You can't hurl a sweaty G-string in Los Angeles without hitting a Betty Page-lookin' babe who does "burlesque." The slow seduction of the strip and the old timey bump 'n' grind that follows is a beguiling form of entertainment, no doubt, and when it saw a resurgence in clubs a couple decades ago, the retro aesthetic was a refreshing change from traditional strip shows' Barbie-bod boogie.
But even the sultriest old school-style strippers have had to step it up in L.A. to stand out. Opulent sets (Dita Von Teese's Swarokvski crystal covered props), wild themes (Devil's Playground's Star Wars shows), and elaborate choreography that's more Pussycat Dolls than pussy power have been necessary to keep interest. There's a lot to choose from and it's all hot in its own way.
And then there's Victory Variety Hour. The burlesque troupe, led by Penny Starr Jr. (aka film maker and burlesque instructor Augusta Avalone) is in a class all by itself. The bad kid's class, where the pranksters, naughty girls, degenerate divas and all around horny hooligans hang out. Yes, Victory Variety Hour, which currently presents shows at Skinny's Lounge in North Hollywood, isn't your mama's burlesque or your daddy's either. It's more like your pervy uncle Larry's.
Last Saturday night, headlined by comedian Margaret Cho and featuring local faves Pleasant Gehman (aka Princess Farhana) and Vanessa Burgundy, saw a sexy voodoo spectacle in which Starr cut off the head of a fake chicken and spewed red glitter from its body all over herself.
She later invited some fellow birthday pals to eat cupcakes off her derriere (her fishnetted fanny got very, very frosty). A Muammar Gadaffi-themed vignette had three sexy solider girls strip and fondle machine guns. And a "boylesque" performance featured an agile fellow in prison garb acting out what happens when you "drop the soap."
Is anything off limits? Starr tells us, "Not really." Past acts have involved Japanese vomit porn, Hitler and racial stereotypes (the "Cultural Appreciation Chorus Line'). MC Gary Shapiro has an ample supply of tasteless jokes and depraved ditties (his medley of "Fisting" songs is actually quite brilliant).
"But with all those acts, it wasn't about the cheap joke or the gross-out effect; there has to be a subtext as to why we are exploring these themes," Starr said. "With the Chorus Line, we strip out of our 'racist' costumes to twirling red, white and blue star pasties holding pistols - the one thing that unites all Americans: our love of guns."
With Starr as visionary, the performances are strong enough even without the wacky stuff. There are traditional vaudeville type skits too, some with music and some featuring dazzling costumes and the expected tassel twirling ta-tas. Still, it's the subversive humor that sets Victory apart. The curvy ladies are alluring no doubt, but they're funny too. And funny is sexy.
Nobody proves that better than Cho. The tattooed Asian goddess is shameless in her comedy routines and we expected nothing less from her burlesque performance. She didn't disappoint. What started off as a sensual strip and fan dance climaxed as only a VVH show would dare: with Cho donning a flaccid old man penis over her own privates. Ta-da!
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Is Victory's weird stuff meant to be a turn-on or a comedic break from the boob-fest? Starr, whose classes and shows offer a subversive yet smart take on this underground art form says it best: "Listen, one man's comic relief is another man's whacking material."
See more from Saturday's show in our slideshow.