Or, how I got my start in show business.
The early EARLY days
I am completely serious– as a kid, I wanted a gorilla costume. But I never in my wildest kid dreams guessed how this would unfold over the years. My grandmother used to get crazy mail-order catalogs from places like Miles Kimball, Spencer Gifts, etc. Catalogs from which you could buy kitchen gadgets, pewter figurines, gag gifts, etc. These catalogs always contained a gorilla costume. And I always thought “wow, that would be SO awesome to own one” but as a 7-year-old kid, I had no idea when I’d ever have the hundred dollars to get one. But yes, it was on my radar from an early age.
A chance encounter
In the fall of 2000, I went to see a small show at a tiny place in the Mission in SF. One of the bands included my friend John Dumont– brother of Tom from No Doubt. I went to see his band, but to my pleasant surprise, there was an exotica trio playing too. I was a fan of tiki culture, and never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that I’d see someone actually play this type of music. (Exotica is tropical and ethereal, with vibraphones, jungle calls, etc.)
After the show, I spoke with the exotica band’s leader, and told him that I was from Tiki Central (this was right after it had begun– it’s now huge). The bandleader, named Brian the Fisherman, told me that he also had a burlesque revue. He described it to me, saying that it was like an old fashioned vaudeville show: a brass band, comedians, women doing artistic striptease, etc. I couldn’t believe that in this day and age, there was anyone who actually had an old-fashioned show. He invited me to come to his show that was taking place in a few weeks.
The ball starts rolling… and then stops
I went to the Fisherman’s burlesque show– it was December 2000– and it was a BLAST. I’d never seen anything like it and was dazzled– it was so much fun! After the show, I spoke to the Fisherman and told him how much fun I had. He said to me: “hey… you know what? We need a gorilla in our show, because our old gorilla moved away. And you seem like the kind of person who’d be up for it.” I emphatically said “YES! SIGN ME UP!” Again, not at all thinking of how far it would ever go. (I’m writing this more than 8 years later.) I gave Brian the Fisherman my info, and he said he’d contact me in a few weeks.
And I never heard from him.
A couple of months later– February or March– I saw a flyer for the first Teaseorama burlesque convention in New Orleans. I thought “sounds like fun, but too bad I won’t be going!” I had a bit of sadness that the gorilla thing hadn’t come to fruition; but Brian the Fisherman had disappeared, and I didn’t have his contact info. So it looked like my opportunity to be his monkey wouldn’t happen.
The time finally comes
Sometime in March, It Happened. I got a call from Brian the Fisherman. He said “hey– I wanted to get this gorilla thing going again and see if you’re still interested. This would include Teaseorama in New Orleans. We couldn’t pay for your flight out there, but if you made it out there, then we have hotel rooms and a van, so you could stay with us and ride around with us.” I called him back– and I was in.
That first month didn’t seem real. I found myself at burlesque show rehearsals. The gorilla suit they had was way too small for me– their prior gorilla was apparently pretty tiny– so I bought my own, at the House of Humor in Redwood City. I practiced some old-time burlesque skits, using scripts from the original era.
The road to New Orleans
My first show ever was a two-night fundraiser show at the Swedish American Hall in San Francisco, on May 4 and 5, 2001. I didn’t have a name then– I was just “the gorilla.” The shows were supposed to be fundraisers to help get the whole group (band + performers + emcee + gorilla) to Teaseorama in New Orleans. However, the shows actually lost money. So when I found myself in New Orleans for Teaseorama, I actually had to cough up a lot of the expense money on the spot for things that they had said would be covered. However, I was so happy to be involved in this adventure that I gladly chipped in. And my life was never the same again.
Teaseorama New Orleans– the modern burlesque crucible
That feeling at Teaseorama was indescribable. Now, in 2009, the neo-burlesque movement is definitely that– a movement. But back then, it was just a few scattered goofballs. And Teaseorama was the first time that they all came together. I met so many people that week that are among my closest and most favorite friends and performers to this day: Luke Littell and Laura Herbert (of the Burlesque Hall of Fame); Dirty Martini; the World Famous *BOB*; Julie Atlas Muz, Kate Valentine; Lola Gold; Vivienne VaVoom; and so many more. We came away with the feeling that we really were present at the birth of something exciting.
The name, and my first REALLY crazy gig
For the first 6 months or so, I didn’t really have a name– I was “the gorilla” or occasionally “the Migorilla.” I was using the tagline “Gorilla to the Stars” by Teaseorama in New Orleans, which was about a month into my showbiz career, so I do know that tagline came very early.
In December 2001, our burlesque show performed at an event called Naughty Santa’s Bazaar. There, a performer Gennifer Hirano, aka “The Asianprincess,” saw me and asked if I wanted to sidekick for her when she feature-danced at the Crazy Horse strip club in San Francisco in a few weeks. Laughing at this hilarious bit of fortune, I agreed.
A few weeks later, she emailed me, saying that she wanted to make posters and flyers and include me. She asked, “what is your name? King Kong? The Gorilla? Gorilla X?” The words jumped out at me from the screen, and from that day forward, I was: Gorilla X… Gorilla to the Stars.
And boy was that strip club gig (six nights in a row) hilarious…