After-dark inquiry: Doc Wasabassco

Doc Wasabassco, "The Kingpin of Burlesque," helms A Burlesque Affaire every Wednesday at Affaire Bistro & Lounge.

The Wasabassco Burlesque crew stages a Labor Day shindig Fri 31.

The Wasabassco Burlesque crew stages a Labor Day shindig Fri 31. Photograph: Luke Ratray

How did you get your start in the burlesque biz?
Six and a half years ago I was a pinup artist, and my best friend was a publicist, and he managed to get me a gallery show of my art. As a PR stunt for that show, we booked a burlesque show at Southpaw in Brooklyn, and just through networking, we got the World Famous Pontani Sisters to headline the show. The night was a fantastic success. And the gallery show, which we hung with bad hangovers the next day, became an afterthought. Before the burlesque show was even over, we had a date for a second show, and we were soon doing weeklies and monthlies in various locations. And this is what I've been doing ever since.

From pinup artist to burlesque producer: It's safe to say you have some interest in the female form.
Oh, absolutely!

Do you make your living through burlesque?
Now I do. For a while, I was going back and forth between illustration and burlesque, but now I do the illustration very sparingly. I am first and foremost a burlesque producer.

You're more than just a burlesque producer though; you've dubbed yourself the Kingpin of Burlesque. Do other people in the subculture envy your high position?
No, it's actually a very communal scene. Most of the performers are freelancers, and everybody is drawing from the same talent pool. It isn't going to do you much good if you start competing with each other. If you start some kind of gang war, you're going to end up not having anybody working for you.

A burlesque gang war would be kind of cool, though.
It would be cool if it was entirely faked! That would be a lot of fun. Maybe not a real, one, though.

How does the style of a Doc Wasabassco show differ from that of other New York burlesque shows?
It took me a while, but I came up with some catchphrases that explain Wasabassco. One is "couple-friendly, risqu fun." It doesn't matter what kind of couple—straight, gay, male, female, whatever—you could go on a date to a Wasabassco show, and you'll think it is sexy and you'll think it is fun. There are other shows around that are perhaps more like performance art; I don't know if that's fun, but it may be artistic. There are others that are designed to be more shocking. And those are choices. But with my shows, I try to make them have as wide an appeal as possible without them being tame or anything.

What specifically can you tell me about your current project, a Burlesque Affaire?
One of the goals for Wasabassco in 2011 is for each of our shows to be an immersive experience, and for this show, the venue [Affaire Bistro & Lounge] is a beautiful space. And what we're doing there is presenting a cross section of the best performers around. There are two seatings every Wednesday, with three performers at each show. It's a relatively small show, and in order to make that really exceptional, the performers are either among my favorite New Yorkers or really good, out-of-town visiting artists. It's very classy. And it's a bit of a primer as well: If you've never been to burlesque and you come to one of these shows, you're going to see some of the best performers, and you'll see numbers that are very good entries into the world of burlesque.

Who are some of a Burlesque Affaire's performers?
Nasty Canasta, Sapphire Jones, Gal Friday, Stormy Leather, Nikki Noir, Ruby Valentine, Nikki Le Villain, Madame Rosebud, Marlo Marquise...they're all going to be in the show, and I'm sure there are more that I'm not thinking of. Basically, we just try to have whoever we think will go best with the space.

The Travel Channel named Wasabassco Burlesque as one of the world's ten best burlesque shows. How did that come about?
It was an unsolicited mention, really. They just came to one of our shows—I believe at City Winery—and apparently liked what they saw. No networking; we were judged on the merits of what we're doing.

That's refreshing; no pushy publicists or friends of friends involved. And now you are internationally famous!
And being internationally famous for doing what you do, rather than through glad-handing or whatever, is always be the best way.

What do you think of the strength of the current burlesque scene, as opposed to when you were getting started in 2004?
When I started doing this, the shows were tiny. They were basically in the Lower East Side, maybe an hour long with four or five performers. Since then, I think the entire thing has blown up, and I think what Wasabassco has brought to the table has been a part of that. There are now a lot of performers—my goal is to make sure that people are good before they get up onstage. It's very easy for somebody very excited about the art for to take a stage name and buy a pair of fans, but we like to have people prove themselves a little bit before we put them in a show. That being said, I think New Yorkers are the most innovative burlesque performers.

Your name—where does that come from?
Wasabassco is, in fact, short for the Wasabi Ass Company. It's basically a play off the notion of somebody being hot-assed.