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He's onstage, almost nude beneath the lobster suit
The neo-burlesque movement started taking over NYC clubs in the 1990s in response to a city that had become shockingly sanitized. Interestingly enough, now that the sex is everywhere, burly-q is bigger than ever. Sex is online, on apps, and maybe even in your house, but sophisticates are still lining up for burlesque shows at boîtes from the reopened Slipper Room to Meat Packing restaurants to the Cutting Room and beyond. And why shouldn't they? The art of the tease is timeless, the practitioners have gotten even more outrageous, focused, and funny, and there's no longer much potential embarrassment about communally enjoying the soulful shimmying of exposed flesh. All over town, people have been piling together for an orgy of appreciation over the strutting strippers who put the "graphic" back in choreographic and keep moxie and mystery alive in nocturnal New York. Burlesque has even survived the Christina Aguilera movie!
One of the more alluring figures on the scene is Eric Gorsuch, 28, who performs as Mr. Gorgeous, preening in slicked black hair, nerdy specs, and either a bathing suit under a lobster costume or glittery shorts and size-16 heels. Mr. Gorgeous is known for acting out amusing scenarios that usually involve him doing gymnastic stunts while dropping articles of clothing and glibly smiling like a Clark Kent who changes into a very different type of Superman.
The Baltimore-born Gorsuch comes from a circus background and got into burlesque four years ago when seduced into it by friends and club hosts Trixie Little and Evil Hate Monkey. (The latter does weird pet tricks with Fred Astaire songs, a yellow tutu, and flying chunks of bananas.) Gorsuch's act clicked to the point where he's doing more burlesque than circus work now, noting, "It's easy to throw a costume into a bag and run out and make a couple of bucks." It sounds more fun than his old job—being the trapeze catcher "who hangs upside down, catches people, and throws them back to the bar." (And it's not even an open bar.)
Don't think someone named Gorgeous must be grossly egotistical, though. When he briefly taught art a few years ago, some of the kids couldn't pronounce "Mr. Gorsuch" and started calling him "Mr. Gorgeous" by mistake. That turned into a running gag at the school, and it eventually became his stage name, on Trixie's suggestion. "I wasn't too sold on the idea because it's kind of a douchebag name," Mr. Gorsuch told me. "So I do more of a silly, comical character. That's why I'm not trying to be seriously sexy—so I can get away with the name." Yeah, but he happens to be cute enough to wear it without irony, especially when he's not wearing much of anything else. Still, when I initially called him for comments and said, "Mr. Gorgeous?" he laughed and replied, "Eric is just fine."
"I feel like the styling of Mr. Gorgeous is very 1950s," Eric told me. "I like to adapt older burlesque female acts, like chair numbers. There's a famous giant martini glass number. Well, I'm doing an act with a five-and-a-half foot ice-cream sundae. I try to mix it up and keep it classic and mix gender roles.
"I'm always having a good time," he went on. "If I'm not, I don't do it. There are certain things I don't do. Not that I find people doing those thing repulsive or embarrassing, but I have a certain set of rules." You won't find Mr. Gorgeous going full frontal, for example. "Burlesque is supposed to be a tease, joke, or comment," he explained. "If I could find a reason why full nudity would improve my act, I would. But I'd rather see a clever joke or punch line at the end." Or a big maraschino cherry.
The result, he said, has people more amused than ready to pounce on his end. "In general," he said, "people understand the character, so I don't have a lot of sexual people pushing into me, but a lot of them want to take a photo. I like when a straight guy and his girlfriend can enjoy my performance and the guy doesn't leave feeling weirded out."
Gorsuch is not a straight guy himself, if you're wondering. He lives with his longtime male partner who's also a circus performer, and they've done acts together—in public, that is. Gorsuch also has a small costume business, and obviously has a way with crustacean chic. (He dresses as a lobster because he's rebelling against the fact that he's allergic to shellfish. It's his way of turning allergy into art.)
"He's so tall and handsome, like a tree that wants to be climbed," observed Evil Hate Monkey in between bouts of potassium tossing. Added Trixie Little, "I've seen that guy work grey-haired ladies into a state of flush while the gays are waiting quietly in the back for his number. His acts are clever, funny, and impeccably designed because he has a serious eye for detail. And he's nice." See, neo-burlesque is shocking.
Little also has a handle on what's behind the unquenchable stripping boom: "Burlesque has always been the working man/woman's entertainment. It's populist, accessible, rowdy, and if you don't like one act, just wait five minutes and there will be another one. And shows have improved in the past 10-plus years. Performers have professionalized their costuming and some shows have expanded to become true variety shows, with high-level circus acts sharing the stage with the stripteasers. Live entertainment is just inspiring. The audience likes to sit there and think either 'I could do that' or 'I could never do that.' "
Or, in the case of Mr. Gorgeous, "Maybe I could do him."