It was supposed to be “just a very crazy little blip” in what turned out to be “a pretty crazy life up until this point.”
You might even think Channing Tatum would cringe at YouTube evidence of the four-month stretch he did as a male stripper. But everything’s on YouTube, including a surveillance like video shot from the light booth of “Male Encounter” in Florida, when Tatum was 20.
But no scandal here. You probably know about Tatum and “Magic Mike,” and what those few months of working the circuit inspired. A worldwide gross of $167 million on a $7 million budget. A sequel. And now, a live spinoff show, “Magic Mike Live,” which will debut next March at the Hard Rock Hotel, in the Body English basement club.
On the phone with Tatum, I say the closest comparison might be if someone flipped burgers at McDonald’s as a teen, got rich and famous, and then decided to buy a McDonald’s franchise.
Almost, but not quite. For one thing, Tatum isn’t just cashing a check. He’s directing the show himself. “It’s been a pretty personal walk the entire way,” he says, noting he was a producer on the first, independently financed movie.
“I’ll even dance in it if I ever get in shape again,” he adds with a laugh. (You think that might sell a few tickets?)
And he didn’t buy into an existing goldmine. He discovered one: an almost underground niche of the entertainment world waiting to be brought to the mainstream and more fully explored.
“We wanted to show this strange little subculture of people,” Tatum recalls, after he and director Steven Soderbergh decided over beers during the filming of “Haywire” that the actor’s experiences in the G-string world would make a great movie: “a weird little window into this kind of really dangerous world at times, but really superfun at the same time.”
Tatum speaks of “Magic Mike Live” as though it’s a second sequel. “I think the first one was about Mike, and the second one was about these guys trying to figure out who they were, and what they were doing.”
“I think the emphasis should be on women now. We’re going to try to do something really different and change the form of these sort of shows. I don’t think we’re going to call ours a male revue, even though people will be able to call it that if that’s what they want.”
However, “if you took the men stripping out of it, it still should be a good show.”
The YouTube clip of the young Chan in the Florida club was posted by veteran producer-performer London Steele. As fate would have it, he just opened “Men of Steele” at the Tommy Wind Theater.
Steele has posted other videos detailing his life in the G-string world and his case for the filmmakers basing the characters of Mike and Matthew McConaughey’s Dallas on him.
This has been in dispute between Steele and Tatum since the movie came out, and only comes up again because Steele will find his low-budget revue up against Tatum’s well-promoted one if it lasts until March.
“I wish the guy luck,” Tatum says. Once you get famous, “it’s really funny the people that come out of the woodwork. … For some reason they feel like they gave me my start or something? Which is … I don’t even know in what drug-induced world that that would have been the case. But it definitely was never the case.”
“Magic Mike Live” and “Men of Steele” join what’s already the most atypical city for male revues. They will not only have to deal with one another, but the long-entrenched “Chippendales: The Show” at the Rio and “Thunder from Down Under” at Excalibur.
Though it’s quite understandable for a guy who spends most of his time making hit movies, Tatum sometimes sounds a little behind the curve of what’s already here when he talks about his show.
He says he wants women “to feel like this place was created for them, to tell us what they want, and then for us to give it to them.”
“It should feel like it was made for them and for them to congregate there. It should be out of fun. It shouldn’t be a salacious, dirty feeling. That’s why I would feel comfortable dancing and performing in it.”
But to give credit where due, Chippendales and “Thunder” long ago rocketed past the seedy dollar dances in rented back rooms of bars. The Chippendales showroom and adjacent Flirt Lounge opened when the Rio was overseen by Marilyn Winn (now Spiegel), a rare female casino executive.
And when “Thunder” producer Adam Steck was able to get his Excalibur room upgraded and redecorated to fit the show, he proudly showed off details such as the hooks under the tables, which women had requested for hanging purses.
Onstage, both shows sport computerized lighting and an impressive investment in video and set design, even if they stick to the proven tropes of button-challenged cops, firefighters and construction workers.
Tatum says even those cliches are on the table for renegotiation. “So many of these shows over the years have just been guys doing what they think is sexy,” he notes.
The cops and firefighters? “I don’t know if that’s really sexy to women. I’m not sure. Now, it’s just sort of this thing that’s always done.”
Based on the nonscientific evidence of the decibel level during these numbers, I’m willing to argue the dancing peace officer is not ready to quit swinging his nightstick.
But the momentum and publicity of Tatum’s show will put it in a unique position to experiment.
“I really find it fascinating to go, ‘OK, let’s break (the mold) and see what we have now. Build something new and see if it’s good or not,” he says.
“I think society’s so different now than when some of these shows started,” he adds. “I’m fascinated to see what we see, find what we find.”
Read more from Mike Weatherford at reviewjournal.com. Contact him at email@example.com. Follow him @Mikeweatherford