I first met Scotty the Blue Bunny at New York Burlesque Festival in 2003; the exact incriminating details escape me, but I know we were both loud, drunk and obnoxious. In other words, love at first sight.
It’s hard not to be drawn to a guy in a blue spandex bunny suit who’s pushing 7 feet from the tips of his ears down to his size 13 Lucite stripper heels — especially one with such an acerbic and fearless wit. Over the years I’d see him at various festivals and events, and we’d engage in our backstage ritual of hurling good-natured insults at each other while tossing down Jager bombs and spewing glitter and profanity. But it wasn’t until Scotty moved to San Francisco that I really got to know the man behind the bunny suit, and was struck by what a smart, eloquent, introspective and sensitive (yes, really) person he is offstage as well. A gifted yoga and Pilates instructor, Scotty is actually quite down to earth and always refreshingly free of pretense. Whether onstage or off, he lasers in on bullshit and mercilessly mocks it with his trademark brand of utterly outrageous humor and razor-sharp delivery.
In one of his opening bits, Scotty stomps onstage to the Godzilla theme, and it’s a truly apt comparison: he’s the motherfucker who will storm into your burlesque show, stomp all over your preconceived notions of emcee protocol and etiquette, rip your face off in front of everyone, and you’ll only love him even MORE for it.
I asked Scotty to take a few moments to sit down and answer some probing questions about the man, the myth and the bunny. I hope you enjoy this peek behind the ears as much as I did.
Tell me a little about how Scotty the Blue Bunny came into being. When did you first don the suit? How did you come to emceeing?
I date my genesis to my first tour with the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus in 1996. As a lead up to that, I had been doing small shows with them locally in Williamsburg, Brooklyn for about a year prior, as well as late night drag shows and not so late night spoken word slams. The Cirkus gave me room to be interdisciplinary without thinking too much about it. So I experimented with clowning and fantasy and the “female impersonation” naturally faded out. One turn with bunny ears stuck as a trademark forever. And since there is a strong tradition of wearing animal outfits in the circus and sideshow it felt natural. After a few years of touring, variety and burlesque shows were now happening on dedicated earlier evenings instead of late night clubs – and there was a need for hosts. It seemed, and still does, like a perfect niche. I could bring all my little circus tricks and banter to glue a show together.
You’re infamous for saying some utterly outrageous, shocking shit on stage. Do you think you get away with it if you weren’t dressed in a blue bunny suit?
Probably not – but it’s not like I’m hitting the stage in a pair of khakis anytime soon. And I haven’t gotten away with everything just so you know. I made someone so mad once they bit me…
How do you approach hosting a burlesque show, or any show for that matter?
Girl, the spandex helps me get caught up in the excitement of the show. Shows are exciting! Dixie Evans said something to the effect that there was a time before Facebook and DVDs – when people went out. They HAD to go out and it was fun and active to be in the audience. The audience might come to the show to see the performers, but the performers come to see the crowd. I think of the proscenium as a meeting place. I still romanticize performing and doing shows and I remind myself to get caught up in the magic. Also Jo Boobs told me to never ever get tired of being a bunny: “Don’t you dare!” Period. So I keep a mental Rottweiler growling at potential boredom or habituation. I mean, god forbid I was a lucky SOB cast in Cats – I’d have to be a pussy Tuesday through Friday with matinees on Saturday and Sunday. Every time I step on stage it’s fresh; there’s always someone who hasn’t seen me before. PLUS it helps to have new costumes and shoes and stuff – even if the material is old, (girl!) it’s a sweet little trick to play on yourself to have something new to show off.
You’re part of the “old guard” that’s been around since the burlesque revival really exploded. How do you see the old guard meshing with the new guard?
Actually – I think I’m part of some intermediary guard. I’m old enough that for me, burlesque never really disappeared culturally, but young enough that I never really saw contemporary burlesque until I saw my peers do it. I don’t mean to downplay my experience. As we go along it really does seem I witnessed and was part of a pivotal time in the genre, in New York anyway, but it would also seem that it was a pivotal time for Burlesque globally as well.
I think young and old are meshing just fine. Living in San Francisco especially, I catch glimpses of it being an inter-generational scene. Some of the seniors will put high-heels on their walkers and come to see our shows, or be in them! It’s not all about immortalizing them at BHOF. It’s great to have idols, but it’s nice when those idols come down from Olympus to suck on a whiskey sour and yell out at you.
Recently you stated that performers should “strive to suck.” I interpreted that as “strive to take risks” but would you care to expand a bit more on that?
A bit of irreverence would do us all some good, for both the performer and the audience. Yes, we all exist within the confines of a genre and audiences come with expectations built on that, so you gotta knock that shit down. Striving to be good is great, but I also want to be passionate, playful, furious, horny, careless and wild as well - and in burlesque we get to work it out on stage.
Performing can be a transcendent experience (ritual) for the performer, which makes for great theater. It doesn’t have to be written off as therapy, and people should really be open to “sucking” in the name of experiencing their performances differently than their audience. Go ahead, get on your knees, scream and pour blood all over yourself in the name of Satan. This is Burlesque for Christ’s sake – irreverence is built into the definition of the damn thing.
I also appreciate to see a little struggling with the form. Creators struggle with their respective forms in order to transcend raw materials and really make art. All the rhinestones and all the feathers have to add up to something that blows people’s minds and suspends reality – aka entertainment. We come to and perform in shows so we can re-enter our everyday lives with new awareness. We destroy to create.
What are your thoughts on the spectrum of performer quality that we see today, from boring to genius? Can you talk a little about that “grace period of suck” that you mentioned?
Well, maybe 15 years ago, we had more places to experiment, and audiences were not quite sure what they were looking at, so we got a way with some unfinished shit. I mean I was doing drag – and as much as I look like a real rabbit to you now, that’s how successful my female impersonation was. Blech! We were doing shows that grew out of nightlife. I mean, I’ve seen gorgeous go-go girls dancing while licking soft-serve ice-cream cones in front of video monitors playing scenes of people vomiting. When I first met World Famous *BOB* she was eating cheeseburgers on a go-go box at an after-hours club where I showed up in a metallic kilt to eat fire and our boss was a giant lime green drag queen. Now look at us. Honestly – we were werking it out!!! We didn’t have schools with handouts and charts. We were weird and walked the streets when New York was the place for that. Kids today don’t have that – they have to step onto the stage with much more intention and seriousness than we ever did. Bow your head to your own creative process and do your own best work. Foster uniqueness. Everything else will take care itself.
As someone who makes a living from performing, what do you think of the whole professional vs. hobbyist debate? Is this going to divide us as a community?
The truth is that most people don’t care – they just want good show. We have these beautiful Living Legends and heaps of black and white photos of dancers past – but we don’t know anything about the qualities of their shows or productions. Really, there is far too much glamorizing going on – far too much nostalgia and projecting.
The truth is you can’t be in every show. Performers need to just relax and accept that they don’t fit every bill – and it’s not always about being good, or professional. It’s pretty obvious what you have to do to perform on all the different levels.
Making a living in burlesque is making a living as an artist, and I think that if people thought of themselves in the broader spectrum of performance instead of rhinestoning the shit out of the status quo, they would be better burlesquers. Sparkle is great – but if there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that audiences want the whole diamond. You have to express yourself through your skills. You have to live on stage.
Originally, this debate was very emotional for me because I found my way into a bunny suit through experimentation and exposure to all kinds of freaks. I don’t have any formal education in the arts besides my abandoned violin career, which ended in highs chool. Joey Ramone never took voice lessons and Rober Mapplethorpe was a drop-out. I don’t think anyone would dispute they are professional world-class artists. I model myself on that.
One of the first times I first met you, the first thing you said to me after I got offstage is that I should close my mouth while I perform. At first I was taken aback, and then I realized you were giving me real constructive criticism instead of a meaningless “oh that was great.” Do you think a lot of burlesque performers aren’t used to receiving real feedback? Or that they just don’t want it and would prefer the “that was great”?
Shit, everyone I know jumps off stage asking “Wasitgoodwasitgoodwasitgooddidyoulikeit?huh?huh?” Everyone I know is interested in refining their art and making it better. I think everyone is talking to everyone about their shows all the time. Critique has a language and timing all its own, and it’s better just to ignore a bad performance and pour enthusiasm all over something you love-love-without-a-doubt love. The majority of performances I see are just fine – the rest, should just be gracefully left alone to figure it out. There is a kind of innocence there you don’t want to fuck with. The joy of being in showbiz for so long is watching people figure it out.
What do you think are the biggest challenges the burlesque community is facing right now?
The biggest challenge is how do you perform for an educated audience, at every ticket price. People know what burlesque is. We need to accept it’s completely cultural now – it’s not neo, or a revival anymore. It’s just Burlesque.
What do you love most about burlesque? And what do you hate?
The thing I love most is watching the nightly transformation from nose-picking fart-smelling scratch-n-sniff reptilian invader into pristine glamour girl (you know who you are). The thing I hate the most is pizza backstage.
Tell me about one of your most memorable moments on stage; something that really resonates and sticks out when you look back at everything you’ve done.
He’s the only one-y: get more of Scotty the Blue Bunny at http://scottybunny.com