Eleven months have passed since Susanna Lee packed up her belongings and headed west for the sake of her career.
Since 1995, Lee has been a standup comedian. Back in 2006, she was instrumental in starting the burlesque revival in Kansas City. Shortly afterward, she started working burlesque into her comedy act, a move that separated her from other comedians.
In January, she moved to Los Angeles, hoping to stoke a career that was making progress from her base in Kansas City but needed a boost. The decision has paid off, she said.
“Growing up on the road in the Midwest mostly, I felt pressure to fit my art into the same mold used by the mainstream acts for whom I was opening,” she told The Star recently. “Not the big-name acts, just the mainstream acts. There were joke formulas, books to read about those joke and career formulas, but not much attention given to the true art of expression.
“I spent 15 years trying to cram my unique weirdness into a box made of strict rules and etiquettes, only to move out (to Los Angeles) and discover that uniqueness is not only accepted but valued. I feel as though I’m relearning how to be myself, and it’s both liberating and a little scary. I feel as though it’s given me the confidence to be more honest in my material, which feels wonderful.”
This weekend, Lee, whose burlesque name is Lucky DeLuxe, will perform three times in her former hometown. At 9 p.m. Friday and 9 and 11 p.m. Saturday at the Fishtank Performance Studio, she will present “Getting Lucky,” her multifaceted one-woman show.
“It’s an hourlong show,” she said. “The content is adult-oriented — R-rated, for sure. My material is reflections on my life experiences, a life that would never be described as ‘wholesome.’ I’m not gratuitously dirty or graphic, but I am honest in my bits, because I feel like the stage requires no apologies.
“I play a game with the audience during the show called ‘The Luckiest Night of My Life,’ which is a guessing game where I give clues as to aspects of fictitious sexual encounters, including who I was with, where it happened and what I was drinking.
“This is the only part of the show that has no basis in truth; it’s purely just for fun, with a tiny bit of social commentary in the clues. Shortly after the game, I change costumes from a beautiful peignoir into one of my standard pinup-style stage outfits, which I shed at the end of the show.”
She calls that striptease “Tease-try: (pronounced “tease-tree,” like “poetry”). “It’s a spoken-word striptease,” she said. “It allows me to maintain my full connection with the audience. I feel as though spending close to a full hour talking to an audience only to be silent as I strip would raise my own fourth wall.”
Her weekend performances will be recorded for a DVD that Lee hopes to use for both promotional and commercial purposes. The entertainment environment in southern California has been a boost to her career, Lee said, but there are some aspects that haven’t changed — like being a female in a predominantly male world, and dealing with crass behavior and unwanted advances.
“I hope (the DVD) helps me get the support I need to tour in a more enjoyable and comfortable way,” she said. “There is nothing that I love more than live performances. Live shows are my end goal, not just a vehicle I hope will take me onto a sitcom or into a TV-writing gig.
“But as a random, anonymous opening act in comedy clubs, I endured crap that would chase off anyone who doesn’t have my level of devotion to the art. Self-producing my shows is 1,000 times more difficult than just showing up for a week at a club, but it allows me to control my environment and prevent any of these shenanigans.”
Otherwise, she said, Los Angeles has been all good for her, personally and professionally, a place that has nurtured her spirit.
“I love it out here,” she said. “There are so many opportunities for so many different things that I am constantly motivated and inspired. I didn’t really have many expectations, beyond warmer winter weather.
“I’ve always been sold the outsider’s perspective on L.A. and was happy to discover that it wasn’t accurate. I’ve never felt more beautiful and accepted for who I truly am.”