Liberation Through Performance: Comedian, Actress and Burlesque Performer Selene Luna

Selene Luna

“I’m a mouthy broad and I need to yap, I need to talk,” Selene Luna posits. Five tons of attitude in a 3’10” package, she’s done standup and burlesque, reality TV shows and horror movies, and recently added a big-budget Hollywood movie to her otherwise indie resume with a role in Pixar’s Coco.

“You really have to be a well-rounded artist, because opportunities come in every shape,” she explains, “from live stage to TV to internet, so you have to be willing and able to manage all of the different platforms.” Cannabis has long been part of her mixed comedy bag—she’s joked about joints in her performances, hosted a “Yabba Dabba Doobie” standup night and demonstrated munchie cooking in a series of “420 Snack Attack” online videos. She notes that comedy has helped move the discussion about marijuana forward: “It kind of opens the door for all kinds of discussions on just about every taboo subject. The pot craze—it’s easy to discuss it in a standup platform because anything goes.”

Yet Luna believes that the boundary-crossing nature of comedy can also go into other areas; she doesn’t shy away from politics, race and other issues. “I think humor really makes everything palatable, no matter how dark the message or the topic—if you can go in with a little laughter, people are willing to hear it,” she says. It’s something she learned from one of her comedy idols: “Richard Pryor—I really respect and adore him because of his brutal honesty. Not every joke was meant to get a laugh. A lot of it was him speaking about the harsh realities of life . . . you can keep it real in the middle of your yuk-yuks.”

However, she says her biggest influence has been Margaret Cho, her friend, co-star and frequent touring partner. “The most useful lesson I’ve learned from Margaret? Don’t let your inner dialogue take over from what you want to do. You’ve got to just put all of that stuff aside—no one’s ever died from bombing on stage,” Luna asserts, “and every time you bomb, you better yourself.”

Luna has also performed burlesque with the Velvet Hammer troupe and gone on the road with Dita Von Teese, experiences she still carries with her. “It kind of [took] away the mystery of the audience,” she says, crediting burlesque with giving her confidence and the ability to connect with the crowd. “Burlesque also really taught me that performing on stage is not for yourself, it’s for the audience,” she adds.

Comedian, Actress and Burlesque Performer Selene Luna
Selene Luna

With a resume spanning everything from one-woman shows to My Bloody Valentine 3D, what does Selene Luna like to do best? “My preferred genre? It’s whatever pays my rent,” she chuckles. But there is something on her bucket list: “I really want to try sci-fi. I love science fiction, I’m really connected to the nerd side of me. I love anything outer space, I love a lot of visuals, anything with CGI creatures—I love to be bewildered as I’m watching something.”

Sounds like the kind of movies where one might, erm, partake before viewing. “Stoner watching,” she explains. “I love fantasy stuff, things with really intense imagery—like Apocalypto. I just saw it for the first time a couple of nights ago. I had boycotted it because it’s a Mel Gibson film, but I broke down, I had a bowl, I watched it and I thought it was phenomenal.” She doesn’t have a specific strain she favors for movie night, but “it’s got to be a sativa, otherwise I’ll pass out.”

And Luna now has her own trippy visual film with Pixar, Coco, an animated musical fantasy rife with Dia de los Muertos imagery. Not only is she abandoning solo performance mode but, as the voice of Tía Rosita, she’s acting without her physical body. “It’s very different,” she says. “Also, working with an ensemble cast, you really have to be a team member—you really have to be cohesive, one unit, a family when you’re collaborating with others. And there’s a level of professionalism,” she laughs. “I don’t want to get fired if I’m being my usual foul-mouthed self!”

“I’m very proud of this film because it is the first time a major Hollywood studio is using an all-Latino cast,” she continues. Luna also hopes the movie’s message resonates loudly with one person in particular. “I really hope that people take away from that film that it’s a celebration of a beautiful culture. A culture [that is] all about love and family, and you cannot build a wall around it. What I’m trying to say is that Trump can go fuck himself!”

Among Luna’s upcoming projects is the United Colors of Comedy tour, in which she’ll be sharing the stage with a diverse cast of comedians. “There’s something very liberating about performing standup comedy,” she affirms. “You are the master of your domain for that time you’re on stage. It’s the ultimate in punk rock.”

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