Bazuka Joe: The Thing About Inspiration…
THE THING ABOUT INSPIRATION…cover photo: Tigger – Gene Kennish Photography“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” – Jack LondonWhen Jett, Ray, and I were entering the burlesque scene about *cough!* years ago, the number of active, prominent male performers were countable on one hand. As a cis-male. masculine presenting performer, finding a mentor or inspiration was like finding a needle in a big, glittery haystack. Undeterred by this, we found three: Hot Toddy, The Evil Hate Monkey, and Tigger! Each had a vastly different approach, and although none spoke directly to me as I was developing my own style, they all offered plenty to learn from.
Bazuka Joe – Tuomas Lairila Photography
Hot ToddyHot Toddy (who got us our start) kept it classic. Toddy had a campy almost pin-up like sensibility, but what he had that I most identified with was polish. Hot Toddy got his start as a trained dancer and dammmmn, he was good! Every time I saw him perform was just as clean, precise, and expertly executed as the last. From the first time I saw him I knew that if I took nothing else away, I was taking that!Hot Toddy – Eli Schmidt PhotographyThe Evil Hate MonkeyIn my eyes Evil Hate Monkey might possibly be one of the most versatile male performers I’ve seen to this day. He’s just as comfortable flying through the air as he is strutting across the stage. The first show I ever performed with him, he was on a trapeze, then he was in fishnets and heels, then he was bouncing on a drum. I thought, “This guy is bananas!” With Evil Hate Monkey I didn’t know which way to look, but I couldn’t keep my eyes off of him. But after a few more shows I realized why I was so drawn to him – showmanship. Monkey has theatricality pouring from his veins and I knew if I never laid finger on a trapeze or grew so much as one whisker, I wanted to be like him!Monkey – MC Newman Photography
Tigger!To be completely honest, the first time I saw Tigger perform, I was genuinely scared. I remember turning to Ray and whispering, “What is going on?!?!” Tigger, whose style is self-proclaimed as ‘Search and Destroy”, might possibly be the furthest away from my own brand. He’s raw, aggressive. and unpredictable – all of which terrified this Midwest-raised ex-Mormon. At first, I thought “What can I learn from THIS guy?” Then is dawned on me – the thing I most admired of Tigger was his relentless commitment to his performance. He’s unafraid of keeping art controversial; unapologetic for his choices; and unwavering in his energy. At the time I didn’t know how I was going to get there, but I knew that’s where I wanted to be!“Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working.” – Pablo PicassoBeyond the three Kings, there wasn’t much else for me to choose from. They offered a lot, but not enough. What about my aesthetic, persona, gimmicks, or concepts? I knew I had work to do. I eventually turned to the legends with a very, “If it’s good enough for the women, then it’s good enough for me!” attitude. I read every book; watched every performance clip; and studied every interview I could get my hands on. At one point, my brain hit a wall, thinking, “These women are amazing, but how does it apply to me?”I had to get creative about the way I was looking at things. Being fairly Type A, I was used to looking at the Legends straight on, until one day I realized I had to shift my perspective. This opened a whole new world of inspiration. I started asking myself questions like “Ok, what does a glove peel mean to me?”, “What’s my interpretation of a stocking removal?”, and “What’s my equivalent of a headdress?” Once I could analyze the pieces and parts from a new angle the possibilities were endless and spanned throughout costuming, choreography, and concepts. I realized I was so fixated on being a “guy” that I was ignoring the universality of just being a “performer”.“Without craftsmanship, inspiration is a mere reed shaken in the wind.” – Johannes BrahmsNow, I look for inspiration in practically everything – movies, sports, fashion, the list goes on and on. I watch every performance and even if I hate it, I ask myself, “But what can I take away from this?” The important thing is not to imitate those you look up to, but really, genuinely find inspiration to make your art your own, then follow that up with a lot of work. I constantly have to remind myself not to be afraid to fail; not to shy away from starting over; and not to hesitate to reinvent myself.