GiGi La Femme has stripped off her clothes at most places that it's legal to do so in New York City. The Astoria, Queens native is a six year veteran of burlesque and has graced stages across the city—including those in the Slipper Room, The Delancey and Le Poisson Rouge—and across the nation with her troupe Dangerous Curves Ahead. Not content with just performing, GiGi also produces Revealed—a full nudity burlesque show—every month in the East Village. We spoke with her before Revealed's February show to find out what it takes to be a burlesque dancer, where to go for the most titillating performances, and why burlesque mixes sexy with comedy.
Did you see Burlesque the movie? No, actually I haven't seen it. I kind of figured I'd see it on Netflix some time. In the same vein as Showgirls, it's probably going to be watered down and not show authentic, neo-Burlesque but it's probably a fun movie. I'm just not going to waste $12 to see it.
What were you doing before you decided to try out Burlesque? I think I was working part-time in a law firm. I was a legal assistant, and shortly after that I was working in this corporate commercial real estate firm.
What attracted you to Burlesque and how did you get started in the industry? I went to shows for about a whole year before I ever even got on stage. I went with my cousin Scarlett Sinclair, who doesn't perform anymore but is now my tattoo artist, for a show for her birthday at the Slipper Room back in 2004. She ended up getting into it, and because of that I ended up going to more shows to support her. I thought it was awesome just being in the audience and seeing this different kind of entertainment. I kept going, got to know people in the scene and eventually told my cousin, "hmm, maybe I could try this?" I'm fortunate to have gotten into it at a time when it was just becoming popular.
What was your first show like? My first show was at Galapagos when it was still in Williamsburg, before it turned into Public Assembly. I did The World Famous *BOB*'s Burlesque Review, and that show was really about taking performers who were brand new or really wet behind the ears and giving them a really safe and nurturing environment to take her clothes off. The host made it a point to prep the audience, and one of my favorite things that she would say was, "The worst sound a performer can hear is her clothes hitting the ground." It encouraged people to be supportive, to be loud, hoot and holler. It was nerve-racking, but a good nerve-racking. Like if you go bungee-jumping and your heart is beating out your chest, but you still do it because you want to.
What's the most important talent to have as a burlesque dancer? Just look like you're having fun. You don't want to have to try so hard to convince the audience "oh, I love what I do." You honestly want to be loving what you're doing. Eye contact and facial expressions, that really helps. Tell a story, in addition to your body movement on stage. But I don't think you need to have one talent, like being an actor or an aerialist, to justify being on stage. You can be, and bring those elements to your performance and I'm sure it would add to it, but you don't have to have any training at all. I didn't take any classes, not that there's anything wrong with that.
What are some of the characters you've played over the years? One of my signature numbers is as Princess Leia. I think that was the third number that I ever did, and I still do it today. I've actually toured with it across the country. I have a Vamperella number, too. I have a crossing guard number—it's to that Gino Vannelli song, "I Just Wanna Stop." I definitely maintain sexy, but I like being funny. I like acting like an idiot. I think you should laugh at yourself in life.
Has anything ever gone wrong at a show? Oh, yes. This one time at Public Assembly, my costume was a cat and part of my performance was a milk bath, and 45 seconds before the show was supposed to start someone knocked over my pitcher of milk! I had set it aside and warned everyone where it was, but of course someone knocked it over and there was milk all over the stage. Thank goodness for the curtain, but it was like a milkapocalypse. We only had to delay the show a few minutes, but I was getting yelled at by the producer who wanted to start the show while I was still trying to clean up. Eventually, I handed the towel to someone else because I needed to buy more milk. I ran out of the venue in my costume—a cat wearing stripper heels so I'm not wearing all that much to begin with—and I'm booking it down North 6th to a bodega. The guy at the cash register was like, "You thirsty?" as if I was going to down that gallon of milk. I did make it back to the venue in the nick of time.
What's your favorite show that you've done?Revealed, and coincidentally it's the one I produce! It's such a beautiful show—small and intimate. You might not think you're going to get a lot when you step into a tiny 60-seat theater that's underground, but I think since the beginning the show has challenged people to think about why they want to be naked. That's the point of Revealed —it's a nude burlesque show—instead of your punchline being "here are my pasties" or "here is my funny merkin," you don't have that with Revealed, so you've got to get creative.
Is the full nudity in Revealed controversial? No, not so much. I think that's because we're in a theater, so we found some loopholes. It's not a bar, so there's no liquor being served, which is the big rule—you can't have full nudity with a fully stocked bar. In curating the show, we try to maintain a level of class and respect for the performer. Sometimes acts can be more comedic, but we like to call it "putting the pussy up on a pedestal." You go to a show and your jaw drops because it's funny, a little naughty, risqué but not just a shocks and cocks kind of thing.
What's the difference between performing and producing in terms of control you have over the show? As a performer you pretty much have creative control over your own act. You come up with your costumes, you can choose whatever music you want or look you want. The only reason you would ever have to compromise that is if there's a theme for a show and somebody asked you to do something specific. As a producer, you're handling all of the back-end stuff. Everything from promoting the show to booking it to getting all the paper work done for the night of, which includes set lists and mailing lists. You're responsible for making that show happen.
How did you come up with your stage name? I made a list of names I liked—flowers, paintings, gem stones, whatever—then mixed and matched. At the time I was on LiveJournal, so I put up a entry with a bunch of different name combinations and asked what people thought. GiGi Le Femme was one of them. I guess I decided to go with more of a more French name because my real name—my "muggle" name—is also French. I liked the idea of "GiGi The Woman," though no one else calls me that obviously.
If someone were to ask you where to see burlesque in the city, other than Revealed, where would you recommend? The Slipper Room, when it hopefully reopens in the fall. That's one of the venues I'd always point people to, because it's a grab bag. You never really know what you're going to get. It is inexpensive. You can see people who are brand new. You can see people who have been doing burlesque for 15 years plus. It was, and will be once it reopens, such a great meet-up spot for performers and the shows go all night long. Duane Park is another great venue, they mix burlesque with live music, like a jazz quartet or a tin-pan band. That's a great place to go on a date: sit down, have dinner and see a very classy show.
So when you're not taking off your clothes on stage, what do you do for fun? I feel like I'm always working. Always. But if I have time off, I'm usually at home drinking wine. Don't get me wrong, I love going out for dinner and looking cute, but I'm a homebody when I can be.
GiGi La Femme will be performing at The Sweet Shop at Duane Park this Saturday at 10 p.m. Entry is free, but reservations are recommended. Burlesque Revealed is performed the third Wednesday of every month at Under St. Mark's Theater.