This month’s theme (EXPLICIT) gave me the perfect excuse to talk shop with comedians Kasey Koop and Susanna Lee. Since both of these hilarious stand-up comics happen to strip as a side hustle, I spoke with them about what it’s like to tell jokes while getting them bills paid.
Do you talk about sex work onstage? If so, what’s your favorite joke on the subject?
Kasey Koop: Stripping material comprises a small portion of my stand-up but I love talking about it onstage. It really quiets the room when I reveal my profession, probably because people don’t hear sex workers talk about it openly very often. Also, I do stand-up with a sort of intense, masculine aggression so it surprises some people when I say I’m a sexy dancer. The ensuing silence is perfect in that everyone is paying hyper-attention to my punch lines. My favorite joke about stripping is, “I’m really good at my job – I’ve made a guy cum in his pants during a lap dance but I like to think of it as, I prevented him from committing a violent crime later. I’m a humanitarian.” Another crowd-pleaser is, “I just cut my hair short which I was nervous to do since I’m a stripper and I was scared that I’d lose money at work but then I remembered that dudes fuck Fleshlights.”
Susanna Lee: I talk about sex work onstage, but to what degree depends on the show. On a mainstream standup show, I tell jokes about stripping, about being a bad stripper. Anything beyond that requires too much explanation for the payoff. People will laugh with a shitty stripper before they’ll listen to a good whore (word used as a job title, not judgment). Standup relies on keeping a short-attention-span audience engaged and taking the time to educate them breaks the flow. It takes too long to make a mainstream standup audience understand and accept more advanced sex work, so I usually reserve the deeper stuff, the more involved stories, for storytelling and my solo shows. My favorite jokes currently are a very dark pair about finding a dancer’s body after she disappears. Sounds very macabre when I write it that way, but the stripper wins in the end (final punchline: “they found her body last week…living in Malibu, married to a lawyer, going by the name Linda…”). I like the twist of a girl disappearing because she moved on to a different kind of life, not because she was brutally murdered, which is, of course, the first place the mind goes when we think of a stripper disappearing (thanks, Law & Order SVU!). I love creating that high level of attentive tension before giving “the huge relief”.
Which came first?
Kasey: Comedy. Comedy. Comedy. I moved to LA almost five years ago to pursue stand-up, despite having only done it a handful of times in dive bars. I dreamt of being a comic since I was a kid. Clearly, I didn’t have the best childhood. I started stripping a year and a half ago to save up for a car and got the same rush stand-up initially gave me. I’m an adrenaline junkie or, rather, an everything junkie (an ex- addict) and if I can get attention and validation out of something, you bet your ass I’ll keep going back for more!
Susanna: Standup came first, sex work has always just been a side job to help make ends meet when comedy hasn’t covered it all. My first paid comedy gig was a college comedy tour in 1996, my first sex work was as a phone sex operator in 1999.
Do you think the skills you’ve gained as a comedy performer help while stripping and vice versa?
Kasey: Totally – doing stand-up got me in the practice of going onstage on nights I didn’t even want to be seen. Just doing something I didn’t want to in order to get better at it. Stripping has actually made me a far better comic than the other way around, though. On the pole, I am forced to stay present since I let the DJ’s play whatever songs they want. That makes me let go of uninspired choreography and move organically. I was an extremely nervous baby stripper and skipped all my stage dances my first night working but knew the only way I could improve was to take contrary action and go onstage. Dancing has taught me to trust myself, my skills and my instincts onstage, which has translated to being more present during stand-up sets. Since I started stripping, I feel more comfortable playing with my comedy audiences and my riffing is much funnier.
Susanna: I think being a comedian helps me as a stripper in ways one might not expect. I make the girls I work with laugh, and they warm up to me faster, which makes the work atmosphere nicer. I’ve heard a lot of other comics say that being funny was what helped them make friends in school, or get out of fights, or get dates, and I guess it’s the same principle. Making people laugh dissipates any perceived threat, and without the competitive vibe, my job is awesome.
Which reaction is the more irritating? When people find out about your side jobs or when they find out you do comedy?
Kasey: It’s more annoying when I tell them I’m a comic. I avoid saying it at all costs – sometimes I’ll even say I’m an actor when they ask what I do (I’m not an actor) to avoid answering the same dumb questions. Most people are too shocked when finding out I strip to ask weird questions about it. They usually anxiously respond, “I’d do that if I could!” I know they’re saying that to sound supportive and non-judgey but here’s the thing: almost anyone could be a stripper. The reason you’re not one is because you couldn’t handle dealing with the stigma.
Susanna: I’m not ashamed of sex work, but telling people always makes me a little anxious. Telling people I’m a comedian results in having to listen to them tell jokes, or ask to hear one of mine, out talk about that one time they tried it, or how they think they should. That’s kinda annoying, but at least it’s small talk, and when the conversation’s over, it’s over, and they still see me as the same person (maybe slightly cooler); but telling someone I’m a sex worker opens up shit deep inside their heads, and I have to navigate reactions based on how they feel about sex, love, feminism, their own self-image, and definitions of worth and value in relation to it all. Then I have to wonder how they’ll act towards me, and what insanely personal questions they’ll feel justified in asking, what assumptions they’ll make, etc. I’ll take having to fake a chuckle at someone’s dumb street joke over that mountain of shit any day.
Kasey, your popular Playboy Column “The Tasteful Nude” recently ended. How did you link up with Playboy? Are you planning on taking the idea to other sites?
Kasey: This comic I used to see at open mics became a fan of my online writing and reached out about his buddy becoming an editor for Playboy. He suggested I write an article debunking the myths about stripping and pitch it as a column. I followed his suggestion while asking my successful writer friends for advice since I hadn’t written anything but bits and Tweets since college term papers. I kept waiting for the roof to cave in and for everyone to realize that I didn’t know what I was doing but it went the other direction and The Tasteful Nude evolved into a popular column. Unfortunately, I was laid off with 23 other employees. I’ve had the opportunity to continue the column for much less money in another great publication but the effort spent for the compensation offered wouldn’t have been worth it. Plus, I’m writing a book now that requires a lot of my time. I pretty much said everything I wanted to say about my job in the column. At the end of the day, I’m a comic who happens to strip and not vice-versa.
Susanna, you produce comedy and storytelling events all across LA and now nationally. Tell me all about it.
Susanna Lee: Dirty Birdie Story Hour is the second Monday of each month at 3 Clubs in Hollywood, and about to begin monthly in Kansas City and Saint Louis as well, with a couple other cities on the horizon for 2017. I have a new show called “We Need To Talk”, comprised of 10, 5-minute conversations with me. We did the first one this past Monday, it went very well, and I’m waiting on confirmation for a venue/stable dates for future shows. There’s also Bee Funny, the standup spelling bee, at the Hollywood Improv, but the future of that show is not looking good.
Kasey Koop’s social media is Twitter.com/kaseykoop and on Instagram: @kaseykoop. You can find Susanna Lee on Twitter @ladyluckydeluxe, Instagram @Susannaleeluckydeluxe and her websites are www.susannalee.com, or www.getluckydeluxe.com