Interview with Matt Knife
Burlesque artist takes unique stylings from stage to gallery walls.
HOOK: What makes a successful burlesque performance?
Matt Knife: To quote Indigo Blue, “A performer enters the stage, magic happens, performer exits the stage with less clothes on.” I think that sums it up nicely.
HOOK: What makes a Matt Knife performance a Matt Knife performance? In other words, what’s your signature piece? How did it evolve?
Knife:What makes it mine is that it is mine. No one can be Matt Knife, as I can not pretend to be someone else. I have common themes in my acts: Humor, Darkness, elegance – unless I need to be crude. I am never sure what to expect and I am still evolving. 🙂
HOOK:How would you explain to a go-go boy how he might transition to burlesque performance?
Knife: It is related but a totally different thing. Go-going requires skill and stamina. Burlesque does to0, but also requires good storytelling skills. It is theatrical and should be approached like a piece of art. Burlesque is more than just nudity.
HOOK:What three skills do you need most if you are going to be a burlesque performer? How did you get them?
Knife: Imagination, showmanship, and fearlessness. I was blessed with imagination but I have to constantly exercise it. You have to allow yourself to play, and remember what it felt like to be a kid. Showmanship requires being professional in acting, dancing and costuming. I had to study, practice, and exercise to get better.
Fearlessness is the hardest one for me. You must allow yourself to be vulnerable and exposed – be honest and genuine. You have to put aside your insecurities and baggage; be willing to fail and be scrutinized.
HOOK: Are burlesque fans intense? Do they ever cross boundaries ? How do you handle that?
Knife: Mostly fans are supportive and respectful. I think they recognize that we are artists and we are here to entertain them. Without an audience we would just be masturbating. There have been a few situations where I have been spoken to or touched in a way I was not comfortable with. I politely asked the person to stop or removed myself from the situation. I have reminded people that I am at my job and that is not how they behave at work.
HOOK: Have you ever had sex with an audience member after the show? Can you tell me what inspired you, if you did. If you haven’t, was that a deliberate choice?
Knife: I have had sex with my partner after shows! Two of my friends came separately to my debut. They watch my act, got horny started flirting with each other and now have been together a year. So Burlesque can open up some magic moments.
Why haven’t I hooked up? Because I am working at a show, so hooking up is not the main objective. I do love meeting new people, a good conversation can be better than sex.
HOOK: What would you say are your professional boundaries?
Knife: Other people’s comfort. In theater the lines of sexual professionalism are more liberal than a corporate office job. Boundaries are respected, but it is not uncommon to hear people talk about rim jobs backstage. In Burlesque and porn (I style costumes for gay porn) those lines are even more liberal.
I think it is all about consent, knowing when to back off and when to show some love. I try not to stare, I try to be kind and helpful. Being on time and delivering a quality product are both important. Of course you must have fun, or you are not doing it right.
HOOK: Does your performance name also help you in maintaining boundaries? Does using your fake name help you keep your personal and performance life separate?
Knife: It does. It helps me know when Matt the Stage performer is on and when Matt the person is living his life.
HOOK: Do you consider burlesque performance as related to the sex industry ( like stripping, webcam work, etc) where clients are taunted, teased but no happy endings?If so, do you think there are lessons other sexworkers could learn from burlesque performance? If not, how do you see burlesque in relationship to these other erotic performances?
Knife: I do see it as being part of the sex industry but burlesque is its own entity. It is where theater and sex meet and have all kinds of crazy children. Burlesque and Club Strippers are fraternal twins. Pornography, phone sex and web cam are younger siblings. Escorts are aunts and uncles that drop by from out-of-town on occasion – one family under the umbrella of sex and sexuality.
We all provide a sexual service, the difference is the degree of physical contact with the patrons. Burlesque is just as much about entertainment as it is about desire. There is little to no physical contact with patrons.
I think we can all learn things from each other. I am always open to hear what porn stars or escorts think of what we do. I love to hear their stories. I am certain they could take and give notes about connecting with a patron.
HOOK: You have worked in other areas of the sex industry, including fetish costume design for Lucas Entertainment. Can you tell me more about that?
Knife: Yes, I style business suits for fetish movies. I make porn stars look like business executives. It is the same as designing for opera, drama, TV or film; it’s just the performance medium is different. You go in, you take measurements, you dress them, they sing opera or get fucked in their ass, there is really very little difference. Since what I am doing is no different from working at the Santa Fe Opera or in a costume shop, it’s just work. It is my passion to know costumes in all mediums.
I have done seven films with them. Adam Killian, Mr Pam and Chris Crisco really got me to see porn as a performance and were big supporters of me starting burlesque.
HOOK: Being around the industry in so many capacities has to give you more insight into the other men choosing this industry. What are a couple of reasons you hear that men are working in the business? What was yours?
Knife: Everyone story is different. Some do it for fun, others for money and fame. Some do it for the performance element. Some want to have sex with beautiful people. There are probably as many reasons as there are people in the industry.
Personally for me, I work in the industry because I am very sex positive and responsible. I feel that our culture demonizes sex to the point of causing damage. If I can help ease people’s fears and reservations about sex and empower them to feel sexy themselves, then it is worth it.
HOOK: You are a studio artist who has explored painting and other mediums. Can you tell me about your current fascinations?
Knife: While I was working for Lucas the studio was styled once to look like an office. The other side was set up for a watersports film. Meanwhile I was in my studio experimenting with oxidation copper paintings. You take copper pigment, urinate on it and the urine oxidizes the copper. This was inspired by Andy Warhol’s series in the late 70’s into the 80’s.
I thought one of my paintings would look good in the office set, so I brought it in. Turns out everyone really liked it. Adam Killian expressed interest in doing a few with me. So we started with two canvases and then the other guys followed. I have been recruiting other porn stars and Burlesque performers to do oxidation.
There are many artists in the sex industry. How can the business be more attentive and engaging to let creativity be more prevalent? I think one thing is risk taking. The art world in mostly concerned with making money. I am interested in making money to0, but risks are important.
I wish the business did a couple of experimental films instead of relying on what they think sells. How are you doing to know what the next big thing is if you don’t experiment? Steampunk porn? I would watch it! Super heroes? Burlesque Porn? Bring it on!!!! I will gladly costume it.
HOOK: Last thing: What’s the craziest burlesque performance you’d like to give but just can’t imagine being possible?
Knife: I produce Homo Erectus NYC’s once monthly boylesque review. There I experiment with themes and styles of burlesque. I encourage other performers to do the same. I also try to rally those who do so on their own.
Ideally I would love to produce and perform in a scripted all male burlesque show. Have it be hilarious, sexy and in a bigger venue. The show would include group numbers, side-show, circus and of course tons of naked men of all types.
HOOK: Anything more you would like to add?
Knife: Gay men, please embody the masculine, and honor and respect the feminine. The human experience is not defined by gender, mannerisms or labels.