Fan Dancers and Marabou Prancers

Performers Edie Nightcrawler, MF Akynos, and Lil’ Miss Lixx. All photos: Linda Simpson.

AS A DRAG QUEEN, it’s easy for me to relate to the burlesque scene. Both worlds abound with larger-than-life exhibitionists, dazzling musical numbers, campy humor, punny names, and flashy female artifice. The big difference, of course, is that burlesque displays a heck of a lot more bouncing boobs, many of which were on display at the recent New York Burlesque Festival and its climactic Golden Pasties Awards.

Founded by one of the scene’s most accomplished performers, Angie Pontani, and events promoter Jen Gapay, the festival dates back to 2002, several years after the modern-day burlesque scene (sometimes called “neo-burlesque”) emerged in the mid-1990s. Taking its cue from the glory days of Gypsy Rose Lee and other pioneering striptease artists, the classic stagecraft has been revamped to embrace all body types as performers come up with ever more creative ways to shed their clothing.

New York Burlesque Festival co-promoters Angie Pontani and Jen Gapay.

As for the Golden Pasties, Pontani confides, “They basically started out as a joke. But now a lot of the girls take it pretty seriously.” Perhaps it’s only fair that they do. Although burlesque is thriving worldwide, with a constant influx of newcomers eager to take it off, the scene doesn’t get nearly as much media attention as the current drag renaissance. Even a tongue-in-cheek prize provides some sort of validation. (Each winner receives—you guessed it—a golden pastie.)

Setting the pace for the show’s wacky format was its wisecracking and towering main host, Scotty the Blue Bunny, a former a member of New York’s after-dark set who now lives in Berlin. “I’ll be your very aggressive homosexual host tonight,” he announced to the audience, clad in his signature spandex rabbit costume. He was relieved for some of the proceedings by the night’s cohost, the cartoonishly debonair Sir Richard Castle, who describes himself as bisexual—“I have sex and then I say ‘bye.’”

Scotty the Blue Bunny.

Among the winners were Calamity Chang (the Betty Crocker Award for “most likely to incorporate food into their act”), Gal Friday (the Crocs Award for “most likely to wear sensible footwear on stage”), and Jezebel Express (whose two prizes included the Patti Lupone Award for “most likely to scold an audience member”). One of burlesque’s most popular emcees, Murray Hill, who is rumored to be a drag king, garnered laughs upon receiving the Smarty Pantsless Award and thanking the crowd for accepting him as a “cis heteronormative male.”

Certainly an admirable aspect of the burlesque community is its reverence for the gals who paved the way, referred to as “legends.” This year’s Golden Pasties paid homage to the seventy-two-year-old Las Vegas showgirl Lovey Goldmine. Still remarkably limber with va-va-voom legs, she peeled her way through a Cabaret-inspired number. As part of the show’s “in memorial” section, songstress Shelly Watson recalled longtime NYC performer and impresario Bonnie Dunn, who died earlier this year.

Performers Murray Hill and Tigger, winner of the Gala Award for “the performer who could show the MET the meaning of camp.”

In addition to the awards presentations, a slew of performers, almost all of whom serve as their own choreographers and costumers, disrobed in a variety of super-imaginative ways. Pepper Grinds, in a busty cowgirl outfit, incorporated her pistol-twirling skills. Edie Nightcrawler gradually revealed more and more skin as she picked away at her silver bikini made of Mylar strips. Lil’ Miss Lixx stripped out of her Marie Antoinette costume to the rocking beat of Siouxsie Sioux. And if Himalayan erotica is your thing, there was Tiger Bay in a furry yeti costume.

And let’s not forget the guys. The boylesque performers included burly Broody Valentino in an Edgar Allan Poe–inspired number, in which he transformed into a kinky, black-feathered raven. Appropriately, he also won the Norma Desmond Award, for bringing “the most drama to the stage.” Closing the show was Portland’s Johnny Nuriel, clad in a thong as he amazed the crowd swinging around a glow-in-the-dark Hula-Hoop.

Jezebel Express showing off her pair of Golden Pastie Awards.

After the ceremony, many of the honorees descended on Beauty Bar in the East Village for a raucous celebratory party of drinking, dancing, and bonding. So often, entertainers—especially when they’re women—are stereotyped as being bitterly competitive. But throughout the night, a wonderful sense of playful camaraderie reigned. Whether naughty and nearly nude on stage, or dressed in street clothes, burlesque has a way of shedding pretentions and letting the good feelings roll.

Linda Simpson and performer Johnny Nuriel.