For nerds in need of something to look forward to now that Fan Expo has donned its cape and flown off for another year, I have a suggestion: Block off Oct. 12 in your agendas. On that date, 15 performers dressed as DC Comics superheroes will take the stage at Front Street’s Jane Mallett Theatre—to strip.
That’s the basic premise of The Underground Peepshow, an evening of debauched entertainment that takes the parameters of traditional burlesque and gives them a seriously geeky nipple tweak.
Founded by three performers who now go by the stage names “Betty Quirk,” “Sevvy Skellington,” and “Barely Legal Leelando,” the event has built up a cult following in the past two years. The Peepshow takes over old movie theatres to act out the lustiest fantasies of Toronto’s comic-loving community: seeing their fictional heroes and heroines rip off their spandex pants and prance around in their undies.
Each of the events (which are held roughly every three months) attracts a crowd of several hundred fans, equal parts men and women, and is centred on a particular geek passion. “We take people’s childhoods and ruin them—and they love it,” says Betty Quirk of the show’s past themes, some of which have included characters from Marvel comics, Dungeons & Dragons, and Nintendo.
Though the Peepshow may seem like an unusual concept, it’s actually building on a thriving market that blends the nerdy and the sexy. Earlier this year, a website called Geek-x.com was born—tagline “Big brain. Big dick.”—offering a porn series that features a Batman-loving, PS3-playing, self-confessed geek getting it on with hot French girls. Another news item that probably says something about our willingness to embrace nerdy hotness: Hungarian artist Balázs Sármai published a series of concept ads earlier this month for an imaginary line of Avengers-themed dildos, which science and sci-fi website io9.com responded to by saying, “Honestly, Marvel should totally license these; they’d sell a bundle.”
You only had to glance at the lineup outside the Metro Toronto Convention Centre last week to realize that geeks are perfect candidates for burlesque. The comic artist’s habit of making every bosom heave and every chest ripple has spawned a whole subculture of risqué cosplay (costume play) in which folks dress up and act like sexy characters from comics or anime. Girls with tiny clothes and big guns or exoticised naughty nymphs seem to be particularly popular in the cosplay world, if Tumblr pics are any indication.
To defend their predilection for dress-up, cosplayers consider it just another expression of rabid fandom. Quirk, who is a cosplayer herself, sees the Underground Peepshow in a similar way. “We are recreating characters and adding humour and adding sexuality,” she says.
Apparently, the key to a successful turn at geeky burlesque is to figure out how your chosen character would strip in their world, if the need ever arose, and let the rest flow from there. Would Batman require Robin to hold his cape? Would Wonder Woman remove her bulletproof bracelets? How, exactly, would The Flash live up to his name? Fanboys and -girls in the audience will know the genre inside-out, so this attention to detail is crucial, in terms of both costume and mannerism.
“The people who come to our shows want to see this done perfectly, right down to the stitching on the outfit or the gags that the characters do,” says Leelando. Basically, a would-be performer has to do more than just buy a $20 Superman costume from the local party store and jiggle about on stage. (“Actually, a Superman costume would be really hard to get out of in a sexy way because it’s all-in-one,” adds Skellington, helpfully pointing out the obvious flaw in that plan.)
Depending on how seriously you take your geekery, the Underground Peepshow will either be a panacea to your post–Fan Expo blues or it will be unforgivably iconoclastic. Whatever the case, the organizers say their show is an homage to well-loved characters, so they choose performers carefully.
And, of course, since the headliners don’t get totally naked, theme-appropriate underwear is of the utmost importance to pulling off the big finish. The current standard to beat was set by a woman doing a Maggie Simpson routine. She used pacifiers as nipple tassels.
The Underground Peepshow will take place on Oct. 12 at the Jane Mallett Theatre, 27 Front St. E., undergroundpeepshow.com. $20 and up.