Rumors of the death of male stripping in America are greatly exaggerated. I know, because recently on a dark dank Saturday night, I took the Queen of LA Stripper Intelligensia, 5’10” Private Dancer/Nordic goddess Nica Jensen, to the seedy sweet scrotum of Hollywood, Arena Nightclub, Santa Monica & Highland, where The Hollywood Men were reportedly going to be shakin and bakin their moneymakers, while frenzied females shriek & wave seas of money for dick-filled lap dances. Needless to say, me and Nica are highly skeptical. We’re early.
The club seats 500 people. So far there are only 7 lovely Latinas at one table, decked out in the height of East LA fashion. One wears a white wedding veil. One is in a wheelchair. They are already drinking heavily. Looks like we’re in for a long night. We’re greeted by Dan Remington, the emcee/part owner of The Hollywood Men. He’s a 16 pound bowling ball of a guy with slick hair and matching handshake, surrounded by a surprisingly nice smile. He is, and will remain, fully clothed, and is the only performer who will be able to say that. He tells us that December sucks, it’s the worst time of year, which is true in so very so many ways, in my opinion. You can see he’s a little worried that no screaming ladies are going to show up, and without them, it’s a very different show. But during the bachelorette season, Dan tells us, there are 500 women here 3 times a week, in fact they had to move here because they outgrew the last place. Guys come from all over the world to audition, if you’re interested just call, make an appointment, come down, one guy was just in last week from Europe, came all the way here to be a Hollywood Man. A kind of pilgrimage, I guess. Nica wants to know how many of the guys are gay. “NONE,” Dan Remington blurts a little too loud, then says softer, “None of the guys are gay. They’re not gay.” During the next 12 minutes he will tell us like nineteen more times how not gay all the guys are. Later Nica will say, “Me thinks the lady doth protest too much,” and I will laugh. Hard. Nica wants to know if any of the guys are married. We are told they are not. “They all have girlfriends,” Dan says, then leans in with a smile, “but almost all of them fool around.” Later Nica will tell me she has no trouble believing that, and I will laugh again, though not as hard this time. Nica wants to know where men sit if they want to watch. Dan tell us that no men ever come here to watch. In all these years, only one gay male couple came, and when they saw what the show was, they left. So none of the dancers or hosts or waiters are gay, and none of the audience is gay men. But what would happen, Nica wants to know, looking down at Dan, if a guy wanted to come and watch? “Well, we would sit him wherever he wanted to sit.” This satisfies Nica, which is a good thing, cuz you don’t wanna piss off Nica. Next we’re ushered into the dressing room to meet the brains and buns behind The Hollywood Men, the Sultan of Shwing, the King of the G-String, the dean of American male stripping, 1998 Playgirl Man of the Year, Scott Layne. If you called Central Casting and asked them to send over a male stripper, Scott Layne would show up. Even in sweats and a tank top, Scott exudes an utter American maleness, gunboats bulging, buff with mantan, hardbody with soft smile, chiselly cheeks with charmy eyes. I’ve known Scott since New York Chippendale’s, where we worked together, and he first became a star under the late great Nick de Noia, the Grand Daddy dandy of modern American male stripping. I’m happy to see him. And he me, apparently, as evidenced by the big bear hug he lays on me. Hug-wise I give as good as I get. Not in a gay way. I want to emphasize that. It’s a deeply heterosexual hug, the hug of men who’ve fought together in the trenches of the battle of the sexes, comrades in codpieces, me armed with roller skates, tux and microphone, Scott with the smallest G-string the law would allow. The show’s gonna start in half an hour, and I ask him if he’s nervous. “Why would you be nervous?” Scott and Nica answer at the same time. The mark of a true professional. Nica wants to know what the chances are of a woman buying a ticket, attending the show, and taking home a Hollywood Man. “Depends on how good looking she is,” Scott smiles. Sounds about right. Nica wants to know what Scott thinks turns a woman on. “For me, it’s all about sharp moves, quick moves, that are sensual and sexy without being graphic. I hate it when guys get graphic, that’s not what most women want to see. And I hate when dancers don’t pay attention to older women, to women who aren’t traditionally hot. Look, women are all about the chase. Men want to cut to the chase. Women love the tease in strip tease. Men are like, ‘Bend over and show it to me.’” Nica nods. Sounds about right. We’re ushered back out into the club, and glorioski, there are like a hundred women buzz-cocking around, power-drinking, primping, whispering, giggling, babbling in gaggles, a dozen white wedding veils waving like snow covered clouds drifting towards the land of Marriage. As the ladies chill, mill, and spill female hormones, half-nude spandexed cuffed and collared hunk Hosts hustle drinks and smear muscle-bulging flirtatious bodacious charm all over the women. All of a sudden this seems like it could be fun. The women seem like they’re already having a blast. With each other. Every little grouplet has the same kind of hair, the same kind of outfit, like different tribes, all with their own unique plumage. I don’t see one single woman here by herself. They are pack animals. Female strip clubs are loaded with lone wolves. Nica starts drinking. This is a good sign. She leans over and tells me that in a female strip club, if you say the girls are into having sex with each other, this is considered a very good thing. I tell her I think it’s the specter of a homophobic Puritanical low-touch erotophobic machocentric culture. Nica agrees. She chortles: “And for God’s sake, how do they know they’re not gay, what do they do, give them all some kind of gay test?” I laugh at that, too, as I imagine having to take a gay test: fashion sense, artistic ability, fellatio skills. More women are streaming in, and by Jiminy, there must be close to 200 women here. Me and Nica are impressed. Our waiter is cut, ripped, lean yet pec-heavy, hard-haired and ab-happy. It looks like it would hurt your fist if you punched his stomach. He doesn’t seem gay. He doesn’t really seem straight either. He seems kind of asexual to me. Like he’s a Ken doll, and if you took down his black Spandex, a smooth bump would be there. He seems like an accountant. Nica asks him if he dreamed of being a topless waiter when he was a kid. He laughs and says that he did not, that’s it’s a great part time gig. Nica asks him what he does apart from this. Turns out he is an accountant. Seriously. When he’s gone I ask Nica if she thinks he’s sexy. She looks at me like I’m stupid. “Not my type,” says Nica. “If there was some nerd here with glasses and a slide rule in his pocket, that would be more my speed.” Then all of a sudden, BOOM! lights go down, sound goes up, and Scott’s voice booms through the room: It’s Showtime. There’s smoke, there’s a big video screen, there’s crazy swirling lights, and when the first Hollywood Man busts onto the stage, a scream comes up from the ladies, a primal lioness roar that rattles my teeth, rolls through my bones, and lights up my balls like Chinese New Year, as I’m hot-wired right into all that grrrrl power. Nica looks over at me. She’s into it. The women are into it. She leans over and whispers: “There’s a lot of really beautiful women here, aren’t there?” I nod in agreement. There are. 5 Men pop out onto stage and do a hiphoppy Fosse meets Backstreet Boys choreography, and the women are up on their feet, like at a Southern Baptist church when the spirit lifts the congregation. Nothing like this in a female strip club. Big video presentation, clips of movies and local news segments featuring the Hollywood Men show, in front of all that tight seemless choreography. The men do take their shirts and pants off in the opening number, but not until they take off their jackets and shirts, unbuttoning and removing little by little. When they get down to their skivvies, the estrogen laden roar bounces off the walls. Now we’re into the numbers. Each is almost a Jungian American archetype: Top Gun, An Officer and a Gentleman, the Cowboy, the Fireman, the Vampire. They all start off with lots of costume, surrounded many times by other dancers. Slowly they take it off while lip synching, until they take down their underpants to reveal their teeny G-strings. When they get to this point, they all make the same move: they turn around and bend over, their asses shining like a big happy heartmoon. The women seem to love that. They writhe, they undulate, they simulate intercourse, poundpoundpounding into the floor. They pour oil on themselves. The men touch themselves on their covered penis areas quite a bit. The women seem to love that, too. But honestly, after a while, the perfect smooth hairless chestpecs and the perfect smooth hairless 6 pacs, and the perfect smooth hairless asses all blend one into the other. Mind you the women are great. They are so much fun to watch. I love how they enjoy the show through each other. Understand this: in terms of sexual orientation, I am 70%, 20% lesbian, and 10% gay, so this show is not, as has been pointed out repeatedly, intended for me. But I did 2 years at Chippendale’s when it was the hottest show in New York City, so I know my way around men taking their clothes off. Plus, that’s why I brought the lovely and talented Nica, because she likes men and finds them sexual. Plus she’s taken her clothes off in front of them for money, and she’s not ashamed to say so. Plus she’s watched a lot of men watching women take their clothes off. So after every act, I turn to Nica and I ask, “Was that hot? Did that guy turn you on? What that sexy?” Every time she shakes her head and says, “No.” It’s not that she’s having a bad time. She’s actually enjoying the show. It’s just that none of these beekcakey bodies is beaming out any real sexuality. That’s what it seems like to me, and Nica confirms this. Then Scott Layne comes out, and she sees why he’s a star. He’s Danny Zuko from Grease, ducktail, tight leather pants and jacket. Behind him on the screen is John Travolta playing Danny Zuko from Grease. The effect is cooly postmodern in a Warholian way. The movie icon duplicated by the live male stripper icon. And Scott pulls it off, the same cocky shy nice intense calm vibe beaming out of both of them, stripper as movie star. Only Scott actually sings. He’s got a mike, and he’s singing. At first I don’t believe it, because his rockabilly Elvis thing very good. But then there’s a little slip, and it clearly is him singing. Nica turns to me and she nods and says, “Wow, he’s really good.” And you can see it really isn’t the meat, and it’s really is the motion. It’s the power and the skill that comes from having perfected a craft, being able to channel the Sex muse effortlessly with talent. Scott blows the roof off the joint, as the women go gaga. Afterwards I ask Nica if she thought he was sexy. She hesitates. Thinking. “He’s really good. I really enjoyed him, he’s a total pro, the guy is really talented.” Next up comes a guy in a bad female wig and skirt, with balloons shoved down his feminine sweater. It’s as if Jerry Lewis has decided to become a male stripper. Nica is intrigued. To a hip hop Spike Jones-ish soundtrack, this guy does an old school burlesque silent comedy number. And he’s fucking funny. With amazing control of his body. Slowly the wig, sweater and skirt come off, and he’s sporting a goofy Clark Kent meets Devo wig, with a Superman shirt. He shifts the balloons from his chest to his crotch, magically transforming them from huge breasts into gigantic balls. And the guy is an astonishing mindbending breakdancing fool. Isolating his body and moving the parts independently of each other in freakishly funny bendability, in the great tradition of vaudeville eccentric dancers like Donald O’Connor, with the good looks and athletic muscular grace of Gene Kelly, all filtered through new millenium streetwise edgy urban modernism. It is a breathtaking performance. I ask Nica if he was sexy. Her eyes have gone a bit dreamy in the middle of her creamy round face, and she nods her head: Yes. Nica’s got a crush on the guy. I ask her why. She tells me it’s because he diffused the manufactured, corporate asexual vibe with HUMOR. That ironically, a nice dose of humanity is still what entices more than a shapely butt and a bulging G-string.
Now one lucky gal who wins a lottery gets to sit on a chair in the middle of the stage. 5 guys disrobe down to their wee G-strings and towels. Then they gather in a tight circlejerk formation around her, facing her, and appear to remove their wee G-strings while opening their towels and exposing their johnsons and willies to her. The audience goes nuts and bananas. I thought if I was surrounded by 5 beautiful women and they all exposed their nakedness at me, I would like to see that. That is probably a sight that I could work into a fantasy that I could masturbate to. In fact now that I’ve thought about it, maybe I will. Okay, I’m back.
Now all that remains is the up-close-and-personal, interactive, hands-on segment of the show, where the Hollywood Men actually come out into the audience, and the women wave the money, or plant in their cleavage, or in their panties peaking out from under their tight jeans. And I’m telling you, when they climb down from that stage like so many Collosuses of Rome, it is an absolute free-4-all. Unlike in a female strip joint, there are no beefy security guys to stop the clients from mauling the dancers. And the fur is definitely flying. There are at least 6 dancers, naked but for small black underpants, working the room. And I mean working. You hear little random screams and squeals and shrieks as little knots of females gather around dancers like menstrual blood clotting. Every veil-clad bride-to-be in attendance gets at least one lap dance, and most of them get many. The dancer generally comes over to the woman with the dollar bill flag flying (either held by herself, or more usually, her friends) and the dancer takes the bill, then undulates around and into the woman. Many breasts and necks are nuzzled. Male faces are buried into crotch areas. Female hands stroke and fondle and feel up smooth hairless powerful male chests and bellies, and grab a package or two. Sometimes a dancer literally disappears into a forest of females, so you couldn’t even see him anymore. The 7 Latinas who were the first ones in the place are whooping and halloring and dancing. I have to admit it’s great to see a woman dancing in a wheelchair. Then she gets a lap dance, and the guy is really great with her, sexy and nice and respectful. She’s digging it. Then the bride-tobe gets her own lap dance, and she digs it even more. I gotta say, the room is really hyper-charged with sexenergy. Next to me, a truly stunning woman has stuffed a bill in her thong panties peeking out from under her tight jeans. As she slides down onto the booth/chair, the bill disappears. She tried unsuccessfully to fish it out. He tries grabbing it with his teeth. With as little success. She unbuckles her belt, unsnaps her jeans and parts the zipper like it’s a pare of beautiful vaginal lips, revealing her stunningly sexy lower belly. The dancer hesitated, then goes down. He nibbles around the bill, then slowly and seductively pulls it out of the string of her thong thing. I have to admit I was jealous. I wanted to be that dancer. This moment illustrates the best of the audience participation section, what at Chippendale’s used to be called the Kiss & Tip. I did see a couple of the guys pull women’s hair, yanking heads into crotches with what I thought was too much force. Some women seemed to like that. Other seemed put off when the dancer moved away. Regardless, MUCH MUCH money exchanged hands, and MANY MANY hands roved over ACRES & ACRES of naked flesh. I wanted to give Nica the opportunity to have a lap dance if she was into it. I was curious what her reaction would be to getting one, having given so many herself. I asked her if she wanted one. She nodded enthusiastically. This is just one of the things we love about Nica. Guess who she wants a lap dance from? Funny wildly talented smiling sweet guy. Naturally. I have to admit I felt a little odd asking this guy wearing nothing but tiny black underpants if he would give my friend a lap dance, but only because all that gay talk before the show made me afraid I would disrupt the delicate balance of the show. Me, I don’t give a shit, I just want Nica to have her lap dance. So I find the guy and tell him what I want, and he’s the very model of accommodation. Nica gives him the money. The guy’s got curly brown soft hair, as opposed to the hard sculpted look of so many of the other guys. He looks her in the eyes as he pulsates and undulates rhythmically before her. She sinks down into her chair as he moves in closer and closer to her until his smooth supple rippling skin is inches from her lips. Nica seems to be really enjoying her lap dance. She puts her hands on his chest. He is gentle with her, but still seems capable of rocking her world. He is professional, but slightly removed, an amazing mover with a supple lithe physicality and a serious soulfulness, although he doesn’t seem emotionally engaged like he did on stage. He spends a good 5 minutes with Nica before he kisses her on the cheek and takes off. Nica’s cheeks are flushing and her eyes are alive. I ask her if she enjoyed her lap dance. She says she did.
Then it’s on to the big slam bang finale, and Scott’s bringing the show home. Everybody gets their bows and applause, and then the lights are coming up. I go over to the 7 Latinas who were the first ones in the place. Turns out the lady in the wheelchair is the mother of the woman in the white bridal veil. They’re laughing and carrying on and having a grand old time. Turns out the veiled bride-to-be is getting married next Saturday. Her boyfriend knows she’s here. He told her to go out and have a good time. That’s why she’s marrying him. She points out the dancer Nica has a crush on and says, “Tell him, ‘Oh my God!” Just tell him that for me. ‘Oh my God!’” Her mother in the wheelchair points to a picture of Scott. “Tell him that I’d like to take him home.” Everyone hoots and hollars. You can tell they’ll be telling this story for a very long time.
Me and Nica head backstage to the dressing room. Many men are in various stages of sweaty robing and disrobing. Nica sneaks peaks. Scott bounds over. I tell him how much I enjoyed his show, and how Nick his mentor would have been proud. Scott seems genuinely touched. Nica thanks him for a great show. Tells him what a great entertainer he is. It’s nice to watch, one pro to another, acknowledgment always meaning more coming from a peer. “I’ve been doing it long enough, I better be good at it,” Scott smiles with wry self-deprecation. “How long have you been dancing?” Nica wants to know. “Over twenty years,” Scott says. “Not bad for being 42 years old, huh?” Nica cannot believe Scott is 42. I can. Nica wants to know if we can interview her favorite dancer. Scott hooks us up. Chris Watters is his name. 2 T’s. With his clothes on he seems smaller. He’s well dressed casually, groomed, moving with an easy animal grace. He seems shy and earnest. He’s traveled all over the world dancing for women. He got his start Jane Mansfield style, only instead of at Schwabs, Chris was minding his own business dancing in a nightclub in Boise, Idaho, when a guy spotted him and recruited him into the male exotic dancing business. He’s currently running his own music production company, CMW Productions (cmwproductions.net) while going to school studying business administration. His parents are into him being a dancer. They’ve seen the show and they dig it. Nica wants to know what he’s learned about women taking his clothes off for them. He smiles and thinks. He’s a thoughtful guy who chooses his words carefully. “I see women from a totally different point of view. I see women at their worst, when they’re drunk and rude.” Pause. Thinking. “I put up a lot of walls.” Pause. Thinking. “Some dancing… table dancing, makes you feel creeped out… it’s too much… people cross boundaries. I like it a lot better when I can just get out on stage and do my thing. Women dancers are a lot more protected. It’s weird feeling like an object…” Pause. Thinking. “it makes you feel creepy… people can be so… I come home with scratches, and bruises, and bite marks, and I have no idea where they came from… it’s scary… sometimes rich women make you feel like shit, they think they can say anything they want, and they say cruel things, sometimes, they’re drunk, they look down their nose at me… it can get really ugly.” Pause. Thinking. “Like I said, I see women at their worst.” Nica wants to know if Chris is married. He confesses that he is. Me and Nica shoot each other knowing glances. The wife’s a gogo dancer. Not a stripper, he says a little too quickly. Like we’d care. But that’s part of this world, those fine lines that distinguish what you will do and what you won’t. Take off your clothes. Leave on your G-string. Sell a kiss. Let a customer touch you in your most tender netherparts. Selling your sexuality is a tricky thing, and the shading between trick and performer, john and gigolo, hustler and dancer is crucial for mental stability. You set your boundaries, and that is how you define yourself. A lot of male strippers at I worked with at Chippendale’s sold sex, but they would never call themselves a whore. Whereas, when I’ve worked with women from the next class of sex worker down the foodchain, the street ho, many embrace their ho-ness, “Yeah that’s right, I’m a ho, so you wanna fuck with me, I have got to get PAID!” Nica wants to know if he’s planning on having kids. God love Nica, she’s keeping us on track. Chris smiles that crazy sweet sexy shy smile: “Yeah.” I ask what he’d say if his son turned to him and said: “Daddy, when I grow up I want to be a male stripper!” “No way!” he laughs very loud. He’s got a nice easy laugh, which he’s laughed a couple of times, but this laugh is loaded with jaded cynical world-weariness. Nica wants to know why not. “Dancers get lazy. It’s too easy, the money. There’s no work ethic in this world.” He starts to say something, then hesitates, as if his internal censor stopped him. I ask him to elaborate, but he shies away. It makes him more interesting, that there is something withheld. Nica wants to know what he thinks women want. “Confidence with a smile. Even if you can’t dance, if you really have a good time out there, women like that. “ Pause. Thinking. Smile. “I try to use the golden rule. I do to others what I would want done to me.” Hard to argue with that. Nica shakes his hand. I shake his hand. Solid handshake. Single pump. Firm without having anything to prove.
As we leave Nica says what a sweet fragile soul he seemed, and confesses how she wants to rap him up in her arms and give him a big long hug, because he seems like he’s been so wounded. She’s surprised. She never thought guys would feel so much like she does about taking their clothes off for money. She reflects how heterosexual male stripping is more akin to the neo-burlesque movement that is sweeping the country, as opposed to the more anatomical direction female stripping has evolved into, where girls make a series of poses which illustrate what they would look like having sex. “If you can’t show them what you’d look like fucking, forget it, you’re not gonna make any money,” says Nica, and I can’t argue with that.
Then me and Nica walk out into the Hollywood night, where it’s not raining men, it’s just plain raining. And I can say without hesitation that male stripping is very much alive and kicking, kissing and tipping, every Friday and Saturday night in the City of Fallen Angels.