Emma Maye Gibson aka Betty Grumble, cabaret performer, Brisbane Festival

We laugh at the control freaks. We connect with rich and diverse ecosystems of being. The biggest challenge is allowing instinct to speak ...

We’re fairly certain that when Emma Maye Gibson created the persona of Betty Grumble she had no idea how larger-than-life the character would become. Self-described as part surreal showgirl, part obscene beauty queen and one part sex clown, Betty Grumble is a cabaret icon in the making that is eviscerating conventions and tackling issues with a form of charged vigour. Betty Grumble’s performances include killer dance moves, self-defence disco dissent and sensual ecosexual discovery. This Brisbane Festival will see Betty perform her acclaimed show, Betty Grumble: Sex Clown Saves The World – a show that will change the way to perceive the world around you and your own inner composition. Before Emma Maye takes the stage as Betty, we put a few questions to her to discover the origins of her out-of-this-world character and what we can expect from her show.

Before we begin, we have to know – what is a sex clown and is there a clown college to learn how to be one?
There is a long history of Sex Clowns – I am not the first or last to whirl into orbit. I would define a Sex Clown as a body that wants to liberate its flesh through laughter and flirting with vulgarity and the obscene. A Sex Clown’s body and spirit becomes a site for catharsis – where comedy and horror mingle. We cast off shame and control, we get down and dirty, we submerge and burst through. Life is plenty school enough for a healthy education. We’re all still learning and still unplugging together. 

Take us back to the early days – where did the concept of Betty Grumble first originate?
Betty Grumble, whose name I take from my grandparents was created as a survival mechanism. Like many drag queens, the sublime expression – the ‘making up’ – was a place to pour grief and outrage, to channel frustration and desire into fantasy and celebration. Betty Grumble was always with me, the faery at the bottom of the garden, the sister, the tree to climb. 

For the uninitiated, who is Betty Grumble?
Betty Grumble is a wish. She is an obscene beauty queen, surreal showgurl, sex clown and wild womanhood. She is coming and becoming. She is an experiment and testament. She is laughing. 

Did the persona come to you naturally, or was there a process of refinement ?
A mix of both. I used to have very specific ideas about how Betty was allowed to be in the world. As I have deepened her, the most interesting play is where those rules have collapsed – the space between the mask and the wearer.

What issues were you eager to tackle with the Betty Grumble character that you couldn’t address through other forms of performance?
It’s not that these issues cannot be addressed in other ways, it is that I chose to approach them within the world of the ridiculous. Realism wasn’t turning me on. I wanted to conjure up something ecstatic to get to some clarity. There is no right way to reach for meaning – what makes us beautiful is our different ways of storytelling. Betty has allowed me to massage my voice, to infiltrate and fuck up. 

What were some of the challenges inherent in developing Betty Grumble’s form of hyper-feminine burlesque?
Unplugging from systems of thinking that shame us into being afraid or even worse, indifferent to our own bodies. Masculinity and femininity flows through us all, it’s all fluid and we should be able to play and display ourselves in which ever ways make us feel mighty real. The feminine body has been annihilated, violated and abused. The second sex, the curse, the heathen, the whore, the witches and bitches – these are all figures I embrace and yearn towards something groovier. We laugh at the control freaks. We connect with rich and diverse ecosystems of being. The biggest challenge is allowing instinct to speak.

Your show is called Betty Grumble: Sex Clown Saves The World. Seeing as the world is in a bit of a sorry state at the moment, we want to know what a sex clown can do to help?
We are dealing with corporatism, fascism, boringness and cruelty on a level that can feel too overwhelming to face. Given the murder that is done in our names, on your plates, in your hands and pockets, its hard not to let fatalism creep in. I made the show to allow space to move through fatalism into hope, to give time and noise to altruism. World saving is a state of mind, an attitude. I believe in utopia being in the struggle, tenderness in all our interactions and maintaining a rage up against right-wing government. The sex clown says you are not alone in it. They want us to feel helpless, but we are not. We can do better. We can topple the greed machine.

Betty Grumble has toured across Australia and internationally – how do audiences across the pond differ to those close to home?
It’s not so different. We are connected on global issues and desire. I have found audiences to be equally beautiful and diverse across the planet. Total Beauty.

Apart from a bit of full-frontal nudity and some adult themes, what can we expect from your show at Brisbane Festival?
Yes, I will be naked, nude. The flesh arrives and you can witness that, expect that and then also expect for that naked woman body to be more than a naked woman body but also she is a naked woman body. Expect some sincerity, idiotic and very skilled dance moves, poetry, rock and roll songs, disco self-defence, garbage, drag and love.

How do you see Betty Grumble evolving in the future?
She might grow some gills and get back in the soup!

Catch Betty Grumble live at her Brisbane Festival show, Betty GrumbleSex Clown Saves The World, taking place at The Loft in Kelvin Grove from September 19–23. 


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