How a burlesque host keeps the peace

May 30, 2013, 2:40 PM UTC

World Famous *BOB*

Beneath the wig and the glitter and the dirty jokes, World Famous *BOB* constantly thinks about management — managing time, the crowd, the pace of a show. *BOB* works as an event host who leads everything from family events in Coney Island to New York Burlesque spectaculars. She hosts shows all over the world and teaches at the New York School of Burlesque. She’s producing her own solo piece right now, and her schedule includes appearances on panels and at festivals and universities.

*BOB*, who is, as she says, “forty-one(derful)” spoke with Fortune about the difference between a persona and a character and how to keep a room full of people happy and respectful of performers, clothed or not.

What is it like hosting a room full of revelers?

It’s like getting dressed up, knowing you’re going to be in a car accident, and hoping you can walk away without this huge ball of flames behind you when you go home. Not to say that I bombed for years, that’s not true, but what will happen is you’ll try something and it doesn’t go over well, and then you’re still up there.

How do you train for that?

I started in the nightclubs in San Francisco in ’93. I professionally worked VIP doors in all the gay men’s clubs as a drag queen — I was a female female impersonator. I didn’t go to performing art school; I was just raised by a bunch of drag queens. It was really helpful because they taught me the value of a quick wit.

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Occasionally, I can whip out a sharp tongue on the audience. If I get a heckler or somebody who’s really drunk, I’ll go there, and just for a second, I’ll be a drag queen walking the piers, and the audience thinks it’s hysterical because it’s not who I am — it’s like the sunshine blonde mom, like Donna Reed using a curse word. It’s effective because you’re not expecting it.

What have you learned about hosting through the years?

It’s really important to make the audience feel like we’re all friends and we’re thrilled to have them there, but at the same time to make the performers feel really valued. Before the dancer even sets foot on the stage, you need to make the audience love that person.

And then, I need to get to know the crowd, but I can’t go on too long. It’s so crucial to have a good sense of timing and also to know that if your material’s not working to ditch it, completely.

You didn’t have any formal training, but now you’re training others. Can you talk a little bit about being a teacher?

I’ve been teaching at the New York School of Burlesque regularly since 2004. Jo “Boobs” Weldon, the creator, called me to guest teach for 30 minutes of her all-day intensive burlesque workshop. I thought, “What’s the one thing that I can bring?” and I settled on self-confidence. I continually have to chin up and muster my courage to try new things on stage. You can’t do comedy unless you’re brave, and you can’t be brave unless you’re scared to death.

So I convinced this group of people to create courage references, which are moments when they were scared but they were able to push through it. The more you do that, the more you feel like you can again.

From there, I developed my “Ultimate Self-Confidence!” workshop. I’ve traveled all over the world and taught that. I’m quite mysterious about what actually happens in it because I feel like the element of surprise is important. But it’s a series of small group exercises, created to offer an opportunity for each participant to leave with a courage reference.

How did the World Famous *BOB* come to be?

I’m what you would refer to as a persona host. I learned this from my favorite MC ever, her name is Miss Astrid, and she was the producer and MC at the Va Va Voom Room, which is an early New York City burlesque institution. I was a dancer at that show before I started hosting it. She told me there are characters and then there are personas: A character is totally created, but a persona is a shiny lacquered version of yourself. And I thought, “That is exactly what I do,” because I am blonde during the day, but I don’t walk around in those gowns.

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My real name is World Famous *BOB*, I legally changed it. So my first name is World, my middle name is Famous, and my last name is *BOB*. I tell people, “When I’m on stage, I am World Famous, and when I’m offstage, I am just *BOB*. That’s it.”

When did you legally change your name?

I believe it was about seven years ago. I had wanted to do it forever, and two of my best friends said, “We’ll pay for the process for your birthday present if you go and do it.” It was this wonderful way of legally claiming the reshaping I had done of myself in my life … People say, “Okay, well what was your real name?” And I say, “Your real name is the name you want to be called.” Then if they push, “Oh come on, you can tell me,” then I say, “Okay, I usually don’t open up to people like this, but my real name was Kevin,” and then I walk away.

You know? There’s a beauty in taking things for how they are. Just enjoy the cake, don’t ask for the recipe.