See blog on it's original site: http://community.feministing.com/2012/08/24/funny-feminists-frontiers-not-your-typical-las-vegas-showgirl/
By ArianaEmily Lauren – a certified student, historian and practitioner of the theatrical arts – thinks she is one of the shortest showgirls in Las Vegas. As a self-styled “Female Comedienne,” she wears fabulous costumes, drops sexual innuendos, throws fake food, and hosts variety shows on neo-vaudeville stages from Kansas City to California. On occasion, she will dress up as Sugar Puppy the cocker spaniel and sing Somewhere Over the Rainbow. Oh, and it’s a satire. Sometimes.

She is also my big sister.

“What Emily does” has been hard to explain ever since she called home to tell my parents she was packing up her Kansas City apartment and and joining the circus. As one of the first women in our family to graduate from college, relatives were taken aback: she was going to make a living, right? She wore what? Was she serious? How long could this last?

Nine years later, it turns out she wasn’t serious, she was funny. Seriously funny (ha ha). Listening to Emily explain what she’s trying to do – play with assumptions, poke at social standards, speak in her own voice, break into an art form dominated by outdated tradition – I have to laugh. I stopped following in her footsteps long before the Clown School application deadline passed, but this sure sounded familiar. As a Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies major; I, too, learned to crack such sparkling one-liners as: “Plus, can you think of anything with more feminist epistemological integrity than interviewing your own sister?”

Okay, so it has been a long week here in Missouri.

My point: this isn’t just sibling worship. Trust me, I know what that looks like: I was the weird kid blasting Madonna and crushing on Eddie Vetter through the 00s, while my peers listened to N’Sync and went to summer camp. But now, I’m not the only one who thinks she’s the coolest: reviewers have called her fresh, smart, sexy, and reflective (http://emilylaurenscomedycabaret.yolasite.com/press-page.php). As we mourn for the incomparable Phyllis Diller, I think it is important to at least acknowledge that it takes still guts to be a woman in comedy. It’s time to extend the often exhausting conversation about funny women beyond its coastal borders.

Emily SuperHeroine

Tell me about some of your acts.
Well, one of my favorite [characters] is named Toyota Se’Dan. She’s an “exotic dancer,” if you will. And she thinks she is an amazingly awesome sexy dancer. Then it plays out into clown pratfalls. She’s trying so hard for it to be so sexy that it borderlines on grotesque. So, I do some actual grotesque characters. [Sometimes] I do a kind of naughty puppet show, things like that. Miss Cherry Intact is a Southern Belle talking to the devil to talk her way out of hell. As I’ve been getting older, though, while I still do these characters, I’m trying to mature a little bit by also finding a character identity that’s a little closer to Emily.

More of a stand up routine? Like when you’re hosting a show?
Yeah. Writing from that perspective – well, I struggle with it because in one sense I have this burlesque persona where I’m very fancy and glamorous. It’s a bawdy type of humor. But then there’s just Emily, who’s kind of an insecure, short Jewish girl – that’s also very much me. It’s a little less glamorous, but as I’ve been trying to figure out who my audience is, and, well, what people want to see, I have to ask “Is it the authentic me?” Because I’m not a total schlub, but I’m also not pretending that my sh*t doesn’t stink. Which I actually have a joke about. It’s my opening line:

“Before we get started – who farted? Oh wait, it was probably me. So if you’re smelling pixie dust and cupcakes, sorry.”

So you’re sort of playing with this long standing assumption that as a woman you’re not supposed to have any sort of bodily odor.
Right.

You’re delving into this raunchy territory, but you’re winking.
Well, you know my greatest insecurity is unwanted body hair. And I at least can have the wit to be aware of how ridiculous it is. So for me to exaggerate it out of proportion by having huge hairy armpits, or a huge bush, it kind of takes away the taboo of it. I like to play with that by making fun of myself. In real life, it causes me some minor uncomfortableness. But when I take it in the grand scheme of things that are important, I add a little comedy-light.

How?
The physical comedy kind of exorcizes my own demons, I guess. I’ll take an exotic dancer’s costume or a spandex dress and wear it three sizes too small, in something that I know is “unflattering.” Sometimes you’ll see characters like this from actors like Jack Black. Or, it’s like when you see men sometimes portraying women and it’s funny. But to see a woman actually making fun of herself? It’s more rare. And it’s a fine line between what is grotesque and what is attractive. And to me that line is kind of blurred anyway. I think it’s fun to play with lines.

When did this this theme first emerge for you?
In 2003. I went to a very traditional theater school, and then I went to Dell’Arte (http://www.dellarte.com/default.aspx) which was much more avant-garde about creating new material. I was studying the tradition of Commedia Dell’Arte, and the history of the clown. And in this process of figuring out what was funny to me, what I wanted to satirize, another classmate and I were discovering the form of burlesque. A light went off in my head, just like a cartoon: this was the field I wanted to be in. I wanted to be in comedy as a “female comedienne.”

When I hear the word “burlesque,” I think of the musical Gypsy and the movie with Cher in it. What does it mean to you?
So many people use the word. I’ve had so many conversations about it. It’s kind of a burlesque war – what really is burlesque? What is not? For me personally, it has roots in actual vaudeville performing. When you look it up in the dictionary, the word doesn’t really relate to women. It relates to a comedic form that’s a satire or an exaggeration performance. People who define burlesque traditionally look at the Christina Aguilera movie and say, “Oh that’s not burlesque.” They’re offended by the idea of it. But I’ve just come to accept all of it – any time a woman is performing it’s her material, she is empowered by it, why shouldn’t she call it burlesque?

So when you hear the world “burlesque” you hear the definition of the term from your theater schooling; and also a tradition of women performing. Where’s the echo of tradition in it for you?
Well, it depends on the tradition that you’re talking about. Striptease is not like a high and holy art form. If you’re asking about the peelers and the strippers, it was a titillating – excuse the pun – form of entertainment in a vaudeville house. It was in a theater where they would have women strippers and they would also have variety acts. A lot of time the variety acts were done by men, and the dancing was done by women. And that was the Minsky’s Burlesque, the Follies. I certainly don’t like to pretend like it’s this high faluttin’ art form. It is and always has been lowbrow. For me it’s a source of pride, I’m not trying to be haughty about it. You know, it is what it is, and the bawdiness is definitely an element of it.

Old variety shows always had men as hosts and comedians, while the women danced. What’s it like now?
Yeah, that’s definitely still the format. I don’t know, I see it as the format because no one’s actively set out to challenge it. It’s pretty honest. It’s up front about what it is.

What is “it”?
Well, here’s it’s all about the showgirl. Take the classic feathery showgirl and it’s that’s the glamour of Las Vegas. The mayor walks around with showgirls. The beautiful, glamorous sexy woman here – there’s really no hiding that, there’s no trying to cover that up.

But in your work, that’s what you’re playing with, right? The glamour and the style and the standard? Isn’t that one of those standards you’re satirizing?
Yeah, that’s the question. It’s what’s funny to me. It’s anything that takes itself seriously, and the “beautiful sexy woman” industry here does. And that’s where there’s room for comedy. It’s ripe for satire. I’m not making fun of the dancers, I think they’re all really good at what they do. But there’s lots of room to poke fun at it. Even dancers themselves can laugh at it, these women trying to attain this ridiculous ideal – it’s fun for everybody to poke fun at it and take it down a bit.

Have you spent a lot of time with people who consider themselves Las Vegas show girls?
Yes, I have.

Where do they come from?
Well, they’re all different – but a lot of them, they’re just tall. That’s the showgirl thing here: they’re 5’8 and up. They’re tall girls who come from all over. A lot of them have dance backgrounds. They’re all pretty hard working dancer types. The shorter one are acrobats, you’ve gotta find a skill if you’re shorter, really. The tall showgirls are like models. They hold up those feathers and walk around as prancing showpieces.

What else do you think people misperceive about Las Vegas?
One of my favorite things to do is to watch the [tourists] in the high heels walk by because at 8 o’clock at night they’re walking on their heels, and by 11 o’clock they’re holding them in their hands. And that’s funny. That’s a misconception – you don’t get to wear fancy footwear all the time. You do need practical footwear.

Why do I sense that’s going to make its way into your next act?
I hope.

Honestly, I don’t usually think of Las Vegas as a haven for feminist-oriented, gender-bending comedy. But you’ve made me think about it. What draws you to Vegas?
You know, it’s a performance town. Like I was telling you, I don’t mock people I’m not as good as. That would just be silly. I’m making fun of people I sometimes wish I could be. Professional dancing certainly would fit into that, the women who dance are hugely talented, they’re in shape, and I really look up to them. I ‘m just self aware enough to know my lane, to know that I’m not a professional dancer. If I’m doing a satire of a dance, it’s more my own interpretation of someone like me, who’s not a professional dancer, but [still] with that “serious” aspect to it. I’ve met some really amazing women. You’ve got to be really mentally strong to deal with the scene here. And yeah, I think they are in power. It’s easy to say, “Oh well women are degrading themselves in a sexy dancing atmosphere,” but here, as an insider, I don’t see it that way. I see women who are physically, mentally, and emotionally really strong.

Have you met many contemporary women clowns?
No, I have not. It’s pretty rare. There are women who have found their way into Barnum and Bailey, there are female clowns now. In Cirque du Soleil there is one, and it’s interesting because it’s a clown type with a little bit of a Chelsea Handler. There’s alcohol – it’s kind of an alcohol sketch. Which is a pretty predominant female comedy archetype you’ll see in a lot of sitcoms – the lady who’s always got a glass of wine in her hands.

Like Arrested Development?
Exactly. It’s old.

You’re very frank about sex and sexuality in your stand up and your burlesque and pretty much everything I’ve seen you do. But I know that in our community and in our family people don’t really talk about sex. There are a lot of questions here, but basically: what do you think happened? How did sex become the centerpiece of your art and comedy?
Like I said, I didn’t really have to think about it. I’m not sure why it comes out of me. Being raised in a traditional family, I always felt like I had to be a good girl, well behaved, well spoken. Nobody did talk about these things. It’s almost a childish impishness to say something naughty – I get a kind of joy out of it. Lately I find myself writing jokes about, “Well my mom never talked to me about sex…”

We’re from Missouri. Women’s sexuality has just become such a political issue. And the constant argument about trying to legislate women’s reproductive health, the focus on only teaching abstinence in schools – I mean, do you think about these things as you’re writing your comedy? How do you think your art works in conversation with what’s happening culturally?
Well, yeah, what I do certainly sprouts from freedom to express myself. And with that freedom, where the politics come into play, I take it for granted just how free I feel to say or do what I want to. I don’t necessarily think about the political issue before I write a joke –I’m not doing conscious political satire – but I am writing from my own perspective. And from that “own perspective,” certainly, freedom of speech and expression are foremost in it.

So what advice would you give to an aspiring comedienne? Someone else’s snot-nosed sister? Or if I decide to give up on this journalism thing…
Get the hell out of my way.

Hey!
Yeah, you’re right. Advice: Don’t go down the stairs in front of me.

That’s what you would say to your hypothetical sister?
You think I’m kidding?