Interview: Kitten on the Keys

I've had the pleasure of working with Kitten on the Keys at Tease-O-Rama and Exotic World many times, and she is one of the most endearing people on the scene. She's fierce and funny, and has incredible glamour and style. I'm performing with her this coming weekend at Tease-o-Rama, and I can't wait!

Photo by Becca Henry for Alarm Magazine.

How and when did you come up with the name "Kitten on the Keys"?
Kitten on the Keys is the name of a 1922 Novelty Ragtime Song by composer Zev Confrey. The song emulates dozens of furry footed creatures running over a piano keyboard. I sometimes feel I have Many small furry animals running around in my brain PLUS I started in the cabaret world as a Tin Pan Alley Flapper Rock Betty Boopish gal so the era of the song was perfect. I am still very obsessed with the 1920’s flapper era of freedom-bob your hair, raise your skirts, smoke and drink and WEEEE..throw away that corset! I came up with the name sometime in the 1990’s while working in a vintage clothing store. People always ask-when you play the ukulele who are you then?=2 0When you just sing who are you then? When you MC who are you? Damn it-stop confusing me…I barely know who I am. I am just Kitten on the Keys.

How would you describe yourself--performer? MC? Musician? You have a unique place in burlesque!
I am quite the goody bundle of kitsh. I started with Harvest Moon and the Cantakerous Lollies and Fisherman’s Famous Burlesque Orchestra in SF. That is where I started singing and everything-I was a lowly pianist who needed to BUST OUT!I just got lucky to be in the right place at the right time. I was unique and could “fill in” while the pretty girls changed their outfits! I am a multi tasker-the ol ADD that the meds are always trying to wrangle and curtail ….a blessing and a curse. I do not know why I fit in but I am glad I do! I think it is my naughty sensibility and passion for playing dress up. Besides the early girlie music scene I was involved in and playing piano in resthomes , this is the first group of folks that seem to “get me” and appreciate my eccentricities.

Kitten on the Keys, Photo from her myspace
Kitten by Jim Fierra

How long have you been performing?
I started very young-3 as a Christmas Angel in a Church Pageant I was a total brat-I remember giving myself crazy updoos with lots of bobby pins and then getting all pissy and sitting under the cross and singing LOUDER than anyone-jeeze I should be embarrassed but it is pretty funny. -I did TONS of performing in the church-I had a VERY religious mom and a musician pop who was never home . I was obsessed with rock and roll but was told only JAZZ and JESUS mattered. I was e ven in an interpretive dance troupe in church called the Earthen Vessels-we wore brown 70’s Danskin leotards and skirts and the air conditioning was on full blast out nubile nipples would show through and POOF! That was then end of the Earthen Vessels….. I went on to do theater at American Conservatory Theater’s Young Conservatory where all my pals were super Punk Rock and I just stopped coming home. My mom just thought I went to all night parties all the time-if she only knew. I played in the ultra hip High School Rock Band with all the music nerds who could not go out to play because they had to practice their violins and cellos. Then there was Rocky Horror Picture Show …… I then got into many all girl bands and made some records. The White Stains, named for an Allister Crowley book was fueled by the singers meth addiction and made it into the top 10 on college radio. We played at all of the old cool punk/art rock haunts –sometimes I get asked to do these reunions and it his great to see who is still alive! I was into theater at College, was the music director of a radio station, made avant garde music in the electronic music department , did tons of crazy performance pieces, and worked in art galleries-all while chemically impaired. Speaking of chemicals- I hooked up with Courtney Love, Kat Bjelland, and Jennifer Finch and made a pretty=2 0famous pre Hole, Babes in toyland, and L7 Demo…it is really super funny and not what you would think at all.… The Band was called Sugar Babydoll and then Sugar Babylon...I quit the music scene after that bundle of hooey ,got my BA in Performance Art from San Francisco State , worked in the coolest Vintage Clothing Stores for YEARS and listened to 1920’s and 1930’s rarities on a Victrola and collected a bundle of naughty flapper sheet music . All of these experiences molded me into who I am today-A mouthy flapper with an edge who just happens to be an attention whore.

How did you get interested in burlesque?
I always liked it NAUGHTY- I was the kind of kid who was making my friends faint in the girls room in elementary school….. That poor girl who was whisked away in an ambulence after I told her about hickeys……Stole Playboys at 8 and read the Happy Hooker at 11. I just met Xaviera Hollander in Edinburgh and I told her that story…all she wanted to know is if my DAD was still horny at 82. (icky thought-yes I am still damaged) I cut Sunday School to watch Shirley Temple save the world from the Depression -she was in these early films called Baby Burlesques wearing nothin’ but a diaper and an attitude like Mae West. All of my male friends were flamboyant and had good taste in school and I flocked to them ….my Mom alw ays told me there was something “not quite right about my little friends”-I thought they had cancer or something and had no idea what GAY was. So in a nutshell, I was always drawn to forbidden and nudge nudge wink wink things. I had the uber religious well meaning mama and the frustrated dorky musician dad. Thank goodness I played the piano for a singer who performed with the Cantakerous Lollies in a San Francisco Cabaret-way back when. Harvest Moon was kind enough to listen to my ideas and the next thing you know-she and the gals have me singing at the best venues in town. Next I am in the Fishermsn’s Famous Burlesque Orchestra and we took a tour to Exotic World! WOW! That was the NEATEST thing I had ever done and it opened my eyes to this entire underground movement based on honoring women , DIY, music, and culture of the past-I was in heaven.

What does burlesque mean to you?
Golly so many things pop into my head-I ike the poor man’s theater (doing burlesque is making me POOR) , I like political satire, I like theater from a kinder gentler era returning to this war torn tabloid ridden technological world where you can see anything you want with the click of a mouse on a computer. I love history, glamourous fashion , feathers, sequins, rhinestones, gorge ous acres of flesh, a wicked sense of humor, jolly good fun, creativity, honoring wicked cool women...

What was your first experience with live burlesque?
My first experience with live Burlesque is a strange one. I was always the eccentric, ahead of her time kind of child who was obsessed with music and the forbidden at an early age. I was fortunate enough to see the rock band QUEEN live at Berkeley Community Theater, a two thousand seater, second row center when I was eleven. Queen was not very well known then-before the arenas and Bohemian Rhapsody. Freddie Mercury came out singing the now way overdone “Big Spender” in a gorgeous kimono and bumped and grinded his way down to teeny tiny little black and white striped shorts- I felt funny all over and became quite obsessed with his sultry moves. I think I was the only kid in elementary school who could not hear for weeks at a time going to these shows. My next turn came when my family and I would walk through Chinatown/North Beach in San Francisco. My Dad would linger in front of the nudie bar to my uber jesus smitten Mom’s chagrin. My Dad is a jazz drummer and he used to go on the road with burlesque dancers. He was born cross eyed and to pay off the eye operation the band leader paid for-my dad toured the mid west several times playing in a three piece bands for dancers. My Dad is quite t he “character” and has some interesting stories of the day. My fave involves an animal loving dancer and her pet birds that helped her “take it off” and a prank the band pulled on her with some laxatives in the bird seed-AGGHHH that is my dad. He has always embarrassed me.

What is one of your favorite experiences so far?
SO MANY! I am blessed with so many wonderful glittery images dancing in my brain because of burlesque! WOW! Meeting Harvest and having her invite me along , Dixie Evans, Tempest Storm, interviewing Liz Renay, Tura Satana, Kitten Natividad, Ricci Cortez, chatting with Satan’s Angel on the phone, traveling the world, working with Catherine D’Lish and Dirty Martini, meeting such talented men and women from around the world…JEEPERS…..I am a kid in a candy store here-I am blessed with so many great experiences and I know I will continue to have more. Walking through Paris and seeing my stage name on a kiosk was OVERWHELMING.

Kitten on the Keys photographed by Valerie Archeno

Tell me a little bit about traveling--a favorite place you've traveled, a favorite tour, just a little bit of info.
I have been on so many fabulous tours…from Burlesquefest with Devotchka and Catherine D’Liish in the old days to the Twisted Cabaret of the Damned with punk rock legends The Damned in the UK. . My gal pal Mi Mi le Meaux, and Scottish Burlesque Starlette Missy Malone and I travele d for 30 days in a bus with the band throughout the UK, Wales and Ireland. Everyone seems to think this rock star life on the road is SO glamourous. Let me tell you-it is all crowded, stinky, dirty, germ riddled, and NOISY! Showers are rare and all I really saw of the country was the rubbish bins behind the clubs! The UK is great though-my fave shows have been at the Candy Box Burlesque in Birmingham. They have a fantastic live band, a family run operation, and a well dressed appreciative audience. I have been back a couple times and did a solo show with them-FABULOUS folks Al and Saffron! I love the UK-they seem to like their “mad” eccentric performers over there.

Who inspires you most, and why?
I have so many inspirations! The Legends really make me swell with pride. They paved the way for me to be doing what I am doing now.

What is your favorite aspect of burlesque as it is now?
I love that more and more legends are being sought out and are coming to the reunions and are coming out of retirement. I like that other counties are recognizing it as an artform and starting their own scenes! It is a glitter explosion out there folks. I think it is so big you can see it from outer space! I just caution those if you do it- DO IT WELL!

What would you like to do or see next in burlesque?
I still would love to do a burlesque themed chat show- That has20been a goal of mine for a few years. Even cable access would be fun. It would have legends for their wise comments on yesteryear, glorious performances, fan dance dance offs, rhinestone tips, burlesque historians, variety acts, of course a glue gun craft corner, business tips, photo tips, ETC. Oh WHAT FUN! I feel so lucky to be a part of such an amazing Burlesque Family-thanks for letting me tag along for the fun!

Get more of Kitten on the Keys (you can never get enough!) at
Variety and Musical Artist

Posted by Jo Weldon, Headmistress of The New York School of Burlesque, for


Unknown said…
Thoroughly enjoyable. Thanks!!

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