Which brings us to Susanna Lee, the burlesque comedian, also known as Lucky DeLuxe. Lee recently moved out to Los Angeles from KC, and she very graciously accepted my request for an e-mail interview. Because she's very funny and thoughtful, she gave me long answers, which I had to edit for print and was unable to include in this week's Filter. Below, see the uncut, unadulterated version of our discussion.
The Pitch: How did you know that it was time to leave KC?
Susanna Lee: Although I love Kansas City, I felt that I had reached a level of operation that was too easy to maintain without having to push myself. I felt as though the familiarity had created a little bit of stagnant water in my inspiration and motivation as an artist and I needed to shake things up to make the gears grind again. I really think it's important to travel and live beyond the comforts of routine in order to keep my mind creative. I've never been motivated to be a big fish in a small pond, popularity is fleeting and not a meaningful or accurate measure of talent or skill. I want to be the best performer and writer possible by my own standards, I want to reach as many people as possible. It's hard to be in L.A. It's lonely, and I miss my friends and KC lifestyle quite a bit, but I believe that it was necessary to jar myself out of a creative rut.
Is there a lot of hustlin' involved in L.A. life?
Are you calling me a hooker? Why, I never! This interview is OVER!!! [Susanna removes the lapel mic, throws it on the table, storms out ... Very odd and ineffective actions, since this was done through email...]
If by "hustlin'" you mean being out at the clubs and shows often, meeting as many people as possible, networking my ass off, trying to stay informed of who is doing what shows, who is booking what shows, who is coming and who is leaving, then yes. There is a LOT of hustling. I like it though, I really feel like I'm part of an active arts community that places value on innovation. I love being immersed in a scene that is always looking for something new and exciting. L.A. life is not dull, and I don't spend many nights watching tv at home in my jammies.
That being said, I would like to offer a little info for the ladies: If you move to L.A. without a deal in place (and a check in hand), you will, at some point, work at a strip club. And not as the bartender.
Are the crowds tougher in L.A. than they are here?
I don't find them to be tougher, but it takes a while to realize that if they don't laugh as freely as audiences elsewhere, it doesn't mean something bad, it's just the effect of overexposure to the artform. It's the same as how I don't laugh out loud as much as I did 16 years ago, when I was just getting my comedy feet wet. They're generally very well-mannered. I really like the L.A. audiences, but I really like most audiences. I love any people that love watching comedy, regardless of their location, because I love performing it, so without them, I wouldn't be able to indulge in what I love. Without comedy audiences, I'd have to find another vice. I'm too set in my ways to learn a new artform, and too broke to afford a new drug habit, so I have no choice but to love each and every audience member. I find that the L.A. comedy audiences are more open to different styles of comedy, they tend to give more leeway to the art of it, and not be as dead set on only enjoying comedy that pairs well with all-you-can-drink Bud Light. I believe that many comedy clubs feel so desperate to get asses in seats that they downplay the artists, and train audiences to disrespect the reason they're there. A comedy club exists to feature the entertainment art of standup comedy first, and offer the extras (drinks, food, America's Funniest Home Videos on a big screen ...) after that. I understand that clubs need money to run, we all do. However, comedy is an art, and one of the responsibilities of art is to provoke a emotional reaction in the observer, and one of the responsibilities of the curator of art is to defend the artists creation. If you are too afraid of pissing off a tiny minority of close-minded assholes to present something entertaining and fresh, convert your chuckle shack into a sports bar and save everyone from the pain of further mediocrity. I'm just saying, it's 2012, can we please have a little less Jimmy "JJ" Walker, and a little more James Adomian? It's 2012, shit hasn't been "Dy-No-Mite" for over 30 years.
You've been traveling a lot... any memorable shows lately?
If I can take liberties with "lately", my Valentine's Day show in Indianapolis was life-changing. I've been self-producing my show Getting Lucky, and touring in grassroots fashion, relying on friends and colleagues for help, and Indianapolis was the greatest reassurance that I'm doing the right thing. It was a really scary, yet liberating, decision to work independently of (most) comedy clubs, and take on all of the responsibilities that a club comic doesn't have, and I was really worried about falling on my face in Indy. It was a town where I had no fan base, I hadn't even set foot on a stage there for over a dozen years, and it was Valentine's Day (my show isn't exactly a romantic candlelit dinner...). One week prior to the show, I had only pre-sold 12 tickets, and the pessimistic part of me felt certain of failure. Then, through the help of my Indy burlesque and theater friends, a wonderful publicist who was able to work last-minute miracles, NPR and the Indy free press (NUVO), the show sold out (not even standing room left!). It was an amazing night, everyone had fun, and I made more money in one show than I would have by working a full week at a comedy club, without compromising my artistic notions. That was the greatest night of my career so far, for reasons going way beyond just the actual show.
What do you think about the KC Burlesque Festival? Does it bring in a lot of big names in the business?
The KCBF is a wonderful opportunity for Kansas City to get a broader view of the current world of burlesque. Kansas City has a slightly insular arts community, and the festival brings a wonderful opportunity to see what the artform encompasses outside of the city limits. It also gives performers the opportunity to meet and be seen by performers and producers from all over the world, which really helps when trying to take your show on the road. I really promote traveling as a performer, it expands your horizons. Being able to dazzle audiences regardless of their location and their familiarity with you offstage is the trait of a professional. The featured performers (headliners) are recognizable names to fans of burlesque, and they're really tight performers who can make a burlesque fan out of a casual observer. I'm excited for the KCBF because these festivals are reunions for me and my burlesque friends, and I get to collect the money that most of those bitches owe me.
What's funny these days? What's not funny anymore?
Comedy is, was, and always will be subjective. So the things I find funny might not tickle anyone but me. I like really personal comedy, I love a comic who isn't afraid to expose and examine their vulnerabilities. I think that comics have a unique opportunity to give light to the human condition, and create connections through their material. We can make this world less lonely by being honest and giving people truth with which to relate. What's not funny? Misogynistic, greedy comedy club pseudo-owner douchebags, and the tired-ass morning dj's that support them. Oh, and farts.
Lee performs Saturday night at the Uptown Theater as part of the Kansas City Burlesque Festival and on Sunday night at the Brick, doing Getting Lucky. Tickets are available here.