A chat with Jo “Boobs” Weldon
Author and performer Jo “Boobs” Weldon has been an unruly, undomesticated woman since…well, since she was a little girl. Growing up in Colorado, Jo’s precocious head was turned by images of feral females such as Tempest Storm and Lili St. Cyr-women whose names were temporarily lost to history but cavorted back through the decades due in part to inquisitive, headstrong ladies like Jo who sought to discover their secrets. “Something about the burlesque women in general, they looked really wild,” Jo recently reflected. “They didn’t look as packaged as actresses and MGM people. Sometimes they looked kind of mismatched…but they always looked much wilder. You kind of suspected that the people performing were eccentric people.”
By 15, Jo was in Atlanta and interning for local papers. She covered legislative sessions and went to punk rock shows for free- The Cramps and The Tubes quickened her pulse from the get-go. Something in their Rocky Horror-outcast-chic resonated with her affection for the rough and tumble glamour of her favorite stripteasers. “Burlesque is kind of an outsider art, and definitely a lot of what I was attracted to in these women- the images of women that I looked at when I was a little kid- was their outlaw energy.”
Jo continued writing and at 18, found her first strip joint job at the Classy Cat in Atlanta. She continued writing while completing a degree in Business with graduate work in Media Ethics. Later, the first book she pitched for publication was on feature dancers: a specific circuit of performers and venues very different from burlesque, but sharing some DNA with strippers and today’s neo-burlesque. Agents in the mid-’90s wouldn’t touch anything related to stripping and passed on the book. (Fast forward to 2010: Jo’s publisher for The Burlesque Handbook is HarperCollins).
These days, Jo is still brassy, outspoken, and incredibly knowledgeable on a wide range of theatrical and social subjects. Through her spiritual osmosis from stripping to burlesque she found that though her backbone is classic punk girl, she’s drawn to teaching and performing in a classic style as Headmistress of the New York School of Burlesque. “I remember about five years ago, looking at my students starting their own productions, and thinking that this was the first generation of burlesque performers I’d seen that were directly influenced by neo-burlesque as opposed to the amalgam of references that we were pulling from. They were looking at a developed art form.”
Though she’s been known to suit up in a Godzilla head or tie herself in knots to Prince’s “International Lover”, Jo admits that she loves doing classic. “I believe in it,” she says. “I believe in the art of striptease alone, all by itself.
*Check out the next issue of The Stranger for a review of Blue Moon Cabaret (where Jo performed three numbers on her tour through Seattle). To pop in on NY School of Burlesque or Jo’s Blog, see BSPress links at right.