It’s no secret that Channing Tatum’s banana hammock will be bringing all the girls to the theater when Magic Mike releases this Friday – it’s hard to say no to a night out featuring the greased-up, oft-shirtless actor embodying a stripper with dreams of chucking it all to build custom coffee tables. (Read: he’s good with his hands.) Adding to the no-brainer of the appeal: Alex Pettyfer, Joe Mangianello, Matt Bomer and Matthew McConaughey co-star. But what’s sure to elevate the film beyond fodder for ear-piercing shrieks and wayward dollar bills is the fact that Steven Soderbergh is directing (ensuring – at best – a dark, layered plot, and – at worst – atmospheric, citrine-tinted visuals).
The film is loosely based on Tatum’s experiences as a stripper at Male Encounter in Florida – he worked at the establishment for a few months back in 1999, under the name Chan Crawford. So, in the spirit of unearthing the truths behind Magic Mike, I spent an evening at a male revue. For journalism, people! I did it all for journalism!
My venue of choice: New York City’s aptly named Hunk-O-Mania. Turns out, my first time setting foot in a male strip club (alone, nonetheless – where’s my Pulitzer?) was nothing like I’d imagined. The venue read like a clean, hip, swanky club, the men were all conversational, polite and respectful, and I was subjected to roughly half the thong exposure that I’d expected. That is – on the floor, during performances. Post-show, when I was invited into the locker room to talk with the guys, all bets were off.
Surprisingly, the male entertainers were more aware of the Hollywoodization of their lives than most of their audience. The evening featured a Magic Mike t-shirt and poster giveaway between performances, but despite the fact that girls tumbled over each other and squealed in an effort to win an item brandished with Tatum and Co. (who can blame them, really?), most had no idea what the giveaway represented. Customer Jenny P – proud new owner of a Channing Tatum pin-up – divulged, “We only heard about it tonight when the boys were like, ‘Are you here because of Magic Mike?’” The marketing tactic was clearly successful on this first-time male strip club attendee, though – Jenny admitted, “Now we're going to go see Magic Mike and be like, ‘We did that!’ I think all the girls will be rushing to these places after they see the movie like, ‘I've been missing this all my life!’”
Hunk-O-Mania owner Armando (a former model, actor, bodybuilder and – yes – stripper) admitted their sales haven’t spiked much based on early Magic Mike marketing (they already perform two shows on Saturday nights to accommodate demand), but said he and his employees are, “Hoping that the movie shows a positive side of the business, because there are so many myths and so many misconceptions. This is a business just like any other. And what you do does not define who you are.” Performer Andres agreed, admitting that he’s, “Looking forward to some more customers. And of course girls will get excited – they'll want to see what the real-life version will be like after watching the movie. And it's going to be good for business, hopefully. And even better if it brings out the positive side of the business!”
And what of the pressure to fulfill the glamorous Hollywood model the film might perhaps portray? “We just have to make them happy!” said dancer – and world-champion fitness model – Ejay, of new customers. “We're gonna keep doing the same thing we're always doing. We aim to please!” Andres admitted he’ll be clamoring to see the film, out of burning curiosity. “Of course I want to see it,” he said. “Because it applies to our job, and why we do it. I want to compare the movie to actual life. I'm pretty sure it's going to be a little bit like a fairy tale, but I'm really interested.”
And what do the professionals think of Tatum’s moves? “He’s an incredible dancer,” said Armando. “Very skilled.” Andres also gave the stamp of approval, along with a nod to one of Tatum’s early acting roles – 2006’s Step Up. “He is a great dancer,” he admitted. “We're similar in our skill set – I used to be a breakdancer, as well.”
Of the controversy brewing between Tatum and some of his former Male Encounters colleagues, who believe he stole – and is profiting from – their stories, dancer Vincent said, “Well, they didn't do what he did, so they're just jealous! Because he made the movie and they didn’t.”
His coworker (who declined to give me a name, but chuckled when I dubbed him “Edward” based on his Cullen-esque coif) wasn’t quite as forgiving. “We do this all the time. He danced for like four months – we really do this!” he implored. “Some of us here are actually better actors than Channing Tatum, I mean, I'll just throw that out there.”
When I attempted to reason the fact that – at the end of the day – Tatum would probably be responsible for an increase in his income, “Edward” shrugged and retorted, “I'm sure the movie will help to some degree. I'm sure our ticket sales will go up. But then again…it'll probably only last a few months. I'd say honestly we're all ultimately paying homage to Sex and the City. That was probably one of the biggest movements forward in women's lib.” Further distancing himself from the Tatum Effect, “Edward” deadpanned, “Honestly, we're allowed to do this because of Susan B. Anthony. Let’s be honest, here.”
Ultimately, Armando believes that the conversation started by Magic Mike is healthy, because, “The best way is to embrace everything. Some of the guys, unfortunately – even some of my guys – they're hiding. When you do that, you're actually making people think that what you do is not so glamorous. And in reality, it really is!”