is all in good fun (for some). It is meant to produce a laugh, not a sigh.