Rahway, NJ- On April 8 at 8 PM, a performance will come to the Union County Performing Arts Center that embodies the vaudeville spirit the historic theater was founded on in 1928. Uncle Floyd’s Last Authentic Traveling Burlesque Show, led by television and radio personality Uncle Floyd, is a nostalgic variety show featuring comedians, a live band and of course, burlesque performers. Within the two hour performance, there will be songs, dances, laughs and strip-tease in the spirit of the time honored art form.
The roots of burlesque (from the Italian burlesco and burla meaning “joke” or “mockery”) actually extend as far back as 1830s London. Victorian-era burlesque was heavily focused on satire and parody of both contemporary and classical works, such as Shakespeare’s literature. While burlesque made its way to New York in the 1840s, it began to take off in America in the 1860s thanks to Lydia Thompson and her traveling troupe, the British Blondes. Showcasing an all-female cast wearing tights (considered imprudent at the time) and portraying men in a satirizing fashion, the novelty and daring of this show attracted both praise from fans and empowered women and criticism from those valuing modesty and prudence. As time went on, burlesque began to borrow from the structure of minstrel shows of the time, becoming quasi-variety shows: one act of comedy and music performed in formal evening attire, one act featuring variety performers, such as magicians, acrobats, actors and singers, and one final musical act satirizing popular culture at the time, such as plays and operas. Striptease was also introduced in the overall spirit of comedy and parodying societal values, as well as to add to burlesque’s shock value and appeal in the face of film and radio beginning to attract fans. Burlesque thrived in the US until it began to decline in the 1940s, with censorship and the advent of Hollywood slowing its progress. By the 1970s it had mostly died out, though Burlesque scenes continued briefly to appear in scenes in films. The 1990s saw a movement called Neo-burlesque begin to rise again; however, top banana Uncle Floyd prides himself on the fact that his act mimics the old style that he came to know and love growing up.
Uncle Floyd’s full name is Floyd Vivino, and he was born in 1951 in Paterson, NJ. Involved in the arts since early childhood, Vivino studied piano, dance (as a child, he tap danced at the 1964 World’s Fair) and acting, and even tried his hand at broadcasting using a pirate radio station belonging to his friend in high school. After graduating school, he worked at circuses and amusement parks (his signature colorful plaid coat, porkpie hat and bow-tie seem to reflect this era), and even as a comedian for the dwindling burlesque shows of the time. In 1974, all of Vivino’s experience came together in a revolutionary way, and he created The Uncle Floyd Show. Originally only airing in the New Jersey and New York City areas, the show received syndication in Philadelphia, Chicago and Boston in 1982. It ran until 1992 on its first run and received one final season in 1998. Much like Lunch with Soupy Sales and the later Pee Wee Herman Show, The Uncle Floyd Show was marketed towards both children and adults, with children being drawn towards the use of whimsical puppets and adults being able to detect the more subtle humor. Vivino’s show made use of his very distinct brand of comedy: witty, good-natured jokes, impressions and on-the-spot songs that delight with their straight-forward comedic approach. With a variety of gags and bits, the show also included performances by musical guests, including Bon Jovi, Cindy Lauper, and The Ramones on multiple occasions. A beloved cult classic, The Uncle Floyd Show was not only immortalized by fans who watched it growing up, but even by the late singer David Bowie. The song Slip Away directly references Floyd and the puppets that appeared in his show. Today, aside from live performances and appearances around New Jersey, Vivino runs The Uncle Floyd Radio Show on http://www.unclefloydradio.com.
Tickets for Uncle Floyd’s Burlesque Show range from $15-$20 and can be purchased online at ucpac.org, over the phone by calling (732) 499-8226 or in person at the box office. Tickets for students and seniors range from $15-$18. Both the student/senior price and the group price of $15/person (for groups of 10 or more) are available by phone or in person only. Box office hours are Tuesday through Saturday 11 AM- 5 PM, with extended hours of 11 AM- 8 PM on Thursdays. The Union County Performing Arts Center is located in downtown Rahway at 1601 Irving Street and is easily accessible to major roads and public transportation.