Immodesty Blaize

Holli Mae Johnson

The phrase ‘larger than life’ is used so often, but I rarely meet someone that it truly applies to. With a name inspired by a comic book heroine; Immodesty Blaize is in many ways exactly that – an exquisitely exaggerated, impossibly glamorous force of female nature.

She has an incredible physical presence, towering over most mere mortals, with sculpted features and penetrating feline eyes. She dresses impeccably, with every garment enticingly cinched and draped to perfection; I recall a journalist, John Walsh, nervously remarking that, during their interview, it seemed to him that her ‘voluptuous frame’ could burst out of her dress at any moment.

It was only when I was invited to enjoy a more intimate correspondence and spend some quality time with Immodesty that I had a chance to get to know the woman behind the immaculate visage. Educated, witty and composed, with a voice like velvet chocolate; Immodesty appears to be both outspoken and observant; uncompromising on quality, but accepting of different methods and genres.

Immodesty has achieved her success and cultivated her iconic brand of theatrical splendour and exotic glamour, as a result of hard work, numerous natural talents, perseverance, intelligence and dedication. I am thrilled with the interview we have produced; there were so many more questions I wanted to ask, but I believe this epic conversation illustrates a great deal about Immodesty that I admire and enjoy…

Immodesty Blaize ©Simon Emmett.  Please ask permission before using this image.
Immodesty Blaize ©Simon Emmett. Please ask permission before using this image.

So how do I find you, Immodesty? How has 2010 progressed for you thus far; are you enjoying life?

Thank you, life is very busy but very enjoyable!

When you think of your success and the lifestyle you now enjoy, do you still find it surreal, or hard to believe? Or did you always have a confident sense of where you were going, and what you wanted from life?

If I suddenly appeared here overnight from nowhere then I would find it hard to believe, but I’ve been doing it for many years so I guess I hadn’t noticed the progression. There are definitely ‘postcard’ moments when I do stop in my tracks and think – ‘wait a minute’… Like, if you had told me fifteen years ago when I was studying Sir Peter Blake’s paintings in art class that he would one day come to my movie premiere and give me one of his old sketches of burlesque performers from 1954, you could have literally blown me over with a feather.

I was always expected to do something academic (being a hardworking Catholic school girl!) and whilst I knew that legal briefs didn’t interest me, I hadn’t expected the other kind of briefs to figure either! Yes, I always knew I would do something in the arts/creative arena, but I thought it would be fine art, or writing, or film-making. There were certainly no ‘careers’ in burlesque when I started performing in ’98. I really did create that niche for myself out of nothing, I had no idea what I was doing in terms of building a business, there was no template to follow, I just went for it on my creativity and my wits. I guess you might say it was an art installation that got way out of hand! So every time I crack open the champagne at a gig, or see someone reading my book on the beach, I do feel that I’ve earnt it, and all the hard work was worth it. But I don’t believe in sitting on laurels, so I’m looking forward to exciting new things ahead!

“If someone chooses burlesque, or any genre as a game plan for some kind of celebrity status … They’d probably stand a better chance of fame by getting onto a reality show.”

Could you describe a typical day in your life, if there is a typical day for you? I understand you are extremely hands-on and involved when it comes to your work, and in the conception of acts and costumes.

No typical day. It’s a funny old job really – acts take a long time to design and construct, it’s an involved process and I have a large team including my band, couturiers, etc. as there’s music to be written and arranged, costumes and props to be designed, routines to be created and choreographed. But aside from creating my live shows I also have to factor in time for my other projects like books, film, shoots, etc. ‘Maintenance’ has to be scheduled in too – training four times a week for example. Performing takes me abroad a lot, and any of my big public shows have a lead time of at least six months. It doesn’t leave me much room for a social life, but I do squeeze in quests for research in whatever part of the world I’m in. So I wouldn’t know what a typical day is. It usually involves a dogwalk though!

A little Immodesty has gone a long way...   (©Immodesty Blaize  Please ask permission before using this image.)
A little Immodesty has gone a long way… (©Immodesty Blaize Please ask permission before using this image.)

You are quoted in one interview as saying, ‘I was no stage school kid. I just wanted to be different’. Was there a particular wish or need to stand out? Was it simply a desire to emulate your heroines, Storm and Page – who were so distinct themselves?

I never especially needed to ‘stand out’ and have never been a natural exhibitionist, hence being ‘no stage school kid’. I just didn’t fancy doing the same as everyone else, as I didn’t like the idea of uniformity or blandness. I like to tread my own path, as I think that’s when you discover new things, and I’m excited by exploring and trying different things out. I wouldn’t say Bettie and Tempest were ever heroines as such; just that the Tease-o-rama films that featured them led me back to the genre at the right time.

I read that you competed in dance competitions as a young girl, and that you try to incorporate various styles of dance into your performance. Do you believe a background in dance is essential or desirable for a burlesque performer? Should all performers attend some sort of movement class?

I think any physical performer needs to move well and understand how their own body works. There are no rules of course, and I know one or two amazing dancers who are self taught, but generally I think dance classes are a no-brainer, for fitness, agility, muscle tone, movement ideas and skills. Anything that improves your skills has to be a good thing. It all depends how seriously you want to take it I guess.

You have such a striking presence and exotic appearance. Do you believe that a strong image and the creation of a defined character or alter-ego are essential for a burlesque performer, on and offstage?

Thank you! That’s very kind of you. It’s a cliché but the quote from ‘Gypsy’ was right, ‘You gotta get a gimmick’. Throughout history, what made the headliners stand out was obviously their unique style/unique selling point on stage; there could never be another Blaze Starr or another Lili St Cyr. And taking it to extremes, remember that ‘Little Egypt’ was a brand played on by many people! Now that was taking the idea of ‘persona’ to a new level – the character transcended the physical body.

But bottom line was, in those old days of burlesque you had to draw in the punters (like you have to today!) – for that you had to be memorable. And that was something that appealed to me all those years ago, that the aim was individuality, it seemed so much more interesting and creative than the thought of being middle of the road or a poor substitute for something else. It also meant that people’s quirks and differences were what made them exciting and special.

I’d always been given a hard time because I obviously didn’t look English, (yeah, twenty years ago it was acceptable to be racist) and so in later years the thought that was now my selling point instead of something to be ashamed of was funny. I think Gypsy’s famous saying is nice to apply to life in general too – it is good to have a USP, that way everyone has something about them that is special.

A 'modest' portrait... (©Immodesty Blaize Please ask permission before using this image.)
A somewhat more ‘modest’ early portrait… (©Immodesty Blaize. Please ask permission before using this image.)

You have said in previous interviews that your ‘hourglass figure’ was not especially popular or on trend when you were growing up. Do you think a more voluptuous figure is truly any more acceptable in the mainstream today? Would you say there is still a lot of progression yet to be made?

I don’t think anything ever changes really. The media just swings all the time. I had big boobs at a time when it was fashionable to be androgynous looking, so I felt very self-conscious for being girl-shaped.

I think particularly recently the ‘pop’ media has totally mixed up the word ‘curve’ with ‘overweight’ which puts the idea into our subconscious that a womanly hourglass ‘curvaceous’ shape, no matter how slim, is undesirable or to be ashamed of, and I think that is damaging to young girls psychologically as they start to develop the natural curves of a grown woman. That’s so retarded. Jessica Alba is a classic ‘curvaceous’ hourglass, and she is totally slim and petite. Yet suddenly young girls think anyone who has tits and hips is a ‘plus size’.

‘Shape’ and ‘weight’ and ‘dress size’ and ‘health’ seem to get muddied all the time and media swings are rapid. Plus, we live in a critical world – there’s a whole industry (celeb magazines, blogs etc.) devoted to ripping apart actresses and celebrities on the red carpet/at media events for – well, being human basically, not airbrushed – having skin that actually moves when they jog or a strap that cuts in when they turn to face the camera. Criticised for having facial lines and criticized for having no facial lines and looking botoxed. Criticised for being ‘curvy’ or criticized for being ‘skeletal’. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Around 2003-2005, I used to receive a lot of fanmail from girls with eating disorders, they were very supportive that I was out there performing and in the media as a non size zero. I even had mail from various personal trainers who thanked me for representing an image that was not about thin-ness. I had one very touching correspondence with a girl who had been battling anorexia. She sent her last message to me about three years ago, and with it she included a picture of herself, very proudly telling me she had put on some weight and felt okay about having some curves. She thanked me and said I had inspired her. That was far more important to me than any bitchy celebrity magazine deciding if my dress got the thumbs up that week. I don’t receive so many of those letters now so maybe it’s a sign of progression – maybe it indicates that people are seeing more images of women in the media five years later who are not a size zero, but who knows for sure? I’m pleased to feel I did my little bit to break down walls.

“Trying to please everyone is futile … Be who you are, make the best of yourself, and be healthy and proud.”

Make no mistake, I take care of myself – it’s part of the job. I work out hard, I work to my natural shape and sculpt my curves, I’m 5’9 and a UK size 10/US size 6, I eat healthily, and I do not believe in fad diets. I believe in respecting our bodies and making the best of them in a healthy way. We are all genetically disposed to different shapes, and. I’d like to think that people are intelligent enough to know what they personally find beautiful or sexy without being dictated to by the media, also to accept that different people have different tastes. So we all find different things attractive, great! We can all be exotic birds if we so choose, but a peacock couldn’t be more different from a swan – thank god for variety. Trying to please everyone is futile. Pleasing yourself is the important thing as that’s where confidence comes from. After all beauty is not one shape or one dress size, or a perfect nose or a hair colour. It’s a whole person. Be who you are, make the best of yourself, and be healthy and proud.

You have previously said that, when you began to perform, there was no real ‘scene’ or community. Do you intentionally remain somewhat aloof from the community that exists now, namely the one that has flourished online and in national groups, (perhaps to retain some mystery?) or have you simply become used to proceeding without a community to interact with, as was the case when you began?

I’m flattered that I have an image of mystique but I can’t agree that I’m ‘aloof’. It’s certainly true that I’m very busy with my job, so my time is almost entirely occupied with the business of creating shows, writing books etc leaving little or no free time after work to go online for example but I do try to keep myself informed where possible, and I always do what I can for the wider genre too.

Perhaps it hasn’t been noticed by everyone, but I have made huge efforts for, and contributions to the worldwide burlesque community over the last ten years: literally thousands of dollars that I’ve raised for Burlesque Hall of Fame, flying over my American burly family to promote their names here in Europe, promoting myriad performers in my shows and documentary, constantly supportive in press and media citing and recommending burlesque communities and classes such as Ministry of Burlesque. Plus my time and support freely given – free show tickets and books for fans, personal items for charity auctions, and time I give for podcasts and interviews for community publications like this one. Over the years I have also helped or mentored various newbies at my own time and expense.

I don’t advertise that I do all these things above – I hadn’t felt the need to. That’s nice if people find me ‘mysterious’! But really, I like to have quiet moments and I’m shy with people I don’t know, and hardworking, that’s all… *smile*

Immodesty Blaize.  ©Simon Emmett.  Please ask permission before using this image.
Immodesty Blaize. ©Simon Emmett. Please ask permission before using this image.

Another surge of mainstream popularity has been predicted for ‘burlesque’ this year. Do you see this as an entirely good thing – do you have concerns about inevitable/continued misinterpretation? Or are you happy at the prospect of further mainstream interest and acknowledgement of burlesque, in any form?

I think for burlesque to be accepted in the mainstream as the theatrical artform it can be, is great. It grows fans for everyone, particularly in America which has proved itself to have far more conservative mainstream audiences than Europe. And yes, I do think there is always an element of ‘lost in translation’ as anything evolves (e.g. PussyCat dolls just sticking a singer and backing dancers in corsets), but one hopes conversely that there is a good side to evolution too, with good new ideas being incorporated. Whether the word ‘burlesque’ comes to mean something else or not, it won’t stop me continuing to do the kind of performances I want to do. Personally, I don’t care too much for genre labels; classic, neo – it’s all semantics at the end of the day – I just want to see something entertaining and done properly, whatever it’s called!

Who do you consider to be the most exciting or innovative current burlesque performers – who really excites and inspires you?

I’m not inspired by other burlesque acts firstly, as I don’t want to be like another performer – so I get inspired by music, cinema, art, travel, whatever. In terms of exciting – well I’m a big fan of Kalani Kokonuts; apart from being beautiful, erotic and a fantastic performer, she shares my love of big production pieces. I like that she treads her own path with such commitment and has great concepts, and she’ll go that extra mile with every act. I also love Dirty Martini. She crosses from classic to neo with ease, but whatever she does, her movement and presence is mesmerizing to watch, she has so much grace and sensuality and combines that with deadpan humour. I think Fancy Chance is funny and bizarre, she has crazy characters – who else would wear a 12 feet crinoline that turns into a time machine one minute, and be a carny knife throwing dwarf the next! I also think Vicky Butterfly has a great visual identity and persona that’s obviously genuine and from her heart, and that’s what marks her out as an artiste.

Some of your contemporaries (namely Catherine [D’Lish] and Kalani [Kokonuts]) have been very outspoken in their opinions on the time and quality that should be invested in the creation of a performance, and the importance of always putting your audience first. What are your thoughts on this? I know you are someone that plans their routines and concepts over a long period, and prioritises audience entertainment…

Yes I agree with them – if you claim to be an entertainer, then that’s what you must do; entertain your audience who have paid hard earned money to see you. They sure aren’t paying for you to get a ‘buzz’ from ‘getting your kit off’ – they are paying to see a great show! I agree with Catherine and Kalani about quality, and time invested. My audiences want bang for their buck, they want to feel you are performing especially for them, and that’s what I’m interested in creating from a personal point of view.

On the flipside, there can be a misconception that (for striptease) a prop is an act in itself – that strong ideas or movement skills or stage presence are not needed so long as there’s some big garden ornament for you to sit on. All a prop can be is exactly that, a prop, not the star. It can enhance a good act, but it can’t make a bad performance better. There are many elements to be considered as part of a whole act, and in my opinion that also includes good research and new ideas to keep things evolving. So, as Kalani and Catherine rightly say, it takes an investment of time and quality, and attention to detail to create something rounded.

One of Immodesty's magnificent ensembles, as seen in 'Burlesque Undressed'.  (©Immodesty Blaize  Please ask permission before using this image.)
One of Immodesty’s magnificent ensembles, as seen in ‘Burlesque Undressed’. (©Immodesty Blaize. Please ask permission before using this image.)

A lot of performers and members of the community that I speak to are very concerned about the rise of what they term ‘hobbyists’ and the ‘have a go’ ethic in burlesque at the moment. Do you share this concern? Do you feel standards have or will drop, especially in the UK, or do you think burlesque should be open to all, on all levels?

I think we should welcome everyone to have a go at something. Let’s face it, we all had to start somewhere, and you never know there may be a budding Gypsy Rose Lee who needs to be encouraged. Why shouldn’t someone have burlesque as a hobby? Especially if it’s a creative outlet that gives a bit of harmless fun in their lives. There are amateur dramatics groups, open mic nights, karaoke, Sunday leagues for football etc., so why not something like that for burlesque. Let’s encourage new talent, as it has to start from somewhere!

I think where the problem lies for the community as a whole is if hobbyists/amateurs mis-sell themselves or claim to represent something that they clearly don’t, so that it’s no longer harmless. Burlesque isn’t really an umbrella under which one should work out therapy/self esteem/body issues on stage in public, for example, as it’s not very entertaining to watch and tends to give audiences a bad impression of burlesque.

What are your thoughts and opinions of the current British burlesque on offer?

I try to keep myself up to date and informed but I’m not terribly familiar with all the clubs across the nation as I don’t really have time to attend them. My observation in the capital is that the listings are offering shows that cover the wider umbrella of ‘cabaret’ with some fascinating sounding neo-cabaret acts as well as burlesque. It’s great that boundaries can blur and people can explore.

You appear to be someone that appreciates both the traditional British satirical style of burlesque, and the more ‘classic’ American striptease. At a time of much discussion and dispute over which is more relevant, authentic or significant, do you consider ‘American Striptease’ and ‘British Burlesque’ to be entirely separate disciplines, and do they both have an equal place in the history and definition of burlesque?

Let’s just use the analogy of different styles of music. Say, a baroque versus a dancefloor swing number. Both bona fide music, different styles, different times, different influences. But equally valid and with equal importance in the colourful and complex history of music. Likewise the many styles of burlesque.

You are clearly a Burlesque Hall of Fame enthusiast – what is it about BHOF that first captured your heart and imagination?

The love and camaraderie that it grew from, and that it still has. It has survived today through Dixie’s love and dedication to Jennie Lee’s memory as well as all the legends. Dixie invited me to compete in 2006 after she saw me perform in Dita’s LA show for her 80th birthday. At BHoF, I experienced a community so welcoming, and with so much genuine good will and respect for each other’s art.

I love that it has looked after so many of the legends, and that I have learnt so much from them. Those Ladies won’t be here much longer, they are our last real link to the proper golden era of burlesque striptease in 40s and 50s when there truly were queens and legends.

Immodesty Blaize Triumphant: Reigning Queen of Burlesque (Miss Exotic World) 2007.  (©Matthew Hise.  Please ask permission before using this image.)
Immodesty Blaize Triumphant: Reigning Queen of Burlesque (Miss Exotic World) 2007. (©Matthew Hise. Please ask permission before using this image.)

When I see you perform at BHOF, in Vegas, you sometimes seem to be more at ease, and enjoying yourself more, despite the pressure and prestige of the occasion (although that is merely my perception!). Would you say that is true – do you feel more ‘at home’ and relaxed there, to an extent?

I’m an entertainer, so I make it my business to be ‘at home’ in front of any audience when I perform on stage – whether it’s a fashion party, music industry, celeb, society, whatever. I do always feel an extra warm glow in Vegas because it feels like I have family around me, and I feel like I’m giving something back to the old legends.

What are your hopes and visions for the future of BHOF?

I hope that they find a good permanent home for the museum to house their treasures, and that they inspire some great talent from future burlesque performers.

You have become a living brand in many ways – enjoying celebrity status and mainstream recognition. But do you feel that mainstream, or indeed commercial success can be achieved without losing the affection and/or acceptance of the burlesque community? Have you experienced much hostility or rejection of this kind, and do you feel it is understandable or justifiable in any way?

(This is an issue I have discussed particularly with Dita, and also Michelle [L’amour] to some extent. Dita pointed out that Gypsy Rose Lee and Lili St. Cyr both had their own brands and products, and fronted commercial campaigns, and are now revered as legends – not dismissed as sell outs! We live in a time when very few burlesque performers enjoy this kind of success or celebrity, and it seems to generate resentment and disapproval…)

This is the first time anyone has asked me this directly, it throws up many points. This will be a long answer as I think the implications of the question are a relevant issue for many, from all strands of newbies to hobbyists to established professional and everyone in between.

I think what you are referring to specifically is that being seen to be professional in the sense of running a business has a history of garnering disdain or disapproval from some other performers or bookers (curiously, usually from performers no-one’s heard of or bookers who don’t like to pay!)

It’s as though the fact we are entertaining others means we should in turn be doing this only for our own entertainment, and not for our livelihood. Well, people get paid to work every day all over the world, I don’t think it’s a controversial concept. Thousands of burlesque stars have made their living and enjoyed mainstream success throughout history, it’s why we know who they are, and what burlesque is. And those are the very men and women who inspire so many of us today.

I strongly believe there is a warm and wonderful community out there. Ministry of Burlesque is an example of a fast growing and supportive network. I have many great friends in the community as well as loyal fans. I think hostility, and resentment is something that occurs in every performance genre, more prevalent with a ‘scene’ or ‘clique’ rather than a whole ‘community’ necessarily. ‘Cliques’ in any genre can give rise to a bully mentality – where it is all too easy as a group to vent bitterness on, or demonise performers who they do not know, and use them as a convenient scapegoat. And whilst burlesque I’m sure is no exception, I believe that resentment and ill-will simply comes from those who are unable to deal with their own insecurities – as opposed to a rational, legitimate problem with a performer having commercial success in this industry.

I also think that whilst resentful community members may bang their drum loudly, (or sometimes more slyly) they do not represent the opinion of the majority. Ill-will borne out of jealousy or unfulfilled ambition tends to be transparent, it doesn’t go unnoticed by the community, and I don’t believe it is supported or applauded either. I think the community wants to see burlesque do well, for everyone.

“…if you claim to be an entertainer, then that’s what you must do; entertain your audience who have paid hard earned money to see you. They sure aren’t paying for you to get a ‘buzz’ from ‘getting your kit off’ – they are paying to see a great show!”

As a general point, taking a genre into a wider audience/mainstream, or being paid for what you do, is not ‘selling out’. Selling out would be to acquiesce in publicly debasing or misrepresenting oneself or the genre in exchange for currency – fame or money; as opposed to simply promoting it positively and receiving some hard earned financial reward for a job well done.

Audiences want to see a spectacle as they would from a rock band, or a circus, or opera, whatever. A spectacle has to be paid for somehow, fact of life. You have to run your job like a business if you want to create bigger more spectacular projects in the name of entertainment, or love of what you do. Why have to justify oneself or apologise for wanting to invest your time, money and care to create and develop something special? And why have to justify oneself or apologise or take abuse for earning a market value that reflects the time, money, skills and resources you have ploughed into your product?

A career in any kind of performance takes so long to build, takes so much investment of resources, and this job is so labour intensive, that if that level of commitment garners a ‘profile’ for the performer along the way, I don’t see how vilifying them for it can be justified in any way. Besides, every mainstream tv/radio/press appearance increases opportunities for visibility for the whole genre, for everyone. I have certainly done my time for the ‘underground scene’ back in the early years, as has Dita, and no-one could ever have grounds to say we haven’t paid our dues. And at the end of the day, growing the profile of the genre benefits everyone right down to the grass roots, in fact you could argue it grows the grass roots, since they are formerly ‘new audiences’. Chances are they ‘discovered’ burlesque via a mainstream piece of press or media.

Immodesty makes the papers... (©Immodesty Blaize Please ask permission before using this image.)
(©Immodesty Blaize. Please ask permission before using this image.)

When I did the first burlesque West End show five years ago, that production brought well over 30,000 people through the door, as a result it kept running for 200 nights back to back. It grew the audience for burlesque in Britain significantly and threw open many more performance and stage-space opportunities for others. It would surely be a form of cultural snobbery to say we should have stayed ‘gritty’ and ‘underground’ and not shared that show with the new audiences – surely we don’t wish to perform only for people who already know the biography of Evangeline the Oyster Girl?

It takes real balls of steel to preach to the unconverted, and sometimes people won’t understand it at first or may mock or be hostile with pre-conceptions, I applaud performers across all genres who have the balls to tread into the unknown; comedians, musicians, dancers and the like. It’s worth remembering the genre of burlesque was always meant to be accessible and populist to both high and low culture. What a loss if the annual flamenco festival didn’t run at Sadlers Wells because it was deemed it should only be seen in Spanish bars by natives who log on to regional forums for it to be real, and not selling out.

To address Dita’s point about merchandise, if you are popular and people like what you do then it makes sense to offer other products. What a lovely position to be in where you have that interest! Ditto crossing platforms. Scarlet Johansson modeling in a Gucci advert, Jennifer Lopez the actress becomes J-Lo the popstar – no one bats an eyelid. I can say for sure everyone in the community was cheering to see Dirty Martini as a high fashion muse in ‘V’ and happy for her, not accusing her of selling out.

I am sure I speak for others as well as myself when I say that I did not start to perform burlesque because I was incapable of doing anything else, I had a great ‘legit’ career in the first place. No, I chose to follow burlesque because I loved it. So it stands to reason there may be other ways we are able to, and would like to express ourselves. Performing burlesque does not mean we enter into some self imposed, invisible ‘exclusivity’ contract where we can’t do anything else or perform in any other way, or create other things. In fact I found I had great support from the community following my last book and film releases, and I thank you from my heart. It showed that there is a very warm and supportive international community out there that is full of goodwill and camaraderie, with genuine kindness and care. My experience is of having wonderful supporters as well as friends and I am so appreciative of that.

Immodesty Blaize.  ©Simon Emmett.  Please ask permission before using this image.
Immodesty Blaize. ©Simon Emmett. Please ask permission before using this image.

However, sadly I do know instances of performers and their representatives in the past and also recently, giving in to the dark side of resentment. There have been some very sad – and very funny – examples where they waste a lot of time venting their own frustrations and insecurities in very unproductive ways (for them) or in very disturbed and disgusting ways on the wrong people. The problem is, anger at, or obsession with someone else’s life won’t change your own circumstances for the better. Attempts to abuse, or harass, or even stalk someone, won’t suddenly make them disappear or retire, nor will it bring you riches or fame,or put you on their level, or make you a better performer. Abusing or denigrating people only destroys the credibility of the perpetrator. It embarrassingly highlights their own baggage and inadequacies, and always backfires in the end. Just remember that people see it for what it is – and there are plenty of supportive people in the community to help you through it should it happen to you.

If someone chooses burlesque, or any genre as a gameplan for some kind of celebrity status, then perhaps they are not performing or promoting for the right reasons. They’d probably stand a better chance of fame by getting onto a reality show. As Banksy said, ‘you wouldn’t go to a restaurant to take a shit.’ Or, to put it in a more ladylike way, celebrity is meant to be a by-product of the art, not the reason for it.

Ultimately, there are lots of different types of audience for burlesque, and having such varying performers and performance styles is great for catering to the differing audience types. There is so much choice as to which kind of shows and venues that you’d aspire to and enjoy. In addition, wanting to reach out and spread the message to a bigger audience, and wanting to create something bold and beautiful, and push boundaries and evolve is not the mark of selling out, but a mark of one’s love for the genre, one’s developing personal expression, and a desire to share it for everyone’s enjoyment.

We have all recently enjoyed the release of Burlesque Undressed – an informative and thoroughly entertaining film, and your first endeavour with EMI / Parlophone. Can you describe the process of creating this film, in terms of the initial concept and motivation, what you hoped it would achieve or encourage, and the overall film-making experience?

Well I believe something gets lost from a live show 4-D experience to a flat screen with canned music and people in rows of seats who’ve just popped out to see a film as opposed to a ‘big night out’. So I wondered, how to go with the plus sides of the cinema experience and offer the audience something different that you wouldn’t get in a live show? I had a treatment for a burlesque documentary which I had written way back, eight years ago or so around the time I was working with Goldfrapp; I just hadn’t met a partner company who I wanted to collaborate on it with who cared about how the genre was portrayed – as production companies have their own various agendas too. EMI seemed the perfect partner since I had just signed with them, and they sourced a great BBC documentary director, Alison Grist who bought her own sensibilities to the project.

So that was how it came about in a nutshell. We had such a tight schedule, it was very concentrated hard work to complete, literally ‘all hands on deck’. I see it as work in progress due to various constraints we had, so there are things the team would like to add or change when it goes to TV, for example people who couldn’t be interviewed due to the time schedule who now we’ll be able to include.

Ultimately it’s a celebration and an encapsulation of the genre, quite simply. I wanted it to be accessible not just to the community and culturally aware, but also to people who knew absolutely nothing about the genre so they could understand where it came from, and the traditions. In that way it could help to grow new audiences and interest. I’m pleased to say it has been screened in cinemas in over thirty countries so far, so I can claim to have taken burlesque as far as South Korea, Brazil, and Transylvania haha!

You have clearly enjoyed the novel writing process. I believe a second book, Ambition, is due in October. Are there any other areas you would like to branch out into – do you have any other talents yet to be unveiled?

I have finished Ambition, it was a lot of fun to write; very irreverant but also quite a darkly humoured morality tale. It’s set in Vegas, so think ‘Dynasty’ meets Paul Verhoeven’s ‘Showgirls’. So now it’s finished I finally have time for the other projects that have been piling up. I came from an art and film background so I like to work in all creative media. It’s less a case of branching out into something and more a case of revisiting the creative areas that I miss! I don’t see any reason to be restricted to simply one dimension of performance or artistic expression.

“…every time I crack open the champagne at a gig, or see someone reading my book on the beach, I do feel that I’ve earnt it, and all the hard work was worth it.

But I don’t believe in sitting on laurels, so I’m looking forward to exciting new things ahead!”

You famously brought burlesque back to the historic Windmill Theatre for the first time in thirty years. Can you describe that experience, and what it meant to you?

Yes it was a lovely thing to be able to do and I felt honoured to be asked. The stage is not the original of course but it’s still very camp, I was able to create a new sweeping gold staircase number which was a lot of fun. The dressing rooms feel like being in a bunker; concrete, airless, and smelling of feet. The rooms are named after cities that were bombed in the war, I was put in ‘Glasgow’ I think, and then ‘Leeds’ when I went back for another show three years ago.

Immodesty Blaize' second novel, 'Ambition', will be available in October...
Immodesty Blaize’ second novel, ‘Ambition’, will be available in October…

What does Immodesty do for fun, when she manages to snatch a little time for herself?

I sit by my pool in heels and baubles, drink a dirty martini, listen to silence, read Jackie Collins, chuck a ball for the dog, and watch my incredibly fit young 6’3 pool cleaner flexing his pecs as he skims the leaves off the water. Those feather-less moments of peacefulness and quiet keep me sane.

I also DJ in clubs as a guilty pleasure, disco, electro, soul and hiphop as too much Fifties bump ‘n’ grind can drive me round the bend sometimes – all music is my passion, not just the Fifties.

Can you divulge some of your upcoming future plans, and some of the things you still hope to achieve in your life?

The second novel, Ambition, will be on shelves in October, and I’m pleased to announce that due to popular demand, Burlesque Undressed will be available to download on i-Tunes very soon. I have some special shows and projects to announce but details are embargoed for the moment so I guess it’ll have to be a nice surprise. It feels very special though. Basically I’m a workoholic, and as long as I am always creating things, that’s how I’d like my life to move forwards! I’d still love to meet Liberace and share a dirty martini of course but I don’t suppose that will ever happen. *wink*

Finally, as I ask everyone, what are the three greatest life lessons you have learnt?

Accommodate but never compromise, love is the answer, and do not drink more than two dry martinis before dining if you want to stay ladylike.

My thanks to Immodesty for her time, generosity and enthralling conversation.

Buy Burlesque Undressed: UK / US

Buy Immodesty Blaize’ current novel, Tease: UK / US

Pre-Order Ambition: UK / US

Follow Immodesty Blaize on Twitter and Facebook

Did you enjoy this interview? Why not leave a comment below…

View Comments (14)
  • Love this interview! So much good information and interesting to read. Immodesty is eloquent and lovely!

  • I wish I could write like you as Margaret Laurence once said “When I say “work” I only mean writing. Everything else is just odd jobs.”

  • Hello Immodesty Blaize! Thankyou, thankyou, thankyou! We in Tasmania would like to say thankyou for explaining to the world why, where, how come and what for! I am looking forward to evolving naturally and from the heart and not mechanically and chemically! You said it all in the interview 21st Century Burlesque, and have helped me breathe and realize i am on the right path. One day, a Dirty Martini with you, Mr Pushkins(my Kitty) and could Liberache come too!
    love from Zara Demure

  • Wonderful interview! Immodesty is so articulate, and I really appreciated the depth of thinking shown in her answers, particularly around the perception of ‘selling out’.

    Thank you for going into such detail, and keep up the good work ladies!

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