A couple of hours before show time, I received a text from Beto, my friend whom I’d lured to accompany me to the Overtime Theater’s Christmas-themed burlesque show, the Naughty List, with the promise of nekkid dancin’ as well as several beers if he’d let me use him like some Pavlovian heterosexual-man-dog and record his boobie-enthusiast reactions.
Beto’s text read as follows:
“How should I dress? Retro? Should I dress for a boner? Loose pants? Will there be titty? Should I bring ones for tipping?”
My answering text: “Retro! Probably. Yeah. Definitely. I don’t think so.”
Frankly, I was relieved he was willing to go. Because yours truly, being of the heterosexual lady persuasion and hence (or so I believed), inured to burlesque as anything but a shopworn vaudeville tradition, worried that I might not be the show’s ideal audience. I’m completely willing to come off as a neophyte, a dilettante, a dork, and other things along those lines, but I don’t wanna add “boner-killer” to my list of critical pretensions, y’all.
As it turned out, Friday evening’s entertainment was wildly heavy on the retro tip, and (thankfully) light on the actual boner … um, tip (sorry). The Naughty List was extolled by Overtime Theater’s press materials as “celebrating the timeless bawdiness of classic burlesque with updated subjects and attitudes. It’s a show with some flesh and pizzazz … vaudeville-style comedy, and more!” This was all true, pretty much. An early nod to the “timeless bawdiness” aspect came in the very skillful framing device of two fedora-sporting, suspenders-clad barkers, who with tremendous energy and verve replicated something akin to Kermit the Frog’s arm-waving, beside-himself enthusiasm in announcing each act, with a little World War II-era Bob Hope shtick thrown in. These dudes were having a good time and not taking themselves or the show too seriously, which put the audience in the little black-box theater immediately at ease. This was not going to be some postmodern performance-art evening; nobody was going to self-mutilate, confess to childhood abuse, or do anything untoward with a root vegetable. For one giggly holiday night (did I mention that the show was BYOB?), we were all gonna join in a sweetly nostalgic boobie-bender.
Here’s a list of comparisons, the aggregate of which might help explain this show’s lighthearted appeal: The Naughty List felt kind of like HBO’s doomed Carnivale series without the dark, dwarfy Gnosticism; or a Cold War bachelor party orchestrated by John Waters in his Hairspray (not Pink Flamingos) era; or a (barely-) rated-R Muppet Show featuring Charo and Christopher Guest. In other words: Giggle-inducing, girl-empowering, and spirited in a “Hey, gang! Let’s put on a show in Old Man Whatsit’s barn!” kind of a way.
So here’s how it went: The barker(s) would deliver some modestly off-color patter about the ensuing performer, and the audience (comprised, by the way, of at least as many women as men, if not more), would chuckle gamely and grin at him and each other. Next, the burlesque performer in question (several from the Austin-based plus-sized troupe Big Star Burlesque) performed Yuletide stripteases according to, as noted, a classic formula.
1. Lady with silly-naughty name (e.g. Erin GoBraghless, Family Jewels, Pistol Whipped) takes the stage in revealing, holiday-theme get-up.
2. Lady removes most of said outfit, smiling to music — in this case, Americana-infused pop-Christmas carols: “Santa Baby”? Check. “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”? Yes, ma’am. “Blue Christmas”? You bet your ass!
3. Lady employs various conventions in getting nudie-er. These include the “shimmy out of the corset, with back turned and a wink over the shoulder,” the “Will I lower the bra strap? Yes … no … not this second” (often combined with an ersatz-stern “no-no-no” wag of the finger), “Oops, there goes the bra anyhow, silly me!” and, my personal favorite, “Dig me, taking my gloves off finger-by-finger with my teeth!”
4. Finally divested of her elf tunic/cape/oversized gift box/strategically placed tinsel garland, the lady twirls her pastie-adorned boobies and the crowd erupts in laughter, app-lause, and the requisite “Woo!”s.
After the second-or-so performer, Beto turned to me, clearly having a helluva time, and remarked, “This is more endearing than sexy.” (Funny sidenote: a few performers later, he said, “I’m spending half my time deciphering tattoos!”)
I completely agreed. The spirit in the hall had more of a “You go, girl” flava than a viscerally erotic one. The audience was definitely revved up, but more in a rooting-for than an objectifying-of steez. One of my favorite catcalls, from Beto at the pastie-revealing portion of one stripteaser, was “There is a Santa Claus!” This struck me and several nearby audience-embers as hilarious … but it’s the kind of thing a bawdy audience member in a Mel Brooks movie says, not the kind of thing an actual horny person says while transported by bonerdom.
Why was this show, so celebratory of “real” female bodies, so good-humored and self-actualizing, not the turn-on festival we’d anticipated?
After the show, Beto and I decamped to a nearby ice house (Angie’s Patio. Excellent! Cheap Beer! Friendly owner!) and had a wide-ranging discussion, one which included topics such as Camille Paglia’s girl-crush on Sarah Palin, the possible verbiage on one Naughty List performer’s tummy tattoo (“Slog Dirt,” maybe?), and whether or not we’d feel comfortable taking our moms (me: yeah, him: no). After trying to dissect why we’d enjoyed the show, but not been you-know-what by it, Beto made what I felt was a valid observation — in terms of male perception, anyhow: “Male sexuality is reptilian,” he said. “I’ve never had a kitschy orgasm.”
He went on to describe a scene from one of those gotcha-comedy TV shows, in which a table of men were subjected, unexpectedly, to a stripper-waitress, then a tableful of ladyfolk were waited on by a Chippendale-style dude. The ladies, he said, greeted the dude-stripper with peals of giggling, nudging each other in camaraderie. The men faced with a sexy lady, on the other hand, sat there quietly, unable to refrain from desperate, knee-jerk (ahem) ogling.
The Naughty List falls squarely in the giggle camp. This is not a bad thing; we had a terrific time, unburdened by anything beyond the safe, humorous stand-in for desire. •
p.s. It’s too late to catch the Naughty List, but you can get your holiday Overtime at the New Year’s Eve Improv featuring the San Antonio Comedy Sportz players, and a special appearance by Señor Pantalones Fuego. $8, 7:30 p.m. & 10:30 p.m., Wednesday, December 31. The Overtime Theater, 1216 West Ave., (210) 380-0326,
theovertimetheater.net. Call or email for reservations.