Brad and Cyndi run Hotsy Totsy Burlesque on the third Tuesday of every month at the Delancey, right there at the base of the Williamsburg Bridge in the Lower East Side. Cherry Pop Burlesque happens at the same place, the fourth Tuesday of every month, and I can’t recommend either show enough.
You can pay as much as you want in this city any night of the week for entertainment, but for eight bucks you can get right into something wild and weird that you won’t find anywhere else in the country for ten times as much cash.
The storytelling and burlesque scene have a fair bit of overlap in New York. Emotional nakedness and physical nudity are close relatives, and folks like Brad and Cyndi (our new bloggers) work hard at both. Ultimately, both communities are powered by passion and a love for the art form. Lord knows we’re not in it for the money.
That’s why I came to this town and it’s why I’ll either die here or leave a piece of my soul behind when I have to leave this magical, filthy island.
The ladies at Cherry Pop Burlesque were kind enough to let me photograph a show a few months back. What follows here is a loose collection of observations and photos from that night. You can see an expanded photo show here, too.
Seeing burlesque shows at the Delancey feels like something from the bad old days of New York that made me want to move here in the first place. It’s seedy enough to make any loving mother uncomfortable, but not so seedy that I wouldn’t take my girlfriend.
Even the sign for the basement gets me all excited. It’s at the end of a long, red hallway glowing like the understated gateway to hell. Or at least the world of sin that tent revival preachers used to warn against/advertise. This photo reminds me of the Pink Room with maybe a little less overt menace.
(Photos after the jump may not be safe for work, depending on where you are.)
Any glamour you get here is the glamour you hammer together at home and carry in the door yourself. It’s totally DIY, a punk rock cabaret where as long as you work it as hard as you can nobody cares what how you got there. I love that gritty spirit – the idea that you can build something sexy out of costume jewelry and willpower. There’s a confidence there and a certain “fuck-you” pride.
Like my man Brad said to me earlier this afternoon, “It’s like a drag show with actual girls.”
Here’s Atta Gurle, dancing go-go before the show and in between sets:
At the Delancey, performers have to do their makeup at the shared mirror right there by the public toilets. Kristen Lee was kind enough to let me take pictures while she primped for her act. Guys and girls kept politely nudging us at this mirror and sink to wash their hands in the big giant slaughterhouse-style steel sink after using the bathroom.
Peter Aguero is just like any other 6’5″, 420-pound guy when he’s walking around in the street. But with his track jacket (no shirt), customized crucifix, cop shades and somewhere between five and ten beers, he transforms into this yowling moustachioed hurricane blowing his id’s wind right into your ear holes.
I’d go watch a bunch of hairy cafeteria ladies get their gear off if he was hosting. Every single time I see him host Cherry Pop he just shocks a couple cathartic nasty belly laughs right out of me.
I asked him if I could put some photos of him dressing on the Internet, and he told me “Whatever, go ahead, man. I have no shame.”
Se here’s Peter, mid-transformation:
And here he is, shouting it right out of the park. That microphone is a cool visual prop, but functionally it’s completely redundant.
This is Veronica Vroom (who co-produces the show with Kristen Lee), pulling off her fishnet stockings. She pulled off a bunch of other stuff eventually, too. But artfully… that’s the whole point.
The night of this show, Kristen Lee announced that she’d forgotten to bring her pasties. Which is not unlike a NASCAR driver forgetting to bring his helmet. Sure, you can improvise and get the job done okay but that’s some flaky, risky business. The crowd was pretty forgiving, though.
As Peter once told me, “Dude, Kristen Lee looks like the drawing I did when I was thirteen and tried to draw a woman for the first time.”
I can’t pretend to know Magdalena Fox too well, but we met and bonded while doing the worst show on Earth together last summer. I was the storyteller, she was the burlesque act, and two guys paid to come see us in a urine-soaked basement on the Lower East Side. One of the guys stood up and said “fuck this, I’m leaving” after about half an hour. Me and Magdalena bonded at the bar afterwards, and later on she cut up my raggedy old Cramps t-shirt and made pocket squares for me.
We took a short break at halftime and went out into the street for some (comparatively) fresh air. The next day was trash day, so the curb was heaped with all these bags of garbage from a week’s worth of bar and restaurant activity. Rats danced over the bags like electrons around a stinking, drippy nucleus. The yellow light from the streetlights and the glow from the 24 hour ATM machine merged into this jaundiced hue, like an old print of Taxi Driver screened in a theater where pants are preferred but not mandatory.
This got me all excited to do a bit of amateur pinup photography, and I knew exactly who to ask. Plus, she was pretty hammered already.
Here’s Magdalena Fox outside the Delancey on a hot midnight on garbage day:
A woman from the audience took a pretty keen interest in Peter’s tattooed boob. He told her “Yeah, you can see it again, I don’t mind. See, look, there’s a hurricane down there off the coast of Cape May.”
I’ve seen Rosabelle Selavy dance go-go as Wonder Woman and in a possibly coincidental reference to Paul the Gorilla from the Electric Company. So I wasn’t completely surprised to see her do an homage to the Mario-eating plants from Super Mario Brothers. However, I was pretty shocked to see her remove her own panties and eat them with gusto.
Here’s Magdalena onstage:
The show ended pretty soon after that. I stumbled out into the street carrying a camera bloated with photos like a tick full of bear blood, thundering bass ringing in my ears.
I pretty much live for experiences like that, for these gritty, grinding and visceral cultural moments like the first time I heard the Cramps or the first time we snuck out in high school and drank Cisco in a field with some drag queens that took us to the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Stuff like that happens, you feel the universe crack a little bit and something powerful drips onto your lips and nothing ever tastes the same again.
After Cherry Pop, the city streets looked the same, but somehow everything else in the world felt a little bit different.
Again, if you want to see an expanded photo set with more dancing naked ladies and more Peter Aguero, you can use the embedded slide show below.