Rather than just continuing to write a series of misinformed rants about a local art form I decided to take a moment to talk with a local artist at the epicenter of the Neo-Burlesque movement.
Susanna Lee describes herself as a “pin-up comedian” but that moniker really doesn’t to justice to the 34 year-old lady who has racked up more than 13 years in standup and now finds herself at the crossroads of a burgeoning career with a slew of national dates, yet still seemingly in search of a mentor or moral compass.
The best thing about Susanna’s act is that she can get intensely dirty and talking to her in person is pretty much the same experience. At a coffee meetup I was impressed with how easily we were able to swap stories about sex and pet peeves. Normally, I’m not interested in much women have to say but Susanna’s wit, charm, cleverness and absolutely filthy mouth kept me enthralled.
With every performer it’s a challenge to discern where the stage presence ends and the real person begins. I was exceptionally low key and late when meeting with Susanna because on stage she’s exactly the kind of curvy and overtly sexual lady to which the vast majority of my online writing is dedicated. In that same respect, my masterful misogynistic pose is probably the antithesis of her work that seems to be dedicated, at least in part, to the empowerment of women.
Long story short, talking with Susanna Lee I really had to focus on her story and not think of how I much I would enjoy banging her.
For the most part, I think I came away with a better understanding of her role in the local burlesque scene and since I didn’t get slapped at any point in the interview I probably didn’t offend her with any overt sexual advances while she provided a lot of details on her life so far.
Susanna is a Kansas City native raised in Waldo. She spent her High School years in JoCo and earned a degree from Shawnee Mission South where, like more than half of all suburban students, she seems to have felt alienated.
Like all stand-ups she has extensive mental index of horror stories from the road. The conversation started off with some insights and dissing of Bob Seger’s road classic “Turn the page” which she tears apart.
“It’s not like that,” Susanna exclaims. “There’s nothing glamorous about the road. It’s boring, exhausting and there’s no sax solo playing in the background.”
Susanna reveals that when she first started touring she slept in her car in order to cut costs for low paying gigs. Early in the conversation it’s easy to see that she’s worked extremely hard for every bit of name recognition that she has garnered.
“Being on stage is the highlight, that’s the payoff for all the horrible shit that precedes it,” Susanna Lee explains. “It definitely makes it worth it to go out there and connect with an audience and have them enjoy what you’re doing. But yeah, that song is a fucking joke.”
Talk of Seger leads to my dumbass insights regarding the relationship of Burlesque to strippers. It’s seems that it’s more than just the different soundtracks that differentiates the two endeavors.
Susanna admonishes, “No Tony, burlesque is a creative endeavor, it’s an art form, while stripping is just about money.”
And then, like a dick, I notice the difference in body types between slender (and probably coke addicted) Strippers and the mostly full-figured ladies doing burlesque. This might be part of the big distinction between the two categories of women who undress in public according to Susanna.
“The great burlesque performers are empowered by the art form because they’re declaring: ‘This is who I am, I’m comfortable with my body regardless of mass media images. Deal with it.’ And that’s what really differentiates us from strippers.”
At this point I look into my soy mocha and realize that Susanna is not only a hottie, she’s much smarter than me as well.
Still, the post-feminism insights and Susanna’s comedic timing don’t take away from a bit of an edge. I learn that she “performed” as a phone sex operator in order to make ends meet after a divorce. It’s also somewhat entertaining to learn that not all of the sexual exploits in her stand-up act are completely fictitious.
At this point I realize I’ve been talking to her for more than an hour and I know more about her than some of my relatives. She contemplates her upcoming gig Tuesday night at Jardine’s with a great deal of excitement while talking about her connection to KC. Her dad Jay Cooper was a DJ at KY102 and was the “Jay” in the Dick and Jay morning show. One side of her family includes Holocaust survivors and local dance institution City In Motion cracked down on her for being a bit too raunchy last summer. And at some point during the interview I realize I’ve delved into the Kansas City Burlesque rabbit hole and inadvertently I’ve started to make sense of the serious political, social and gender issues that influence the art form which, not so strangely, don’t make it that much more intriguing than when I was just enjoying the simple pleasure of gawking at chubby chicks.