Betting on Burlesque: A Modest Proposal

by J.D. Oxblood

It’s that time of year again… and certainly, you have no idea what I’m talking about, because every article about anything anytime between Halloween and New Year’s starts with, “It’s that time of year again.” I’m talking about the Burlesque TOP 50, the popular popular-vote listicle produced annually by Holli-Mae Johnson over at 21st Century Burlesque. 

And I have an idea: LET’S BET ON IT. 

I’m thinking a classic betting pool—you pick your top ten, plunk down your ten bucks ($US), and once the results are announced, the people who named the top ten correctly share the pot. If no one hits it spot-on, whoever comes the closest gets it. And the great part is—unlike the Lottery or an NFL football game—you can actually affect the outcome. Vote on your picks!

Some will laugh, some will be offended. I’ve advocated betting on burlesque for years, and people tend to chuckle uncomfortably when I say we should bet on the Burlesque Hall of Fame weekend’s outcome… a pageant that’s held in LAS VEGAS.

While BHoF is certainly the most-loved burlesque event worldwide, it’s also the most kvetched about. Everyone seems to have an opinion. I wonder if part of it may be the constant fundraising and Kickstartering directed at a support base of unwealthy performers—and how giving money to something gives people a sense of ownership, and more of a “right” to bitch about logistics and outcomes. I dream of a world where burlesque competition is both MORE corrupt AND more transparent. Imagine a press release that read, “Winner of Queen of Burlesque at this year’s BHoF donated 20 thousand dollars to the museum and started a retirement fund for aging strippers with 50 thousand dollars of seed money. She also did a classic glove peel to ‘The Stripper.’” Who could complain?

So hear me out on this one. We get a Vegas odds-maker to sit down with the Orleans staff and a couple of burlesque “experts,” who set the morning-line odds based on past performances: runner up at BHoF x number of times; won awards at x festival; been in the business x number of years; runs a burlesque school, etc. etc. Betting opens on Thursday morning of BHoF weekend. People pick their favorites, and just like at the Kentucky Derby, the odds will start to skew. Perle Noire has been runner up how many times? Her odds go from 6-1 to 9-2 to even money. Some total unknown from New Zealand or Iowa? 50-1. You can plunk down bets as low as $2 for a win, place, or show—and can work the exotics—exactas and trifectas—so you can box a veteran and a newbie and have a chance at winning big. And, of course, there are win-only bets on Boylesque (a hot ballot), Duo, Group, and Most Comedic, Most Innovative, Most Dazzling, and Most Classic. 

Saturday night, the big competition goes down. Winners are announced. The crowd goes double-plus apeshit—regular apeshit because of who won, double-plus because some in the audience ALSO WON. MONEY. And maybe even the people on stage won money—because there are no rules on betting on or against yourself, and now there’s a way for BHoF competitors to get paid. Everyone goes to the sports book to collect their cash, the Orleans gets their slice of the pie (which means more money for them and more love for us), AND BHoF GETS A PIECE OF THE ACTION. (Maybe we’ll require all winners to tithe 10 percent.) More money for the organization. Somebody please tell me how this can be a bad thing.

If the Lotto has taught governments anything, it’s that people love to take chances and dream of impossible wins—and that equals extra money. 

A New York producer (can I quote you, Doc?) likes to say that he doesn’t believe in competition in burlesque, because if you’re good, you get booked. In other words, there’s PLENTY of competition in burlesque, so we don’t need further arbitrary systems of winners and losers. But people flock to competition—they love it. Exotic World was originally conceived as a competition so that people would come.

So, back to the TOP 50. People LOVE competition. And people HATE to read—“Listicles” are more popular than “Articles” or “Testicles.” Which makes the 21C TOP 50 the most brilliant thing since pastie tape: competitors don’t have to check their costumes on any airplanes, and audiences don’t have to read much more than a Tweet. And Holli-Mae has had to add rules and monitor nominations to stomp out unfair “campaigning” and multiple voting, because if there’s one thing that’s as old and popular as competition, it’s CHEATING.

So let’s get this betting pool going. I’ll put on my green visor and spark up a Dominican cigar and take all comers. If anyone takes me seriously I’ll totally skim off the top in order to kick Holli-Mae an administrative fee—she works her ass off on this and deserves to be paid. 

RULES OF BETTING:  NO TIES. Last year, 21st C allowed a tie for 5th place, and then named a 6th place-winner, allowing ELEVEN winners in the top ten. (That would never fly in America.) Submit your TOP TEN. IN ORDER. If there are eleven again this year, we’ll examine all bets to see who came closest.

Here are some super-obvious predictions for this year’s TOP 50: (ED note: this is an objective breakdown on what is likely to happen this year based on past performances, a burlesque obsessive’s take on handicapping the odds. No subjective judgment on any particular performer is intended nor should be implied.) 

SPOILER: Dirty Martini will be number 1.  For the 5th year in a row. It goes without saying that she’s an amazing performer, but even though Dita von Teese is arguably more famous, people just seem to LIKE Dirty more than Dita—probably for the simple reason that more people KNOW her than Dita. If you’ve ever seen Dita, you’ve probably seen her from a distance, but even hangers-on like me have met Dirty in person, elbowed up to a bar, just being her super-damn-charming self. She’s less a personality than a person.

SPOILER: Virtually no “other” people will be part of the TOP 50, despite 21st Century’s request for them. I mean producers, photographers, costumers, lighting designers—anyone who helps make burlesque what it is and burlesquers who they are without actually taking off their clothes. The only possible exceptions to this rule are performers who also produce (eg. Angie Pontani, NY Burlesque Fest producer and last year’s #17), or performers who also write (eg. Beatrix von Bourbon, last year’s #46), and, of course, the hardest working skinny white boy in the burlesque business, David Bishop, who, after years of running from city to city stage-managing burlesque festivals, branded himself as “the Bishop of Burlesque” and rolled into the top 50 in 2011 at #35, and hit #26 last year (mad props, Bish). AND, quite possibly, the fab photographer Kaylin Idora, who squeaked in last year at #49.  You may not see the recognition-shy Don Spiro, official photog of both BHoF and NYBF, who made #48 in 2011, but wasn’t even listed last year, despite the rather glaringly obvious fact that half the images of the TOP 50 performers were taken by—cough—Don Spiro.

And you won’t see Holli-Mae Johnson, the one-woman force behind the entire feeding frenzy, who’s giving 50 performers a year another credit to add to their bio page. Which is really just fucking criminal.

(Check out the non-performer top ten list from 2010.)


SPOILER: The Queen from BHoF will certainly crack the top 10. In the past three years, reigning BHoF Queens have all hit the top 10—Roxi D’Lite, Indigo Blue, and Imogen Kelly—and have all slipped in ranking the following year (with the exception of Roxi). It says a lot about how much being BHoF Queen raises your profile, even if you’re Imogen Kelly, a badass so bad ass that it’s embarrassing she never made the top ten before. (And I really, really hope you people keep her in the top 10 this year, considering all the heavy badassness she’s been up to, even if it’s kept her off the stage.) FYI, it seems that winning that other “Queen” title in NOLA doesn’t have much bearing on anything, even if people like you otherwise. 2012 winner Angi B. Lovely hit #50 that year, 2011 winner Ginger Valentine was #18. As for 2010 winner Coco Lectric (#13 in 2010), and tied with her for 2012’s #5 Perle Noire (NOLA Queen 2009), their continued rise has been more meteoric the farther they get from their NOLA titles.

SPOILER: A LOT of people are going to be really stressed out. Competition is stressful. No one wants to be lower than they were last year. And the longer this goes on the more it becomes a “real” thing. Plus, dagnabbit, it’s also the holiday season, so everyone’s basically walking around like a raw fucking nerve ending already. Another reason why we should all bet on it—even if you lose, you can still be a big winner.


It’s tough, to be sure. I still haven’t gotten over how low Catherine D’Lish has been ranked the last couple years. And I’m going to be really upset if Imogen Kelly slips into the 30s. The Stage Door Johnnies keep blowing up, and Perle Noire and Coco Lectric seem hell-bent on blowing up international-styles. It’s a sure bet that this year’s BHoF winner will place (Kalani Kokonuts was the lowest placing BHoF winner at #16, in 2009, the FIRST year of 21C’s TOP 50), so that means someone from last year will have to slip. I’m going to (sadly) leave Roxi D’Lite off my top ten wager—but maintain that she’ll stay in the top 20. I’ll also wager that Anna Fur Laxis will slip off (last year’s #10, after #5 in 2011).

Other dark horses who might have a chance at an upset: Trixie Little and the Evil Hate Monkey have been vacillating just below the top ten, going from #14 to #11 and back to #14 (2010-12). Newbie PDX steamroller Russell Bruner (#19 last year) shouldn’t be ruled out; nor should veteran Ophelia Flame, who was #13 last year, up from 2011’s #17. And then there’s NYC fave Julie Atlas Muz, who hit #11 in 2012 (up from #13), but we’ll have to see if the added visibility was only due to her marriage, or because, as a result, a whole new audience in London now knows her well. Time will tell.


#1. Dirty

#2. Jo

#3. Michelle

#4. Dita

#5. Stage Door

#6. Perle

#7. LouLou

#8. Coco

#9. Indigo

#10. Imogen



Fucking simple. In no particular order: Holli-Mae Johnson (writer/publisher), Franky Vivid (producer), Doc Wasabassco (producer), Jen Gapay (producer), Don Spiro (photographer), Ed Barnas (photographer/calendar-er), Melody Mudd (photographer/publisher), Olena Sullivan (photographer/writer), Machine Dazzle (costumer), and David motherfucking Bishop. Don’t vote for me—I’d just be a total asshole about it.

What do you think about betting on burlesque? Love it? Hate it? Let us know–leave your comments below. –ED.

Tags Burlesque

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  • Sugar Dish

    Can we add “choreographers” to the list of “others”? Sheesh. What’s a dancer gotta do in this life? 😉

    • J.D. Oxblood

      Yes! Many burlesque performers do their own choreography, but I support recognition for ALL players in this field.

  • Franco Milazzo

    Your point about “other” people is something I banged on about last year when I wrote about the London Cabaret Awards. ( Sure, burlesque diaries and interviews are fine and dandy but when the burlesque fans really want to know about a performer, they pay attention to the reviews and photos. I hope more than a few of those often unpaid wielders of pens and cameras get some decent recognition this year on both sides of the pond.

    • J.D. Oxblood

      Franco, you and I should get together and go bowling.

      • Franco Milazzo

        Sure. Get yourself over to London and I’ll book a lane. I may have to bring that bowling demon HMJ with me to even the odds.

        • Holli

          I think my bowling ‘skills’ would pretty much ensure a victory for JD, but yes, get over here you guys! x

    • Well said, Franco. Each type of piece serves a different, and useful, purpose. I’d like to read your article that you posted here but it seems the link is broken – can you fix? Thanks.

  • Pingback: The Burlesque TOP 50 2013: VOTING OPEN | 21st Century Burlesque Magazine()

  • Kitty Bang Bang

    YES. I was having a conversation about betting on BHoF with Julie Atlas Muz and Matt last year. I think it would be the fucking best idea. I’d have made out like a bandit last year, I picked Queen, Debut and Most Innovative. They need to make that shit happen.

    • J.D. Oxblood

      YOU’D have made out like a bandit and BHOF would have taken a cut! More money for BHOF can’t be bad — and getting burlesquers to gamble would only make our hosts (the Orleans, Vegas) love us more.