For Seattle burlesque performer Mx. Pucks A’Plenty, “there is just something magical about funk music. You hear a funk song and it’s hard to stay in a bad mood.” They think of songs like Stevie Wonder’s Superstitious and Bill Withers’ Use Me as inextricably tied to Black joy: “When I was a kid, the only time I got to see my parents happy or carefree is when there was funk music on.”
That’s why, a few years back, A’Plenty decided to organize a burlesque show around funk music. But then came the classic “they said it couldn’t be done” story: Some established figures in the burlesque scene, A’Plenty recalls, said that funk music was out of step with both classical styles and neo-burlesque. Such a show, they said, would never work.
So of course A’Plenty defied them.
Pucks A’Plenty is a relative newcomer to burlesque, having graduated from Indigo Blue’s academy four years ago this month. Since then, they’ve performed both locally and internationally at shows from Edmonton to Savannah. Their style trends toward neo-burlesque — a bawdy tribute to the form’s golden age in the 1920s through the 1940s, but with a contemporary spin. (One of their favorite numbers is a tribute to the women of Wakanda.)
To outsiders, resistance to funk may seem bewildering: It’s just music, what’s the big deal? But, A’Plenty says, the historical rise of funk occurred between burlesque’s golden age and a renaissance in the '90s, and the genre is rarely heard at shows.
Undeterred, they decided to organize a show called What the Funk?! on their own in 2018, with an entirely BIPOC cast. It was a hit, and in 2019 they expanded it into an entire three-day burlesque festival with sold-out shows at Queer Bar and the Columbia City Theater.
Then, just as momentum was building, came the pandemic.
“The last year has been traumatic,” A’Plenty says. “I can’t put people on stage in person. I can’t get on stage. So what do I do?” They were able to secure a few grants for virtual shows, which helped to put some money in performers’ pockets; but it was difficult for A’Plenty to see their colleagues struggle to pay rent and take care of families. “There’s nothing I can do besides saying, ‘hey, want to be in this titty show, virtually?’”
But now What the Funk?! is back, with performances slated for August 19 through 21 at The Triple Door, featuring internationally recognized headliners like RedBone, Jeez Loueez, and Foxy Tann, as well as PNW favorites Willy Nilly and Lola Coquette.
“This is probably the most intense thing I’ve done in my entire life,” A’Plenty says, after managing unpredictable mask requirements and venue availability and travel restrictions. In addition, they note, “a lot of us are touchy-feely people. I expect things to be different in the green room than they would normally be.”
The show will be different from pre-pandemic events as well — but, A’Plenty says, in a good way. It’s the biggest stage they’ve ever had, and they plan to use the entire space at The Triple Door with more sophisticated lighting and sound than was previously possible.
What’s more: “We’re the only all-BIPOC burlesque festival in the Pacific Northwest.” They see the show not just as an opportunity to entertain, but to demonstrate that reclamation matters as much as representation. “When you look at the 1920s, '30s, and '40s,” A’Plenty says, “there were a lot of Black and Brown burlesque performers that were doing a lot of amazing things, and their history wasn’t documented.” (Read more about that history here, here, and here.)
In that sense, funk and burlesque pair quite naturally. “Funk is a Black American art form,” A’Plenty says. “I think about daily reunions and BBQs. I get to see my dad and my uncles dancing around and not weighed down by what it means to be a Black person in America.”
The upcoming show, they say, is an invitation for everyone to share in that joy, in defiance of those who said it wouldn’t work. Regarding those skeptics, A’Plenty says, “I guess what I’d say to them is, ‘I’m glad I didn’t listen to you.’”