House of Burlesque returns to the Kings Theatre tonight, and as usual the host with the most will be Joe Black.
Joe will be bringing his finely-honed cheekbones home as he brings a cavalcade of strange, funny and wondrous acts to town.
And those cheekbones?
‘I grew ’em myself. Nah, I’ve got better at make-up. Am I starving myself? No, it’s definitely make-up,’ he cackles.
Joe is currently writing a show for a tour which he will be bringing back this way in November, but in the meantime he’ll be hosting the show he’s now been putting on at the Kings for seven years.
Looking back at the start of his run at the Kings, Joe recalls: ‘At that point in 2009, the theatres hadn’t quite got on board with the burlesque revival. I think at the time it was quite unusual because they were being done in comedy clubs or jazz clubs, cabaret clubs or back rooms of pubs.
Traditionally, caberets were spaces where people could go to get away from what was going on in the world. That’s not to say it should be ignored, but for one night, give yourself a breakJoe Black
‘It was an odd thing at the time to have on such a large platform, but now when you look at the brochure for any big local theatre you’ll see them there.’
As well as watching the scene develop, Joe’s own style and darkly comedic persona has also grown and changed with time.
‘I’ve changed a lot over the years. I started off as this Tom Waits-y, shouty, outrageous person. I was going for the sandpaper effect.
‘It was always supposed to be tongue in cheek, it wasn’t supposed to be this dark brooding thing – it was always meant to be a joke. But as I’ve gone on, I’ve come to understand comedy a lot more and to really investigate and research, and I’ve learned to love the forbears like Tom Lehrer, Victoria Wood.
‘Some of Lehrer’s songs are still very dark now even by today’s standards.’
‘When people start they’re a massive jumble of all that they like, and they need to get rid of some of that jumble and find what they’re doing.
‘I think it’s important to be dreadful when you start. Thinking back, I can’t watch my old videos or listen to old recordings. There were people saying ‘‘I don’t understand what you’re doing’’, but I was doing what I enjoyed, and it helps build up that resilience. It helps you evolve and become fearless.’
However, this isn’t just Joe’s show: ‘With House of Burlesque, in the space of a few minutes, you can see one thing you don’t like and the next thing you’ll love – there’s comedy, burlesque, magic. It’s irreverent.
‘There is burlesque in the sense of striptease acts, but they’re only part of the show.’
Among the acts getting Joe excited this time are the husband-and-wife knife-throwing team Death Do Us Part (‘I’m clutching at invisible pearls when I watch them’) video illusionists Duo Bogof (‘mind-bending live-feed magic wormholery’) and Avdotia, The Russian Doll, who has ‘precision and poise worthy of a world-class ballerina.’
But as Joe puts it: ‘The origins of cabaret are highly political. In 1930s Germany they were places where people would got get away from the bleak reality of what was going on outside.
‘Traditionally, they were spaces where people could go to get away from what was going on in the world. That’s not to say it should be ignored, but for one night, give yourself a break.’
House of Burlesque
Kings Theatre, Southsea
Friday, July 22