Lady Rizo pays homage to her homeland in ‘Red, White and Indigo’
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Lady Rizo pays homage to her homeland in ‘Red, White and Indigo’

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The Melbourne International Comedy Festival attracts the best and brightest talents from across the globe, and so it stands to reason we would find a representative from that city of cities, New York. A celebrated regular on the Big Apple’s cabaret scene, Lady Rizo has been calling Australia her temporary home since January, and her paean to ‘bad boyfriend’ America, Red, White & Indigo, has been evolving since she hit the ground.

“The [New York] scene is very dissected,” she says. “I feel like there is a Downtown alternative cabaret scene that is very, very separate from the Uptown, classical cabaret or musical theatre realm. I think the Downtown scene overlaps with the burlesque and vaudeville world. There’s more identification with queer performance culture, and artists that work on their own shoestring budgets. But I think that it’s important that when people think I’m burlesque, that they’re not going to see much striptease. I don’t want expectations to be shattered, but I do take off a glove.”

The Grammy Award-winning performer laughs. To watch Lady Rizo perform is to see someone in the cups of comfort; suggesting she was born for the stage is surely not much of a stretch. Yet a life of cabaret wasn’t always on the cards, and I wonder if there may have been some Sliding Doors moment where an alternate performance path presented itself.

“I think that movie’s idea was better than the execution. I think the idea of Gwyneth Paltrow is much better than the execution, too. But I was studying at Upright Citizens Brigade. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler and other comedians who came out of Second City started this long-form improv training ground below a supermarket in New York. I really thought that I would go into comedy. I was always a comedic actress who sang, and I really loved doing improv and really excelled at it. But I couldn’t handle the atmosphere of comedians who were desperate for success. I found this weird thing where boys who got into stand-up comedy were nerds, and they finally got some sort of power if they were good, and they got drunk with that. I found it very cliquey, and it was made very clear to me that it wasn’t my scene.”

From this setback, however, Lady Rizo has carved her own hilarious path and, with film and television pitches in the works, is more in-demand than ever. She has also found a whole new community of creatives to keep her performance passions fresh.

“Even though I perform as a solo artist now, I’m a very collaborative artist. I love making art with others, and I find it quite hard to work in a vacuum. What I do now is work with musicians. It took me forever to share my own songs, even though I’d been writing them all along, because I saw songwriting as such a high form. I couldn’t imagine being in that pantheon. So I found a connection in a scene, in that same queer Downtown-New-York-cabaret-burlesque-wonderful weirdos-with-sparkles-on-them realm.”