This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
If anyone asks me about the most memorable set I have ever performed, I tell them about the first time I performed in my underwear at a sex club.
When I got onstage at Oasis Aqualounge in Toronto, I noticed that the audience was entirely dressed in towels and that every other comic on the show had opted to stay fully clothed. As much as I was experiencing the tingling anxiety of pre-show jitters, I felt like I had to take the opportunity given to me that is not afforded to many gigs. Upon undressing in the locker room, I congratulated myself in the mirror for wearing a more-than-impressive bra-and-underwear set. There I was, in red patent leather Doc Martens, wearing only my undergarments, about to indulge in fifteen minutes of stand-up, and I had never felt more excited to perform in my life.
With a television screen next to me, I was kept well-lit by the pornography playing (which also lended a blessed opportunity to describe all of the ways that my junk doesn’t look like that).
I performed what I consider to be the funniest set of my career to this day. I walked away from it feeling like I had swam 50 laps, my heart pounding and endorphins rushing around under my skin, and all I did was talk. I came, I saw, I conquered, and then after, a bunch of people came too.
For whatever reason, it had unlocked something within me that lended the opportunity to be exactly the kind of comic I want to be; loud, physical, a little crass, and confident. Achieving such a balance is challenging, but it somehow all came together as my jeans and T-shirt got tossed in a locker. I’d call it “my kink,” but my feelings have little to do with sexual gratification and everything to do with artistic satisfaction.
I took on two of humanity’s biggest nightmares at once; public speaking, and showing up to work and realizing you didn’t put clothes on. Since then, I have accepted every opportunity to perform at a sex club and have always opted to perform in what I would call an “outfit.” A well-coordinating black bralette and cheekily printed panty, boots, and thigh-high socks. Yes, I have put together a formula for how to show up to these gigs. I’ve done comedy while baring all and I’ll take the option to accessorize over it every time. As much as I love being naked in my apartment on a lazy afternoon after a shower, I appreciate being able to put together a not-quite-naked look for the occasion of being in front of people.
Unlike other performative arts like burlesque or pole dancing, there is an element of “having to be sexy” that’s missing when it comes to stand-up. You are bringing aspects of yourself that aren’t sexy to the surface, and I really think good stand-up makes a person's appearance sort of disappear.
I spoke to one of the only people I know who’s ever done burlesque and stand-up, and her perspective doesn’t vastly differ from mine. Daisy Badcock is a Toronto-based actor and burlesque performer. The times I’ve seen her perform, she’s made creative choices and injects an upbeat energy into her face and body movements. Her song picks are more campy then they are sensual, and she is not afraid to make a mess. The last chance I had to see her live was at a Christmas-themed variety show where she danced to a mix of “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” “Turn Down for What,” and “Get Low” (which ended with her nearly completely nude and pouring eggnog all over her pastie-laden boobs).
Daisy Badcock is someone I describe as a funny burlesque performer. She auditions predominantly for humorous roles, and she gave stand-up comedy a fair shake by trying it a couple of times. I wanted to know, would the idea of doubling down on revealing herself seem like a thrill or a nightmare?
“When I’ve done stand-up, I feel I’m my most raw and vulnerable. I'm emotionally naked. You also have some things to hide behind when it’s burlesque. I’ve got my costume, I’ve got my music, glitter, fringe, and my boobs… I’m hiding behind my boobs.”
I then asked her how the idea of performing stand-up partly nude would make her feel. She said she’d probably feel more comfortable, and I immediately lit up.
“I feel a nude body is just as much a part of you as your face or your hand. [Nudity] adds to the entertainment. A lot of the time when you’re doing burlesque, the audience is full of other burlesque dancers and sex positive people. There’s probably people in the room who are thinking pervy thoughts, but I don’t let that bother me. If I’m entertaining, then I’m doing my job.”
For anyone who might be made uncomfortable with the idea of someone being in their underwear in front of strangers, I’m going to point out to you that it’s not super different from going to the beach. Unless you keep your khakis on when you suntan, seeing a little asscheek and breastplate shouldn’t be a particularly shocking display. Human beings have assigned a bizarre value to bras vs bathing suits, even though they show the same amount of skin. Even Miss America pageant contestants, the most wholesome of the whole, are expected to prance across a stage, bikini-clad, in front of an audience of millions (because somehow that’s the best way to award scholarships to young women). And yet, somehow, the second it’s lace instead of that weird polyester, it’s considered too taboo to be seen (even when you are enthusiastically choosing to).
The sex club show vibe has always been “people enthusiastically watching while patiently waiting for it to be over so they can go off on their sexual exploits.” I typically wind up charmed by the polite nature of the audience and their willingness to enjoy an art form that has a terribly unsexual nature. People who pay to have a fun place to play are willing to take some time off getting off and get some laughs in. They don’t heckle, they don’t come in and out (no pun intended), and they aren’t noticeably drunk.
They trust the show and give the acts the control of the room (kinkier folks might say they… submit). I might’ve just been lucky to have obedient audiences every time. It could be my raw talent and unadulterated stage presence (or maybe it’s the whip, who can truly say for sure), but it was likely the strict consent/behavior/harassment rules put in place to keep the everyone (women) safe.
Frankly, you have as much of a chance of being creeped out by an audience member at any fully-clothed comedy venue than you do under these circumstances, but it ultimately depends on where you go.
I didn’t know that doing stand-up in my underwear was a dream come true until I did it.
Nothing could possibly beat that set. Not because nothing will be better than it, but because it was a learning moment in becoming the kind of comic I want to be. I got to wear something completely unconventional and somehow entirely appropriate. I got to be as explicit as I chose to be because hey, we’re all a little naked. I also got to show the audience that I was willing to be as vulnerable as they are in a very personal way, that everything that we’re doing is unconventional and so right. I am not here to remind them of society's rules of convention. I’m here to give them as much of an unforgettable experience as I've had.
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