Local burlesque fans may recognize Michelle L'amour from her 2010 New Orleans Burlesque Festival performance or recent appearances in Bella Blue's Dirty Dime Peepshow. But she's also become a familiar face in the French Quarter. She and husband Franky Vivid split time between Chicago and New Orleans but are spending more time here.
"We started planting our roots here and we are a lot happier," L'amour says. "The place we're living in used to be a brothel, which appealed to us. It was the Norma Wallace place on Conti (Street). It was featured a lot in [the book] The Last Madam."
L'amour is in New Orleans this week for a show in her Pretty Funny tour, which features strippers and standup comics. The tour recently stopped in New York, where L'amour performed with fellow new burlesque stars Dirty Martini and Atlas Julie Muz. The New Orleans show includes local performers Bella Blue and Charlotte Treuse.
"Bella and I are going to do a fun, dirty showgirl number that uses more hard-edged rock," L'amour says. "It's pretty. We'll have feathered headdresses and beaded bras. And Charlotte will do her carousel horse act."
The Pretty Funny tour built on talents available in Chicago, where it was easy to find comics for shows.
"It started in Chicago under the name Wiggle Room as a weekly show," L'amour says. "The idea to expand it came from the comics, because they move all the time — to New York or Los Angeles. Chicago loses comics all the time, and they should go to New York or L.A. But we thought, 'Maybe we should try meeting up with them there.'"
In New York in July, she was joined by Kenny DeForest, Matteo Lane and Janelle James. DeForest and James are transplants from Chicago, where they were regulars at clubs including the Laugh Factory. Between them, their New York credits include appearances at the Knitting Factory with Hannibal Buress, Caroline's and Gotham Comedy Club.
"This idea was to modernize the comedy in burlesque," L'amour says. "It has always had a strong connection — Lenny Bruce used to perform at burlesque theaters."
This Friday, Pretty Funny features Chicagoan Adam Burke, DeForest and local comic Andrew Polk. Immediately following the show, there's a party with DJ AJent O from Los Angeles.
L'amour hopes to take Pretty Funny to Los Angeles next. She's performed in Los Angeles before — in a 2006 appearance on the first season of America's Got Talent. Actor David Hasselhoff was one of the judges, and L'amour did a routine involving a car resembling KITT, the artificially intelligent, talking vehicle from Hasselhoff's 1980s crime-fighting action series Knight Rider. L'Amour came onstage in mechanics' coveralls and stripped to the show's theme song. Hasselhoff and the audience liked the act, but the other two celebrity judges didn't.
In Chicago, L'amour turned burlesque into the foundation of a full-time career. She won the Miss Exotic World title in 2005 and tours regularly, performing in Dita Von Teese's Strip, Strip, Hooray!. She directs a burlesque troupe called The Chicago Starlets, and her Chicago business, Studio L'amour, offers classes Monday through Thursday (taught by several burlesque stars) and sponsors shows and events, including the literary salon Naked Girls Reading.
There have been several New Orleans installments of Naked Girls Reading — including a holiday edition featuring carols — at Tiki Tolteca, the Paris Room (above Cafe Soule) and Scott Edwards Gallery.
"This last one we did was super-fun," L'amour says. "It was around Tales of the Cocktail. We read a bunch of cocktail literature involving different types of drinks. We may do another in September with a pirate theme."
L'amour has gravitated toward New Orleans since she and her husband started visiting regularly in 2008.
"Me and Franky were working really hard," she says. "We needed a vacation and New Orleans popped into our heads. We came down in December. It took us a couple days in New Orleans to breathe. And then we completely fell in love with the city and starting making yearly trips — every December we spent two weeks there. ...
"Every time we would leave we would cry. We would pine for New Orleans when we were in Chicago, not to mention Chicago winter is awful. ... We decided to push more for New Orleans and started planting our roots there."
Pretty Funny returns to Chicago for a September show, and L'amour comes home for the New Orleans Burlesque Festival (Sept. 18-21).