It's Friday night at Tammany Hall in New York City and a blonde bombshell named the World Famous *BOB* takes the stage. With a spray of rhinestones arranged across her crotch and pasties on her nipples, she welcomes a rowdy crowd at the city's inaugural New York Boylesque Festival—a launch that comes decades after the largely female neo-burlesque revival took hold in America and at least a century after men started flaunting their bodies publicly.
Over the next two hours, the audience hoots and cheers, the volume rising with each performance—and each round of PBR tallboys. In the opening act, a near-nude Albert Cadabra fills a long balloon from a pump at his crotch, then pretends to swallow it (taking care with his teeth). Another character named Wrong Note Rusty arrives in full marching-band regalia. In minutes, he's fingered and fisted his trombone—played it a bit, too—and the horn is the only thing between Rusty and full-frontal. What follows: a clown in a G-string, a beer bottle opened by buns of steel, and a flight coordinator who's especially fond of his glow stick. Everyone is angling for a better view, a closer look. The crowd, largely male, emits a frenzied mix of catcalls, whistles, and hollers.
These are not your garden-variety Magic Mike stripper routines. Instead of a procession of oiled hard bodies fending off grabby bachelorettes, boylesque is equal parts dance, acrobatics, comedy, and yes, a little striptease. This variety has helped the art form move closer to the spotlight in the past decade. The all-male troupe Boylesque TO has wowed audiences on Canada's Got Talent, male performers are regulars at clubs like the Box in New York and DNA Lounge in San Francisco, and in 2005, Las Vegas' Miss Exotic World Pageant introduced Best Boylesque Act as a category in its annual program. It's remained ever since.
We talked to a diverse range of performers about their unusual acts, their inspirations, and the future of the field.