Chicago’s Stage Door Johnnies, winners of Best Group at this year’s Burlesque Hall of Fame, took time out of their crazy schedules to dish with us. Group members Bazuka Joe, Ray Gunn, and Jett Adore talk masculinity, Hot Toddy, codpiece malfunctions, Twizzlers, world domination, and drunk dials.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
Please tell us about your performance experience prior to burlesque.
BJ: I performed some theater in high school and started focusing a little more on dance in college. When I moved to Chicago I did some back up dancing in Chicago for a bunch of performers and that’s actually how I met Ray and Jett!
JA: I have been a professional actor and dancer since childhood, performing mostly on stage, but also in film, television, commercials, and print. I have a fine arts degree in acting and in musical theatre, and a minor in dance.
RG: I was a professional modern dancer for 12 years. I was the artistic director of a professional dance company in Chicago for 3 years then started my own dance company which I have been running for the past four years.
Care to briefly explain the development process of each of your boylesque personas?
BJ: I got my name by accident actually. When I was learning my very first solo (at the tutelage of Hot Toddy) I forgot I was chewing gum. We joked that my name should be Bazooka Joe and it stuck! (I changed the spelling later to give a nod to my Asian half … and for copyright issues!). Now, the name is really more of an extension of my actual personality, only much more exaggerated. Bazuka Joe is comical, sweet, unconditionally optimistic, almost naive.
JA: First, I imagine, I pretend, that nostalgia actually exists for male burlesque just as it does for the ladies. I dream, what if, when burlesque was at its original height of popularity, male burlesque had been as prominent and mainstream as the women who have made history? How would those men have translated the genre? I aim to create a character who, just as so many of the divas of burlesque, has a playful sense of humor, without sacrificing legitimate sex appeal. I aim to explore masculinity, and to draw on icons and images which promote it, exploit it, twist it, exaggerate it, expand it, I never intend to bend gender, but I ask always as a man, what can be provocative in the contrasts between delicacy and muscularity, softness and brawn. I am fascinated by exploring the contradictions in our romanticized male icons; his tenderness, charm his glamorous elegance, all despite his brute strength.
RG: The name Ray Gunn is a nod to science fiction and blacksploitation films and my love for the genres.
Can you please tell us about the creation of the Stage Door Johnnies as we know them? What exactly is the involvement of Hot Toddy (2009 King of Boylesque)?
BJ: As Hot Toddy was getting more into the burlesque scene, he kept asking a few guys back regularly as back-up dancers. Little by little we kept showing up together. One day he asked us to meet, and at the time, we kind of knew he was going to ask us if we were interested in getting more involved. Much to our surprise, only the three of us showed up and he already had our first gig booked, a photo shoot set, and we each needed a solo and persona in two weeks! (Surprise!) Since then, Toddy has focused more on improv theater and we’ve taken up the reigns. Every now and then we get him to come and perform with us onstage though! It’s fantastic!
What in your opinion are the pros and cons of performing in a predominately female industry?
BJ: Wow! Loaded question! The biggest con is probably having to explain what it is we actually do. Even to audiences who are privy to female burlesque it’s really hard to convey until they actually see us perform. Usually they think we’re Chippendales knock-offs or drag queens! Also, it’s hard to find male legends who we can learn from and model ourselves after. BUT, there are plenty of amazing female performers who we learn from, idolize, and really work hard to pay homage to but in a masculine, theatrical way. We’re really grateful that the burlesque community is so welcoming and supportive.
JA: We have been embraced by the women of burlesque with immense love and respect. We love being part of something innovative and relatively untouched from the male perspective. The word “boylesque” has worked against us, though, as it means so many different things to different people and confuses the idea of our aim in burlesque, which is to create a male counterpart to the historic art form, with the same standards for refinement, polish, and style as the top women in the business.
RG: Pro: All the inappropriate comments a boy could ever want! Con: Always having to remember to put the toilet seat down.
Have any noteworthy show mishaps, costume malfunctions or the like that you’d care to tell about?
BJ: Ha ha ha!! Yeah, ironically, a burlesque performer’s costume malfunction is usually when something DOESN’T come off. But there are still times when something comes off that you don’t want to. In our case, we wear codpieces that cover crotches – lots of times they’re decorated and used as the punch lines for acts. Well, I was in Indy with Lola Van Ella’s Show-Me Burlesque tour performing my chef routine “Dixie Biscuits”. The punch line is a very glittery codpiece that reads “Kiss The Cook”. Well, as you can probably guess, the glue wore off and I didn’t know until my final reveal. FORTUNATELY, I turn away from the audience right before I show them the end and noticed it in time to hold it up with my hand, so the audience didn’t see anything they weren’t supposed to. The stage crew on the other hand…. (whoops!)
JA: I slipped and completely fell onstage once, and took the opportunity to do some impromptu floor work. I think all of us have had a codpiece malfunction at one point or other along our journey to continue improving on their designs and construction. Thankfully there is always a hat, cape, or feather fan to save the day.
RG: Nothing really shocking, although I Have had clothes not come off when they were supposed to. During my act “Trust Me” the corset got stuck and I spent a good portion of that section trying to wiggle my way out of it!
How has winning best group at this year’s Burlesque Hall of Fame weekend changed things for the group?
BJ: So far, life has gone on as usual. We have been getting a few more offers than normal and some really great opportunities to jump into line-ups with other burlesque icons and title-holders. I do think however, it’s helping to mainstream the concept and idea of our style of male burlesque. We’re finding more and more people who ‘get it’ and know what to expect.
RG: We are busier with travel but we still get referred to as the ‘Backdoor Johnnies’ from time to time.
Please share a few of your favorite burlesque memories so far.
BJ: Another loaded question! I could go on and on! I’d first have to mention the number of hilarious drunk dials I’ve gotten (and given) by performers all over. Minnie Tonka got that train running and now on any random weekend evening we get largely unintelligible calls from god knows who! I usually save them and play them back the next time I see that person.
JA: Performing the last two years at BHOF has certainly been a highlight. Also, one of my most noted honors was when Midnite Martini threw her bra onstage during my performance at the Best of Midwest Burlesque Festival.
RG: Experiencing, first hand, World Famous Bob’s “Bobs Away”. If you don’t know what that is, just have your birthday celebration the next time she’s around! Your life will never be the same!
I’d like to know 3 little known facts about each of you.
BJ: Hmmm…. tough one. 1. I get really nervous in front of cameras. 2. I have ZERO sense of style for blinging up costumes. 3. I have a huge crush on Julie Atlas Muz!
JA: 1. I am the parental guardian for a bear named Franklin (He’s often mistaken for an Akita). 2. I never sleep, but I dream about sleeping. 3. I bathe in buttermilk every Tuesday at dusk.
RG: 1. I love Twizzlers… the original kind, not those crappy Pull-n-Peels. And not those other random flavors – not the cherry, not the peach, not the raspberry, and *definitely* not the watermelon. The original strawberry Twizzlers. 2. I have my own professional dance company. 3. I’m a huge comic book nerd.
What’s next for the Stage Door Johnnies?
JA: We are continuing to stay beyond busy traveling and performing all over the US and in Canada and have been negotiating several offers to perform overseas as well. Our big “next” is our huge monthly show here in Chicago at the legendary Park West Theater starting in October.
RG: World domination. ‘Nuff said.