Los Angeles’ own Dizzy von Damn!, Miss Viva Las Vegas 2008, talks evolving, geekery, Iconography, high-fiving Tarantino, hecklers, Jewish cats and pineapples.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
Q: You began performing burlesque in 2007, you were crowned Miss Viva Las Vegas in 2008 and you were voted in 21st Century Burlesque’s Top 50 in 2009 and 2010. You really hit the ground running, didn’t you? I’m sure many of our readers who are performers, especially the newcomers, would find that very inspirational. Do you have any advice to offer new performers in the industry?
A: It was sort of a whirlwind, yes. It creates a lot of pressure to keep going onward and upward, but there should be that. I hope I’m living up to it. My advice is always to go to shows, learn as much as possible, do what you’re good at. Doing what you’re good at doesn’t mean always do the same thing though- it’s very important to challenge yourself. I’m always adding and revising- create layers, details, small things that add depth for your audience, especially repeat viewers! Evolve, and know that your acts can do that too.
Q: I’m interested in your background. I saw an interview in which you said that you took dance classes until you were 13 or 14 but that wouldn’t call yourself a “dancer” by any means. Were you a theater kid? I’m just curious how you were able to develop so quickly as a burlesque performer.
A: I was a total theater kid. I did dance classes, voice, piano, theater, community plays- I even went to artist’s camp; at regular camp I would hide in the woods with a book. Nobody liked me! I think I also developed a bit of a class clown persona to deflect some of the weirdness of being very smart and interested in different things. Not to mention I was a good foot taller than everyone else! I was also quite taken with creative writing; I have my Master’s in writing. I think that lends itself to a number of the same skills; storytelling, character development, etc. Some of it is just a sense of being myself; my mother always encouraged me to be unique and proud of it, so I lack a certain ability to do otherwise at this point.
Q: Let’s talk inspiration. You’re known for both classic performance as well as neo-burlesque, and you refer to yourself as “equal parts Gypsy Rose Lee and David Lee Roth.” From whom or what do you draw your inspiration?
A: I’m inspired by people who are brilliant and passionate about what they do; it doesn’t matter what it is. I find people who love life and learning- and sharing both those things- absolutely delightful. Any sort of geekery is good with me. That’s what it takes to be excellent, extreme interest and devotion, and I am inspired by that in all its many forms. Gypsy Rose Lee was brilliant in her evolution- so cunning, how she played to her strengths. David Lee Roth is brilliant in his complete and utter surrender to the show. You don’t have to be a fan of someone necessarily to appreciate their passion and its results. I take a lot of burlesque inspiration from pop culture; I’ve always been very interested in Iconography in real life, meaning how do our icons reflect other part of our personal discussions, how do things connect? What does one story have to do with another? That’s my religion, it resonates from very deep within me: to build webs and correlations, analogies. I have millions of things filed away in my mind, waiting to be connected to something else. I am constantly just moments from going a little Close Encounters and screaming “This means something!” But what does it mean??
Q: Speaking of inspiration, I was amused by an excerpt of a video interview I saw in which you said, “a great deal of my inspiration comes from bastardizing children’s entertainment.” You have acts about Small Wonder (your debut act, if I’m not mistaken?), Mulan, Cheetara, Strawberry Shortcake, James and the Giant Peach and possibly more that I overlooked. I’d like for you to elaborate on that topic for our readers.
A: I always tell people who ask me for advice on music that it is usually best to work with songs that people can recognize, because it allows them to focus more on you and less on what the song is and why you chose it. Same reasoning: these pieces of our collective childhoods allow me to build an act on a premise people understand; it’s a new mythology. Every painter of a certain era painted Jesus- these are my icons and my interpretations of them. It doesn’t hurt that our current culture places significant value on pop nostalgia, so when people recognize the references, they feel in on the joke. It’s another way to include the audience. Perhaps I find children’s entertainment compelling as a burlesque frame because it is only the most necessary parts. Kids have a different threshold for expression.
Q: You also have a tribute routine to the Quentin Tarantino film “Four Rooms” in which you portray Ted the Bellboy and you even had the esteemed pleasure of performing the act for Tarantino himself! I can’t even imagine how nervous you must have been; please tell us about that experience.
A: It was really exciting. That’s a show that truly lives in the details and who better to appreciate them than he and his? During my act I offer an audience member a donut (as Ted does in the QT storyline) and so I offered the donut right to him and he looked a little confused for a second and then exclaimed, “I should take this! It’s in the movie!” and when my act was over all I could say was, “He took the donut! HE TOOK MY DONUT!” He gave me a high five and told me he really liked my act. Then he asked if Robert Rodriguez had seen my tattoos, because he’d really like them. Sure, Rodriguez and I were chatting over a pot of Earl Grey just the other day.
Q: Performance mishaps and wardrobe malfunctions happen to even the most seasoned performers. Do you have any stories to share of problems that happened on stage and how you were able to recover from them?
A: Oh goodness, I have had some moments. I’ve tripped on my duster, popped pasties, had to rip zippers to get out of dresses. Once for an act that required a chair, none was onstage- I had to sit on the floor. It was so awkward. Another night a girl got up on stage and started grinding on me. I just kept dancing until someone literally carried her away. At Viva Las Vegas this year I had an interesting issue; a year or so ago I had foot surgery and was left with some pins holding my joints together. The night before the show I found one of the pins was coming out of the bottom of my foot! It was excruciatingly painful and I had to do the whole show like that. In heels! I was expecting to be crippled like the Red Shoes by the end of the night, but I think (hope) apart from walking gingerly on it, no one could really tell. When things go wrong, I usually I just smile and hope I can figure it out without too much drama. If it’s a big mess I can’t quietly fix, I’ll play it up and get the audience rooting for my success. There comes a point where it’s just more uncomfortable to pretend nothing is happening.
Q: In addition to burlesque performance you’re an accomplished emcee as well. How do you prepare for hosting an event? Do you have any stories where ingenuity was required because you were told to stall for longer than you expected? Any experience in dealing with hecklers?
A: I always fear I’m going to screw up as a host, but so far I’ve been lucky. In order to prepare I research the performers and their acts. I consider the lineup and how those transitions will need to work. That’s another spot where some of my writing experience comes in, I suppose. A lineup is like a plot and it should have an exciting build-up to the climax. That’s my job, as I’m the narrator. But I never script because I’m terribly awkward when I do. I always make notes and have some beats I’d like to hit, but for the most part I host off the cuff. That does lead to some interesting moments when I need to stall. Once I had to stall for over 10 minutes during a setup. I’m pretty sure nobody left. Hecklers are difficult because you desperately want to shut them down, but most of the time they will keep going if you talk to them, so if I’m going to chastise, I like to make sure I do it right. That depends on how bad it is; if I can ignore, I do. There have been other times I’ve waited until a break in the show and gone to speak to people personally, explaining that I appreciate their presence and would duly appreciate respect for the show. That has been surprisingly effective!
Q: I’d like to know more about your adoration for pineapples.
A: I can’t even remember how that started anymore. I love them; they’re the showgirls of fruit. They have headdresses! People always tell me they think of me when they see pineapples, so it’s become something of a brand. They’re a widely accepted symbol of hospitality, which I also enjoy.
Q: According to your blog you have 2 Jewish cats? Please tell us more.
A: Well, I used to have two, but now I have three! The Rabbi Julius was my first, when I moved to California. He’s an orange tabby who loves to be photographed. Recently the vet referred to him as a senior cat and I nearly died. He’s my number one! Leonard Nimoy is the second, he’s a flame-point Siamese and he looks just how you imagine a cat named Nimoy to look. I keep meaning to make him a cat-sized Spock costume. He’s shy, but also the sweetest, most affection-seeking cat I’ve ever had. The kitten is Leeloo Dallas Multipass, and she’s a tortie. People say torties are crazy, and she can be wild, but mostly she is so laid back. She walks on a leash. These three are as close as my parents are getting to grandkids out of me, so that’s why I make sure to note that they’re Jewish.
Q: What’s next for Dizzy?
A: Next… I’m applying to school again. That’s for the non-burlesque part of my life. For the glamorous aspects, I hope to be able to apply to more festivals and competitions, as well as touring. I have a couple of acts I’ve been wanting to do for a while that I’ll probably start working on. One of them involves learning a new skill and I’ve been trying in my admittedly meager spare time, but it’s turning out to be more complicated than I thought! Of course, right? I want to take some dance lessons again, and just in time for the holidays I’d like to train a company of Dik-diks to pull me onstage in a sleigh, and then use their tiny teeth to strip me of my golden velvet robes, all to something by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
Q: Anything you’d like to add?
A: That last part is probably a joke.