Stars both of the Burlesque Revival and of classic tease arrive in Atlanta this week for the third annual Southern Fried Burlesque Festival Thurs. March 21-24 at the Wyndham Atlanta Galleria. Read our full festival preview here.
Just a quick glance at the line-up suggests this year will be just as good performance-wise as the first two, if not even better. But we have to admit that we’re especially excited to see Portland, Oregon’s Russell Bruner, reigning King of Burlesque, at the Free Range Burlesque show on Fri. March 22, after seeing him perform at our own Kool Kat Kitty Love‘s first Sultry Sunday of the year back in January. Male exotic dancers may be notoriously boring, but dressed in a pin-stripe seersucker suit, top hat and debonair curled moustache, let’s just say Russell wasn’t just sexy but sassy–really capturing the spirit of the tease in ways that most male dancers simply don’t. Of course, that underlines the essential difference between burlesque, or in this case “boylesque,” and striptease/exotic dance. Burlesque comes from vaudeville and variety and is all about having fun–which, well, they say gals love a guy with a sense of humor.
A little online research revealed that Bruner is a Vancouver, Washington native and Mormon-raised boy who eschewed football for the cheer squad and comes to burlesque via swing dance (He won a trophy at the Balboa Tempo Marathon in 2006) and a stint as the acrobatic Villain of Portland’s Wanderlust Circus. Needless to say, we had to make him Kool Kat of the Week just to find out more about what drew him from a tech career with a dancing hobby to a professional performer, how he developed his unique style, his influences and his act at SFBF!
So you were working for Intel, your job ended and you ran away to join the circus? Is that basically how your career in burlesque/variety got started?
Well, the electrical engineering field wasn’t too bad. I enjoyed the work, but kept thinking about how if I was ever going to do performance art, I should do it before I get any older.
Just about every lady I know thinks there’s nothing duller than watching a Chippendale. You have a completely different look and approach to dancing off your clothes. To what extent do you think that playing against the expected is the key to your success?
You’re right, I’m no Chippendale. I cater to the audience as I understand them with what I have to offer. I’m not playing against the idea of the Chippendale; I’m just more turned on by men like Gene Kelly, Tom Waits and Ray Bolger.
Your routines remind me of a cross between Fred Astaire – who also danced with a hat rack in a famous number and you’ve said is an inspiration -to ‘20s comedy cinema actors like Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin. Did you grow up on classic movies with dance and comedy numbers or when/how did you discover them? How influential are they on your routines?
I didn’t see very many movies or see much television growing up, but there was this great movie place that I discovered when I first moved to Portland that’s called Movie Madness. They have nearly everything with Fred Astaire, WC Fields, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, etc. I’ve since taken advantage of the inspiration found there, and in other sources that have old vaudeville acts film.
Were you at all nervous when you first stripped down? Any advice to men who want to do burlesque but are a little shy about it?
I was nervous about it. Any time I do something in front of an audience for the first time I’m always concerned about things going well. If someone is shy about performing, I think it’s normal and shows they too have concern for doing well.
Who are your inspirations, either male or female, classic or revival, in burlesque?
Aside from the mentioned persons of yesteryear, for males, I am inspired by Leapin’ Louie Lichtenstein, Armitage Shanks, the Stage Door Johnnies, Burlesquire, Tod Alan, Evil Hate Monkey, Mr. Gorgeous, Waxie Moon, Captain Kidd, Curtis Carlyle, Dahktur Sick, Jonathan Burns, Scott Maxwell, Luther Bangert, Nanda, Neil E Dee, Funny Eddie Dot Com, Bobbie Burlesque, Bellini Twins, Charlie Brown the Juggler, Donny Vomit, Scotty the Blue Bunny, Ben Delacreme, Jasper St. James, the cast of Meatfest in LA, the Boxers are Brief Boylesk, William Batty in Wanderlust Circus, and many others. All those are variety performers and not necessarily burlesque. The women that inspire me is a much longer list, so let me get back to you on that when I have more time to list everyone.
Where/when was your favorite performance and what made it so special?
My last performance with the Carnivalesque Tour at State Theater in Falls Church, VA, was a recent favorite of mine. It was special because it was the last show of a great run. I had a lot of fun working with Gilded Lily Burlesque & Co., and I really enjoyed the spacious stage with a nice wood floor. I really enjoy performing on stages with nice wood floors.
Without ruining any surprises, what can you tease us about your performance at SFBF?
I think we’ve already given away that it involves working a hat rack like Fred Astaire. So other than hanging my hat up, you’ll also see some nice cane work.
What’s the secret of coiffing the perfect moustache?
I use beeswax. I’m constantly running out of it or losing it as I’m on the road a lot, so I’m constantly using different products that have beeswax in it, and I use a woman’s personal trimmer that looks like a vibrator to trim it. And I just futz with it a lot. I stopped making circles at the ends because I can never get them to match so now I do more of a Salvador Dali type of styling.
Finally, what question do you wish someone would ask you to do but they never do? And of course, what’s the answer?
I do wish I’d be asked to perform my partner acts more often. It’s harder to fit it in the budget for promoters and sometimes the stages are too small, but I enjoy doing partner acts the most. I would love to perform partner dance acts more often on the road.