burlesque hall of fame
- by Tito Bonito / 2017 & 2018
Blogs written for Leslie Zemeckis’ burlesque-related website and directory: TheBurlyQ.com
CHAPTER I: journey to bhof
April 6, 2017
I have always been a sore loser. Let’s just get that out of the way. For that very reason, when it comes to my performances, I prefer to showcase rather than compete simply because placing greater value on one piece of art over another softens the whole experience for me. But this is the Burlesque Hall of Fame. It is our community’s “Oscars” and it is truly an honor for me to have been given a spot on that stage this year. It’s more than enough to be able to show yourself off to the best of the best in burlesque around the world. Especially in front of so many legends! I left it up to the selection committee this year to decide whether my application would be accepted to showcase or compete, if at all.
This is my third year applying to the festival but my second time attending. Last year, I was fortunate enough to have a totally positive experience my first time at BHOF. There was no pressure of performing so I was able to just enjoy myself, network, and be there to support my mentor/best friend, Burlesque Top 3 Industry Figure, Jeez Loueez, as she competed for Miss Exotic World. This year, I will be competing for Mr. Exotic World and to have her by my side will mean the world to me. “Win” or “lose”.
My boy scout act, “Scout’s Honor,” was chosen to compete and over the years it has become an audience favorite. The idea initially came from Mr. Exotic World 2009, Hot Toddy, who had envisioned me as a boy scout in an piece where I was constantly trying to “pitch a tent.” After a few different incarnations, the Nicki Minaj / Sir Mix-A-Lot / Assels version of the routine became the official one fusing my comedy and sexuality seamlessly. I didn’t necessarily feel that confident about this particular piece until I started doing it at Donna Hood’s “Tease If You Please” in LA. It consistently receives a standing ovation and especially after, LA bestie and Miss Exotic World 2017 hopeful, Jessabelle Thunder told me to submit it, I listened. She’s usually right.
I am preparing for this year’s Weekend by reminding myself of the whole reason why it exists; to support the Burlesque Hall of Fame Museum and preserving the history of burlesque. This resurgence has helped me live an honest and fulfilled life in the city of my dreams and I am willing to do anything I can to keep it going. The challenges ahead for my performance on June 3 are mostly my costuming (which is notoriously underwhelming) and making sure I fill up that stage. I’ve also recently gained a bit of weight (weighing in at 195 pounds) and getting back into shape to do this act properly is essential to my overall happiness with this journey. So, I will definitely be taking advantage of this opportunity to showcase the absolute best version of this routine as I love to entertain. I love to make people laugh and I believe that “Scout’s Honor” perfectly embodies both.
CHAPTER ii: best boylesque
May 7, 2017
The dynamic of “boylesque” has always had its place in the revival of vaudeville. Although, women are more likely to be seen dancing in shows than their counterparts, respectable men are equally invited to tease along. Over the past few decades, some incredible male talents have graced stages across the globe such as Tigger!, the Stage Door Johnnies, Waxie Moon, Jacques Patriaque, and Mod Carousel, to name a very small few. This year, I am honored to be one of five artists competing for the coveted title of the Burlesque Hall of Fame’s “Best Boylesque” 2017.
Now, the pressure of any performance is something I, lovingly, struggle with every time I’m about to go in front of an audience. As a mostly self-taught entertainer, I have overcome many battles with stage fright over the past six years, and in doing so, I have made my peace with it. Yay, trial and error! Perhaps that is why I am feeling confident. I have done this act [“Scout’s Honor”] so many times and in so many different types of spaces and venues. I am probably most comfortable performing it and I know this routine like the back of my hand.
The first time I heard Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” was with Shea Couleé (who is currently up for the title of America’s Next Drag Superstar on “RuPaul’s Drag Race”) at her show in Chicago, 2014. Immediately I spoke to Chi-town burlesque icon Po’ Chop about adapting the song into my Boy Scout routine and it all came together. The changes helped further my comedic commentary on femininity within a masculine social construct. A narrative that just so happens to have changed since I first started doing this act. Originally, the Boy Scouts of America had unfavorable opinions on LGBT members. Thankfully, in the past few years, that has begun to change and I know that I had nothing to do with that.
I do know that one reason I am feeling assured this time around is the tremendous support I have received from my community. Everyone whom I have come in contact with recently (both at shows and online) have been extremely congratulatory. I tell everyone, every time, that I truly am honored to be showcasing at all. I mean it’s the Hall of Fame! I am just ready to have the time of my life. Yet I know the real ‘butterflies’ won’t kick in until June 3!
There is only one month left until this year’s BHoF and the biggest challenge I have to face is my costuming. Previously I called my costuming “notoriously underwhelming” and this is something I am changing. My biggest motivation is my drive to always outdo myself and to make this performance better than any other time that I have done it in the past. As I have said before, whether I “win” or “lose”, I have already won. I have never performed in more than two festivals in a year and this year (so far) I will be headlining EIGHT *(a list of this year’s festivals attached below). I made a career doing something that I truly love and I’m proud to say there is so much more to come.
Emerald City Comicon (Seattle – March 2017)
Seattle Boylesque Festival (Seattle – April 2017)
Toronto Burlesque Festival (Canada – May 2017)
Hollywood Burlesque Festival (Los Angeles – May 2017)
Burlesque Hall of Fame (Las Vegas – June 2017)
Oklahoma Burlesque Festival (June 2017)
FIERCE! Burlesque Festival (Pittsburgh – July 2017)
Calgary Burlesque Festival (Canada – October 2017)
CHAPTER iii: be prepared
May 30, 2017
Tomorrow the 2017 Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend begins. Hundreds, if not thousands, of ecdysiasts enthusiasts are currently flocking to Las Vegas to attend the world’s largest festival and convention honoring the art of the tease. Four days filled with the best of the best in this industry from the past, present, and future as well as all over the world under one roof. On top of all of that, shows upon shows, upon shows, upon shows! I am bracing myself for the time of my life.
What I am, honestly, looking forward to the most this weekend are the shows. Thursday night, my best friend, Jeez Loueez hosts the Movers, Shakers, & Innovators Showcase and I am excited to cheer her on. I will be escorting legend Bic Carrol, so I am also excited for Titans of Tease on Friday night. Of course, Saturday night is the big night for me and my LA best friend, Jessabelle Thunder, who will be competing for Miss Exotic World. Finally, culminating in the Icons & All Stars show on Sunday night will have some of my favorite artists including Mr. Gorgeous, Tigger!, Foxy Tann and the Wham Bam Nation, Midnite Martini, Jett Adore, and so many more talented people!
There’s so much to do, see, and be inspired by even before I perform on Saturday night that I feel happy and confident in showcasing my best self come competition time. Spending the past four years playing around with this Boy Scout character has been more than fun and the act has gone through many incarnations. Originally, the music used was “Milkshake” by Kelis while booty dancing and drinking one. After listening to Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda”, I decided to use that song because it is so much fun and absolutely hilarious. It also helps win an audience over because the song blends generational gaps. Using various sources of inspiration has allowed me to create a whole new routine that is my own.
My biggest challenge, as I mentioned in my previous blog entries, was my “notoriously underwhelming costuming.” Luckily, I know better and have completely updated my look for this competition. I am very blessed to have had the help of costuming wizard Varla VaVoom on my shorts. The patches on my sash are sponsored by Elektra Cute of Minneapolis. I would also love to thank the Fashion District in Downtown LA for making dreams come true on a budget. I have a few tricks up my sleeve this time around and hope that come Saturday, I will showcase the best version of this act. All I have to remember is why I started performing burlesque, tap into that spirit, and the rest will fall into place.
Follow my antics all weekend long on my Instagram (@cubanmissilecrisis)
CHAPTER iv: meant to be
July 3, 2017
Now that the excitement of this year’s Burlesque Hall of Fame has softened a bit, what better time than now to reflect? In 2014, I worked with living legends Kitten ‘n Lou on a gig with Key West Burlesque. Humbly, I asked for their advice on how to cultivate my “Cuba Libre” act as I wanted to submit it to BHoF in the hopes of winning “Most Comedic.” Little did I know that three years later, not only would I be honored enough to grace The Orleans stage but that I would win that title! It was more than I could have imagined to be recognized by the largest burlesque organization in the world and the best of the best. On top of all of that, my mother flew out from Florida to support me, and that was the best part. To be honest, I feel like a different person. This is my story.
Thursday afternoon, I drove into Vegas from LA with friends Miss May, Priest, and Bettie Bombshell. Immediately upon arriving, I joined Foxy Tann and the Wham Bam Nation to rehearse for Sunday night’s finale. Even though I was sick, I was completely on board. Why would I turn down the opportunity to perform twice in one weekend? I just needed to make sure that I took care of myself. Afterwards, it was time to get ready with my roommates RedBone and Musette (the Mistress of Mischief) to cheer on our other roommate, and my best friend, Jeez Loueez, as she co-hosted the Movers, Shakers, and Innovators Showcase. As an emcee, I am always inspired by great hosts and Jeez is remarkable. She is so engaging, warm, gorgeous, and smart. Swoon! Other highlights I would love to mention include Paris Original (how can I be a ghost-member of Mod Carousel?), Bella Sin, Nasty Canasta, and the Vertical Side Show. Luckily, I had so many extra Scout patches (sponsored by Elektra Cute) that I gave them out to the people who have helped me, in one way or another, as well as to the legends.
Friday, I woke up still feeling ill and decided to hit the dreaded “self-care while traveling” button since this was an emergency. Let’s face it, it’s very hard not to indulge and party on these rare occasions. We’re building memories at these events and I didn’t want to miss out on anything. My immune system needed to be stronger and with all due respect to my cigarette-smoking friends but indoors that stuff is intense. I spent the majority of the day with my mom reconnecting after not seeing her since last Christmas. We put the finishing touches on my costume and she made me the best sash I have ever worn. Every year, I watch videos from the Weekend and it’s never the same as being there. Even though I attended last year’s festival, I wasn’t able to see all the shows as I was able to do this year. So this year was more than extra special. I am always incredibly grateful for all of the talent and inspiration I find at the Burlesque Hall of Fame. There is nothing in the world like it! Plus the greatest treasure of the weekend was introducing my mother to so many of my peers, especially legends such as Tiffany Carter, Marinka, Gabriella Maze, and Gina Bon Bon.
Saturday was the big day! I don’t know what I was more excited about, my new costume or that the day had finally arrived. Tech rehearsal was at 11:30am, so the full day was spent worrying about my performance. Worrying in a positive and productive way; preparing. Performing “Scout’s Honor” would be different this time because I was completely confident. The act always plays well, in a small or large venue. The costume was the biggest obstacle and the final product was exactly what I wanted. It had the most amount of rhinestones I have ever had on my body and the best reveals. I would like to thank the women who helped make those happen: Varla VaVoom for the phenomenal shorts and pasties and Nikita Bitch Project for the help with my shirt. Also, I’d like to acknowledge the fact that Vintage Iguana Clothing in Hollywood, California supplied 90% of the costume. All I had to do was give it my all.
Backstage the energy was electric. The air was filled with nerves and excitement. I watched the first half of the show from the audience, next to one of my first inspirations, Bazuka Joe. I turned to him at one point and reminded him of that. His Speed Racer routine helped me realize comedy was powerful. Maybe even more so than sex and with practice, I could become a strong enough performer.
I was the first act following intermission and the opener for the “Best Boylesque” category. Just before I went on, I let out a mutually anxious yelp with my LA bestie, Jessabelle Thunder. We were both under the same amount of pressure. All that I can remember thinking was that I wanted to utilize the stage and live in the moment. The rest was a blast! The second the act was over and the lights went black, I saw the audience rise up for a standing ovation. Oddly, I had a feeling that I didn’t win. I wasn’t sad though because for the first time in my life, I can honestly say that I was proud of what I did, in that moment. Even though the rest of the competition was fierce, I knew that my performance was going to help my career, award or no award.
It took, what felt, forever to get to curtain call. The superlatives were mentioned first and all I could think of was all my friends who I wanted to win. As Johnny Porkpie and Blanche DeBris announced each winner, I got more and more in my feelings. They got to “Most Comedic” and I don’t think I took one breath the entire time. I didn’t want to want it so bad but I did. I have never worked so hard at something I cared so much about and I wanted it. I hear “Tito Bo…” and it felt like someone pushed my chest. I tried not to cry because I wanted to be aware and present. It wasn’t all about me. I wanted to allow myself to be proud. I raised that trophy in triumph and to experience all of that with my mother was extremely significant. It is the proudest moment of my life.
I spent the whole Saturday night celebrating, so going to bed at 7am would only allow me to wake up around 2pm. Sunday was another big day. First thing I did was take a lap around the pool for 20 minutes and I was already late for rehearsal. Foxy Tann and the Wham Bam Thank You Ma’ams have continuously expanded their “Proud Mary” act and tonight they were going to include the largest number of dancers there has been; the Wham Bam Nation. Tech ran smoothly which is a blessing but we were definitely cutting it close. That’s why we need more genuine reality series documenting how much fun it is to be backstage and making our art. Of course, we put it all together in time; Sgt. Die Wies was literally hot gluing the guys’ costumes as the show was starting. Throughout the whole process, it was an honor to indulge in all of that melanin. Not to take away from the rest of the night which was epic and personal highlights for me include THE WHOLE SHOW. Seriously, what a wondrous clusterfuck of legendary artists. I am officially obsessed with the BHoF at this point.
In the end, it isn’t always necessarily meant to be. You have to throw yourself into the world to make your dreams come true. Whether you are ready or not. It is never going to be “perfect” so you might as well have as much fun with it as you can. When you do it right, it radiates to people. Plus, if you never give up, you’ll eventually make it. That’s just math. This was my first year performing at the Burlesque Hall of Fame but it was my third year applying and it will definitely not be my last year attending. Winning the “Most Comedic” title has fueled my spirit to come back next year and showcase my work, to as many people as I possibly can. I believe in the healing spirit of laughter and this is only the beginning. I plan on bringing back my webseries “Cuban Missile Series” as I continue to make a name for myself. I will also be creating more online content, art, and live shows. I will also be traveling more as this year I have already headlined in several states. In July, you can catch me at the Fierce! International Queer Burlesque Festival in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Stay tuned to my official website TitoBonito.com and my social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube) for a lot more!
CHAPTER v: A year later
may 1, 2018
The Burlesque Hall of Fame is upon us and it is less than a month away! I am beyond thrilled to be participating once again in the Saturday night competition. However, this year I am performing in TWO categories; “Best Small Group” (alongside Japan’s greatest export, Nikita Bitch Project) and “Best Boylesque.” The pressure is on to deliver and I am so thankfully for the opportunity. The routines that have been selected both hold very special places in my heart. They are wondrous representations of who I am as an artist. I have accomplished so much since I first started in burlesque, especially in the past year. While both of these acts previously won awards at the Hollywood Burlesque Festival and Burlypicks, what excites me most is the fact that I am able to showcase my growth.
For “Best Small Group”, Nikita Bitch Project and I developed our duet in early 2015 for a Nintendo-themed parody show in Los Angeles. Usually, we are solo artists but when Nikita suggested to me a crazy, epic, ‘90s-inspired tribute to Mario and Luigi for the show, I was pumped. She originally suggested that we perform to a hip hop girl group (like Salt ’N’ Pepa or TLC). TLC have been an enormous influence in my life through their music and personalities, especially in my adolescence. So, I jumped at the chance to produce something special to my favorite band since I was a kid (4th grade/1993). It felt so easy to collaborate with Nikita and create a story that we would both enjoy telling. We have a fantastic sense of humor and our theatrical striptease is extremely high energy. You will never look at the Super Mario Bros the same way again. Our creative use of comedy and props helps make our act smart and unique. You will never know what’s coming next. The music is a mix I made featuring TLC’s “What About Your Friends” (including a dance break with The Sugar Hill Gang, Digital Underground, and Vanilla Ice) and MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This”. Two months after its debut, I was blessed by the universe to make a trip to San Diego to attend my first TLC concert ever. It was all very last minute as I was on tour at the time and hadn’t purchased a ticket until the night before. Long story short, I was gifted the chance of a lifetime. I snagged a Meet & Greet ticket from someone who’s friend didn’t show up (Shoutout to) 30 minutes before it happened. Not only did I get to meet T-Boz and Chilli but they also brought me on stage during “Red Light Special”, in front of 10,000+ people, for a lap dance. That is the CRAZIEST sentence I have ever written! The greatest part is you can watch it all go down on my webshow Cuban Missile Series Season 2 Episode 9, as well as the construction of the “Mario and Luigi” duet in Season 2 Episode 6.
On top of all of that, I am also competing in the “Best Boylesque” category. What an honor to share the stage with some of the best in the business for the second time in a row. Last year, I won “Most Comedic” at the Hall of Fame, which was everything that I could have wanted and more. My first love is comedy and to be recognized is beyond an honor. I have been performing this act since December of 2010, and it makes me proud to look back and see its evolution. This is one of my most requested routines and arguably the most ridiculous. The 4-minute story pays homage to my Cuban heritage. “Cuba Libre (a.k.a. La Mentirita)” tells the struggle of immigration into America, from the 1960s and on, to escape Fidel Castro’s dangerous regime. It is also a commentary on the importance of diversity in this country and the freedom of the American dream. Through it, I am able to execute a political and comedic number, which is hard to do. I usually add “La Mentirita” (a lie) to the title because in Cuban-American culture, the phrase “Cuba Libre” (Free Cuba) is looked at as a lie since the country runs under communism. Imagine if we were to live in a world where we could all laugh and have a good ole naked time, free of judgment. I just want to entertain and get paid enough to live a life. I am beginning to construct that life and I am eternally grateful.
This year, I look at the competition the same way I did in the past. I just want to represent myself and do the best job possible. These showcases allow us to compete with ourselves. It gives us the chance to produce our best work and step up our game. My belief is that no one performs any art form better than anyone else. It is all a matter of opinion. The most important thing is to bring your absolute best to the stage. The real winners are the people who take advantage of this precious opportunity we have once a year to come together, network, and be inspired at the largest burlesque event in the world; THE MOTHERFUCKING HALL OF FAME. On that note, if we are taking all of it that serious anyway, we should be able to invest our lives into it. Hopefully, we can take this time to consider our contributions to the overall community and its future.
I grew up in Miami, Florida, as a weird but charming kid with an awful temper. How much fun does that sound? I used to hide a lot of who I was and my passions out of fear. That upset me and affected me deeply. Little did I know that little by little I would overcome my pain and find acceptance through entertainment. Burlesque has gifted me the chance to create the art that was perfect for me. At the end of 2017, I joined the cast of a new Cuban cabaret and nightclub in Miami called El Tucan. The venue is a dream come true. Two cabaret shows paired with delicious food in the heart of Brickell. I had my eyes on this venue for a while and I am so grateful that they have treated me so well since day one. In the past four months, I have spent five weekends working with them. It changed my life watching all of my family truly understand how universal burlesque is and I am forever indebted to it for bringing us together. It has allowed me to discover and live my most authentic life.
I have accomplished so many of my goals because of my involvement with burlesque. I don’t always know what I am doing but I am always willing to learn and check myself. This competition is going to be fun because it’s a reunion with my vaudeville family. I get to work with some of the fiercest talent and I am allowed to showcase so much of myself with mine. I get to perform to my favorite song of all time, as my favorite video game characters, and I get to pay tribute to my roots. In front of the world. What more could I honestly ask for? As for the future, I am looking forward to many projects being released before the festival. Just this week, on Thursday, May 3, I am releasing the first episode of Cuban Missile Series Season 3 (featuring Tease If You Please). Saturday, May 5, I will be featured on NBC’s show “First Look” (after SNL) giving MTV star Johnny Bananas a boylesque superstar makeover. Later this month, you can catch me in the Big Dipper’s new music video. There are loads of live shows all over LA with a special trip to Albuquerque the last weekend of May. Plus, I teach personalized private lessons as well as my regular courses on Hosting 101, Vogue 101, and Assels 101 online. In November, I will be a featured presenter at BurlyCon in Seattle. For now, you can unlock exclusive content and help support me and my webseries thru Patreon: http://www.patreon.com/titobonito
Check out the Shimmy Shake button for the bespoke cocktail made in my honor.