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Should You or Shouldn't You?:
A Guide to Experiencing The Great Fredini's "This Or That!

Anyone who's been to Coney Island's Sideshows by the Seashore knows what a den of vice and bizarre entertainments it is. And anyone who returns probably loves it for the same reason.

For years Sideshows has been dishing out what Disney will never be able to give you, and the burlesque is not the least of these offerings. For years Coney Island was home to the classic Tirza's Wine Baths, a burlesque performance that ended in the dancers taking a bath in wine. Later on, in the 80's, someone named Wild Girl used to run a once a year go-go-rama night there, but at that time it was more difficult to get both dancers and audience members to journey all the way out to Coney Island. Then, about six years ago, two things happened. For one, Fred Kahl (a.k.a. The Great Fredini) started getting involved with Sideshows by the Seashore. Together with burlesque performer Bambi (a.k.a. "The Uncontestable Queen of Coney Island") he started hosting a series of burlesque performances at Sideshows, culminating in the Burlesque at the Beach summer series. Secondly, burlesque has been steadily gaining in popularity all over the country, but especially in cities like New York, L.A., and New Orleans. The "burlesque revival" has resulted in conventions like Tease-O-Rama, and in more dancers and burlesque fans flocking to events like Burlesque at the Beach.

The main difference between burlesque and an ordinary strip show, according to Fred and practically any other burlesque performer that you might ask, is that while there's a certain power struggle that goes on at a strip club between the performers and the audience, burlesque is all about being sexy and having fun. As a result it opens itself up to being a much more varied and artistic medium, and lends itself to being easily spliced with other forms of entertainment.
Game shows, for instance.

Fred's newest project "This Or That!," is basically like a combination of "Let's Make a Deal," "The Gong Show," and the historical Minsky's Burlesque. In most game show setups, the contestants have already been selected before the show begins, plucked out of the cornfields of Iowa, or their Florida condo, or straight out of their university's graduating class, or so they'd have you believe. Not so with Fredini's "This Or That!". The unsuspecting contestants are picked from among the audience members filling the bleachers in this ramshackle Coney Island den of vice. The unsuspecting nature of your average "This Or That!" contestant is debatable, though. Because when Fredini offers an oversized version of a Monopoly $100 and the chance to be a contestant in exchange for any audience member showing him a Metrocard or a red lipstick, whoever is foolish and/or brave enough to raise their hand aloft, clutching the requested object, must know that they're putting themselves at the mercy of Fred and his bevy of burlesque dancers.

Sitting in the sweltering bleachers, you may feel a sudden desire to raise your hand surging up within you. You may feel your arm extending, clutching that Metrocard or lipstick, almost outside of any act of will on your part, almost like when you feel your hand going for that $20 when you're standing next to a game of Three Card Pickup on the street. I'm not urging any caution on your part; when you enter Sideshows by the Seashore for the burlesque or any other act, really, you'd better check things like caution at the door. If your hand wants to fly up in response to Fredini's prompting, by all means let it! But here, in more or less short form, is a list of some of the good and bad things that might happen to you if you become a "This Or That!" contestant (but not all of the good or bad things. We want to leave some surprises):

Reason to Volunteer #1: The chance to talk about yourself.
As with many game shows, once you're lined up next to your fellow contestant Fredini will ask you to "tell us something about yourself," in which case you're give the opportunity to make some witty comment or confess something that the audience should know. Since the burlesque is essentially about theatricality and illusion, you might even want to lie to make your answer more interesting. It might be a good idea to lie, in fact, since cultivating this ability now may help with questions asked in later stages of the game. If you say something especially interesting about yourself, you may even want to punctuate it with a "Yeah! Wooooo!" at the end, as in "I was born and raised in Queens! Yeah! Wooooo!"
Reason Not to Volunteer #1: The chance to talk about yourself
You might not have anything witty or interesting to say about yourself at all on such short notice, in which case Fredini will respond to whatever you say with something like "Uh, that's… great," which could be kinda embarrassing.

Reason to Volunteer #2: Prizes
There are all kinds of fun, sexy prizes that you can win by playing "This Or That!," which you will not win by sitting in the audience being a wimp and a coward. What kind of prizes you ask? Things like slutty underwear, butt plugs, and Hello Kitty vibrators. And those are just the inanimate prizes.

Reason Not to Volunteer #3: Difficult questions of questionable morality
Unfortunately, you're gonna have to earn those prizes. You're going to have to answer some questions correctly to get them, and Fredini is not going to ask you who the fifth president of the United States was, or what the capitol of Iowa is, or which James Bond was in the movie Octopussy. Most of Fredini's questions sound like they came straight out of The Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices (in fact, you should probably purchase a copy and start studying if you plan to be a "This Or That!" contestant). Here are some questions you may be asked:

What are bang tails?
1. a chastity belt
2. butt fucking
3. race horses

What is podophelia?
1. someone who's in love with their eye pod (huh?)
2. guys who like to stick their penises in holes in the bathroom wall
3. a foot fetisch.

Reason Not to Volunteer #3: Punishment for wrong answers
If you answer any of these pervertedly encyclopedic questions incorrectly you're subject to punishment at the hands of Fredini's lovely assistant Miss Julie Atlas Muse, who will pull a leather flogger out of some obscure corner of the "This Or That!" set, bend you over, pull your pants down to just below your ass cheeks (if you're a guy-the girls escape this fate somehow), and administer between three and ten spanks. This may not happen just once but several times during the course of the show. If you keep answering wrong, that is.
Reason to Volunteer #3: Punishment for wrong answers

The adorable blonde Miss Julie Atlas Muse will most likely be wearing a pair of sequined hot pants, fishnets, and stiletto heels. And incidentally, she registers all the vicissitudes of the game with some of the most winning facial expressions I've ever seen. So overall if you're going to have to get spanked anyway it could be worse. A lot worse.

Reason to Volunteer #4: "Winner" acts
At some point you'll be asked to choose from between door #1 and door #2 ("this" door or "that" door). One of these doors is the "winner" door, behind which hides a buxom burlesque dancer with a choreographed routine at the ready. You never know who it might be; it could be one of LA's Velvet Hammer girls. It could be New York's Dirty Martini or Katerina from the Cirque du Soleil. Maybe its even the Incontestable Bambi herself with one of her characteristically bizarre performances. In any case, the girls (and guys) strut their stuff with true blue movie style.

Reason Not to Volunteer #4: "Loser" acts
Not that you can ever really be a loser at the burlesque. And not that any of the so called "loser" acts lying in wait behind the "wrong" curtain aren't just as entertaining as the "winner" acts-maybe even more so in some cases. But for the sake of a 50/50 balance I'm listing this kind of act as a Reason Not to Volunteer.
If you choose your door unwisely you might be entertained by Tigger staggering around drunkenly in drag, pulling layer after layer off of his body until he's left without much more than a leopard print cock sock. There will be an annoying fat guy behind you yelling "All right Tigger!" You should try to ignore the fat guy.
Other times, something unpleasant an hairy might emerge from behind the curtain. I said unpleasant and hairy.

Reason Not to Volunteer #5: hotdog eating contest
This contest is the second or third to last entertainment at every "This Or That!" show. A handful of poor saps are picked out of the audience by Fred and told that whoever can eat the most hotdogs (lying in multitudinous paper bowls on a table in center stage) will win a fabulous prize. Luckily the hotdogs are miniature ones, but its still a pretty sickening sight, folks. I mean I can really feel my guts expanding and myself getting nauseous when I watch. Sickening and yet strangely entertaining.

Incidentally, I've been to "This Or That!" twice and a dyke has won this contest both times. Coincidence?

Reason to Volunteer #5: sexy banana eating contest

You get to be a porn star for 10 minutes or so. With all of the other contestants. And bananas.

Regardless of whether or not you participate in "This Or That!," the show is well worth the trip out to Coney Island. Between the great variety of performances and Fredini's charisma and showmanship, you're bound to have a strip-tastic time. So get on your pasties and get out there.

The last two "This or That!" performances of the season are on August 16th and September 13th at Sideshows by the Seashore. Check for other acts in the Burleque at the Beach series.

--Jane Rose

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