If you missed the first incarnation of the Magic Mike series, what might have gone over your head is how good it actually was. More than just being soft porn for the kind of people who smuggle rosé into cinemas, the story of a few hard-up guys cutting their teeth in Florida's stripping mecca featured standout performances from Matthew McConaughey and Channing Tatum. And while it wasn't exactly Requiem for a Dream, it was at least powerful enough to make you briefly feel sorry for men who appeared, at first glance, to be the biggest douchebags on earth.
At the end of the first film, released back in the summer of 2012, hunk protagonist Mike (based on Tatum himself, who stripped as a teenager) throws in his lube-covered towel, deciding to do what most ex-strippers do: settle down and make chairs for a living. But this summer he's back for the long-awaited sequel, Magic Mike XXL, which sees the "Kings of Tampa" (as the strip troupe are known) reunite and travel to a stripper convention. They crash a car, get their kit off, perform with drag queen Vicky Vox and contemplate their dreams for the future… before stripping again at the end to give us our money's worth.
The new film is funny but less charming than the first one. While its big, sexy sequences got me going, the 115-minute run-time felt a stretch. If you want strippers, this film will hit the spot, but there's less depth of plot and character than before. Beyond the shallow storyline, flashing lights and Hollywood editing, I wanted to find out what it's really like for a bloke to strip for a living; what the relationship challenges, fitness regimes and hordes of wasted women mean for strippers IRL.
In order to do so, I headed down to a London preview of the film with a real-life, 6-foot-2 stripper called – yep – Mike, to see if stripping's really the massive laugh it's cracked up to be in the movie.
I attempted to make notes throughout the film, but between my handsome date and Channing Tatum things got pretty distracting. One thing I did manage to absorb was the seemingly endless dialogue where they talked about what they'd rather be doing than pumping meat on stage. Turns out Magic Mike remains psyched about making tables, while Ken (Matt Bomer) wants a career in music. Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello) would rather be blending smoothies.
Mike the real stripper has been doing it for six years, and the Magic Mike films have inspired a new generation of lads to the game. Despite jumping on the Magic Mike bandwagon himself – his name and tagline ("Magic Mike – 6 foot 2 and all for you") being a product of the film's success – my Mike thinks he's less sought after now because of the extra competition.
"In the movie, stripping looks amazing," he tells me, "but can you imagine doing that sort of thing, every night, for years? You'd want to do something else."
Mike now runs a fitness studio in London, and also acts a fair bit too, doing adverts and the occasional supporting part in a film. Still, he loves his night job: "Even if I had enough acting work to keep me going tomorrow, I think I'd still strip. You can be creative, design your own routines to entertain people and it's really easy to be appreciated."
As you might expect, there's a lot of sex in Magic Mike XXL. After the opening sequence, the men waste no time in getting down and dirty with some of the local twenty-something talent. "Yeah, that's pretty much how it goes down," Mike laughed during the movie.
We chatted for a while about stripper hook-ups, which, when on tour, are "a pretty regular thing". But most nights of passion don't last past dawn. "You're just a fucking stripper," complains Mike, "there's no expectation of anything serious." Still, Mike and his friends have their fun and move on, just like the hundreds of ugly normos having one-night stands everywhere, every night across the UK.
When Tatum's Mike re-enters the world of stripping, just after getting his angle grinder out and making sparks fly around his workshop, the crew are surprised to see him back, given he's supposedly all loved up. "Your girl gave you a hall pass?" one chides. "I don't need no hall pass," Tatum replies, in a startling and all-too rare critique of monogamy in the modern heterosexual relationship.
I want to know what it's like balancing a relationship with a job that puts sex at the centre of what you do, given that real-life stripper Mike is currently engaged, with his days of debauchery firmly behind him. He's also no longer touring full time. "If I was still on the road for months at a time, stripping for thousands of women, then maybe a relationship like mine would make no sense," he tells me. At the end of the day, he says, it's a job, and IRL Mike loves his fiancée.
But Magic Mike XXL portrays even the professional part of male stripping as close to the bone. Throughout the 115-minute movie, cocks are squeezed, whipped cream is sprayed and the amount of pelvis jerking that goes on would rival a Ricky Martin concert. Even if you're committed to being Captain Monogamy, this would surely still take its toll on any relationship?
Mike tells me that what goes on onstage isn't as explicitly racy as you might think. "If you want to get audiences, and get rebooked, you don't want to fuck the woman on stage. You want everyone to enjoy it – grandmas too. You don't just start dry humping." Holding down a long-term partner, it seems, is a lot less challenging when you see yourself as an entertainer, rather than a sexually charged dreamboat on the prowl.
After the film, IRL Mike and I decided to go for a burger: just two guys called Mike talking about Magic Mike. Over dinner, he told me various times that most women don't just want an errant dick shoved in their faces. I found this quite hard to believe. Isn't that the whole point? Surely sometimes the crowd take things a little too far?
"One of my stripper friends once had his thong grabbed – he ended up with a fingernail stuck in his ball-sack"
"The girls get really wild, but I don't initiate it. I was doing a strip on a bus for a bunch of fucking crazy drunk girls from Liverpool once. I couldn't even stand up on the bus, and they were ripping my clothes off, expecting a sex show. They were screaming, and started to lose it, so I had to do a runner with my trousers ripped off my legs."
If you think that's bad, once one of his stripper friends had his thong grabbed. It got cut open, "leaving a fingernail in his ball-sack… he had to go to hospital". The perils of the male stripping profession, I suppose.
Up on the screen, whenever the strippers get going, money starts to fly from the hands of women hell-bent on having the times of their lives. But are hen parties in Romford really making it rain? Is it not just a succession of clammy 50 pence pieces chucked at a quivering crotch? And who is making sure that the money is distributed fairly among the boys? They seem to just shoot off when they've stripped, no scrambling about on the floor to pick up the small change.
"I've been to a lot of places all over the world, but this money throwing thing just doesn't happen."
Most of Mike's work comes at the weekend, where he'll be stripping up to eight times on a Saturday. "It comes down to logistics," he explains, "a good booking agent is vital, else it can all be a mess."
When it comes to earnings, Mike gets about £100 a pop, which – at up to six jobs on a good night – is a healthy income. While touring, he was hitting £150 a show, plus tips.
"Thunder From Down Under", the big show in Vegas Mike used to work for, pays new recruits just $100 a night plus accommodation, Mike tells me. At just over £60, it's hardly a fortune. "It's because there are so many young lads that really want to join a strip group and get easy access to girls."
After Magic Mike XXL, I left the cinema feeling a little disappointed. If you were hoping for some fleshy full frontal action, the sequel isn't the film for you. I asked Mike whether I might have more chance of getting a glimpse of the goods if I were to book him for a show.
"In the US and Australia, it's not on the menu, but in England, everyone expects you to get naked," he laughs. And what about enlargement? "I don't pump up my dick or tie it – I never have. Well, firstly, I don't really need to… But also I don't think women just pay to see a big swinging cock; I'll flash a bit, but it's about the entertainment."
But the buff hairless bods, those are real right? Right? "Big Dick Richie shaves all his body hair off after no more than three days, is that what you all do too?" I eagerly asked, as we shook hands, oily with the burger filth of our post-screening dinner date. "There are different strokes for different folks. I make sure I'm clean but I'm not shaving off all the hair. It's nice and tidy down there, though." Good to know, Mike.
Overall, it seems the life of a male stripper isn't far off from the way it's depicted on screen; sex, money and some super smooth moves are all part of the fun for guys like Mike. Sure, you might end up with a finger-nail stuck in your balls, but If you want to travel the world and fuck around a bit, then why not get your kit off in front of crowds of adoring onlookers? I can think of worse ways to make a living. For strippers like IRL Mike, it seems the thrills and perks are worth it, and while Magic Mike XXL might not be winning an Oscar any time soon, it will keep the likes of Mike in business for a few more years at least.
Editor's note – a previous version of this article stated that Steven Soderbergh directed Traffic and A Scanner Darkly. This was an idiotic subbing error and has been corrected.
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