September 11, 2018
#3 Kay Sera – Burlesque
I recorded this episode at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekender in Las Vegas. It’s a burlesque convention and fundraiser for the Burlesque Hall of Fame museum. I was invited to be a judge at this year’s competition, which was a really big honor for me. I used to go to this event every year and just be a giant wasted mess for 4 days straight. While some great stories came from it (I banged an acrobat) it still wasn’t the best use of my time. It hasn’t been that way for a while now, and I thank this episode’s guest for that: Kay Sera. She gives us a little bit of burlesque history, talks about the museum, and I tell her about how an article she wrote about alcoholism in burlesque changed my life. Kay went from starting her burlesque career to putting herself in an outpatient rehab center in 6 months! She’s since become an advocate and created the BHOF Bill, which hosts meetings at the Burlesque weekender.
- Supporting Recovery in Burlesque article by Kay Sera
- Burlesque Hall of Fame Museum
- Jennie Lee
- Dixie Evans
- BHOF Bill Twitter
- Hawaii Burlesque Festival
- NOLA Burlesque Festival
- NYC Burlesque Festival
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KiKi Maroon: Hi! Welcome to episode three of Clown, Interrupted with KiKi Maroon – that’s me! This episode gets a little emotional for me in the middle because I… okay back up. I recorded this episode at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekender in Las Vegas. It’s a burlesque convention, fundraiser, and giant event for the Burlesque Hall of Fame Museum. I was invited to be a judge at this year’s competition (2018), which was a really big honor for me. I used to go to this and be a giant, wasted mess for four days straight. And while some great stories came from it like, oh, I don’t know… the time I banged an acrobat! It was amazing! He spun me like a basketball! But still, it was not the best use of my time. It’s actually pretty embarrassing right now to think about how it’s a weekend when I’m surrounded by not only my burlesque peers, but also by people who I really look up to, who paved the way for my entire career even existing. And I was a sloppy train wreck around them. Because, “Woo, Vegas!” Anyway, it hasn’t been like that for a while. And I thank this episode’s guest for that. While I was in Vegas, I talked to Kay Sera. She gives us a little bit of burlesque history, talks about the [Burlesque Hall of Fame] Museum, and I tell her for like the tenth time, how an article she wrote about alcoholism in burlesque changed my life. There is a link to the article in the show notes if anyone’s interested in reading it. Kay went from starting her burlesque career to putting herself in an outpatient rehab in six months. So she’s become kind of an advocate. Another thing, I’m naming the episodes things like “Kay Sera – Burlesque” or “Andy Huggins – Comedy.” I think some people will want to listen to all of them, but I also get that some people might only relate to their industry. I want to be able to easily categorize the conversations by musician, comedian, burlesque, circus, actor, whatever so it’s easier to find what resonates with you.
Anyway, I hope you like it. Here’s my talk with Kay Sera.
[Theme song: “Last Call” provided by The Last Domino]
Kay Sera: The Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend is the annual fundraiser for the Burlesque Hall of Fame Museum here in Las Vegas. It actually just had its grand reopening, its big reveal, in a brand-new space in the Las Vegas Arts District. So it’s a collection of burlesque history, ephemera, and items from back in the day. It actually started with Jennie Lee and Dixie Evans out on goat ranch in Helendale, California. Jennie Lee was a stripper, but she was also a union organizer. She put together the Exotic Dancers League. That group of women would get together on an annual basis to discuss matters related to their work, their safety and work conditions, and union activities.
KiKi Maroon: She was the first person that went and said, “Unionize! We’re going to make this safer for women.” ?
Kay Sera: Yes. The performers were actually part of an existing union for entertainers and cabaret performers. But they weren’t really getting the support that they needed, likely because of the stigmatization of their niche. And so Jennie Lee created the Exotic Dancers League to support strippers and to legitimize the work that strippers do, and to bring to the forefront the challenges that they were enduring. Those performers would get together each year, and as strippers do, they would sometimes forget things like their bras or parts of their costumes. Jennie Lee collected those items up and essentially nailed them to the wall.
KiKi Maroon: Haha! I understand that. We have so many things left backstage. I messaged people, and no one will claim it. I’m like, “Okay, this is one of y’all’s bra. This is not a magical, imaginary bra. Someone left this here….It’s mine now, I guess.”
Kay Sera: “This is not a unicorn bra.” So, Jennie Lee would collect those things up and over the course of time, she had a legitimate collection of stuff. That became the aspect of the collection and was the start of it. And so Jennie Lee and Dixie Evans out at their goat ranch would invite people to come to the “museum” -their home – where they had started to display things. And of course, they had pictures of all their stripper friends, and they had all this wonderful stuff. They had fans from Lili St. Cyr and all these just great pieces that were on display for folks, out in the middle of nowhere on a goat ranch! We moved the collection into Las Vegas in, I want to say 2007, and opened in a small space there. It’s taken us a long time, but through the hard work of our very small staff, our volunteers all over the world to help us, and the people who made donations, we were able to build out a space specific for the collection.
KiKi Maroon: That is amazing.
Kay Sera: It is so great.
KiKi Maroon: And it’s crazy, the fact that it’s taken this long – IN VEGAS – to get something like this, when it has such a rich history. They’re beautiful; these costumes are gorgeous. These are performers that you’ve seen, that people have heard of. That it’s taken this long to have this space is crazy to me.
Kay Sera: It is. But there’s a lot of competition for attention [in Las Vegas] and we are a nonprofit. There’s all the blessings and challenges that come along with being a nonprofit. One of the experiences that we’re trying to replicate at the new space is to bring a little bit of what Dixie would do for visitors at the goat ranch museum. So our staff and our docents try to give that one-on-one Dixie attention. Because when you came to the goat ranch, Dixie was the one showing you around. She would show you, “Oh, this is this. That is that. Here’s this photo. This came from this here.”
KiKi Maroon: I would always hear this, I don’t know if this is true, that no matter what time you showed up, she would just wait a little bit and then come out in a gorgeous robe. Just to be the role of Dixie Evans.
Kay Sera: That is what World Famous *BOB* has said. And others have confirmed. I am sure that is the case. “The Marilyn Monroe of Burlesque” was not about to greet you in something that was not glamorous, even if it was a glamorous housecoat. She was Dixie Evans.
KiKi Maroon: I remember *BOB* saying that she could see the headlights coming because she was in the middle of nowhere. She would start getting dressed, you would just get there, honk the horn, and just glamour opened the door.
Kay Sera: Honk the horn three times and there she was to show you around. And so we’re trying to bring that experience into the new space.
KiKi Maroon: That’s amazing. How long have you been doing burlesque?
Kay Sera: I’ve been involved in burlesque since 2006 and I’ve been performing since 2009. The very first burlesque performance I saw was in Baltimore and it was Trixie Little and The Evil Hate Monkey. I saw a story about them in a local magazine. I was so excited and said, “Ooh, monkey? I love monkeys!”
KiKi Maroon: Hahaha! So for the listeners, this is not a real, actual monkey. This is a stage performer named “The Evil Hate Monkey”.
Kay Sera: I was very excited to see what that was all about. We went to see a show and Trixie [and The Evil Hate Monkey] were doing their volcano act. They had this big volcano prop and did this whole Tiki thing. The story that they told about how Trixie had rescued Monkey from the circus, and how he was now her best friend and they traveled around. It was delightful. I loved the show. I loved the silliness and the sexiness of it. And they’re outstanding performers. They put on a terrific show and I was immediately hooked and wanted to know more. So we came out to see them compete, and eventually win, the Best Duo 2006 part of the Tournament of Tease that year [at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekender]. So that got me hooked right away. I started taking classes and getting involved in the Burlesque Hall of Fame because, like any good volunteer organization, the moment I showed the remotest bit of interest, they’re like, “Would you like to help? Would you like to get involved? We need you.” The passion that I saw in the performers that weekend was amazing. And I remember so well, sitting in the theater, having just seen Dirty Martini do her spiderweb act – itself, an homage to burlesque’s heyday.
KiKi Maroon: Oh, God. So good.
Kay Sera: And she was absolutely captivating. And she’s a bigger woman. She does not fit a stereotype that we might have in our minds of what you need to look like to be a stripper. And that was a first for me. Now that’s what I have come to expect – variety and openness and acceptance of everything. But [at the time] I didn’t know.
KiKi Maroon: Absolutely. That’s something I love to always hear from my audience, because every single time, someone will come up to me and say, “This was great. That was great. And those big girls! I had no idea.” And I think at first it kind of bothered me, because I wanted to say, “Of course, what did you think?” But I understand that there’s always that first moment of, “I didn’t know I was going to see that!” Because they think of a very stereotypical Vegas showgirl – “That’s what burlesque is!” Then they’re always blown away. Actually a couple of years ago, Amy Schumer did a “Vanity Fair” photoshoot where she was “implied nude,” kind of turned to the side. All this stuff came out like, “She’s so brave! Oh my god.” And it was huge news everywhere. And I just had a moment of being so grateful for the people and the burlesque scene, the world that I’m in, because I wasn’t impressed. I mean, I get what she did. I understand why it was a big deal, but that’s normal to me. Doing that is not a big deal when you’re in the burlesque scene because there’s so many bodies, shapes, sizes, ages, colors, everything. And yeah, I was like, “Yeah, it’s not a big deal.”
Kay Sera: A wonderful part, I think, of burlesque is that it’s so welcoming of everything. But I’m almost embarrassed to say, back in the day I thought it was all “stripper body.” I did not expect the variety and the openness that I saw. And that was so impressive to me. After her act, Dirty (Martini) actually came out into the audience to sit with her friends. And she happened to be sitting right in front of me. I have no idea what the next three acts were, because honestly, I was just staring at her.
KiKi Maroon: Oh, I believe it!
Kay Sera: I’m wondering if she had a vibe of like, “Is there some freak behind me?!”
KiKi Maroon: Hahaha! Just trying to absorb some of her!
Kay Sera: I was just trying to take it all in. I was looking at her like, “Wow, she just did this amazing thing”. I’ve never seen anything like it. Wherever possible, I encourage students of mine and folks that I meet who are interested in burlesque, to learn about burlesque also by seeing burlesque and seeing it within your community and where it’s possible for you, seeing it outside of your community. Whether that means driving an hour or three hours to the next city over to see what they’re doing. Or if you have the means and the time, to go somewhere else to a festival in X city. Get on a plane. Obviously, if you want to make it easy, come to the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekender because we collect them all up for you.
KiKi Maroon: Yup! They come from all over. All of them. Actually, I was telling a friend, “I need to create a persona that just tells people to go to shows.” Because I constantly have people ask, “I want to do that! How do I do that?” And the answer is, “Go to shows!” because that’s how you learn. But I feel like there’s this implied conflict of interest, because I’m a producer and I sell tickets to shows. Like, “Oh, well of course you’re going to say that.” And I’m like, “No, don’t just come to mine. Go to any show. You’re going to learn so much, so quickly by seeing what is happening and what other people are doing”. I don’t care which show you go to, just go to shows. So yeah, I need a little fake Twitter account that’s just like, “Just go to shows. I don’t care which one.”
Kay Sera: Exactly. “Go to shows. I don’t care.” I’m a huge believer in “all ships rise with the tide.”
KiKi Maroon: Absolutely.
Kay Sera: And so as a producer myself, I am always eager to share local shows with my students, on my webpages to say, “Go see this show.” “Oh, you’re going to be there?” “No, no I might be there. If I can get to the show, I want to be at the show, but I will not be on stage. But you should go. You should absolutely go.”
KiKi Maroon: Absolutely. Yeah. It’s advice that I wish everybody would take. I support it.
Kay Sera: I do too. I agree.
KiKi Maroon: So you’ve been performing, you said, since 2006?
Kay Sera: 2009.
KiKi Maroon: What was your first act?
Kay Sera: Haha. My first act, the show’s theme was “Reality TV,” which in 2009 was a new thing.
KiKi Maroon: Hahaha. Oh, god. Yeah, I remember thinking, “Why are people watching other people?” And now that’s just what we all do, all day.
Kay Sera: That was sort of a new thing, so I did an act about one of the shows. I think it was about plastic surgery and transforming your physical self. I did an act with kind of mummy bandages, sort of trying that transformation. I look at it now and laugh a little bit because the mummy as a transformation concept is such a trope. And I always counsel my students, “If you’re thinking about a trope, that’s fine, but you have to make it your own.” And so I look back like, “Mummy, yeah, that was original.”
KiKi Maroon: Hahaha. My mom, I love her so much. She actually called me the other day to say, “I had an idea for one of your skits.” And I said, “Okaaaaay,” because that’s always a good sign. She said, “What if you dance to that song,‘Witchy Woman,’ but you did it… as a WITCH!.”
Kay Sera: “Thank you, mom.”
KiKi Maroon: I said, “I think that’s a good idea. But a lot of people have done that, so I really wouldn’t want to try to compete with something that’s already happened.” She said,“No, no, no. I don’t think you understand. [singing] ‘Woo, woo, WITCH-y woman!’ ” I was like, “Yes! Mom! I get it!”
Kay Sera: “Yep, thank you!”
KiKi Maroon: “But I love that you support me in what I’m doing!”
Kay Sera: “Thank you for those notes, mom, I’ll take that into consideration.”
So having that debut and how much fun it was. That was a big moment for me in terms of my changing from a “manageable party drinker” into “unmanageable disaster.” Because that gift of being on the stage, that gift of being able to share my vision with the audience and share that moment, was so terrific that I was so afraid it would be taken away from me. And so in that great alcoholic way, I decided that no one would take it from me. I would destroy it myself.
KiKi Maroon: Yeah. Isn’t that funny how we do that? Because that just seems so much smarter.
Kay Sera: I set about making sure that no one could take this from me, that I would take it from myself. And so my arguably manageable – but not really manageable – drinking on weekends became much more genuinely unmanageable, much more aggressive, much more quickly. So I went from, you know, drinking my whole adult life as a weekend partier to crossing lines in the sand that I didn’t even have time to draw.
KiKi Maroon: Yeah. It just becomes your life. So you don’t realize.
Kay Sera: I just jumped over these lines so quickly. I never thought to myself, “I would never drink at work,” yet I was drinking at work. I was just so, so happy about what I was experiencing – but I was so confident that I did not deserve to have that experience, so I was sabotaging it as fast and as hard as I could. So I went from starting my burlesque career to putting myself in an outpatient treatment program in six months. I went a good 20 years of drinking and partying, and within six months, I transformed. The arguably borderline manageable behavior, which was very much still alcoholic behavior, looking back at it. But in that six-month period, I ramped it up. I went from 20 miles an hour to 120 miles an hour. “You might have a problem with drinking” to, “Dear God, you are an alcoholic and you’re going to die.”
KiKi Maroon: Oh wow. Oh my goodness. Six months.
Kay Sera: Six months.
KiKi Maroon: Do you, I don’t want to say blame because that’s the wrong word. I don’t know what the word is, but….burlesque. Because you were hanging out in bars, going on stage, performing in bars, you’re there every night. Do you think it was that situation, or do you think you just suddenly could excuse these things?
Kay Sera: It was not the situation. It was not being in bars. Because I went to bars all the time. I went to shows at bars for years and I would party and have fun – although I don’t necessarily have all the memories of that fun. But no, it was very much self-sabotage. Because in the great way that the universe has with coincidence/not-coincidence, literally the same day that I had my first burlesque performance was also the day that I received a massive promotion at my day job.
KiKi Maroon: Oh, wow.
Kay Sera: I mean literally, the same day. So the same day that I am taking my clothes off onstage at the Red Palace in Washington, D.C., which has sadly since closed, I was promoted to Vice President at a Fortune 500 company. Those two things – very, very different things, very different parts of my life. But those two big accomplishments happening at the same time was just too much for my alcoholic brain to take. And I was sure that someone would figure out that I did not deserve the promotion, that I had no business being on the stage. And again, so that no one could take those things from me, I elected to take them from myself.
KiKi Maroon: Oh my goodness. You’re bringing back so many things right now. We keep talking about the illusion of being able to manage it. I remember getting into an argument with my fiancé at the time and he yelled out, “We’re functional alcoholics!” And I got so angry that I started smashing a wall with a hammer! That is so clearly how you respond when something is not true.
Kay Sera: Way to make the point!
KiKi Maroon: But you will rationalize things and tell yourself, “No, it’s fine. I’m fine.” Until it’s not, and then you’re like, “Well, it’s not fine because I’m choosing that. I’m making the choice for it to not be fine, because you don’t get to say that about me.”
Kay Sera: Oh, absolutely. And it’s funny, but I’m happy to say that when I think of my alcoholism and my alcoholic career, I think of my day persona, my “muggle persona” [a muggle in “Harry Potter” is a non-magical person] as that’s actually the person who is the alcoholic. Kay Sera – she had a bout with drinking, but she isn’t an alcoholic. Because I, again thankfully, looked back at this and think, “Oh, deep sigh of relief.- despite my trying to sabotage things wholeheartedly, I did not perform drunk. I did not get myself drunk at a show, ever.”
KiKi Maroon: That is so interesting to me! I did not know I could perform sober until I was legally required to. That is amazing to me.
Kay Sera: I am pleased to say that I kept it together for performances and I can only credit that to divine intervention. But again, I was happy to drink after the show and certainly did, but I did not drink before the show. I’m sure I had a cocktail, but I didn’t get liquored up to do it. I stayed sober for performances and then would cut loose afterwards.
KiKi Maroon: That just makes me think- when I decided to stop drinking, I actually came to Vegas. I was so worried because I had just stopped drinking very, very recently. I thought, “I don’t know if I’m going to just end up drunk. Obviously, I am in Vegas. Of course, I’m going to drink. It’s going to be crazy.” But I didn’t! And it was actually so incredibly easy; I couldn’t believe it. I was shocked! When I came back home, I told my boyfriend at the time, “It was so weird. I didn’t even want to drink.” And he said, “Well, no, that kind of makes sense. Vegas is where everybody goes and they get to be whoever they want to be that weekend. And that’s who you want to be.” It was actually easier there than at home. That kind of makes me think about what you’re saying about being Kay. “Kay Sera” was the alter-ego, for lack of a better word, and she didn’t want to drink.
Kay Sera: Kay was okay. Haha.
KiKi Maroon: That’s so interesting to me.
Kay Sera: As I look back – I did not have this clarity of thought, as you can imagine, back then. Kay wanted to enjoy the experience and retain memories of it. And if I could make a living doing just burlesque or just performance, I would. But I’ve made a choice in my life, lifestyle, and the commitments I’ve made – I have to have a day job. And because that occupies more of my time than burlesque does, that one was easier to sabotage. And that was the persona. Kay was and is an outlet for me in a lot of ways to be able to express myself creatively, to be able to get the attention that I crave, not just as an alcoholic, but as an only child and a Leo (astrological sign). I just want everyone to look at me all the time and pay attention to me all the time. And burlesque gave me that chance to be creative and be the focus of attention, if only for three and a half minutes. And I think in looking back, in working the steps and trying to understand and recognize my own shortcomings, that Kay was a blessing in a way. Because she gave me a way to level out and release my tension in a way that I wasn’t. And until I got sober, I wasn’t able to even deal with that.
KiKi Maroon: Yeah. Wow. I definitely agree that Kay is a blessing. I know that I’ve told you this before, but I’m going to tell you again – you literally changed my life. In 2015, you wrote an article for “21st Century Burlesque” (magazine) called “Supporting Recovery in the Burlesque Community.” At the time, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you what that headline meant. I didn’t even know what the word “recovery” meant. But thankfully when you post articles on Facebook, they’ll usually show the first paragraph or so of it. You shared it on Facebook. I saw, these are your words, “We entertain audiences well into the wee hours of the morning at bars, theaters, and performance spaces around the world. We work hard and we’re known to party hard, sometimes too hard, sometimes too often. And sometimes for some of us, it’s out of control.” That is why I clicked on that article, because I was absolutely out of control. I had no idea how to stop it or that stopping it was even an option. I read that, and it was the first time I had heard of sober people doing burlesque. It is – it can be – a party-centric community. And what’s funny – the reason I saw your Facebook post – is that I had met you at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend. As far as I knew, I partied with you! Haha. Maybe you were drinking club soda, but because you were still out there, vivacious and hanging out, I had no idea that someone could be sober and still be in these situations. In my head, we were all drunk that night. Now in hindsight, it’s so ridiculous. But at the time, that’s all I knew. So when I read that article and you talked about not only you, but World Famous *BOB*, Jo Boobs…
Kay Sera: Bella Blue.
KiKi Maroon: Yes. To find out that these people I looked up to and respected so much [were sober], I couldn’t say, “Well, it’s different.” These are people I’ve seen and are in the same world as me. I don’t have an excuse. They absolutely understand. I can’t say “they don’t get it.” And it made me realize that it was an option [to be sober in the burlesque community].
Kay Sera: Well, and I’m a little verklempt from that, but I’m so glad. That was why I reached out to those performers and wrote that article. Seeing that our community can party hard, and sometimes, it was too much. For folks that it is too much, it’s too much; for folks that it’s not, it’s not. But writing that article and talking with those performers, it was part of a notion that I recognized in my own sobriety of, “looking for ways to compare out, as opposed to comparing in”. For folks who might have the thought, “I’m not an alcoholic, because I’m not under a bridge drinking out of a paper bag.”
KiKi Maroon: Oh my god. Yes, I know. I started with, “I drink every day, but I don’t get drunk every day.” Then “well, I get drunk every day, but I don’t black out every day.” Then “well, I black out every day, but I always get back home.” It just keeps growing.
Kay Sera: All the things that we tell ourselves that allow us to continue our drinking. So I wanted to put something out there that might help folks in the burlesque community compare in, and to understand that if they had recognized that maybe something was a bit out of control for them, that they were not alone. That there were other people in the community who deal with the same kinds of things. And to hear those people say it in their own words and to have them share their different experiences and make it clear that we are not alone. That there are ways to get help. And here at Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekender, the organization has been enormously supportive of our BHOF (Burlesque Hall of Fame) Bill program. So, initially I just kind of mentioned to the producers and organizers, “Hey, would it be okay if we had a recovery meeting and could you guys like say something about that?” And they were like, “Yeah, sure. That’s fine.” I believe I ran it out of my own room. And the next year, the organizers asked, “Oh, are you going to do that again?” And I was like, “Ooh! Oh yeah, I would love to!” And then from that point forward, it has become an organized part of the Weekender. So the Burlesque Hall of Fame is generous enough to let us use one of the event spaces, a private suite for folks to go to so we can have a private meeting. And it’s in the program that there are these meetings each day.
KiKi Maroon: I think it would surprise a lot of people that that’s something being offered here. That’s amazing.
Kay Sera: Yeah. And for the organization to be just so supportive of it, so quickly. Just like, “Oh, you’re doing that? Great. Are you going to do it again? Terrific. Do you need a room?” Just utterly supportive of it, I think is indicative of the way that Burlesque Hall of Fame is part of the community. It’s not just a demonstration of the community. The Weekender is not just four nights of shows; it’s more than that. It’s education, it’s community, it’s a family reunion, it’s a reunion for the legends…
KiKi Maroon: It’s a history lesson.
Kay Sera: It’s a history lesson. Thank you. Yes. And I think that was just another example of that community.
KiKi Maroon: So let me ask you then, when you decided to stop drinking, did you know anybody sober at that time? Because something that I’m very grateful for now there are things like this. But I didn’t know they were available to me before. I had no idea that there were meetings like this where I could communicate, where I could contact other people that would understand. And I know that’s a big reason why I didn’t quit sooner. I didn’t want to feel like that one girl, that feeling that you are ostracized. Which now feels ridiculous. But did you, at the time, know people that didn’t drink?
Kay Sera: I didn’t. I very much understand, and have experienced, what you were just describing. At my first sober BHOF, I was worried about it, again I laugh looking back, but I was worried – “What are people going to think since I’m not drinking? What are people going to say?” People aren’t going to say anything, because nobody gives a shit what you’re doing!
KiKi Maroon: They don’t fucking care! It’s so funny to me. At first I was like, “What if I ordered half Coke, half club soda, so it looks like a rum and Coke…” Nobody fucking cares! Nobody cares what you’re drinking.
Kay Sera: Nobody cares. And it’s laughable now for me to look back on. I understand people who still think, “Are people looking at what I’m drinking?” And what’s funny, of course, is that for me as an alcoholic, I’m the only person who was looking at what anyone’s drinking. No one’s looking at what I’m drinking. Nobody cares! Normal drinkers don’t care!
KiKi Maroon: Nobody cares. Okay, so there was a little bit that I had trouble with – shots. When people would be like, “We’re getting a round of shots!” I would say, “No,” and because it was so bizarre for me to decline, people at first asked, “Are you pregnant?” Haha. So there was a little, tiny-tiny bit of that, but it was just in my head, because all it took was, “No, thank you.” That’s all it took.
Kay Sera: Yeah. “No, thank you.” And once in a while, there’s someone who – well-intentioned, not trying to be an asshole – will be like, “Oh, come on, just have a drink with us.” “No, no, thanks. I’m good.” And for me, I’ve been very open about my recovery as “Kay Sera.” So it was easy for me up front to say, “No, I don’t drink.” Sometimes, if I want to make light of it, I will say to folks, “Well, I went pro, so now I can’t compete at the amateur level.” Haha. Because I was a professional drinker, that was a skill I had honed.
KiKi Maroon: I tell people, “I don’t really feel like flipping another truck. Thank you.”
Kay Sera: “Yeah. I’m good.”
KiKi Maroon: I can laugh about it now.
Kay Sera: Yeah, yeah.
KiKi Maroon: So you said it took six months for you to go through all that. People talk about, “Hitting rock bottom.” Some people just don’t; some people just decide to quit. Was there anything that happened to you where you knew, “This is it”?
Kay Sera: There kind of was. I mean, I had a lot of the “yets” in the sense that I hadn’t wrecked my car, yet. I hadn’t killed anyone, yet. I hadn’t died, yet. I hadn’t lost my house, yet.
KiKi Maroon: “I hadn’t died, yet”. Sometimes look back and say, “Dear God, how?”
Kay Sera: I hadn’t died, yet. I hadn’t lost my house, yet. I hadn’t lost my job, yet. I hadn’t lost my husband, yet. I hadn’t lost my family, yet. All the “yets” were right on the horizon for me. But the thing that really tipped it over for me was Thanksgiving. We were having company over for dinner, some performer friends – we had a whole houseful of friends coming over for dinner. I pre-gamed, as you do. I pre-gamed and got myself good and drunk before I even got home from my day job. So I basically left my day job, went to the liquor store, got God knows what – let’s assume it was vodka because that would have been likely – and chugged that down and came home. I came home with a solid buzz on already, my friends had arrived and I’m late. My husband was trying to put together a dinner for 12, with no assistance from me. And since I was home, I could start drinking more. And a couple of friends, when I came home clearly drunk, were like, “Wow, was there a happy hour at work? Because you look like you had a good time.” And they weren’t being critical; they weren’t being mean. They were really just, “Hey, what happened with you? Where’d you go?”
KiKi Maroon: “What crazy party did you come from?”
Kay Sera: “What crazy party did you come from?” And I said, “I’m not drunk. I didn’t have anything to drink.” And in talking to those friends now, they’re like, “Yeah, that was weird” – that I was denying being drunk, when I so clearly was. I mean, I had certainly denied being drunk any number of times where, but thanks to being a drunk, I was able to conduct myself in a way to look and sound like I was sober, even though I was very much not. This was not one of those times.
KiKi Maroon: That’s when I walk with really stiff hands, because that’s how sober people walk.
Kay Sera: Yeah. That’s how sober people walk. So I was lying to my friends about my drinking. And that was the first time I had done that. The night went okay, no thanks to me. But after everyone left, my husband sat me down and said, “You have a problem. It is not okay anymore. You came home drunk; you drank all night. Our friends see that you have a problem. I see that you have a problem. I want to help you. You need to get help.” And I was still good and drunk at that time. Because enough time had passed, I could look like I wasn’t as drunk, but I still was.
KiKi Maroon: I read something that said, “A drunk person pretending to be sober is them doing an impression of themself.”
Kay Sera: That’s about right. And so still with a buzz, I decided to reach out to my friends and apologize to them, that very moment. I made some phone calls and said, “Hey, I’m sorry that I was a mess tonight. I apologize.” And I thought, “I’m a hero!” and I pat myself on the back.
KiKi Maroon: “Look at me!”
Kay Sera: Yeah. “Look at me. See, I can address my problems.” And I did not, of course, immediately address my problems. So a couple days later, I took a vacation with a girlfriend. I told her and the other folks that we were with, “I’m not drinking this vacation.” And so what I did – so brilliant – I did not drink that week on vacation that they saw. So I made it my business to be the best fucking hostess. If your drink was low, “Can I get you a drink? Oh, no, no, no. It’s no problem. I’m going into the kitchen anyway. I’ll make you a drink.” So I would make them a drink and I’d drink whatever they were drinking straight out of the bottle, put that bottle down, and come out with their cocktail and my Diet Coke.
KiKi Maroon: And feel so proud of yourself.
Kay Sera: “My Diet Coke, I’m fine with this. Here’s your drink.” “Oh, do you need a drink? I am just such a good hostess, even though it’s not my house, let me do that.” So I managed to drink thoroughly over that vacation without my friends knowing it.
KiKi Maroon: Oh my God. So they didn’t know? You just kept yourself right before the point of obvious?
Kay Sera: I kept it right before the point of obvious drunk. But I did get good and drunk in the way that a solid alcoholic can do. Then when I got home from that vacation, I looked at my initial outpatient rehab experience. But I looked at it like detoxing. I don’t really think…
KiKi Maroon: Like, “I’m just going on a juice cleanse!”
Kay Sera: Basically. Yeah. I don’t think it would be honest for me to say that I went into the program thinking, “I’m an alcoholic. This has got to be the end of it for me, or I’m going to die.” I think I went in with, “I need to detox because I’ve been drinking a while and last week was no exception. I’ll do like a ‘booze cleanse’ and it’ll be fine.”
KiKi Maroon: Yeah. I “quit” many times before I quit, because each time it was just proving, “If I can go a month without drinking, then clearly, I’m not an alcoholic!” So then I could start drinking again because I had proven it to myself.
Kay Sera: Totally. You asked about those moments that you remember. I remember driving to work. I had three months sober and I thought to myself, “Oh,I’m three months sober today. Huh. Cool.” And no sooner had I had that thought, than drunk brain jumped right into the party and said, “Well, you’ve got this. You got it.”
KiKi Maroon: “Let’s celebrate!” Haha!
Kay Sera: “You can drink now because you’ve had three months sober. So obviously you’ve got your shit together and you’re fine.”
KiKi Maroon: “Obviously, you’re fine.”
Kay Sera: And I was like, “Wow, that might be the most drunk thought I’ve ever had.”
KiKi Maroon: Oh! How adult of you to think that!
Kay Sera: And the most dangerous thought! I mean, it was an epiphany. I can point it to you on a map, the spot on the highway where I was when I thought, “Holy shit! I am a drunk.” It was crazy, because it came up so loud, so clear, a voice say, “You’ve gone three months sober, now is a good time for you because you’ve proven yourself. Go girl, go to the liquor store.” And it was terrifying. It was a terrifying moment for me. I realized, “This is going to kill me if I don’t stop and keep stopping. This clearly is going to be the end of me.”
KiKi Maroon: Yeah. Our brains are so weird. One of the many, many times I quit, I… started again. I went out with this guy that I had only Facebook-flirted with. We just got completely shit-faced. He came back to my hotel. He was awful and completely inappropriate, so much so that I kicked him in the face and told him to get out. It was really bad. I locked myself in the restroom and said “I’m not getting out until you leave.” He left but sent several texts – “I don’t understand what happened. We were having a great time.” He was terrible. Maybe three weeks later, I was drinking at a bar and he walked in. And… we went back to my house. We did not have sex, thankfully, because he had a friend with him. But I was annoyed that the friend didn’t leave, “Oh my God! Just hurry up and leave.” He never did so they both left. The next morning, my sober brain was like, “I cannot believe I was almost about to do that. What is wrong with me?” And that was my final. “I cannot succumb to that anymore.” That I was willing to do that. I was not in my right headspace. It is insane that I was about to do that. I don’t know why it takes something like that.
Kay Sera: I mean, I’m so grateful for the support of my family and friends and for getting into the outpatient clinic that I did, and for the program of AA. But yeah, it is really amazing to look back and see the things that could’ve killed me, that should have killed me. The number of times I drove drunk is appalling. And the kind of drunk where I would cover one eye. Not to get down to one lane, but to get the four lanes I was seeing down to the two lanes I’d then see… even though there was only one lane that was actually there. Appalling.
KiKi Maroon: I would close one eye to try to force the focus. I would have the windows down and the A/C blowing to keep myself from passing out, and that was totally acceptable at the time because “at least I got home.”
Kay Sera: “Oh, I made it. I can do it. I can drive home with a hand over my eye.”
KiKi Maroon: Once, I was driving home and I got pulled over by a cop. I had a moment of, “Oh my God! I am wasted. I am absolutely wasted.” So I am freaking out. He talks to me and I’m just like, “Hello. Yes, here is my ID.” I was going like five miles over the speed limit or something, so he let me go. And I swear to God, two blocks down, there was a bar, so I pulled over to get a drink to calm myself down.
Kay Sera: Perfect.
KiKi Maroon: Just like, “Oh my God, that was really intense. I need a drink.”
Kay Sera: I remember coming home from a gig, I was in full drag, speeding generously, and this is in sobriety. So I am going 85 [miles per hour] in this little sports car, having fun. And I got pulled over by a cop. It’s the wee hours in the morning and again – I’m in full drag makeup. I remember that I was so happy getting pulled over by this cop because I was like, “Awesome! I’m not drunk, whatever happens now, I’m not drunk. So yay. Fuck it. Yeah, I was speeding.” He came up to the window and I was like, “Hi officer!” Genuinely cheerful, “How are you doing?”
KiKi Maroon: “I got this!”
Kay Sera: “I’m not going to the drunk tank, so it’s all good!” And then, “Do you know how fast you were going?” “No. But I’m sure it was pretty fast for you to pull me over.” And he was like, “Well you have a tail light out,” and I was like, “Really, which one? So I can yell at my husband when I get home to fix that damn tail light!”
KiKi Maroon: It’s that weird perspective.
Kay Sera: “Whatever ticket you want to give me, that would be fine. Speeding, sure, broken tail light, bring it on. Have a nice night officer!” Because I wasn’t drunk. He didn’t give me any tickets as it turned out, but the genuine pleasure of, “This is fine.”
KiKi Maroon: “I can handle this.”
Kay Sera: “I can handle this and yay, this is not going to be a catastrophe, because I’m not drunk.”
KiKi Maroon: Yeah, it’s so funny, the little things that just completely shift. So- because you do work with so many burlesque performers through the BHOF Bill- something that it took me a while to realize is that there is a perceived glamour in drinking. We all have this vision, you can see the woman walking down the staircase in her feather boa, holding her martini glass as the lunchtime cocktail or whatever. And so I think that “broken brain” thought that if I was going to stay in this glamorous world, of course I had to keep drinking. If I stop, then I am not going to be that glamorous person. “Sobriety isn’t sexy.” It’s a weird social programming, we associate drinking with glamour. Is that a trend? Or a thing that you see other people deal with? Or am I just a psycho brain?
Kay Sera: No, I do not think you are a psycho brain at all. And I can certainly relate to the perceived glamour of drinking. Being an alcoholic, I can also relate to the reality of the not-glamour of drinking. I remember that in my drinking days, there was a period where I kept the only New Year’s resolution that I ever successfully kept, which was – I was going to drink only champagne, because I wanted to be glamorous in my drinking. And so for a good year, I drank only champagne and hilariously…
KiKi Maroon: Funny little games we play in our head.
Kay Sera: Oh hilariously, not only was I trying to be “glamorous,” but looking back now, that was just a way for me to try to manage my drinking. I was going to drink fancy.
KiKi Maroon: “Make it more expensive, I have to drink less!”
Kay Sera: Exactly. And the glamour of drinking I think does permeate the problem. When I decided to ramp it up and really become a completely out of control alcoholic, I would leave work and go to a liquor store. At first, I would buy just a little pint. I don’t mean the little, tiny airplane bottles. I mean like pint and a half of Absolut vodka because I thought that was fancy, this was the “Sex in the City” days. So I felt like that was fancy and special. It wasn’t long in my progress before I thought that, “Yeah, it is fancy, but it’s also expensive. That Pub Club is going to do the job just as well.” So it wasn’t long before the mask of glamour fell away, for me to say, “I’m not even going to bother with the glamour of drinking Absolut, I just need to have…”
KiKi Maroon: Exactly. I’m buying more of it, let’s just go with the cheap stuff.
Kay Sera: I need Pub Club, because I’m getting it every day. I was buying a bottle every day on the way home from work. I needed to spend less.
KiKi Maroon: I called vodka in a water bottle my “mobile martini.” That is such a facade. But a “mobile martini” sounded cute and fun, and wasn’t just me being a crazy alcoholic.
Kay Sera: Oh, exactly. The fact that we do glamorize it so much, or at least I did, it was such an artifice of the disease for me to make it glamorous. And again, it helped me to compare out because, since I was drinking only champagne that year or I was drinking only dirty martinis. But then I wasn’t glamorous – I was drinking Pub Club out of a plastic pint bottle. I was compelled to compare in and say, “When are you going to have it in a paper bag and be under that bridge? When is that going to happen to you?” And again, for me, that was a “not yet”. If that was a “not yet” I didn’t get to, great. I had “not yet” had my vodka out of a paper bag under a bridge. I can’t imagine that would have been too far in my future as the other “not yets” happened.
KiKi Maroon: Yeah. Definitely not glamorous in my gown, hunched over a toilet.
Kay Sera: Yeah, that’s a good glamour look.
KiKi Maroon: So if people want to follow you, they can head over to http://www.KaySera.com. As far as social media, you’re on Twitter @KaySera and you were talking about the BHOF Bill. Can you explain what exactly that is?
Kay Sera: Sure. @BHOFBill is a Twitter handle that I run. I Tweet through it on occasion. Often, when I’m at a meeting and I hear something particularly amazing, I will step out really quick and Tweet this wonderful thing. I’ll hashtag it, #HeardAtAMeeting . I run that all year, but it’s mostly active during the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekender. It’s just a way for folks to connect if they need to. If they need to just understand that someone’s out there, they can private message @BHOFBill. There’s also a private Facebook group that burlesque folks can join. They can contact me through private messaging and I can add them. It’s just another way for me, also, to stay sober. It’s helping me stay sober by helping others to achieve sobriety.
KiKi Maroon: Well, you’re definitely helping a lot. You definitely helped me.
Kay Sera: My pleasure.
KiKi Maroon: Okay, so before we go, final question – if you could snap your fingers and everyone across the world instantly believed two things, what would they be? The only thing is, one has to be completely self-serving and selfish. The other one is for the good of humanity.
Kay Sera: Well, being a good alcoholic, I was obsessing over this question like, “I have to give the best fucking answer and prove how deep and amazing I am,” and I was largely unsuccessful.
KiKi Maroon: Haha, that’s why I ask for two.
Kay Sera: But in terms of what I would have the world believe… If it came down to me, I would like the world to believe the things that are true. I would like the world to believe facts. And having opinions is great, but when an opinion flies in the face of a fact and when that opinion is held forward as a fact, I think that is a fundamental, massive problem for all of humanity. So I would like people to believe what is actually true.
KiKi Maroon: It’s getting quite disruptive.
Kay Sera: It is getting quite disruptive. Facts are facts. Opinions are not facts. Like we say, facts are feelings, but feelings are not facts. Opinions are not facts. So believe facts.
KiKi Maroon: That is a really good one. You might’ve won.
Kay Sera: And for self-serving, I think I would really like everybody to believe in the Easter Bunny.
KiKi Maroon: [gasps] OOH!
Kay Sera: Because if everyone believed in the Easter Bunny, there would be even more Easter chocolate made, which means there will be even more Easter chocolate on sale the day after Easter for me to eat.
KiKi Maroon: I love it.
Kay Sera: That would make me so happy.
KiKi Maroon: That would make the world happier. Thank you so much, Kay. You have been fantastic.
Kay Sera: Thank you, KiKi.
KiKi Maroon: I loved having you on and hopefully we can do this again.
Kay Sera: Absolutely.
KiKi Maroon: Thank you.
[Theme song: “Last Call” provided by The Last Domino]
KiKi Maroon: That was Kay Sera. That story about my first sober trip in Vegas was actually during the BHOF Weekender and Kay was there. We were casual acquaintances at best. I saw her in the casino one night and I told her about how the article she wrote made me realize that I was not alone. I’m sure it was super awkward. I was basically a stranger in a ballgown, with a Shirley Temple and a cigarette, crying, “Thank you, Kay, you changed my life.” She was perfectly lovely though and not weirded out at all. I will be forever grateful to her. If you want to see Kay perform, this month alone, she’s going to be at the Hawaii Burlesque Festival, the New Orleans Burlesque Festival, and the New York City Burlesque Festival. She’s all over the place, so follow her on Facebook, Twitter, all the things. Please check her out and follow me @KiKiMaroon. Thanks for listening. I’ll see you next week.