I won a gold medal in the Olympics.
In 2012, I took home the gold for Best Quick Costume Repair in the Seattle Burlesque Olympics. Each year, the always delightful Miss Kitty Baby produces this event as a fundraiser for The Burlesque Hall of Fame. It's a wacky night, and I was proud to be a part of it. It's also the first time I met Ernie Von Schmaltz in person (he was the MC).
Love at first sight.
Ernie is a disco lothario, van enthusiast, mustache icon, and ladies man. He is currently an instructor at Miss Indigo Blue's Academy of Burlesque in Seattle. From his biography on their site:
Ernie is known for his powerfully absurd portrayal of stereotyped masculinity, truly embodying “male burlesque”.
Ernie recently performed as part of the “Movers Shakers and Innovators” show at the Burlesque Hall of Fame in 2014. S/he is a founding member of The Von Foxies, best burlesque troupe 2007 at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Pageant and Reunion.
The character (caricature?) of Ernie is over-the-top, for sure. The tone is similar to Danny McBride's Kenny Powers, or maybe Ron Burgundy: horrifying, utterly reprehensible, yet so charismatic and hilarious that they are impossible to not love.
I ran into him backstage at a big festival a few years later. His act was a magnificent reverse strip (just what it sounds like) to Chuck Mangione's Feels So Good. His "naked body" was fine - very funny, very hairy. But it had a touch of Muppet about it, and was sort of immobile. No one notices, of course, because Ernie's scorching retro sex appeal is super distracting. But I felt like we could do better.
This photo was taken, like, 5 minutes before I approached Anna (the genius behind The Mustache) with a proposal for a new costume.
No kidding, I was all sweaty and nervous - I just adore the character, and I didn't know if she'd ever seen any of my work. Much to my relief, she was open to some new ideas.
We discussed body hair at length, which gave rise to The Funniest Pinterest Board I Have Ever Made . We talked about the amount of "jiggle" he should have, nipple size and placement, butt dimples, depth of navel...Everything.
One of the most interesting things we addressed was where to fall in terms of realism - I had a mental scale ranging from Muppet-y all the way to Uncanny Valley. The sweet spot was somewhere in the middle.
I made a base bodysuit from a high performance sports fabric - incredibly sturdy, 4-way stretch, and breathable. I built his form onto it with a combination of traditional batting/stuffing and interior pouches with weighted, hypoallergenic beads (for a more natural, weighty bounce, rather than feeling like a pillow under a shirt.
A "skin" of the power mesh went over the top -
I used fabric paints to help give some depth and contour to his body, then pinned temporary felt nipples to it so that I could begin the process of adding hair. That's the part that really sells this piece, I think - the hair. It's integral to the character (a defining trait, even), and that's where we wanted some realism. I robbed tools and techniques from wigmakers, and hand knotted hair directly onto the mesh "skin" (EW!). I used a combination of black and a deep auburn-ish brown, and a combination of tighter curls and straighter pieces. The idea was to achieve a more organic depth and variation. And because everyone asks: YES, it took ages. YES, quite tedious. But I find repetitive projects meditative and calming.
This is when stuff started to get weird. My sewing room was directly across from our bathroom, and had no door. So every time my husband or I had to use the loo, we'd walk by an apparent headless, armless man's body propped up under a bright light. It was...disconcerting. It only got worse when I added the nipples - lifelike, 3 dimensional, totally realistic silicone.
Of course, because it is a reverse strip, Ernie comes complete with the full package, as it were. You'll have to see him in person to get the full show, of course - we have to keep some things a mystery. But I will tell you that working with his pubic forest and dong was the cause of me sending my first dick pic. To my auntie. She's always been a great supporter of stuff I do, and I tend to send her lots of little sneak peeks and updates on projects. I guess I wasn't thinking, and went ahead and sent the full monty to her. She was totally unfazed, but I felt bad. No one deserves an unsolicited dick pic, especially not my beloved Auntie C.
I love the production shots that Melendor Photography got of his rockin' new bod.
I'm so grateful to have worked on this! It was a ton of fun, I learned a lot, and both the performer and I are pleased with the result. Ernie performs at burlesque shows and festivals across the country, and you should not miss him if he comes your way. Though you should probably pass if he invites you back to his van.