The Weirdo Show is one of the DC Burlesque and Variety scene’s longest running and most beloved institutions. It started in 2006 and has continued, with some brief hiatuses and producer changes. Once again the producer mantle is being passed from sideshowman Charlie Artful to the Professor of Pain, Dr. Torcher and her husband Mark Andruss. Their first show as producers will be this Friday, November 20 at the Bier Baron and we got a chance to chat with the good doctor (who really is a doctor!) recently about the passing of the torch, where the Weirdo Show is headed and taboo culture!
Lucrezia: When and why did you get involved in the burlesque/variety/sideshow scene?
Dr. Torcher: I learned sideshow arts almost exactly one year ago. Harley Newman is my teacher. I got into this by way of comedy – I started with improv and then I learned stand up. But I noticed that my comedy was always pushing people to laugh uncomfortably – so sideshow was a natural fit for me. But really, when I trace it all the way back, this started in the late 90s when I worked as a stripper.
I love spaces where people have permission to do stuff/see stuff that has some stigma, that carried some cultural weight with it. I am fascinated that, despite the risks or consequences, people want to see risky, culturally dangerous stuff.
You actually have an academic background, yeah? And you wrote your thesis on strip joints?
Yes! My master’s thesis is on feminist pornography and my Ph.D. dissertation is on Black lesbian strip events in Washington DC. The loss of queer spaces – it’s a sore spot for me. Which is why I am so passionate about taking care of the Weirdo Show – we owe it to ourselves to keep our events going, to preserve our history. It’s all connected – marginalized people and our spaces and gentrification.
Yeah I’d say the lack of affordable performance space in general is an issue in DC. How did your advisors take it when you told them what your thesis and dissertation were on?
Truly – so many communities are affected by it and every time we lose a space, it’s a loss. But we are resilient – which is why some shows have been around for as long as they have.
Actually, my advisors were great. My advisor at AU did his fieldwork on gay bathhouses. I was embraced.
That’s awesome! What are your degrees in?
Thanks. My BA is psychology, my MA is women’s and gender studies and my Ph.D. is anthropology. If you are interested in my work, I have some articles up at https://independent.academia.edu/MichelleCarnes
Everything I do is about taboos – how we break them, maintain them, deal with them. They are always there… we’re always aware of them…
And now you’re the producer of the Weirdo Show, your first time out you’re doing a blasphemy-themed show …
Our first Weirdo Show is blasphemy-themed because I’ve always wanted to see a show like that. Watching burlesque and sideshow and variety take on religion, poke fun at it? That’s what comedy is for – to punch up, take down these powerful concepts and bring them to a level you can look it in the eye and laugh your ass off. Religion is hilarious. It’s nonsensical. There is so much material there.
It also fits your taboo oeuvre.
Exactly. You are smelling what I am cooking.
And a laugh in the face of scary religious zealotry is much needed right now.
For real. It’s my hope that this show inspires more acts that critique religion and ultimately, make people think about what they believe and why and where that comes from. I think, if you can see some of yourself in our show and laugh at yourself a bit, we’ve done our job.
Do you know the history of the Weirdo Show? I know it was one of the original variety/burlesque shows in town and then went on hiatus for a while and was resurrected by Charlie Artful and now he’s passing it on to you and Mark.
That is true. It turns out that the first Weirdo Show took place in February of 2006 at the Palace of Wonders which means it’s been around ten years. It’s this amazing show that comes back to life and we love that about it. It got displaced when we lost Palace of Wonders and, given my love of DC taboo space, I respect the Weirdo Show‘s resilience and refusal to give up. I understand that entirely and it’s why this show is close to my heart.
In February, we’re celebrating that history with an anniversary show. We’ll have great old photos from some of the original Weirdo Shows. I am a big believer in preserving the history, even as you move something in new directions. And when I meet people who used to see the show at the Palace, it’s important to me that they get that good feeling again – that sense of, I am in a special and weird place and someone loves this show very much and cares about what happens here. That is how we feel.
I’ve done the Weirdo Show a couple of times and one of my favorite performance memories ever is doing an accordion/glockenspiel duet with Baska d’Joy with the audience singing along to Creep – “’cause I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo.” It was a lovely little moment.
What a great song that is. And spaces like that are powerful for bringing together people who feel out of place, feel misunderstood. What a relief to be sitting in the nation’s capital and declaring yourself a weirdo. That’s beautiful.
You mentioned new directions – what are your plans for the Weirdo Show going forward?
So, we are going to have some themed shows. As I said, February is an anniversary show. January is traditionally for new acts (which is where I got my Weirdo Show start earlier this year). March, I want to do a show paying tribute to women in sideshow who paved the way for me to do what I do. April is simply called EWWW – all kinds of boundary-pushing stuff. I’m gonna eat a bug. It will be fun. We have a new website so folks can find out what we’re up to. I’m painting a nice big sideshow banner for the show. We built an electric chair. So, there’s some new technologies but still keeping it old school in some ways. We’re going for a balance.
OMG yes! I saw that! So is someone going to do an electro act (traditionally someone holds a lightbulb or tube and electricity is run through their body to light it up)?
Yes, this Friday, I will be operating the electric chair. Because it’s the blasphemy show, of course it will serve as our “witch detector.” Someone in the audience will be tested as a witch and we’ll see what special powers they may possess. Back in the day, this sort of thing could get you burned at the stake. Now, it’s just a regular Friday night in DC! I will ask them if they possess any witchy powers but I will be skeptical and let the chair tell me the UNHOLY TRUTH! It’s a lime green lawn chair outfitted with christmas lights. This thing is a sight to behold.
That’s amazing! Please tell me you’re going to have a pink flamingo next to it.
That’s not a bad idea. Maybe with red eyes….Yeah!
The DC Weirdo Show presents: BLASPHEMY! plays this Friday, November 20, 2015 at 9:00 PM at The Bier Baron– 1523 22nd Street, NW, in Washington, DC. Tickets can be purchased for $12 online or $15 at the door.