When I picked up this book, my first thought was, "Is this white woman going to understand what it's like to be a person of color in this country?"
Back in October, I was sipping a 16 oz. PBR in the basement of the Creek and the Cave, a comedy joint and restaurant in Long Island City that serves the best damn flautas I’ve ever eaten, waiting for an open mic to begin.
As I stood waiting alongside a couple dozen other people who’d written down their names on shreds of paper and thrown them into a bucket for the chance to spend two minutes reciting their most recent batch of comedy gold, someone whispered to me.
“They’re doing a naked comedy show upstairs tomorrow at midnight,” he said as I swigged my tall boy. My eyes widened, as I choked back a sip of my beer as I thought about what that meant.
This wasn’t the first time I’d heard of The Naked Show, a standup comedy show comprised of entirely of people performing naked.
Back when I first started doing open mic comedy around 2009, I’d heard rumor of a comedian who would drive down from Boston on a monthly basis and book notable local acts to perform in a black box theater, all completely nude. The audience would have the option to undress, too.
Back then, I would have blushed at the thought of even attending a show like that. I had several hilarious friends who’d done the show, and while I wasn’t exactly a prude, I also wasn’t completely sure I’d ever be the same once I knew the size of my male friends’ dinguses. I respected my friends who’d done the show, including a hilarious comedienne currently killing it in Edinburgh, and a regular on @midnight who recently toured with Chris Hardwick.
But things can change a lot in five years, and I was enticed by the prospect of watching a naked standup show. The next night, I found myself again at the Creek and the Cave along with my boyfriend, a non-comedian who would never wear clothes anywhere if it weren’t required by law who I sometimes refer to as “Naked Nick.”
The show was crowded, and the host made it very clear that there would be no photography allowed. When the show’s guest host invited the audience to take off their clothes, almost no one did.
But I saw my boyfriend disrobing, and, in solidarity, I took off my top. I later heard that at most shows, up to 30% of the audience will get fully naked, but in this particular instance we were the only two non-performers showing off our goodies, and even I was only half naked.
It was an amazing show, with both men and women commenting on their bodies, flaws and all, and then delving into their routines. Regardless of the fact that they were all naked, I found myself more mesmerized by their actual bits than their “bits.”
Flash forward to July 16. In my usual practice of checking Facebook no fewer than 600 times a day, I saw a notification. The Naked Show producer Kaytlin Bailey was seeking an act to replace a dropout on a show that would be occurring at midnight the next night.
I went back and forth in my mind:
“I bet it would be fun!”
“But what if all my friends are there and they see me naked?”
“It’s just a set, and it’s just a naked body. Nothing no one has never seen before.”
“What if I’m naked and I bomb? And then somehow I DIE?”
“That would be a hilarious way to go, actually.”
I hesitated, and then, before I could stop myself, I replied to the post.
“I’d love to do the show!” I wrote Kaytlin, noting that my birthday was on July 18 and getting to do naked standup would be an awesome present. Within a few hours she got back to me, letting me know I was in.
Holy shit. This was going to be a huge show, and I was going to do it completely nude.
Now, unlike some comedians, I’m always a bit nervous before I perform. I’ve developed a fair amount of confidence, but there’s always the pressure to make sure your jokes are tight, your delivery is perfect and your setups aren’t too long.
But I worried about none of those things as I thought about the fact that I would be performing butt ass naked, and, even more crazy, some of the audience would be people who know me. Some of them might even be dudes who’ve been trying to get me to take my clothes off for them for years.
Luckily, unlike my friend Daniel who’d been booked to do the show for months, I only had a couple of days to feel panic attack-inducing anxiety about doing it. I hit as many mics as I could in the short time between when I was booked and the night of the show, trying to polish my material.
Of all the ways I could possibly die, suffering an anxiety-induced stroke while bombing naked onstage is probably just about the worst scenario I could imagine.
Finally, after what felt like the same amount of time between the dawn of civilization and right now, the evening came. Along with my ever-supportive clothing-hating boyfriend, I headed to Long Island City and waited for the show to begin.
I went backstage to wait with the other performers as the show started. The eclectic lineup consisted of men and women, including one transgender person, all from different backgrounds and with very different styles of comedy. Our host for the evening was Alison Klemp, one of the funniest people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in the past year.
“I’m nervous,” Daniel confessed as he paced around the green room. I smiled at him and reminded him we were all in this together.
Alison called us all out onstage together, where we disrobed and invited the audience to do the same. As I stepped out of my comic book print dress, I felt vulnerable, but also, free. We then stepped back into the green room and waited for the moment of truth.
Backstage, we chatted and tried too hard to avoid making obvious eye contact with our each others’ junk while we waited. I went up around the show’s halfway mark, with the host introducing me as the crowd yelled, “Happy birthday!”
I opened strong with a line I’d been banking on: “I’m very excited to be here tonight, in case you couldn’t tell by my nipples.” When the crowd roared with laughter, I immediately felt comfortable and cracked a joke about wearing my “birthday suit” before launching into my routine.
As modern women who also appreciate good style, we sometimes have the world of fashion against us. Our dresses are so form fitting we can’t breathe. Our bras are too tight, the underwire is itchy and the hooks dig into our backs. (Or, maybe I just need some new bras.)
Thong underwear are too tight, but granny panties make us feel unsexy. We wear painful heels. We wear our hair in tight updos and stab ourselves in the head with bobby pins just to try to get a certain look. We’ll spend hours trying on outfits just to make it look like we threw something together in five minutes. And, we don’t give ourselves enough credit for going through these motions every single day of our goddamn lives.
But onstage, completely naked, none of these things affected me, and there’s a certain joy to that. It’s the same reason we enjoy skinny dipping or walking around our apartments naked. Performing naked, it’s all on display, flaws and all, and the experience allows us to let down our masks. We’re then each better for it.
I had a great set that night and left the show feeling refreshed, which isn’t a word I typically use to describe how I feel after important gigs.
After the show, I popped open a PBR and talked to two spectators who talked about how great my set was, without once referring to how great my “set” was. I felt great, if not slightly offended that I get more unwanted compliments on my body walking down the street fully clothed in New York City than I did performing naked in an intimate venue.
Would I do it again? Absolutely! In an era where Puritan ideals of nudity still prevails, I think it’s important for people—and perhaps women especially—to feel comfortable in their own bodies.
It seems to me that the experience of viewing a naked performance or even performing naked is a reminder that all bodies are different, and gives us each more confidence to appreciate the bodies we have.
Nothing about performing naked standup felt sexual to me, as it seemed to be more of an experience designed to liberate us and get us out of our heads so we could focus on enjoying ourselves as much as possible.
But for now, the one thing to keep in mind is that there’s no reason to wait until your birthday to rock your birthday suit. Naked standup may not be for everyone, but if being naked means having as great of a set as I did that night, then I’d perform naked every night.
Comedy is already all about being vulnerable and bearing it all emotionally anyway, so true to comedic form, you heighten as far as you can take it… and sometimes that means performing naked in front of a bunch of strangers and a few friends.
If you’re in NYC and I’ve inspired you to check out some naked standup, the next Naked Show takes place on October 17th at 11:59 p.m. You can purchase tickets here.