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There is an old Saturday Night Live skit in which Patrick Swayze and the late Chris Farley play dancers battling it out for a spot on the coveted Chippendales team. A mullet-topped Swayze gyrates his shirtless oiled body, dirty dancing like he was born to wear a bow tie around his neck, while the nearly 300-pound Farley shakes his pasty ample belly with great vigor. Props to Farley for not being shy about his super-sized gut, and his lack of inhibition is, well, sexy. The joke is supposed to be on him: Chippendales would never hire a goofy bowl of jelly for a troupe that prides itself on showcasing the finest specimens of masculinity. But I always thought that the sketch also took a shot at the cheesiness of Chippendales, with Swayze embodying the ideal greasy and guileless go-go guy, who exudes emptiness over eroticism. The Chippendales dancers debuted in 1983 in Los Angeles before performing in New York, then all over the world (they are still at it; check out chippendales.com), but they were an easy target for SNL because they seemed so silly to begin with: slick, vapid men with cheeseball moves, so well-groomed it was rumored they were all gay (no straight man spends that much time at the gym!).
I was curious to see if the male striptease genre had changed two decades later, so I headed straight to the source: Webster Hall (websterhall.com). Every Thursday is Ladies' Night; women get free admission, booze, and a hot all-male revue (ladies-night.com) until midnight (when guys are allowed in and the cash registers get turned on). Close to 400 women of all colors, shapes, and sizessome bachelorettes, others birthday girls and gradswere wowed by five nearly naked men.
Of course, they didn't start out in just their thongs and boots. The characters for the evening could have been lifted from the Village Peoplethe nerd turned stud, the construction worker, the leather daddy, the cop, and the firemanbut their moves were more swagger than kitsch. All the dancers were handsome, well built, and consummate performers, with thoughtful and polished routines (no wonder, considering that together, they have more than 25 years of experience). Only the first dancer, Byron, was old-school, with coiffed blond hair, overdefined muscles, and a transparent vanity reminiscent of Swayze's send-up.
While each guy embodied a different fantasy archetype, the tease from costume duds to barely covered puds didn't last long. Mr. Hard Hat, a/k/a Chris Legend, may not have put his tool belt to good use, but he did demonstrate every sexual position from the Kama Sutra and then some. In leather chaps and a chest harness, the Punisher, who looked like a hotter Damon Wayans channeling porn star Sean Michaels with a bullwhip, set himself apart with his moves; like Mr. Hard Hat, he relied heavily on this-is-how-I'd-do-you choreography. But he was the only dancer who simulated anything that looked like it would actually be pleasurable. Put it this way: The guy knows where the clit is and what to do with it once he's found it. I got up close and personal with über-butch Flava, the biggest, thickest of them all (think a straight, black Tom of Finland). After he shucked his police officer drag, Flava flashed the sweetest smile, and I found myself on my knees with his burgundy fringed G-string in my face; it looked alarmingly like the flapper-esque dress Renée Zellweger wore in the movie Chicago. Even when I do something heterosexual, it turns out queer.
Lest you think I had indulged too much in the open bar, let me tell you that audience participation is not simply encouraged, it's mandatory. During each dancer's routine, a lovely lady (or two) was plucked from the audience, positioned onstage, and made part of the show. It was beyond interactive: If you were sitting within 50 feet of the catwalk, you were fair game. The lucky selected few ranged from shy and embarrassed to ready-for-anything, with one woman from France clearly mouthing the words "You look hot" to Flava. Little did she and the others know that they were in for more than a slap and a tickle. The Punisher sat his girl on a chair, lifted her and said chair, put his head between her legs, then flipped her over into an upside-down 69 position like an X-rated Cirque du Soleil. In between acts, the stud muffins made their way through the crowd, offering lap dances, stroke-and-poke, and make-believe doggie-style diddling; one petite Latina woman in white jeans got bench-pressed.
It was a veritable petting zoo, where girls groped and got gropedquite a different scene from a strip club that caters to men. There was also more emphasis on a choreographed show (usually only done by feature dancers at traditional strip joints) rather than freestyle bump-and-grind; their routines blatantly suggested where their mouths and hands and cocks wanted to go. The male version of a bored stripper who perks up when you wave some bills at her was nowhere in sight: These dudes were hot, horny, and so engaged with the audience that they'd rub their faces in between your legs for free. While most female strippers I've seen take a passive approach ("Look at me, I'm dancing for you, don't you want to fuck me?"), the Ladies' Night dancers communicated a more aggressive message: "Look at me, I'm looking right back at you, I'm gonna drag you up here and fuck you." What do the dancers think is the difference between men and women when it comes to taking it off? "When men go to strip clubs, 90 percent are there for lust and 10 percent for entertainment; when women come to our shows, 90 percent of them are there for entertainment and 10 percent for pure lust," said the Punisher.