Q&A: Danielle Colby-Cushman of ‘American Pickers’
Danielle Colby-Cushman is a hipster renaissance woman. Not only does she star on the History Channel’s freshman hit “American Pickers,” where she manages the shop featured on the show, but she’s a mom, wife, clothing designer, burlesque dancer and former roller derby queen. “Pickers,” an hour-long reality series about a pair of friends who troll Midwestern highways in search of barns filled with valuable antiques, has become a huge hit for the History Channel, racking up nearly 4 million viewers an episode, making it one of cable’s biggest shows. It was also picked up for a second season, which we’re hoping will showcase more of Danielle’s many talents. We caught up with the History Channel hipster via the phone as she put on eyeliner and got ready for work (at noon, no less), to get the scoop on the show, her many tattoos and her varied interests. “American Pickers” airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on History.
How did you hook up with Antique Archaeology and how did the show come about?
Mike has been a really dear friend of mine for almost ten years — and he has helped me on all of my projects for about ten years — so I knew without a doubt, if he was a part of ["American Pickers"], not only would it be successful, but it would be kickass too. He’s just a really fucking cool guy. I didn’t really have any trepidation at all. I just figured if Mike’s on board I’m on board.
But the business existed before the show, right?
Yeah. Mike has been picking for 20 years.
And how did the show come about?
About five years ago, Mike began videotaping himself. He went over to Crazy Eyes Productions, which is a group of really kickass guys here, and they put something together for him that he put up on YouTube. So he started putting up YouTube videos…
Of him picking stuff?
It was more than just him picking stuff. It was also the personalities of the people who owned the places he was picking. And people loved it, so he eventually got a hold of some cable networks to see if they would be interested. He got shot down a couple times — and it was not the easiest thing for him to make it all work — but eventually History Channel decided to take a chance on it. They thought it was a great concept and they picked it up. And from what I understand — and I’m not really too familiar with the Hollywood end of it — normally they’ll only pick up six episodes. So they picked up six episodes and then ordered four more, and then turned that into 11. And we just got picked up for a second season for 26 episodes.
Thank you. I’m really excited about it. It’s working well for everybody and people are liking it. I think it’s really putting a good vibe out there for reality TV because a lot of reality TV is just soap opera bullshit and we don’t really have much of that.
So season two won’t have like 80 women trying to date Mike?
[Laughs] Well Mike’s taken. And not by me! There’s a lot of misconceptions about that. People think that Mike and I are dating, which isn’t true at all. I get a lot of emails from people asking if me and Mike are married.
Do you think that the show captures the reality of what you guys do?
There are a few things that I wasn’t happy about. Because it’s only an hour-long show, I think sometimes they don’t have enough time to really portray the relationships that Mike develops with some of these people and I think he appears at times to be a bit opportunistic. I suppose in certain ways we are all opportunistic, but he’s one of the most sincere people I’ve ever met. And I wish that they would show that dynamic a little bit more.
We first wrote about you when you sported an Against Me! shirt in one the episodes. Who are your favorite bands?
Going back to my childhood, one of the very first bands I ever fell in love with was The Pogues. The Pogues will always be fucking demigods to me. And I’ve got Irish heritage so it just works. But Against Me! is in there. Flaming Lips I have absolute reverence for. Butthole Surfers are great. Dead Kennedys. Guttermouth.
Have you seen any of those bands live? Do you get a chance to see a lot of live music in Iowa?
I got to see The Pogues and that was hands down one of the most amazing experiences of my life. And I did get to see Against Me! My friend snuck me into Lollapalooza because I’m a starving artist and I couldn’t afford a ticket. And it was just an incredible show. That was the first time I had ever seen them — and I liked them before that, but that show was just insane.
Can you talk a little about your tattoos? How many do you have?
I have my knuckles done. I have a large one on my forearm — I have a lot actually. I don’t know if they really count as individuals anymore.
Do show producers ever want you to cover them up or anything?
No, they’re really good about that.
Where do you get your work done?
I have two tattoo artists. One is out of Clinton, Iowa and his name is Blue. He owns a shop called Sleeve Weasels. He did my collar and we’re still working on that. And then there’s a guy named Billy Hill that’s going to be finishing my back piece. He’s amazing. And then Chewie, she is out of Alex in Tattooland in Moline. She’s a really kickass chick. She did my knuckles and my forearm.
What does it say on your knuckles?
Hold Fast. And she’ll be finishing my left arm, which is all entomology. I love bugs.
How did your involvement with the burlesque troupe come about?
I owned a roller derby team and after three years of roller derby I pretty much tore my body up. The roller derby team I owned was called the Big Mouth Mickies, which was just a bunch of Irish girls that got together because we really wanted to do roller derby. But I think the shelf life of a roller derby girl is like three to five years. And so we really missed doing roller derby — and I’ve wanted to do burlesque for so long so I just decided fuck it — let’s start a burlesque troupe. And I own the troupe — Burlesque Le’ Mustache. It’s myself and five other girls — many of which are from the Big Mouth Mickies. Some are from the Quad City Rollers here as well. And then we have two emcees.
Where and how often do you perform?
We perform at a venue here that 80 years ago used to feature burlesque. But burlesque hadn’t been back in there until I went up to the guy who owns the theater and asked if he would take a chance on us. And he didn’t bat an eye. He’s from Austin, Texas and he said, “You know what — we have a big burlesque scene in Austin and I really think it’d go over well so let’s take a chance and do it.” So the Capitol Theater in Davenport, Iowa is our home. And we have one other venue that we work out of regularly. It’s called RIBCO — Rock Island Brewing Company. That’s out of Rock Island, Illinois. We have the large-scale theater shows, which are 1500 people at the Capitol Theater. We have those shows about every three months and then the RIBCO shows — and usually they can get about 350 people in there. We perform there a couple times a month. We travel to Chicago a lot too, because I used to live in Chicago and that’s really near to my heart. There’s a bar called Five Star there that we’ve performed at. And the Double Door is another great venue.
And do you dance with the troupe too?
Oh yeah, I do.
And there’s no nudity right?
It’s pretty close. My rule with this troupe is we wear pasties and panties. Some of the girls go down to g-strings, but I try to keep it as classic as possible — and girls back then just didn’t wear g-strings. But some of the girls do and it’s still super-cute. We stay pretty modest for the Chicago area, but for this area we don’t — if that makes sense. Because it’s pretty conservative here.
Have the producers of “American Pickers” expressed any interest in showing your burlesque stuff on the show?
History Channel has been very supportive of what I do. I think that they appreciate that I have a dynamic personality. I made it clear upon starting the show exactly what I do. I used to do modeling for artists as well, but I think as long as everything stays tasteful and it doesn’t get weird in any way I think they’re okay with it.
Would you ever pose for Suicide Girls or something?
I don’t really think Suicide Girls would be interested in a girl like me. Suicide Girls tend to be 20 years old and teeny-tiny little things with perfect bodies and that’s just not what I am about. I’m 34. I’ve had two children. I’m very comfortable in my own skin. I adore the body that I’ve been given, but it’s taken a long time to get there and I think it takes a really special audience to appreciate the human form in all of its splendor.
Which is kind of what burlesque is about, right?
That’s everything that burlesque is about! It’s a celebration of the human form in general. And not just that, but a slapstick parody of the human form. It’s sultry and it’s sexy and it’s very revealing — and it definitely holds a wide audience — but it holds a wide audience more to women than it does to men because I think so many women see somebody like myself — and we have girls in the troupe that are up to a size 14 and we still want bigger girls. I think women see that and they see a sense of empowerment. They leave our show feeling like you can enjoy your body and enjoy your life and not take yourself too seriously and still be a sexy bitch.