I was flying blind when I visited New York City's Hunk-O-Mania this past Friday, in an effort to compare my first male strip club experience to Magic Mike – a movie that I hadn't yet seen. My initial exploration involved real-life stripper's expectations of the film, and the possible effect it'd have on their business.
Now that I've seen the movie, it seemed pertinent to construct a primer outlining the various wonders you'll witness (complete with feedback from real-life dancers and patrons) in director Steven Soderbergh's latest film, as compared to what an IRL (in real life) entrance fee will buy you. Truly, I experienced the full spectrum so you don't have to. Unless you want to. Maybe just read this first.
Magic Mike opens with Xquisite male strip club owner Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) coquettishly hammering out the rules of the club on stage in front of a ravenous audience of women. Basically: No egregious touching of the bathing suit areas. Later, when newbie stripper Adam (Alex Pettyfer) kisses a girl in the audience, we learn that's a no-no, as well.
This is basically on par with what I learned at Hunk-O-Mania – much like Dallas, a hype man outlined some rules to the crowd (another one: no photos of the on-stage performances, though photos of in-audience lapdances are kosher).
And while Dallas flippantly chastised Adam for his disobedience, rulebreakers at Hunk-O-Mania receive stricter treatment. "You can't pick anyone up [while giving a lapdance]," said dancer Marcus. "I mean, no touching the women inappropriately. They're not allowed to touch you inappropriately. I know it's a gray area of what's inappropriate, but basically the genitals. I got sent home because I lifted a young lady up and you're not supposed to do that. I was out for two weeks."
While lifting women during an in-audience lapdance isn't allowed, it's permissible on stage – with a vengeance. This is mirrored in the movie, as well – as is the fact that there's no complete nudity. Thongs are as revealing as it gets! "Apparently for some women, it's not risqué enough!" revealed Marcus. "I've heard that women actually walk out complaining that they didn't see any penis!"
PATRIOTISM: ALIVE AND WELL
Magic Mike showcases numerous dance numbers featuring American flags, military uniforms and other manner of jingoistically pervy paraphernalia. This, apparently, is a huge hit with the ladies, because Hunk-O-Mania featured two such acts the evening I was in attendance.
One particular number (called "American Heroes") began with video screens playing a mashup of news footage showing Roosevelt's infamous "date which will live in infamy" Pearl Harbor speech, the John F. Kennedy death announcement, as well as the "ask not what you can do for your country" portion of JFK's inaugural address.
Somewhat unnerving: the fact that a recording of children reading the pledge of allegiance ended the montage, melding into "Proud To Be An American" as a Marine, Navy Seal, NYPD cop and NYC firefighter ushered themselves onto the stage. Naturally, Lenny Kravitz's "American Woman" thrummed next, and – as they saluted their way out of the uniforms – the weirdness magically vanished. Most likely on account of all the butt cheek gyrating.
REAL-LIFE MAGIC MIKES
Mike (Channing Tatum) stated that his reasons for stripping included, "Women, money and a good time." That pretty much goes without saying for IRL strippers. "It's fun! I grew up on stage, I used to sing, my father owned a jazz club – so I grew up in the spotlight, I went to school for theater. And this opportunity came about, so I took it," Marcus said. "It's a major ego boost," boasted "Edward" (a dancer who declined to give me his name, but agreed to the moniker on account of his Cullen-esque coif).
And Mike's day job as a roofer and custom furniture designer? Way plausible. They're not all model/actor/bodybuilders at Hunk-O-Mania – Marcus works as a kitchen and bathroom designer, and his fellow dancer James is a machinist. "I will admit – I'm in sales, so all week long I'm selling myself," explained Marcus. "And then I come here and just continue selling. But if you take a break, after a little bit you miss it because it flips your universe upside down."
THE "HYPE MAN"
McConaughey's Dallas serves as dual owner/hype man at Xquisite, and the role is aptly played. Hunk-O-Mania's hype man spouted every manner of euphemism for the male member, warmed the crowd up with chants of "take it off," made women scream in response to the question, "Want to get up close and personal with all the penis?" introduced acts, hawked hot seats and posed photos, and dubbed dancers with hilarious qualifiers like "Vanity Fair cover model," "Swedish massage therapist" and "Transformers stunt driver."
Working at a strip club often ushers drama with romantic partners, family members and friends. The film version sees Mike relenting to love interest Brooke (Cody Horn), "I'm not my goddamn job – it is what I do, but it's not who I am!" Hunk-O-Mania owner Armando echoed a very similar sentiment when we talked, saying, "This is a business just like any other business. And what you do does not define who you are."
So do most of the guys even tell people about their side gig as strippers? "You know what's funny, in my company – the kitchen and bath company I work for – everyone knows because I don't mind mentioning it," divulged Marcus. "And you know, it's a chuckle." "Edward" told me that he basically "Clark Kents" at his day job, but his parents know and are cool with it.
And what of romantic relationships? Dancer James said, with a sigh, that the mother of his daughter broke up with him because of his stripping. "Edward" admitted that most of his girlfriends eventually get jealous of his side gig, and that he's, "Still looking for that special someone." (It should be noted: he divulged this while rubbing his crotch on my leg, and laughed when I retorted, "I bet that gets you far here.")
Marcus has the funniest story, though – he explained that he got into stripping for a few reasons, one of which was that, "Ironically, at the time, I was in a relationship that I was trying to end. And that was the catalyst that made me decide to go forward - I expected that making that move would give that girl a reason to leave. It didn't! But it later ended. It is a little bit of a challenge to have a relationship. But like anything else, if you've got trust it really does go a long way."
But what about the trust of the men whose girlfriends and fiancés visit Hunk-O-Mania? "He didn't want to know!" said Lynnette, a bachelorette celebrating with her bridesmaids and friends. "He said, 'Do whatever you want, just don't tell me about it!'"
Magic Mike showcases a particularly hilarious (and cringe-worthy) scene where Joe Manganiello's character injures himself while attempting to entertain a lady on stage. This is not a rarity.
"The girls just go crazy – they really are buck wild, much wilder than any guys would ever be,” said Marcus. “I would say the craziest thing that ever happened to me was, at the end of the night, the girls come on stage and they choose their favorite dancer. And I was pulled center stage, and this very large woman came up - and we generally pick them up. I surveyed it and I felt I had it, and I did - I scooped her up and she straddled me. But then she started doing this cowboy move and we both went over."
"Even if the customers are intoxicated, you still have to control the situation," added Armando. "Because sometimes they can be very aggressive. I mean, to the point that I've seen girls just jump at dancers scratching, trying to pull the g-string off…they don't realize they're hurting them because they're intoxicated."
THE LOCKER ROOM ENVIRONMENT
I didn't personally witness any thong-sewing, alcohol-swigging or leg-shaving in the Hunk-O-Mania locker room, as is showcased freely in Magic Mike. One dude was eating a massive Tupperware container of chicken and rice post-show, "For protein." Also: various states of undress, guy talk, high-fives. Because, um: locker room.
IN THE HOT SEAT
It takes a lot to surprise me these days, but the phenomenon known in the male strip club universe as a "hot seat" is fodder for stunned pause. "The hot seat is when they take a young lady on stage and basically make her part of the show," explained Marcus. "I often tell the women to make sure they’re wearing underwear before they approach the stage, because they will get tossed around."
He's not lying. What you see in Magic Mike is almost a tame version of what happens when you purchase a birthday girl, bachelorette or BFF an on-stage dance. There's simulated sex, crotches (of both parties) straddled onto faces, hands shoved down the fronts of pants and onto bare butt cheeks, tongues on abdominal muscles – you get the idea.
Jenny, visiting from London, bought her best friend a dance – and wasn't disappointed. "She had a lot of fun!" Jenny said. "She was thrown into the air, everything!" I remembered seeing hot seat recipient Lynette led in the front door with a blindfold on, care of her bachelorette party, and she admitted, "I didn't know I was coming here. I just knew I had to wear pants! My girls were looking out for me!" Lynnette's friends did her a solid, because her on-stage striptease included a lift in the air over the stripper's shoulders that resulted in each of her legs on either side of his face. "He was in my whole hoo-ha!" Lynnette yelled, giggling.
And yes – as with the infamous, "You don't have anything sharp I can stick myself with?" sorority house call in Magic Mike, real life strippers will make out-of-club visits, too. "We do it exactly like in the movie – it's called Rent-a-Hunk," said Armando. "You can actually book one online."
As with the movie, the show consists of group acts, solos, hot seat performances and in-audience lapdances. Magic Mike's "kid" Adam gets thrown on stage and forced to solo strip during his first night at Xquisite. In reality, that's pretty unlikely – especially considering the fact that Armando gets about a thousand applications a week from Hunk-O-Mania hopefuls. "It's a progression," said Armando. "They start off as waiters, they move up to massage guys, from massage guys they become backup dancers, then they become featured dancers." Marcus concurs, "The guys that are center stage that do the hot seats, they're the veterans for the most part."
THE MALE VERSUS FEMALE STRIP CLUB EXPERIENCE
My Hunk-O-Mania outing (for journalism!) marked my first trip to a male strip club, but I'd been to female strip clubs. It seems I'm not alone. "Ironically, the women who come here have all been to women's strip clubs, but a lot of times it's their first time at men's strip clubs," said Marcus.
The difference is pretty clear, from an onlooker's perspective. Without going into the details of juice bar (full nudity) versus alcoholic bar (panties required), even the psychology of the attendees is different.
"The difference between male stripping and female stripping is that men go to female clubs to see women…they're really looking at their bodies. They're specifically paying money to look at that body," explained dancer Moe. "The women come to have the experience. She wants to have a good time, she wants to take pictures of her friend getting a lapdance."
"Women are in it for the novelty of it," added "Edward." "Hunk-O-Mania caters primarily to bachelorette parties and birthdays. So basically, women aren't coming here because they want to have this hot, sexy experience – they enjoy getting lost in this kind of environment and they're paying for the experience. And a guy will just be like fuck it, it's Tuesday – let's go down to the club."
It's true – I didn't see any women alone at Hunk-O-Mania (myself not included, for obvious reasons), but I've seen plenty of men flying solo at female strip clubs. Even purchasing services seems to be a decision made in the group mentality. "I've seen girls – they don't like to buy their own lapdance," said dancer Ejay. "They barter to buy each other dances, because they feel weird giving money to a guy directly and getting a service for it. They need it to be part of the collective party."
ABOUT THAT SPEECH
Dallas spews a pretty righteous monologue to Adam during a Magic Mike dance training sequence, a pivotal part of which involves him beating his chiseled chest while preaching, "You are the husband they never had! You are that dreamboat guy that never came along!"
These seem like pretty big shoes to fill – and it led to a discussion of living up to current pop culture hunks like Edward Cullen and Christian Grey. As I explained to the dancers, these are basically men who – when you boil the facts down to their core – are emotionally and physically abusive, despite being portrayed as the ideal.
"It's ironic – a woman doesn't want to be stalked by a proverbial stalker – like, an ugly, slimy guy," "Edward” explained. "But if a woman is stalked – let's remove the pejorative term 'stalker' and replace it with 'pursuer' – if a woman is being pursued by this gorgeous knight in shining armor with perfectly coifed hair and an Adonis body, that is sexy. So we at Hunk-O-Mania, we're hired for that – that's a modeling job, and if you're being aggressed by this beautiful man and he's being a gentleman about it, that's very attractive to women."
And the formula is clearly working. When I asked audience member Jenny to describe her favorite thing about Hunk-O-Mania, she gushed, "The fact that there are, like, a billion men around and you don't know where to look and they're so gorgeous! And they're so nice to you! And you're like, 'Why are you being so nice to me? I'm just an ordinary girl off the street, and you're some hot guy that's like a 10 out of 10!’”