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Issue: Discover Hollywood Summer 2019

The New Vaudeville: Boobietrap LA

Samantha Halbreich

Scot Nery Scot Nery
Photos by Richard M. Johnson


Under a single spotlight, a middle-aged man wearing a plaid jacket and jeans is deep in focus. Sweat beaded on his forehead, his eyes remain locked on the hamburger dancing and spinning atop the teal parasol he holds in his hand. As he yells at the audience, half in earnest and half to keep their attention, about the amount of work that it takes to accomplish such a feat, a yellow light comes on. He has one-minute left. His attention, broken only momentarily, returns to the dizzying burger as he prepares for his finale. He tosses the burger effortlessly from the parasol to his knee, sending it back up again onto the parasol, still spinning. The lights go up, the house band plays, and the burger is thrown into the crowd. The audience cheers and laughs at what is at once madcap and incredibly skilled. This is 21st century Vaudeville.  This is Boobietrap LA.   

Michael Rayner - @brokenjugglerMichael Rayner - @brokenjuggler

On any Wednesday night at the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Whitley Avenue, in an unassuming building behind a convenience store, locals line up on a small carpet, flanked by two Inflatable Waving Arm Guys, eagerly peeking past the bouncer to see what awaits inside. Greeted by a full bar and a house magician practicing sleight of hand and doling out balloon animals, the experience of Boobietrap begins before anyone is seated. Unlike other Hollywood comedy clubs where quiet whispers by venue regulars can make outsiders feel that they aren’t part of the in-crowd, here, there is an immediate sense of community. Newcomers are only distinguishable by their wide eyed stares as they take in the largely empty warehouse, aware only through the palpable energy that something unique awaits them. 

As the show begins and the audience, drinks in hand, take their seats on plastic folding chairs, the house band begins to play. A commanding man, clad in a loud suit and reminiscent of a clown interviewing for a bank job on his day off, takes the stage. It becomes immediately clear that he is the main source of energy in the building. He is Scot Nery, and Boobietrap is his creation. Building the crowds excitement, warming them up and preparing them for what’s to come, Scot covers the rules of the show. Each performer has four minutes on stage. At three minutes, a yellow light bursts on to warn the act that their time is nearly up. At one minute, the lights go up along with two Inflatable Waving Arm Guy’s, and Scot will escort the talent off, yelling if he has to. 

Throughout the night, dozens of performers will get their four minutes on this stage. A man on a unicycle playing the bagpipe, a magician dressed in a space suit, an aerialist held in the air by reams of silk, no skill is off limits. And it is in this variety that, by the third act, it is impossible not to draw comparisons to vaudeville. However, unlike old time vaudeville’s touring town-to-town, Boobietrap shines on a light on the immense and subversive talent living in Hollywood’s backyard, and the importance of this is not lost on Scot.

 

“Hollywood offers so much to the audience, the performers, and us,” he explains. “It feels like a happening place to be- it’s got history. So, in that way it offers performers the ability to perform on Hollywood Blvd which is pretty dreamy on paper. It offers audiences entertainment in a place that they  already know- which leads to more impressive date nights when you can bring someone into a fairly undiscovered world in a place so famous.” 

It is fitting that this genre of show is experiencing a rebirth in Hollywood, a town responsible for the rapid decline of vaudeville in the 1930s. As radio, television, and movies became more readily and financially available, vaudevillian stars such as Bob Hope, Fanny Brice, Will Rogers, and Burns &

Allen were siphoned into the growing and changing film industry. Simultaneously, the Great Depression forced theatre houses like Hollywood’s own Pantages Theatre, built by vaudeville impresario Alexander Pantages, to economize - going from running movies in tandem with variety shows to focusing solely on films. After World War II, the style of comedic anarchy that was the lynchpin of variety shows no longer felt appropriate. Serious minded musicals, created by or at least in the style of Rogers-and-Hammerstein, precluded outsized musical and comedy acts. In the 40s, what was left of comedies raunchier foot holdings gave out to comparatively more innocuous Hollywood comedies such as Arsenic and Old Lace and  Harvey. A new standard was set.

By the 1960’s, television and musical writing giants such as Mel Brooks, Michael Stewart, and Betty Comden began to usher in a new era of less delicate and more joyously silly musical comedies. Shows geared for the proverbial ‘tired businessman’. Old vaudeville greats like Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, and Jackie Gleason, feeling a spark to bring anew their comedic upbringings, rushed to join these new productions. By the 70’s, Hollywood began to see a full reemergence in choice of comedy styling. Iconic comedy clubs such as The Comedy Store and Laugh Factory opened their doors, welcoming new and old talent back on the stage to win fans and laughs. Comedy had come home, but it was now in a compartmentalized form.

silk aerialist Silk aerialist

Today, if you google “comedy in Hollywood”, you’re greeted with an endless list of improv theatres and clubs for stand-up comedians. You can choose sketch comedy, or even Clown. You can attend the circus or see a magic show. But a vaudevillian family home where shadowed talent could emerge and multiple styles of performance could command a stage together did not exist… until Boobietrap.

Drawing on his background as a juggler and busker, Scot saw the need and importance for true variety in Los Angeles. “ LA is brimming with world-class talent that you’ll never get to see. These performers are either traveling or working in places that aren’t open to everyone. I wanted to create a world where all of that incredible talent is accessible to audiences that live here. Boobietrap gives a home for the people that live here and feel isolated, an environment built for performers to feel fulfilled, and it’s become a phenomenon where people can open up and identify with more than just a concert. It's a feat of fun, beauty, weirdness, and love from the world's best entertainers.” And there’s no place in the world where beauty and weirdness combine more synergistically than Hollywood.

Bags of snacks have been tossed out to the crowd, half-time happy hour has quenched the need for more libations, and performers and audience members stare at the stage, eager for how the show will close.  Scot instructs everyone to pick up their folding chairs as the next act needs space. Forming a circle around the center of the room, audience members watch as an acrobat fearlessly twirls on a poll. Friends and couples cling to each other, speechless and giggly from the night passed and still ongoing. The light goes up. The show closes to uproarious cheer from performers and the crowd, and the dazed looks on people’s faces show that they know that they have witnessed both history and future.

If there’s one thing anyone familiar with Hollywood knows, it’s that in this town, you have a finite amount of time to prove yourself. In a place where industry rules and tastes change, begging for the next  big thing, being larger-than-life is a demand from audiences.  

The Steben Twins DuoThe Steben Twins Duo


From stage performers to local baristas, if you want to catch someone’s attention you must be funny and dramatic, refined yet raw, and you must have a schtick. The timer is set, you have four minutes to dazzle, and Hollywood welcomes all who dream to try.