Anatomy of a Fiasco

The SuicideGirls came to town, but no one should blame them if they never come back

Last week, after pouring my tortured relationship with pornography into print in anticipation of the SuicideGirls Burlesque show ("Suicide Squeeze," January 8), I walked out of the show pissed because there was no chance of seeing the ladies, models from the SuicideGirls.com punk rock pinup site, over the mass of people crowding the tiny Big Fish Pub.

It never should have happened that way, and likely wouldn't have if the original promoter hadn't canceled the show at its original venue, the larger Mason Jar, and blamed it on The Man. Initial reports were that the state liquor board had threatened to pull the Mason Jar's liquor license if it proceeded with the show. Those reports were false. The show was canceled because the promoter ignorantly believed that the SuicideGirls Burlesque show wouldn't be profitable enough. Granted, it's a greedy business, but in my opinion that's a decision you make before you book a show, not five days prior to it. Another promoter, Robden Brethauer, saved the show by booking it at the Big Fish, but because of the smaller capacity, no one, especially not the audience, profited the way they could have.

Stupidity is one thing, but deception is another. This debacle didn't happen by accident, and it's demonstrative of the chicanery local promoters often employ.

The first report of trouble came from Sean Suicide, founder and co-owner of the SuicideGirls.com Web site. He called the evening my SuicideGirls column appeared, saying that the Mason Jar show had been canceled because the liquor board was threatening the bar's license if it proceeded with the show.

Early the next day I received an e-mail press release from mPRm Public Relations that read, in part, "The Phoenix Liquor Board threatened to close down the Mason Jar if they put on the [SuicideGirls] show." Assuming someone at the state Department of Liquor Licenses and Control (there is no "Phoenix Liquor Board") had read my column, and subsequently threatened the venue out of prudery, I decided to investigate and bite back, if need be. Turns out, I had reason to bare my teeth.

After some investigation, and assurances from a liquor board representative that the board had made no phone calls to the Mason Jar, the truth came pouring out. I called Michael Manfredi, owner of the Jar, and asked him why the show had been canceled. When I mentioned I had called the liquor board, he cut me off.

MM: "Oh, man, what'd you call the liquor board for? That's not cool. You don't want to do that. That's terrible."

R: "I just asked if they'd given you a call and if the burlesque tour would be against the law."

MM: "They don't know anything about that. All they know is that when you serve liquor, you can't have nudity. . . . I've owned the place for four years and I don't want them in there pokin' around. Are you printing something about this?"

R: "Yeah, I'm gonna do a follow-up on exactly why the show had to move."

MM: "Ah, Jesus, ah, man, that's bad. I can tell you this, without getting people in trouble here, it wasn't my show. It was an outside promoter bringing us the show. But they made that up as an excuse for not doing the show; it wasn't the real reason why."

Manfredi told me that the promoter hadn't believed the SuicideGirls show would draw enough ticket sales, but declined to name the promoter, expressing concern that if he upset the promoter, he may lose shows at his venue. I explained that a press release had blatantly blamed the fiasco on the liquor board threatening his license.

MM: "Well, they didn't, the liquor board had nothing to do with it, as you've found. The liquor board never could pull a show, that's something that they couldn't do, they're just there to tell us what we can and cannot do.

"So now you're kind of in the middle of it, what do you print? You put all that in print, Well, the owner of the Mason Jar told me that it was just a lie that they used because they didn't want to upset the band,' and now everybody's all upset about it because the truth is out and really what we did was we tried to do it so nobody would get hurt, and everybody's gonna get hurt, y'know."

R: "Sure."

MM: "So I don't know where you wanna go with this thing, but the absolute truth of the reason had nothing to do with the liquor board. We don't know what to expect with the show."

Interesting that financial concerns should have caused the heretofore anonymous promoter to cancel. The Burlesque Tour sold out an 800-person venue, the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, days in advance, and sold out its other three California shows with large capacities as well. The Big Fish Pub show sold out, with more than 150 people and more turned away at the door -- even with the last-minute, unadvertised change of venue. The Mason Jar would have held 350 people.

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