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Actress, songstress, and comedian Joan Larson may spend her days working as a human-resources manager at a consulting firm, but she's quick to point out: "I am definitely not a traditional HR person." Let us count the ways.

She performs risqué solo shows, wears shoes with skull-and-crossbones patterns around the office, and has five tattoos: a Hello Kitty version of Rosie the Riveter (Larson loves Rosie), a Hello Kitty memento mori (she has a touch of the goth), a Hello Kitty witch (Larson is Wiccan), a "tribal goddess figure" (ditto), and "defy gravity" tattooed above her left breast. The quote is from the musical Wicked, but is also a kind of mantra for Larson, who strives to treat life as a diversion.

"I have to have every person I spend any extended time with be amusing," she says, sitting in her office—which is decorated with Rosie the Riveter paraphernalia—during her lunch hour. "I won't even go to a gynecologist who isn't funny."

Larson treated herself to the "defy gravity" tattoo for her 50th birthday and vowed to do two things a year that make her feel uncomfortable. This year's challenges: enduring a photo shoot ("I hate having my picture taken more than anything") and taking a burlesque class with Trixie Lane. Next year, she plans to go skydiving and perform one of her solo shows in a women's correctional facility. "That," she says, "would definitely be outside my comfort zone."

Larson worked in Portland as an actor in the 1980s: The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Funny Girl, Sunday in the Park with George, and others. Her ticket out was Angry Housewives, which she performed in Portland, Seattle, and Anchorage. "After 800-some performances of Angry Housewives, I still never tired of that show," she says. "It was that much fun."

She returned to Portland, performed in Nunsense, and then a deep, intractable case of stage fright settled inside her. "There are times when a person's confidence just leaves them," she says. "I was going through a depression, and that can suck the life out of anything you like to do." She couldn't bring herself to audition for anything. She was working at a doctor's office at the time and thinks the hostile environment there was partly to blame.

But the people at her current job are much more supportive. "I saw one of Dina Martina's solo shows," Larson says. "And I thought, 'I could do that!'" She mentioned the idea to one of her bosses, and he started bugging her about it. "He said he wants his people to do whatever it is that would make them feel successful," she says. "He's really great."

Her triumphant return to the stage last year was titled Feminine Hijinx. She told jokes, chatted with the audience, and sang with her piano accompanist Mark Rabe (a prolific pianist-about-town, from cabarets to Seattle Children's Theatre). Especially popular was "The Cat Song" with its call-and- response chorus:

Pussycat was sitting on the front porch,

Sun got too hot and my pussy got scorched.

Hot pussy, hot pussy...

This December, she performed Holly Jolly Hijinx at the Rendezvous in Belltown, wearing a massive Marie Antoinette wig interwoven with glowing Christmas lights. The wig had a reprise during the recent snowstorms, when she walked around with it at night: "People were asking, 'Do you come in peace?'"

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Now Larson says she feels more comfortable on the stage than off. "When I'm onstage, I feel like people judge me on my skills as a performer but not as a person," she says. "In social situations, I'm afraid of people judging me." She pauses and laughs. "Obviously, I've been to a lot of therapy."

Feminine Hijinx will return to the Rendezvous in March and tour to Portland. Then, this fall, she's planning a third show called High Heels and Low Expectations. ("The Cat Song" will return, by popular demand.) And maybe she'll screw up the courage to audition for a few musicals again. "I just love musicals," she says. "I wish that life were like that, and people just burst into song." recommended