Jeez Loueez, the Powerhouse of the Midwest, talks hot messes, family, Jeezy’s Juke Joint, butt cymbals and bro-dude karaoke.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
You’ve described your first burlesque show as “a hot ass mess” with very little preparation and wardrobe/wig malfunctions. You’ve certainly cleaned up your act since, but we’re curious to know of any other show disasters you may have had. Any advice for aspiring burlesque performers who need encouragement to bounce back from a less-than-stellar show?
Where do I even begin? Wigs have flown off, bras have gotten caught in fishnets. So many things have happened, but I try to work through them. They usually happen at a festival. Last year on the opening night of WCBF I was performing Ramalama Bang Bang, it was my first festival and so many burlesque celebs and headliners were in the audience so I was very nervous already. My netted shirt got caught on my belly piercing and after a struggle to get it out I unscrewed it, yelled “Fuck iiiiit!” and threw it into the audience and everyone went crazy. This year at the WCBF opening night I was doing my Whitney Houston act and I slipped on a bag of crack and busted up my hip. I definitely played it off and the audience thought it was on purpose. I wish I could recreate that moment! My advice would be to allow yourself some time to recover from a slip up and play it off as best you can. If your facial expression shows that you effed up the audience will see that, but if you keep your confidence and cool they’ll never know. Don’t beat yourself up about it; those are just the brakes of live performance!
You’re originally from St. Louis but you now reside in Chicago where you perform and teach with Vaudezilla Productions, though you also perform regularly with the Beggar’s Carnivale. What brought you from St. Louis to Chicago? What are the biggest challenges and rewards of maintaining a presence in both cities?
I moved to Chicago 6 years ago to pursue a degree at Columbia College and I graduated with a B.A. in Musical Theater Performance. At the time I was very naïve to the artistic scene in St. Louis and wanted to be in a mecca for performing arts. I feel like being a part of both the Chicago and St. Louis burlesque communities is a luxury and very rewarding. I went to STL about one or twice a month this year. They make me feel like the hometown girl they’re all rooting for trying to make it in a big city. I’m fortunate to have the support of a troupe in Chicago and still have the freedom to travel. Both cities are my family and the biggest reward is that my mom and dad, brother, and grandmas are in St. Louis so I get to see them and my friends. It can be challenging because I want to do every show I can while I’m there because they’re all so amazing, and I might not get to see my family as much, or I might only be there for less than 24 hours before we head to another city. St. Louis and Chicago have very different communities and both are growing at a rapid rate and gaining national recognition. What’s great is that more and more performers are traveling between Chicago and St. Louis. The Midwest is not playing around and I love being a part of the Bi-State Burlesque Exchange!
Your father is a musician- your mother a radio personality and actress. You’ve stated that performing is in your blood and it seems your family understands this because they are known to be very supportive of your performances, correct? Can you tell us more about that?
Oh yes, my family is all up in it! Just last weekend at a show a random man asked about my mother and where she was. She loves coming to support me and everyone loves when she’s there. Nadine Dubois even brought her on stage at the Show-Me Burlesque festival, and she always takes a bow and gets an applause! It’s hilarious. Someone thought she was in the show once and told her to get in the dressing room! My dad has even been to a performance and he said he loved it up until the taking my bra off part. My grandmother and aunt came to a zombie show, and my uncle came to the Colorado festival. Although, I do think too many people are adding my mama on the Facebooks. Back off!
You write a blog called “Jeezy’s Juke Joint” which focuses on burlesque performers and producers of color. You also had a show of the same name this year. We’d love to know more about both of these projects.
Well, it’s a project that’s very dear to my heart. When I started burlesque there were only a handful of Black performers in Chicago and EVERYONE always has to be compared to Josephine Baker. Not that that’s a bad thing! But every time you do a show someone is telling you that you should do the banana dance. There are already talented performers that pay tribute to her. I wanted to find out about other Black burlesque and shake dancers around the world and in history so I started researching and found so many performers! I found out about Perle Noire while searching for videos and I was floored. Here was someone who moved like me, danced like I danced and had an obvious physical and emotional connection to the history and culture of African movement. I draw a lot from my training in African and modern dance, and from club dancing, juking, footwork, etc. and I knew there were more dancers out there who do the same. The response was overwhelming and someone suggested that this should be a show. Vaudezilla approached me about getting the ball rolling and in July we had the one night only SOLD OUT Jeezy’s Juke Joint: A Black Burly Q Revue! There was drag, burlesque, comedy, music, tap dancing and we were able to bring in great performers from around the country like Praline Dupree from New Orleans, and Switch the Boi Wonder from Minneapolis. We all felt such a connection with the cast and the audience in paying tribute to our past and future, it was one of the greatest nights of my life.
Your dance and music training is very impressive! Starting at age 5, you took jazz, tap and ballet classes five days per week all the way until high school. What is your absolute favorite style of dance and why? Did you find the transition into burlesque dancing to be an easy one with such an extensive background?
I don’t know if I can pick just one style of dance! Oh man, this is cruel. There is something about tap dance that soothes me. The crisp, clear sounds of the metal making music. I think that’s what draws me to it, the fact that you can make your own rhythmic, percussive soundtrack with your feet. You don’t even need a song; you can be your own song!
I found the transition to burlesque to be very natural. I’ve always been very feminine and aware of my sexuality even at a younger age. My mother was quite open and honest about sex and nudity and showed an appreciation for the female body and didn’t shame it. That had a huge impact on me already feeling very comfortable with embracing my body and sensuality. I think my dance training definitely gave me the advantage of already knowing about lines, and technique and confidence on stage. What I really had to work on was the tease and the clothing removal. Instead of 5, 6, 7, 8, glove off, 5, 6, 7, 8, bra off, I had to find how to blend the two elements and to also take my time. I’m always learning new things about burlesque.
You’ve said that you were “fed up with dance” in middle school and decided to “become a jazz musician instead.” You took vocal lessons as well as piano and trumpet. When is the last time you played music? Have you ever/Do you plan to mix singing/playing an instrument with your burlesque?
I make music every day! I’m love singing and writing songs and melodies. My friends and I actually prefer to sing most of our conversations rather than talk, and we would love to create an improv musical show. In high school I abandoned my dreams of jazz music because the school I transferred to didn’t supply band instruments, so I left the trumpet and drums for show choir and haven’t played since. I continued with piano through college but reading music is such a pain that I prefer to learn by ear. I really want to utilize all of the education that I’ve received and show people that there are more sides to me so I’ve been hosting and singing a lot more. I have a few acts that are singing strips as well. I actually just started playing the harmonica and my dream is to learn accordion. Honestly, I want to be a one man band like Bert in Mary Poppins. I need butt cymbals if anyone would like to donate to that cause.
You’re also an actress, right? Any recent projects you’d like to discuss with us?
Yes! I just guest starred in a web show called Fool’s Goal with comedian Marz Timms here in Chicago. I was also featured as a trendsetting lesbian activist on The Playboy Club on NBC. And by “featured” I mean my face was blurred in the background in the last 2 minutes of episode 3, and you might have to watch a few times to really catch a glimpse of me. But hey, there are no small parts, right? And you can always catch me and boylesque sensation Tito Bonito making lip-sync videos and short films on our wacky internet sitcom, The 8th Degree (www.the8thdegree.com)!
From what I understand you’re really into singing karaoke. If you could pick 3 overused karaoke songs that you would never have to hear again, which ones would they be?
Anything sung by bro-dudes. The top 3 bro-dude karaoke disasters are Don’t Stop Believing, Living On A Prayer, Bohemian Rhapsody, with Sweet Caroline as an honorable mention. Just stop. STOP. That’s why I go to gay bars.
You’re a rapidly rising star in the national burlesque scene. You’ve been in burlesque world just a few years, and you’ve already been voted #39 in the Burlesque Top 50! What’s next for Jeez Loueez?
I’m looking forward to more touring with the Beggar’s Carnivale this fall. Vaudezilla has a Live Band Burlesque show coming up that I’m preparing new acts for, and Jeezy’s Juke Joint will be back in early 2012. I’ll be performing in Iowa, Indiana, St. Louis, and beyond the next few months. And you’re hearing it here first; I’m throwing myself into the running for the Viva Las Vegas competition! I’ve never done anything like that before so I’m quite nervous! I just want to keep working hard, stay true to myself and my craft, be a classy fucking lady, and continue to be inspired by the artists I encounter.
Anything you’d like to add?
I wasn’t kidding about the butt cymbals thing.