Nerdlesque is burlesque for nerds, and it’s the coolest way to take off your clothes in New York
Katie Glass Published: 26 October 2014
The theme was Doctor Who. Our hosts were a Peter Capaldi-alike with a bad Scottish accent and, for some reason, a girl dressed up like Frenchy from Grease. We drank Tardis-fuel cocktails among a crowd wearing fezzes and white coats, while on a red-curtained stage, the oddest and funniest striptease I’ve ever seen took place — a Dalek was taking its clothes off.
After the burlesque boom, it was only a matter of time before someone came up with a new way to make watching people take their clothes off hip. And in New York, they have. Nerdlesque is burlesque for nerds, combining cabaret with the rise of the geek. It’s Dita Von Teese meets The Big Bang Theory, and the growing scene has even spawned an annual Nerdlesque Festival (nerdlesquefest.com).
My first experience of it was a night put on by D20 Burlesque (d20burlesque.com) at the Parkside Lounge — in the East Village, of course, Manhattan’s answer to Shoreditch. It was as “dive bar” as I’d hoped: a red neon sign buzzing outside in the rain, like something from a noir film; the show unfolding in a curtained-off room out back; an audience bunched around round tables facing a low wooden stage; waitresses ferrying cocktails.
Reassuringly, nerdlesque audiences aren’t too creepy or cool. They’re genuine geeks in Atari T-shirts, fiddling awkwardly with iPhones. The girls on stage, none of whom looks like a Stringfellows stripper, perform routines to Japanese animé songs, K-pop and horror soundtracks. My favourite performance, a strip re-creation of a scene from the horror film The Ring, was as weird as it was freakily hilarious. A bit sexy, too.
My second eyeful of nerdlesque was the Doctor Who night hosted by Hotsy Totsy Burlesque, who are not just slutty, but self-knowing, funny and clever (hotsytotsyburlesque.com). After the Dalek strip, an astronaut did her thing to Trouble, by P!nk, struggling to get her helmet off mid-routine.
In the name of sexual equality, Captain Jack did boylesque, a “de-fabricator machine” removing his glitter-covered phantom mask and eventually revealing a black corset and white stockings. While in a nod to an episode called Vincent and the Doctor — I told you this was for nerds — a man dressed as Van Gogh ripped off his shirt and writhed beside a canvas of Sunflowers. I haven’t laughed so hard in ages.
You’re probably too obsessed by nerd culture if you’d be prepared to fly to New York just to watch nerdlesque. But if you’re in town and looking for the kind of underground alternative that makes this city feel alive, I insist you check some out.
Katie Glass was a guest of Virgin Atlantic, which flies from Heathrow to New York from £501 return (0844 209 2770, virgin-atlantic.com)