Backstage, a young dancer is waiting in the wings for her moment to shine. Because of last-minute changes, it was she who had to step up to the plate and fill another dancer’s place. She hasn’t had much time to prepare but she won’t let her nerves get the best of her. She’s a bit of a procrastinator and only has a small amount of time to get herself together. Strewn about on the floor is her costume. She more than likely forgot something or lost it entirely. She is a self-proclaimed hot mess.
Before her name is called, she gets in the zone and immerses herself into the sounds of Lil’ Jon and the Eastside Boys. She takes a puff of weed to further ease her nerves.
Making her way to the stage, the lights dim and a spotlight comes on. Aretha Franklin’s RESPECT is blasting through the speakers.
The dancer walks out and she sports a slightly disheveled wig and she dons a sparkly Charlotte Russe homecoming dress.
Meet Jeez LoueezDescribed above was the first performance of Chicago burlesque icon, Jeez Loueez. Her monikers include “The Powerhouse of the Midwest” as well as “The Honey Badger of Burlesque”. She like the Honey Badger is unbelievably fearless. They “don’t give a shit and take what they want” according to Jeezy. Like the Honey Badger, she is resilient and even the most difficult of obstacles won’t penetrate her skin. Jeezy shares that “the Honey Badger moniker sends a signal that says don’t fuck with me. Which I feel is the most appropriate warning label I could come with.” While petite in size, her astounding stage presence and larger than life personality is enough to grab the attention of everyone in the room.
“the Honey Badger moniker sends a signal that says don’t fuck with me. Which I feel is the most appropriate warning label I could come with”
Having performed all her life since the age of five, the art of performance was always running through the veins of Jeezy. I had the pleasure of chatting with her and immediately I sensed a certain fearlessness with how she approaches life. And that fearlessness was clear the first time Jeez Loueez graced the stage.
While she wasn’t prepared and hadn’t had much time to practice, she still managed to scramble something together and give that crowd at Hamburger Mary’s a show that they will never forget. After all, it’s not often that you get to witness the birth of a burlesque superstar. Little did Jeezy know, that favor for a friend would be the start of a blossoming burlesque career.
What’s in a NameLike most burlesque performers, the journey begins once you select your name. The name tells the crowd what one can expect from the performance. The audience asks themselves will I be seduced or entranced into a world of glamour? Or, will I leave with my sides hurting from laughter? All of this is inferred from a name.
Jeezy luckily didn’t have to consult an online name generator or brainstorm stage name ideas in a notebook. Essentially, she was born to be Jeez Loueez. In high school, her friends gave her the nickname Jeezy. Naturally they would follow up with Loueez.
When we say the term geez Louise, we’re usually saying this in a state of annoyance or exasperation. However, once Jeezy graces the stage the audience is anything but annoyed. Her electric energy is contagious and it’s impossible to wipe the smile off your face when she performs. The self-proclaimed quiet and shy girl is anything but once her persona dominates the room.
Jeezy and the World of BurlesqueWhen we think of traditional burlesque, we may think of mainstream performers like Dita Von Teese that don sparkly pasties and swirl around in a Martini glass. However, Jeezy describes burlesque as a mixed bag of different art forms.
There’s vaudeville, striptease, comedy and traditional glamour burlesque. Jeezy shares that “people can have one view of what burlesque is if they aren’t already familiar with it”. This is why when we think of burlesque, typically one limited image comes to mind.
However, with Jeezy’s Juke Joint, we soon realize that there isn’t one way to do burlesque and there isn’t one look to burlesque. By challenging our perceptions and opening our minds, Jeezy is using her platform to show us a different side to the art form.
Classic Burlesque and Jeezy’s Juke JointAs a queer woman of color, Jeezy occupies a space in the world of burlesque that’s not occupied by many. Traditionally the art is performed by cis straight white women with primarily white audiences.
“People like to think of burlesque as a sparkly bubble…”
Traditional burlesque is based on the picturesque 1950’s pin-up. Think small cinched waist, perfectly coifed locks and extravagant costumes. However, as a woman of color, the 50’s was a time period that was wrought with both racism and misogyny. Jeezy shares that “people like to think of burlesque as a sparkly bubble but there are issues like racism, cultural appropriation, and misogyny”.
The popular phenomenon of twerking comes to mind when white women twerk and sport a “blaccent”. All while mimicking aspects of black culture in their acts for comedic value. Whereas if a black woman were to do that same thing, it wouldn’t qualify as quality burlesque. It’s clear, that this world of glitz and glam is not immune to the issues marginalized people face in the real world.
With very little brown representation, Jeezy has made it her mission to give the underrepresented a platform to showcase their unique talents and abilities. As a woman of color in burlesque, she shares that, “it does make a difference when you are part of a marginalized community in another community” The world of burlesque is especially small so it’s easy to feel isolated.
Her experiences and her viewpoints are ultimately going to shape the type of performances that she’ll present to an audience. After a while, one can easily become frustrated by not seeing someone who looks like you in a space that you adore. As a result, Jeezy took to her computer and created a virtual platform for entertainers that not only looked like her but were causing a stir in the burlesque scene.
It Started with a BlogLike most great business, Jeezy’s Juke Joint started with a blog. Every day for Black History Month, Jeezy would highlight a multitude of black burlesque performers. These performers represented a variety of forms of burlesque and had their own intriguing and riveting acts.
At the time of the blog, Jeezy was in a burlesque troupe and it was the troupe that provided a strong support system. Impressed with her work, they said that if she ever wanted to do a show, they would help her produce it. Jeezy then gathered all the black performers of Chicago and more performers in other states and in 2011 Jeezy’s Juke Joint was born. To this day, there isn’t a black performer in Chicago that hasn’t graced the Jeezy’s Juke Joint stage.
To gain entry into the Juke Joint, everyone must submit 1-2 videos of their act. Jeezy and her colleagues would judge the video solely based on the performance. Jeezy and her judges ask themselves is it cohesive, is the audience into it, do the costumes make sense, and will the performer’s personality mesh well with others? Once reviewed and approved, the performer has earned their spot into the Juke Joint.
The ShowNow in its 6th year, Jeezy’s Juke Joint A Black Burly-Q Revue has made its triumphant return to Chicago and is back with an impressive lineup. Gone are the days when it was just a blog. Now that blog has come to life as a living and breathing touring act.
According to Jeezy, you should expect the full spectrum of black entertainment. There are comedians, classic burlesque, contemporary burlesque, tap dancing, and belly dancing. Basically, we’re going to see black people killing it in any and all aspects of performing arts.
“Our main goal is to not only showcase black performers but to introduce black audiences to burlesque”
A few of the acts gracing the stage will be The Luminous Pariah, The Golden Glamazon Sydni Deveraux, and Fiyah Starta. Each of the performers will entice and excite the crowd in their own unique way. With two nights of the finest in burlesque, this will be a Jeezy’s Juke Joint for the books.
When attending the show Jeezy shares “I want the audience to feel powerful and proud…I want them to feel comfortable with female, male, and non-gender binary sexuality”. Jeezy’s Juke Joint is ultimately about showcasing the different types of art that black performers are capable of.
The whole shebang will be held at The Promontory in Hyde Park, a première venue for multi-cultural entertainment. With this show, Jeezy shares that “our main goal is to not only showcase black performers but to introduce black audiences to burlesque” This weekend I’m sure everyone will be acquainted with the luxurious, vivacious and sometimes raunchy world of burlesque.
The Evolution of Jeezy
As Jeezy prepares for her big night this weekend, we’re ready to see her progress and growth. When she hits the stage, we can expect the advice she received from her theater professor in college to replay in her mind. Jeezy was told to find her light, as well as her voice and these, are guiding principles that steer her on her journey. She shares that “finding my light not only referred to my stage light and being in the light but also finding my light in the world”.
“I finally learned how to use my voice and not just be quiet and passive all the time”
While on the quest to developing her platform, Jeezy learned that to elevate black performers she must find her light in the world and not fade into the shadows. In fact, she must be present more than ever to shed a light on issues in the burlesque community. She mentions that “I finally learned how to use my voice and not just be quiet and passive all the time” As we look at the Jeezy today, passive is certainly not a word we would use to describe her.
From traveling and seeing the various communities of burlesque, Jeezy has grown tremendously and learned a lot throughout her burlesque journey. Because of this, we’re guaranteed to see a diverse and quality show from Jeezy’s Juke Joint.
ReflectionsWhen I asked Jeezy to reflect on her journey she shares that “I’m definitely still a mess. I still don’t have it together”. While she may describe herself as the hot mess, the incredibly important work that she does with Jeezy’s Juke Joint is anything but.
Fast forward to 20 years and what will we be able to say about Jeezy’s Juke Joint? Jeezy shares that she wants to be known for making a difference by helping advance the careers of black performers.
Who knows what we’ll see this weekend but it’s sure to be one hell of an evening. According to Jeezy, she wants us to say “I remember (insert celebrity name) I saw them at Jeezy’s Juke Joint. Thanks to Jeezy I’m sure we’ll witness the birth of many stars at Jeezy’s Juke Joint.
For the self-proclaimed hot mess, I hope she finds comfort knowing that many performers from Chicago and beyond are eternally grateful for The Honey Badger of Burlesque, Jeez Loueez.
Special thanks to Jeez Loueez for agreeing to be a part of this feature. I’m looking forward to a night at Jeezy’s Juke Joint.
This is sure to sellout so get your tickets HERE.
Photo Credit: MC Newman Photography and Schwebach Photography.