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Traveling burlesque show hits Iowa City

BY LINDSAY DOUGLAS | JUNE 09, 2011 7:20 AM

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Pack 18 self-proclaimed musical misfits into a converted school bus. Pick it up, turn it upside down, and shake until dizzy. Add glitter, remove clothes, and dump onto a stage. The result: Super Happy Funtime Burlesque.

Much like the name, the show lifts eyebrows and spreads smiles with its own spin on the revival of burlesque.

“We call it ‘burlesque’ for the lack of a better name,” said Corey Ruffin, the creator and MC of the show. “And for the promise of nudity.”

The Grand Rapids, Mich., troupe is scheduled to appear at 9 p.m. Friday at the Blue Moose Tap House, 211 Iowa Ave. Admission is $10 the day of the show.

Ruffin said the cast members have been practicing every Tuesday night for six years, during which they have created “enough material to fill a phone book.” Heroin addictions, closet homosexuals, and a sperm dance are all in the script for Iowa City’s show.

And each show, no matter the premise, promises dancing, striptease, skits, singing, and a live band.

“When you have naked people, a plot isn’t necessary,” the 35-year-old said. “All you have to do is flash some pasties and thong, and the audience is captured.”

Ruffin, a self-taught musician who goes by Mr. Happy Pants during the show, left his small Baptist community after his high-school graduation with nothing but a backpack and a saxophone.

Throughout time and throughout his travels, he found the people who would become the cast of Super Happy Funtime Burlesque. The group performs two monthlong tours a year, performing six days a week. They drive anywhere from four to eight hours a day going to their next gig, only snagging the chance to sleep in between shows.

Now, they are a family.

Joseph McIntosh, who joined the cast in 2005, drives the bus and goes by the alias Joe the Cabdriver. The former cabbie met Ruffin at a poetry reading, upon which the troupe leader asked if McIntosh would be in the oil-wrestling skit.

“Mr. Happy Pants is a visionary,” McIntosh said. “He’s the classic type A personality. When I met him I thought, ‘If I stick with this guy, I could go places.’ ”

The 320-pound McIntosh often runs around the audience in nothing but a custom-made thong in order to get the audience laughing. The stage may be flooded with beautiful women, but Ruffin said nobody can get the audience howling like a large man in very little clothing.

“It’s like I’m healing people with my body,” McIntosh said.

But the group’s brand of entertainment is not always welcome.

The burlesque show has been kicked out of clubs, thrown off stage, and experienced massive audience walkouts. But it doesn’t faze the members.

The Blue Moose is not one such establishment. This will be the third time for the troupe to perform there in the last eight months.

“If you hear the term ‘burlesque,’ you know what you’re getting yourself into,” said Cody Haaf, a Blue Moose bartender.

Ruffin said that there is nothing sacred in satire, and the troupe wants to perform for the people who want to watch.

“If it’s not giving me a boner, I’m not interested in it,” Ruffin said. “People are uptight about sex, so we want to make fun of that.”

And, he said, the group thrives on chaos.

“I’m not happy unless the bus is broken down, my vocal chords are shot, and we are late,” Ruffin said. “Insanity is my element. It’s like a runner’s high.”


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