Photo depicting the 2019 "What the Funk?!" competition finalists.

‘What the Funk?!’ Festival Brings Three Star-Studded Days of Burlesque to Seattle

by Mark Van Streefkerk

Seattle is about to be teased, titillated, and thrilled at “What the Funk?!,” an all-BIPOC burlesque festival that kicks off this Thursday, Aug. 19, at The Triple Door. The festival includes three nights of shows and two days of workshops from a star-studded lineup of talent from the Pacific Northwest and across the U.S. Performers will be showcasing their scintillating skills all to the tune of the Funk, the whole Funk, and nothing but the Funk!

“What the Funk?!” will culminate in a closing night competition where a winner will be crowned the new Grand Master Funk. While the festival is sold out, there will be an after-festival CookOUT at Judkins Park on Sunday, starting at 1:00 p.m. and open to all. Find out more about the CookOUT and RSVP here. “We’re going to fire up the grill and cook until we run out of propane,” said Mx. Pucks A’Plenty (they/them and YAS QUEEN), the founder and co-producer of “What the Funk?!.”

Pucks is a Black, queer, nonbinary burlesque performer and producer (their production company Puckduction is co-producing “What the Funk?!” with Rebecca Mm Davis of the Stay Up Late show), who has compiled an impressive list of achievements since graduating from the local Miss Indigo Blue’s Academy of Burlesque only four years ago. They are also one of the co-founders of the Seattle Burlesque and Cabaret Co-op based out of Ballard. 

YAS QUEEN says they watched a Netflix documentary A Wink and a Smile, which featured Miss Indigo Blue’s Academy of Burlesque in Seattle, and fell in love. “This is what I wanted to do,” Pucks said, remembering the moment. Not long after, they attended and graduated from the school and have since become a full-time performer and producer, all while surviving the pandemic and carving out spaces for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ burlesque to thrive in the Pacific Northwest. 

Photo depicting Mx. Pucks A'Plenty and Rebecca Mm Davis inside a blue-lit bar speaking into a microphone.
“What the Funk?!” co-producers Mx. Pucks A′Plenty (left) and Rebecca Mm Davis (right) at Queer/Bar in 2019. (Photo: Heather Schofner Photography)

Dubbed the Savannah Burlesque Festival 2019’s Mx. Congeniality, YAS QUEEN conceived of an all-BIPOC burlesque show with funk music in 2018. The very first “What the Funk?!” was born in 2019 at Queer/Bar and the Columbia City Theater. Pucks then spent 2020 developing the festival to return this year just as live events are opening to the public.

Pucks is excited to promote opportunities for BIPOC performers to shine, but in an ideal world, there wouldn’t have to be a niche event for Black and Brown entertainers to get their due. 

“It is my wish and my goal for this festival to not exist in 10 years,” Pucks said. “It’s weird to be like, ‘We are the only all-People of Color burlesque festival in the Pacific Northwest’ … We do this festival so that folks can be seen because they are overlooked.

“Representation matters. Seeing these other Black performers and producers do their thing really inspired me. We want to put these people out here. We want folks to see these performers, because someone’s going to get inspired, and someone’s going to make something amazing happen.” 

The festival showcases funk — a genre created by Black Americans that often carries a political message. Pucks cites James Brown’s “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud” as an example of funk blending the political, as well as personal. “There is this message of owning one’s sexuality that is very strong,” YAS QUEEN said. “Burlesque is all about empowerment and owning your body … most People of Color throughout history really haven’t had agency over their own bodies, and especially their own sexuality.” 

The opening night show on Thursday includes Off The Hook, a local band who’s frontwoman is burlesque performer Café au Lait Olé. The show will be emceed by Foxy Tann, herself a performer and pioneer of neo-burlesque in Minneapolis. 

Friday night boasts some of the most nationally acclaimed BIPOC burlesque performers like GiGi Holliday, who brings sass and wit all the way from D.C., and New York-based Samson Nite, accomplished in many genres such as film, spoken word, and theater. After the festival, Samson Nite will head directly “back to New York to start rehearsal for The Lion King on Broadway,” Pucks said. “We’re just really fortunate to have him here.” New Orleans-based award-winning performer, producer, actor, and instructor Jeez Loueez will emcee the second night. 

The Saturday night show culminates in the competition and crowing of the new Grand Master Funk. Besides the competition, featured Seattle headliners include Moscato Extatique, a Latinx, nonbinary performer who is also one-fourth of world-renowned Mod Carosel, and Ms. Briq House, “who is an institution,” Pucks said. “She is the face of Seattle Black burlesque. We’re really lucky to have her.” Also on Saturday is a group performance by Foxy Tann and the Wham Bam Thank You Ma’ams, featuring San Francisco performer RedBone and Jeez Loueez. 

Check out the “What the Funk?!” official website for a complete listing of all performers. 

Some of these illustrious entertainers are also teaching workshops on Friday and Saturday at the Give Inn in Ballard. Sign up for a Twerkshop with Jeez Loueeze, try a makeup class with Moscato Extatique, funk up your choreography with Samson Nite, and so much more. All classes are $25, and attendees must sign up and pay for the classes beforehand. Classes are open to all, regardless of festival attendance. Sign up for a class here

When “What the Funk?!” officially takes the stage for opening night at The Triple Door, it will mean so much more than just another burlesque festival for Pucks. “The opportunity to produce a show at a venue that was the very first venue I saw a burlesque set ever is emotional,” YAS QUEEN said, remembering that they saw the show “The Land of the Sweets” there almost a decade ago. “I thought, ‘I’ll never be able in a million years to get on that stage, it’s just not possible. [Now] I have the opportunity to put 31 people on that stage over the course of the next weekend. It’s a full-circle moment.” 

The festival’s two main sponsors are Sistah Scifi and Epiphanies of Equity. A full listing of sponsors can be found here.

Feel passionate about supporting BIPOC and LGBTQ+ burlesque? It’s not too late to sponsor or donate to “What the Funk?!.” Find out about how you can make a tax-deductible donation here.

Mark Van Streefkerk is a South Seattle-based journalist, freelance writer, and the Emerald’s Arts, Culture, & Community editor. He often writes about restaurants, LGBTQ+ topics, and more. Visit his website and follow him on Twitter at @VanStreefkerk.

📸 Featured Image: The 2019 “What the Funk?!” competition finalists. From left to right: first runner-up Crocodile Lightning, Grand Master Funk Twirlisha Devine, and second runner-up Rita D’LaVane. (Photo: Heather Schofner Photography)

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