Considering the commotion onstage – women with their legs wrapped around dancers, holding on for dear life during simulated sex acts and trying in vain to control skirts so short they more closely resemble belts – it’s hard to believe male stripping is on the decline.
The guys aren’t exactly losing their shirts – so to speak – but business has been dropping over the past eight years or so, says A.J. Trunk, a 12-year veteran with experience in virtually every aspect of the industry.
The novelty has worn off, he says, there’s more competition and once the economy tanked, many bachelorette and birthday parties, the lifeblood of the industry, stopped coming to town. Even the once-lucrative private parties have been hijacked by dancers willing to take it off for as little as $100.
Indeed, the crowd last Friday for "Men of Sapphire," Trunk’s weekend show at the gentlemen’s club, 3025 Industrial Road, was more boisterous than it was large.
But help may be on the way in the form of "Magic Mike," the new Steven Soderbergh-directed male-stripper extravaganza starring Channing Tatum and Matthew McConaughey that could make you think twice before handling another dollar bill.
"I hope this movie shines a light on" the industry, Trunk says, "and gets it big again."
■ ■ ■
Trunk hated his life, hated his job selling mortgages in his native upstate New York. He’d just broken up with his girlfriend and was hitting the gym hard. It wasn’t long before he learned one of the regulars was a dancer.
"His life always seemed so cool," says Trunk, who just turned 33. "It seemed like he was never working. He was always partying and talkin’ to hot girls."
Eventually, the dancer approached Trunk, saying his boss might have an opening. An email and phone call later, Trunk joined the Hollywood Centerfolds for a show at a small club in Boston.
After some serious persuasion – not to mention a handful of shots – he was performing what they called a "trail set," basically walking through the crowd and letting women stuff money in the G-string he begrudgingly wore.
He made about $300 in 15 minutes.
"I couldn’t sleep for, like, two nights," Trunk recalls. "I was just so amped up from this one show."
■ ■ ■
"Men of Sapphire" bills itself as "the only choreographed male revue stage show in Las Vegas that includes lap dances." But that doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all.
No matter how much the guys tease it, there’s no full nudity. There’s no touching of their privates. They’re not even supposed to dance with an erection.
"We try to do everything possible to give the customer a fun, adult experience without being grimy," Trunk says.
That includes writhing for tips along the runway, incorporating ladies into their routines and, yes, the lap dances. They can be had for as little as $20 in a booth or for between $100 and $400 in the VIP room. On this night, the dancers were leading customers away from their tables, fairly steadily, like the spoils of war.
"But I don’t let them just go crazy," Trunk says of the women whose laps he uses as a stage. "That’s how you get scratched. That’s how girls grab you and try to lick you. I don’t want all that."
Instead, he’ll take their hands and place them on his arms, chest and legs.
"It’s like a deer in headlights. They get into this mode where, like, anything goes and they’re just down for whatever," he adds. "And it’s up to the dancer to be the professional one and be like … ‘We’re entertainers, not whores.’ "
■ ■ ■
Within about a month of his "trail set," Trunk was touring with the show, performing in 29 cities in 31 days. Barely two weeks in, he was already dragging from partying every night.
"When I first started, I was like a kid in a candy store. I couldn’t believe that this world existed," he says. "It just blew my mind. I was totally shocked."
Trunk soon learned to choose his nights to have fun and began treating the job like a business, logging his totals, averaging his nights. But because the tour would hit smaller cities where women may not have seen anything quite like them before, the road could be a strange and dangerous place.
"I wouldn’t even know which story to even start with if you wanted to hear ‘Oh, what was the wildest story?’ I’d be here for the next couple of hours just trying to think."
Many of his road tales, Trunk says, are "so bad that there’s no way you could even put it in a newspaper."
Judging from one involving a couple of women and bottle rockets, he’s not joking.
■ ■ ■
There are a few misconceptions Trunk would like to clear up.
For starters, he’s never performed in a bow tie and rarely worn a G-string.
"There’s a couple of guys (in the show) that still wear G-strings, but it’s kinda old-school. I don’t think it looks good, personally."
Instead, they’ll strip down to either skintight shorts or what they call a "full back," something that resembles a Speedo but with more room – an intimidating, disheartening amount of room – in front.
And not only is he straight – a point he makes several times, in ways both subtle and not – he says he’s never danced for a man and never worked with an openly gay dancer.
"These guys are horndogs. They like girls. If they didn’t, they’d work in a gay club and they would make a lot more money. A lot more money."
■ ■ ■
After between 18 months and two years of touring – Trunk’s a little fuzzy on some of the dates – his revue stopped at the Palomino Club in North Las Vegas for what was mistakenly advertised as a full-nude show.
"I don’t like the whole idea of full-nude dancing," he says. "I think it’s scummy. I think it’s gross. Even with girls. I think it takes away from the art."
None of the other guys wanted to perform. But a couple of drinks later, rationalizing that he’d never again be there, Trunk went for it.
"I literally whipped it out and did the helicopter," he says, using a very descriptive motion as though he were a cowboy performing a rope trick. "I remember feeling just totally horrible about the show. I hated it. I thought it was terrible, cheesy. I got offstage and wanted to give everybody the finger."
But he was noticed by a scout for "Men – The Show." Trunk called the producer at 1 a.m., auditioned later that day and was hired on the spot.
"To me, it was like the biggest thing in the world," he remembers. "I just landed a show at the Riv in Vegas!"
■ ■ ■
Despite his "helicopter" experience, Trunk doesn’t let it all hang out, even during private parties.
"It’s nothing dirty. I don’t do any sexual favors. I’ve never done that," he tells potential clients when they call.
"I let ’em know immediately, we’re not an escort service. That’s not what I do. You can probably find that out here, but you wouldn’t want me or any of my guys."
That’s usually fine, he adds.
"Most of the time, that’s what they want. They want a guy that looks good, that’s not pervy, to show them a fun, light, PG-13 time."
But while he’s "always looking for side gigs," there are some he won’t touch. The weekend before last, he says an audience member offered him $5,000 to leave with her and "party."
"She was intoxicated. She was annoying," Trunk says. "People like that are dangerous."
■ ■ ■
After about nine months, "Men – The Show" downsized from the Riviera to the now-defunct Club Seven. Trunk was briefly laid off – until he showed his skills as an emcee.
For a while, the show split time at Sapphire, and when Club Seven closed, it was rebranded as "Men of Sapphire."
"I’ve been producer and basically caretaker of the show ever since," Trunk says.
"Men of Sapphire" is his full-time job now. In addition to hosting and dancing in the show, Trunk spends his week promoting it, mixing music and multimedia, creating new routines and helping dancers with choreography.
He’s salaried now, which may be for the best given that guys no longer earn what they once did.
Over the course of a year, he says a dancer should average about $300 a night in tips. If they really want to hustle, they’ll work with agencies and hotel concierges to book private parties. Add in some modeling gigs, and it’s still possible to make six figures, he says.
At his peak, Trunk was pulling in about $120,000 a year, but that included working in "Men of X" five days a week in addition to his Sapphire gig.
He’s happier now. He mentors young dancers, and he’s in a solid, 18-month relationship. And the behind-the-scenes component offers stability should his six-pack ever become a pony keg.
"I was making killer money, I mean really good money," Trunk reflects. "But now I’m just kind of burned out.
"I like having my little show here, doing a private party once in a while. I’m really happy. I’m in a great spot now. I enjoy what I do again. It’s fun again."
Contact Christopher Lawrence at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-4567.A realistic picture
You can’t see it in IMAX. It’s not available in 3-D.
The best way to watch the new male-stripper drama “Magic Mike”? Seated between two male strippers.
A.J. Trunk, who’s been dancing for 12 years, and his “Men of Sapphire” colleague Brandon “Tauris” Wyatt, who’s been in the business for five, laughed knowingly about the details the movie got right, sounded inspired by Channing Tatum’s dance moves and even recognized one of the extras as a former co-worker.
“The overall story was pretty accurate,” Trunk said. “All the characters were pretty accurate. I’ve seen every one of those guys in my history of dancing.”
And the dance routines? “That was on point,” Wyatt said. “Definitely on point,” Trunk added.
They also agreed that Matthew McConaughey’s character felt over-the-top and thought a few parts, such as the movie’s “private party” scene, felt amplified.
But as a whole, “Magic Mike” seemed on the money. Maybe 80 percent to 90 percent accurate, by Wyatt’s count.
“I don’t think there was really much wrong stuff in there,” he said, “because a lot of the stuff they showed, I’ve seen.”
– CHRISTOPHER LAWRENCE