Eoin Butler: writer, journalist and Mayoman of the Year

Tripping Along The Ledge


Published: Irish Times, April 19 2008

“I’m not necessarily making the comparison, but don’t Page 3 models usually say the same thing…?”

Burlesque artist discusses stripping, sleaze and stonemasonry

What’s the difference between a burlesque artist and a stripper?
A stripper mainly performs for a male audience and nothing is left to the imagination. It’s just about taking off your clothes. With burlesque, it’s as much about what you don’t show, as what you do.

Okay then, what don’t you show?
Well, there are many facets to burlesque, ranging from comedy, parody, farce and farce to striptease and titillation. It started in Europe, with things like Moulin Rouge, and then spread to America in the 1920s and 30s. It was only in America that the striptease element began to feature more heavily, but burlesque doesn’t necessarily involve striptease. How did you get involved?
I started off in belly dancing, with those very snake-like movements, it’s very sensuous. Then I did a bit of fire eating. Even when I was a kid though, I was always dressing up either as a tom boy, or as a princess. Now I get to do both. All my acts have the contrast between the pure and the dark, the boy and the girl, the innocent and the seductive.

What’s the typical male/female spilt at one of your shows?
I’d say roughly 50/50, although usually there are slightly more women than men. See, humans are basically animals, I think, and women are like birds of paradise. If you’re a woman, you like to get the attention of men. All women love to dress up and burlesque clubs are a very safe place to do that. It’s not sleazy.

But it is inextricably linked to sex?
No, I’d say its more about women feeling good about their bodies.

I’m not necessarily making the comparison, but don’t Page 3 models usually say the same thing?
I’m sure they do and I’m sure they enjoy what they do, otherwise they wouldn’t do it. But their work is primarily oriented to a male audience and it’s done to elicit a sexual response. Burlesque is all about the trimmings, the sets, the costumes, the storyline. It’s about feeling sexy, but also showing the personality behind it.

The audience are expected to dress up too, right?

Oh, yes.

See, that’s where you’ve lost me.
Of course, but sure you’re a man. Trying to get an Irish man to take off his feckin’ jumper and put on a shirt is next to impossible. You look into the audience and it’s, like, jumper, jumper, jumper… Then you see a man in a nice suit and you think ‘Ummmm…’

Well, I suppose a suit wouldn’t be out of the question.
Exactly, men are there to be suave and to be gentlemen.

Do you get any unwanted male attention at these events?
No, it’s a really safe environment. At a burlesque show, everyone is part of the experience, so its all a big family.

You say that, sure, but what does it actually mean?
Well, it’s not like a strip club where there are performers and there are voyeurs. If you want to come in, sit back and let the performer just completely give to you, then you should probably go to a strip club. Here it’s theatrical. The audience and the performer have to work off each other.

I’ve seen that you incorporate an angle grinder into your act. I’d never contemplated the erotic possibilities of stonemasonry before…
(laughs) I was working on a storyline about thwarted lovers. I had the lovers get together at the end and do the striptease, only to reveal that he’s wearing a chastity belt. I needed a good gag here, so I thought, I know, let’s use an angle grinder to get it off. The next show is going to have something very, very unusual in it too, which I cannot reveal.

What does your family think of what you do? I don’t mean like your hip cousin or whatever, I mean like your Auntie Mary?
Well actually, I do have an aunt I’m very close to, and she’s come to see me a few times. She just loves it. It was through her that I got to see all the Doris Day movies and all of that. I spent my entire childhood pretty much just dressing up in her house. Her favourite film is the Merry Widow where they go to a burlesque club, although it’s all kept very innocent for a black and white audience.

You live in Dingle. How do ordinary people react when you tell them what you do?
Well, one of the reasons I love it there is because I’m out in the countryside, living in a village that’s full of arty people. But one of my neighbours is just an ordinary farmer. I did a show once and looked up into the audience and there he was. Afterwards I went over to him and said, “Wow, I didn’t expect to see you here”. He just smiled and said “Jaysus, you’re some woman!”