A Burlesque Show Based Entirely on “Weird Al” Yankovic?
Yes, that exists.
In classic burlesque acts, performers often tease the crowd with large, feathered fans that coquettishly hide and reveal bits of their skin and curves. On a recent Saturday night inside Los Angeles venue Fais Do Do, Mistress Marla Spanks was following in that tradition. But instead of fans, she was using seafoam green lunch trays, clunky reminders of school cafeterias that, even under stage lights, looked about as glamorous as tater tots.
While "Weird Al" Yankovic's 1984 hit parody "Eat It" played through the room, Spanks freed herself from a frumpy lunch-lady uniform, revealing a sexy, retro leopard-print bra and skirt ensemble. Then, she stripped the hair net off her head and slipped out of the skirt to reveal underwear that read "hot lunch" on the butt and "eat it" on the crotch. The crowd was ecstatic.
Spanks has been performing her lunch-lady routine to "Eat It" for a few years now and it's become a favorite among audience members who come to see Al-Stravaganza, a "Weird Al" tribute show thrown by the burlesque troupe, Tight and Nerdy.
In the burlesque world, there's no shortage of pop culture send-ups; everything from Star Wars to video games to comic book characters have been the subject of burlesque parodies. Even with that in mind, taking on the master of the parody song seems like an odd — if not daunting — premise for a burlesque show. Unsurprisingly, Al-Stravaganza was not an easy sell at first.
Pickles Kintaro, Al-Stravaganza’s producer and one of its performers, describes Tight and Nerdy's origin story as a mix of persistence and kismet. Though she’s now based in Minneapolis, Minn., she was living in the San Francisco Bay Area when she first learned the art of burlesque. From the get-go, she wanted to do a "Weird Al" act, but producers kept rejecting her idea.
A year later, in 2012, she got her chance to stage the first Al-Stravaganza in Oakland. Kintaro hadn't produced a show before and admits that she may have gone overboard on advertising. But a bunch of those flyers ended up at a local radio station and from there, one landed in the hands of Yankovic himself. To Kintaro’s delight, the musician behind comedy jams like "White & Nerdy" and "Amish Paradise" tweeted a picture of the flyer.
Al-Stravaganza became an immediate hit. The troupe soon hit the road, joining forces with local burlesque acts to stage touring productions. In the past five years, they've played cities in the Pacific Northwest and Los Angeles as well as St. Paul, Minn., where they do a two-day performance called the Al-Stravaganza Weekender every year.
For Kintaro, Al-Stravaganza is a celebration of an artist she has admired since childhood.
"I remember watching the video for “Eat It” and I thought that was the funniest thing I had ever seen in my life," she said.
She continued to follow his work, identifying with Yankovic's persona — "He was an outcast and a nerd, and so was I," she explained. Finding other burlesque performers that shared her passion wasn't hard; there are plenty of nerdy girls in the burlesque scene.
"I joke that we don't do this because we were the popular kids in high school," Kintaro said. Spanks was one of the original performers to join the troupe, along with Odessa Lil and Pearl E. Gates.
Lil recalls her response when Kintaro asked her to be a part of the first show.
"That was perhaps the moment I had been waiting for my entire life, I just didn't know it," she said.
Like, Kintaro, she's been a fan since "Eat It." In fact, the single was the first record she owned.
"I get to take it that extra step and bring the parody of a parody out, which is complicated.”
For Gates, too, it's the "parody of the parody" aspect that's exciting. That's not easy to do and, over the years, they've become experts at it. Lil acts out the lyrics to "The Brady Bunch," a parody of the '80s hit "The Safety Dance," morphing from a character who would fit right in with the original Men Without Hats video to a go-go dancing Jan Brady. Gates and Spanks worked as a duo for "I Think I'm a Clone Now," dancing like Tiffany in the "I Think We're Alone Now" video while removing their Star Wars-inspired costumes to reveal light-up underwear and pasties.
"You actually have to like the source material," said Chris Beyond, co-producer of Peepshow Menagerie, who has collaborated with Tight and Nerdy on four performances over the years.
Peepshow Menagerie itself is a home of unexpected burlesque nights, like a tribute to maudlin British singer Morrissey and his old band The Smiths. Kintaro had actually been a part of one previous Morrissey/The Smiths show and Beyond is a longtime "Weird Al" fan, so the joint effort works.
The Los Angeles Al-Stravaganza brought out Tight and Nerdy's pals from their tour route. Amongst them was Nina Nightshade, who co-produces the show when it goes to Portland, Ore. For "Addicted to Spuds," she channeled the women from Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love" video, icons of the ‘80s MTV with their tight black dresses, over-the-top hairstyles, and red lips. Like the performers in the video, she affected a too-cool face as she ate chips and licked her fingers. The big reveal: A bra and skirt that appeared to be made from a potato sack.
And when Angie Cakes, who also co-produces Peepshow Menagerie, performed "Like a Surgeon" that night, she inflicted acts of malpractice on stuffed animals with glee, ultimately riding a plush tiger to cheers from the crowd.
It takes a certain kind of burlesque dancer to handle the oeuvre of "Weird Al" Yankovic. "I think some people want to have the most beautiful rhinestone corset," Spanks said, "and some of us want to do something more ridiculous."
As for “Weird Al” himself, well, he hasn't seen Tight and Nerdy in action yet. But, Kintaro says, "He always has an invite. His name is always on the guest list."