“Legendary deadpan dominatrix” emcee Miss Astrid – aka comedian Kate Valentine – has been tearing strips off unsuspecting audience members in over 1000 shows since 1997. After a number of years out of the spotlight, “focusing on other things and raising my excellent kids,” she’s back onstage next week in Miss Astrid’s Mystery Box a “striptease seance” at Bedlam, East Village, New York.
“My old pal Jen Gapay asked, and I said yes!” Kate replies when I ask why she’s chosen to resurrect her acidic alter-ego. When I press for details on the new show, I’m told it’s “as if Mata Hari and Pee Wee Herman’s baby was raised in an orphanage run by Salvador Dali…”
And there’s a bombshell reveal before the show gets underway. Miss Astrid is losing her eye patch. “I have realised that the choice was a bit ‘short sighted’,” she explains. “I would rather leave sexy eye patches to those who are truly visually impaired. Miss Astrid has a great story about her new eye. The folks who come to our first Mystery Box Show on April 13th will be the first to exclusively see what’s behind the eyepatch!”
“Be feminists! Love your bodies! Use your powerful bodies to tell your stories! Do not fall prey to the male gaze and the dominant paradigm.”
A member of legendary burlesque troupe The Velvet Hammer, Kate’s own pioneering neo-burlesque creation, The Va Va Voom Room, was voted ‘Best Burlesque Show in NYC’ by New York Magazine. With such a distinguished history, what does she think of the current burlesque scene?
“From a comedic standpoint one has to be much more careful,” she says, seriously. “I did jokes I would never do now. I believe that our humour is our humanity and laughter can help cross borders almost as much as music can, but it is a very sensitive time and many people are not in the mood for jokes.”
On that note, we look back at 2011, when she delivered a State of the Union Address at BurlyCon. 21st Century Burlesque published the statement, and it remains one of our most read and discussed articles, with reactions ranging from enthusiastic applause to outright disgust, particularly regarding her comments about the Burlesque Hall of Fame.
I ask if she stands by everything she said now, and what she would highlight if she delivered a similar address today.
“I would say things differently. Some things I would not say at all. I was asked to speak at BurlyCon. I was trying to take that role seriously. To publish it with you was maybe an error in that it got to a much wider audience of people who didn’t ask me for my opinion!
“I would skip the whole discussion of pros and amateurs because it caused a lot of hurt feelings. I wouldn’t even say all pageants are evil because some pageants — like Bambi’s Miss Coney Island — are just sublime.”
“What I wanted to say to my fellow humans in burlesque most is: be feminists! Love your bodies! Use your powerful bodies to tell your stories! Do not fall prey to the male gaze and the dominant paradigm.
“And that burlesque is not a competition! Life is not a competition! Just hold yourself to your highest standards! Love and support your fellow sisters and misters.”
And the Burlesque Hall of Fame?
“While I still wish the Burlesque Hall of Fame would take the moral high ground and challenge itself to be a true hall of fame and not a competition, the fact is that in the last half dozen years so many queers have won and competed and that has really flipped the script. I just love how fucking gay burlesque is these days!”
“Burlesque is not a competition! Life is not a competition! Just hold yourself to your highest standards! Love and support your fellow sisters and misters.”
The casts assembled for Miss Astrid’s Mystery Box are top drawer, including such burlesque luminaries as The Evil Hate Monkey, Tansy, Bradford Scobie, and none other than the iconic Dirty Martini picking up the stripper litter. “She is our stage kitten,” Kate confirms. “You know I like to give the newbies a leg up!”
“I like the idea of a variety show having true variety,” she continues. “Young, old, big, small, gay, straight. With diversity comes different points of view! So there’s lots of variety, but also an overarching personal aesthetic which could probably be described as ‘rigorous idiocy’. Obviously my co-producer, Jen Gapay, puts her two cents in too!”
It’s clear this new outing is more than just accepting an invitation to return. The zeal of the past is very much alive in her words.
“The thing I always loved the most in burlesque, besides just standing up in front of an audience without a net, is producing and casting shows. I just love it. So after so many years it is fun to be able to do that again!”
Miss Astrid’s Mystery Box
Bedlam, 40 Avenue C, NYC, 10009
APRIL 13th: David Ilku, Fem Appeal, Tiger Bay, Fancy Feast, Tanya Gange and Dirty Martini.
MAY 11th: Evil Hate Monkey, Tansy, Broadway Brassy, Cheekie Lane, Bradford Scobie and Dirty Martini.
JUNE 8th: Adrienne Truscott, Pearls Daily, Jenny C’est Quoi, Broody Valentino, Angela DiCarlo and Dirty Martini.
Quoted in major international newspapers and held in high esteem and affection by the international burlesque community, 21st Century Burlesque Magazine has documented the contemporary burlesque scene since 2007. Founded and edited by Holli-Mae Johnson.