Midnight Mayhem, the betrothed burlesque duo comprised of New York City-based performers Samson Night and Margo Mayhem, is far from faking the heat on stage. For the busy actor-slash-performers who juggle theater gigs, auditions and their thriving solo burlesque careers, Midnight Mayhem acts are a sacred time when the two can connect physically and emotionally through the creative ritual they love best: the art of the striptease.
These intimate moments, when they're able to celebrate the love, trust and chemistry of their relationship, just happen to be in front of a jaw-slacked crowd. They don't mind.
A daisy dukes-clad Margo Mayhem burst into the burlesque scene in 2017 with a 1950s-era flamingo pool float act that integrated her authentic style of silly-meets-sexy, now signature to her routines. Not long after her entrée into burlesque, Mayhem met a cute boy at a charity theater show. Within months of dating, her new boyfriend and future fiancé, Samson Night was shimmying on stage right next to Mayhem, and, soon after, debuting shows of his own.
Now the couple is winning burlesque competitions, ranking on the 21st Century Burlesque Top 50 list and igniting stages across the US with blood-pumping acts that leave the audience flushed and wanting more.
Read on for a romantic PAPER exclusive conversation with the Midnight Mayhem crew about both their on-stage and behind-the-curtains dynamics.
Happy Valentine’s Day! Are you celebrating the holiday?
Samson Night: Working.
Margo Mayhem: Yeah, we're both working today, but we have plans to have dinner together afterwards.
How did both of you come into the burlesque space?
Margo: I'd always been interested in burlesque, but didn't really know how one went about getting into it. It was before Instagram days. I ran into a girl that I went to college with, who was a huge burlesque star, at Viva Las Vegas. I was like, "Oh my God, I just really would love to be doing this." She was like, "When we get back to New York, call me and I'll help you get started and introduce you to people and stuff." That's how I made my way into the world, and then Sam and I met not long after that at a charity show called Broadway Bares. It's burlesque-adjacent, but it's theater people and it's for charity.
Sam: It was my first year at Broadway Bares, and our numbers were right after each other.
Margo: Yeah, adjacent.
Sam: There's this big fundraising component to it.
Margo: I'm very competitive.
Sam: It's a motivator for the people to raise as much money as possible. There's a crowning and a sash and all the things. She’s very competitive. I was the highest fundraiser that year.
Margo: And I was second. I was very close to winning and I was very mad about it.
Sam: That's how we met.
Margo: I went up to him backstage the first time we actually spoke. He goes: "Yeah, I know who you are."
Sam: I asked her out on a date. We had breakfast that morning and then we met up later that day.
Margo: I got day drunk. He was leaving out the questionable parts. I got day drunk while he went to work. I was with friends of mine and I was like, "Come meet me at The Slipper Room!" And he was like, "What's The Slipper Room?" I was like, "Don't worry about it. Just show up."
Sam: I showed up to The Slipper Room and I had no idea what I was walking into.
Margo: I wasn’t performing, I just wanted him to come hang out.
Sam: I walked in and Jezebel Express was the first proper burlesque performer that I saw live. She was on stage doing her astronaut number. I was like, "Oh my gosh, where am I?" And that was my intro to burlesque.
So Sam, how did you transition from Slipper Room attendee to burlesque performer?
Margo: He became a super fan. He would come to every show when he wasn't working. He loved everything.
Sam: I'm still probably the biggest fan of it that there is out there.
Margo: You're the biggest fan I know. During the pandemic, we watched a hundred hours of burlesque in a row. He just wanted to watch. All of the Burlesque Hall of Fame videos are online. They're on video. He was like, “Let's start from the beginning and just watch them all.”
Sam: All the panels, all the legends, everything.
Margo: The Burlesque Hall of Fame is a huge competition that happens every year in Vegas. They celebrate burlesque legends.
Sam: And the history of burlesque.
Margo: They have this huge competition every year, part of it is to celebrate the legends that are still alive. A lot of them still perform, which is amazing. They're like 70, 80 years old and still humping the curtains. It's terrific. It's very competitive. It’s like the Super Bowl of burlesque. And it’s very hard to get into, especially when the categories were still gendered. It was really difficult for women to get into the initial category because they have hundreds and hundreds of applications.
Back when we first started dating (and I was months into my own burlesque career), I was too nervous to apply by myself, but I knew that the applications for group numbers were smaller. So I said to him, "Hey, I have an idea for an act. I would love to do it with you because I trust you to pick me up over your head and not drop me." I was like, "You never ever have to do this ever again.”
Sam: So we made the number.
Margo: We were going to sleep one night and he was like, "I bought a trench coat on Amazon." I was like, "Okay, for what?" He was like, "Well, I want to do an act as Shaft."
Sam: I just got so into it. I had already been a huge fan of it. My introduction was due to Margo, which is weird. We're a couple, but she's also my burlesque mom.
Margo: They call [the person who brings you into burlesque] your mom. So yeah, I'm his Mommy. He came up really fast too. He's kind of a unicorn: he's a straight, tall, Black man in burlesque, which doesn't exist.
Sam: I’d also like to think that I'm decent at it as well.
Margo: He's wildly talented. What number are you on the 21st Century Burlesque Top 50 list?
Sam: Number six.
Margo: We're actors in our regular lives. Burlesque is just what we do to keep sane. You have so little control over what you do in the theater world, that this is where we get to do what we want to do and we get to work together.
Sam: There's not a lot of scripted material [in the theater world] that I feel encompasses all the layers of who I am as a person. In burlesque, I get to decide that for myself.
What's your favorite parts about performing together as burlesque duo Midnight Mayhem?
Margo: I really like getting to share our relationship with other people. The first act that we ever put it together was ultimately about our relationship and how we share power. There's a give and take to who's in charge and when, which is very much what our relationship is about. It's really enjoyable to have a private and very real moment in a very public way and be celebrated for that. It's really special when we get to do that.
Sam: Our acts, for the most part, take a pretty big amount of trust and there's a huge intimacy component. Being able to make sure that no matter how busy our lives are when we have that moment, those moments of trust and intimacy is a kind of like a reset.
Margo: I mean there have been periods of time, especially when we're both doing theater shows, that being on stage is the only time I see you when we're not home and going to sleep, so those are our moments. It's just very intimate, personal things of your relationship that are being watched by hundreds of people.
What is it like watching the other perform when you're not on stage together?
Margo: I love it. Sam was just doing a show in Portland called “Boyeurism.” I flew out to Portland for the day. My schedule was chaotic, but he was doing a new act that I really wanted to see him do live. I sat front row center and just freaked out. I was crying like a crazy person. It's so incredible to watch the person you love be really good at what they do, watch them be celebrated by other people and see them do something that feeds their soul. Also, it never hurts to watch a bunch of people fall in love with your partner and be like, “Ha, that's mine.”
Sam: I was a fan [of Margo’s] first: before we were partners and before we decided to commit to each other in the way that we have. It’s really cool for me to watch because I feel like I learn something new every single time that I watch her because our processes are very, very different. She's a lot freer on stage, where I'll rehearse for a couple of months before I ever put something in front of an audience. She has this ability to formulate it all in her head and go on stage and be free. There's this level of freedom that I wish I had. And I learn how to strip away some of the rigidity of my process every single time that I watch her perform.
Margo: Burlesque will do that to you.
Sam: People love Margo and she is so comfortable with herself. There's this thing in Burlesque where people tend to be very, very serious and it has to be shiny and sparkly and classic and whatever, but Margo embraces her goofy. I love watching people watch her, too.
Margo: He says he learns from watching me just go with the flow, but I also learn from Sam that I need to rehearse more. I hate rehearsing. I hate it.
Sam: Which proves very difficult when we try to do acts together. I have to beg her to go into the rehearsal space.
Margo: I'm better about it now and he's better about saying sometimes, “Okay, we can just talk it through instead of making me come into the studio and hate my life.” We found our balance and I think we really help each other. I really love it when he's in the audience because when we're not doing shows together, we can watch from the front rows. It's really fun. The first time I did “Snake Oil,” Sam was sitting out in the house. And I did exactly what he said I do, I was like, “I hate all my acts. I'm going to pick these costume pieces and this song I've never danced to and I'll just improv an entire act.” Which I love.
Sam: That gives me anxiety just even thinking about it.
Margo: So Sam was in the house. And I just got to do the whole number to him. All of our friends that were there were like, “It was actually really hot just watching you do it for him. We knew you were doing it for him.”
What’s your favorite act that your partner performs?
Margo: It’s a toss-up. I love the “Jackie Robinson” act so much, but his “Pony” act is exactly what he was saying that I do. Sam has this act that looks like he's going to be hot and sexy, and he is, of course, but it's a little more stupid than that. It gets a little stupid.
Sam: It's ridiculous.
Margo: It's a really good balance of really hot stuff: he's fucking twerking and doing all this amazing stuff, but then he's dressed as a horse and it's so silly and so wonderful and it's like, I shouldn't be attracted to this but I am.
Sam: For me...
Margo: I honestly have no idea what you're going to say for this question.
Sam: Well, it shifts for me, too. I really like your “Black and Gold” act.
Margo: Me too.
Sam: Because I feel like it encompasses a lot of things that showcase you really well. And it's unexpected. Margo's kind of built herself at this point as the “sexiest muppet” in burlesque. So it’s this really unexpected number, and it kind of takes classic burlesque elements and flips it on its head. It's super polished and the costume is beautiful and the musicality is great. But if you ask me what I could watch over and over and over again, it'd be “Snake Oil.”
Margo: Ugh. I love that act.
Sam: Because “Snake Oil” is hot and you're clearly up there doing it for you. Everybody just kind of gets to be invited to the party, but you don't care if they come.
Margo: Yes! That's exactly what it feels like. Everybody's invited, but I don't really care if you're here or not. That number has never been choreographed. Ninety percent of the act is floor work and I don't ever choreograph it.
Sam: It's different almost every time.
Margo: I really love this other new act that he's doing, the Jackie Robinson act, because it's really moving and poignant. Again, it's unexpected. Burlesque is sexy, but sometimes it's a statement, sometimes it's activism, sometimes you're a muppet and sometimes you're just sex. I think both of us have a wide range of acts, which makes it hard to pick what my favorite is.
What would you say to people who really struggle with the idea of imagining their partner bare their skin and their sexuality on stage to other people?
Sam: It’s about unpacking how we view relationships and why we attach a sense of ownership to our partner. I think that for me personally, whatever it is, whether it's taking off your clothes or — as Margo discovered, or, rather, accepted that she was bisexual during our relationship — robbing somebody of their happiness feels counterintuitive to loving them.
Margo: Yeah. I love watching you love what you do.
Sam: I think just kind of detaching this idea of ownership and then accepting that the reason you love this person is in part because of the things they love to do. I would never want to rob her of that joy. That would be my suggestion for people to consider whatever it is, whether it's taking off clothes or not.
Margo: I also think it has a lot to do with solving one's own issues. A lot of this is about, not just for burlesque, but relationships, trust and honesty. If you have those two things, then there is space for exploration. It's especially challenging for women to have autonomy over their own bodies. I think that we frown upon that. That's why burlesque is an act of rebellion, especially for women and anyone who's marginalized. It's being able to go out there and be like, “I have control over myself. I do what I want and when I want.”
Sam: If I am truly committed to this human and I truly want them to be happy, it's like, why wouldn't we have a conversation about why it is that something makes you happy, for example, taking off your clothes? Let me in on that experience and why that makes you happy so I can understand it. And it is hard to rethink the way we approach relationships. But if it makes her happy, I want that for her and that doesn't take away the fact that I also make you happy, you know what I mean?
Margo: I also take great joy in watching other people want him. It's like, Yeah, he's hot, right? Celebrating that instead of looking at that as a detriment comes back to trust.
I know he's with me because he chooses to be. I know if something came up that he would need to talk to me about, he could, because we're really honest with each other. We all have moments of insecurity or jealousy, this is true for anything including burlesque. Figuring out what that means for you and why can help you find what you need to feel good and happy in yourself, having nothing to do with someone else.
Sam: I love seeing you experience joy. You know what I mean? It's as simple as that for me.
Photos courtesy of Midnight Mayhem