When last we left our heroes, Allison Page & Anthony Miller, they had swilled down Fireball and countless other ill-advised beverages while watching Hoodslam, a wrestling event in Oakland, California. That was several months ago. (see Part 1, Part 2). They’ve grown so much. Or something.
Special crude illustrations by Peter Townley, based on awful descriptions by Allison, because they didn’t allow photos.
Allison: A little over a week ago I was alerted to the fact that a certain event pertaining to my interests – a show, if you will – a production…THUNDER FROM DOWN UNDER was coming to San Francisco. In case you’re unfamiliar, it’s a bunch of Australian male strippers dancing to routines set to music while wearing themed “costumes” that they eventually remove. Naturally, I immediately suggested Anthony come along for a second installment of glorious audience-membering. Anthony, you’re welcome.
Anthony: I had proposed a few different shows over the last few months, but the schedules never worked. After the third time I got grumpy and was “Grumble grumble, I’m tired of suggesting things grumble grumble.” But then I got very sad because maybe Allison secretly hated me. So when she did message me, there was a moment of girlish excitement, “Ooh Allison Page messaged me, I must be a likable person.” This is a real thing. Her message simply said “THUNDER FROM DOWN UNDER”, for whatever reason, I knew exactly what she meant. I have no idea why, but I immediately said yes, let’s go see male strippers.”
Excerpt from our pre-show fish ‘n chips convo:
Al: I don’t know how much storytelling we’ll see tonight.
Ant: No. None. But we’ll have to find some way to make it relate to theater.
Al: As you can see, we had our mission. We also had our first drinks. Anthony, a shot of well whiskey and a beer, I think. And I had a Cucumber Pimm’s Cup.
In line at Cobb’s Comedy Club (a fascinating venue choice) we noticed a distinct lack of men. In fact, Anthony’s the only one I saw. I took a photo of him in line in case I ever needed it for…some reason.
Ant: It was strange how comfortable I felt, standing in a line of a hundred people and they were all women. We would randomly start giggling about it because it was so apparent. But this was not a polite line, oh no, these ladies were there to party. People who didn’t regularly smoke cigarettes, were bumming smokes from their friends, they were swigging flasks of whiskey, smoking blunts and vape pens. It was awesome, it was as if the absence of men allowed them to be devoid of bullshit and cut loose. Turns out, I had seen nothing yet.
Al: We made our way through the line, into the theater, and were ushered up to the balcony at a small table in the back…with 4 chairs. 2 women sat with us a few moments later and we each tried to pretend the other duo wasn’t there, aware that we would all be looking at the same pecs.
Ant: Our seats were about as far back as possible, which was just fine. Better stay as far from the sweaty Australians and their feverish fans as we can. To me, the audience is part of the show. I will say this about the two ladies at our table, they were drinking kamikazes at a pretty impressive rate.
Al: Once the lights dimmed, the crowd start shrieking. A high squeal like a thousand semi trucks hitting their brakes at once. There’s a video montage. I can’t stop thinking that it was someone’s job to make it. The screen changes to a vision of digital rainfall. AC/DC plays. Nothing’s happening yet, it’s all fluffing, you could say. In fact, I just did.
Ant: I have seen a lot of crowd reactions in my life, I have seen grown men cry at a Paul McCartney concert. But nothing comes close to the the sound of 450 women going batshit. The shriek became lower, guttural, primal even. It was as if the audience immediately established that the men worked for them. I wonder if anyone else made the connection that AC/DC is an Australian band, I wonder if they just chose it because it had “Thunder” in the title.
Al: The opening number begins. We’re giggling with anticipation. I suddenly realize I have no idea what the Australian flag looks like. “Cry Me A River” plays. There are 5 guys, one seems to be the leader. He looks like Christian Slater 20 years ago. The men go out into the audience. So far, they’re still clothed.
Ant: My first thought is I’m a little dissapointed they’re not better dancers. Some of them are better than others, maybe I’m spoiled by musical theatre, but I wanted more precision. Not to take away from their sweaty, rippled bodies, but seriously, you know what’s sexy? Synchronicity.
Al: Then the butts come out. If you look at my scribbled notes, they say “HERE COME THE BUTTS” which I don’t think was code for anything. They’re pretty good butts, but they’re flexing them really hard and I don’t know if that’s the best strategy, you know? All tightened up like that? Is that the best display of a butt? Who am I to say. But I say no.
Ant: I made a mental note to renew my gym membership, because dang. I am not a fan of the butt flexing, why would you do all those squats just to make your ass narrow? Perhaps if they made their butt cheeks dance in time with the music.
Al: A host emerges. He proclaims that for all the things we’re about to see, there are two things we WILL NOT see: “YOUR STUPID HUSBANDS AND BOYFRIENDS”. This is a repeated theme throughout the night. This show is SO heavily aimed at women, it’s kind of amazing. It’s like Magic Mike but, ya know, no Channing. Or Joe. They constantly stress that it’s “Laaaadies niiiiight ouuuut!” and that these guys are nothing like your shitty partners/boyfriends/husbands who are very clearly not good enough for you. Ya gotta give it to ‘em in light of that packed house: it’s marketing that seems to work for them! I wonder who’s writing that copy. I am available for that gig, TFDU, if you need me.
Ant: It was profound in a way, to watch these women totally bro-out. They were yelling and screaming, they were slapping asses and high fiving. To me, this was equality. Men were being objectified and everyone was having a good time. I am willing to bet most of these women at some point that day had to take shit from a dude. Now was their chance to vent, to fight the ding dang patriarchy. To stand up and say “STATISTICALLY, I ONLY MAKE 73 CENTS TO YOUR DOLLAR, NOW DANCE, BITCH.” Perhaps i’m reading too much into this.
Al: By now we’ve got our second drink. For me, some Sweet Tea Filled With Liquor situation, and for Anthony a Moscow Mule. And I’ve started keeping track of things that could technically classify this as theater:
There’s an audience
There’s a stage
There are costumes
And believe or not, there are kind of stories sort of? More on that later.
Anthony, what am I forgetting here?
Ant: (Puts on glasses) The closest theatrical comparison would be the popular theatre of the early 20th century. Specifically, Vaudeville, Burlesque and the Musical Revue. The dances have themes and costumes and it’s all tied together with a host. It is a theatrical production.
Al: There’s a fair amount of time killing going on. The host does 10 minutes of non-comedy and then ends up with this belter: “Are you ready to see some naked Australian men?” The crowd goes bananas. It’s like a Beatles concert but the fans are 25-50 year old women desiring tall muscular men who dance stiffly to “Welcome to the Jungle” while dressed as Tarzan…and then a man in a gorilla suit comes out. Interesting artistic choice, that. Can’t believe they bought a whole gorilla suit for that one 20 second bit but you do you, Thunder. You do you. I hope it was on sale.
Ant: Maybe I have a warped sense of morals, but it all seemed very harmless. It didn’t strike me as sleazy, but kinda good, clean, fun. I mean am I really supposed to feel threatened by dudes dancing in tacky costumes? It all seemed very silly, but in an entertaining way. It isn’t just sexy dudes dancing, it’s sexy dudes being very silly. They know they look ridiculous, but I assume women also appreciate a man willing to make an ass of himself.
Al: Soon after, the first shirt of the evening is shredded. Ya know, they grab it on both sides of the collar and tear it in two on their own bodies. You know. You’ve seen TV.
Ant: I think being able to do it while doing body rolls is pretty impressive.
Al: Agreed. I said, aloud, “If someone doesn’t do Pony I will burn this place to the ground.” Can’t remember if I meant it.
Ant: I had no doubt they would play “Pony”, if I was a stripper, I would dance to “Pony”. I also believed Allison would burn the place down if they didn’t.
Al: The first audience member of the night is pulled on stage and given a lap dance. I guess I was mesmerized for a moment because my notes stopped. Then picked back up with “He shoves her hand down his pants,” something which happened several times, the point of which I never quite grasped. (SEE WHAT I DID THERE) Then, as opposed to the brief showing of butts earlier, the pants FINALLY came off. I laughed really hard because I’m 12 years old I guess. The thong is Miami Vice colored, honestly.
Ant: It’s like what you think male stripper would wear in the 80’s, in a movie about this quiet, shy guy who is a sexy dancer by night. I wonder how many hands he’s shoved down his pants.
Al: There’s a “Spartan” bit. It’s a low point for me. Sword work leaves something to be desired. I mean, and they’re obviously plastic. But at least they’ve got capes.
Ant: The capes look heavy, you can’t properly dance in such heavy capes.
Al: This is when I notice that their dancing is more like a series of poses.
Ant: Totally! It was here I became a little disappointed. I mean I’ve heard of The Thunder From Down Under, they have a regular show in Vegas. I guess I expected something slightly more legit. Or at least really good dancers, clearly Magic Mike has misled me. It was if they were relying on the fact they were very attractive men. I should also note that if anyone else noticed this, they didn’t care. It was raining men god dammit.
Al: Another woman is brought onstage. I admit to probably woo-hooing during this bit. Wasn’t bad. There was a lot of carrying her around and tossing her over here or over there. Quite exciting. Ends with a guy pretending to perform oral sex on her while she’s still wearing pants? Sure, whatever.
Ant: I admit I clutched my proverbial pearls a few times, between the aggressive air humping, the assisted crotch grabbing, and the simulated oral sex. I feel like it would be horrifying to be this woman, having australian junk aggressively waved in my face. Again, it all seemed so silly. It was becoming clear that on the male stripper naughtiness spectrum, these fellas were on the tamer side. I have seen strippers two other times in my life, but those were lady strippers, the difference here is that I didn’t feel skeezy being there.
Al: The host comes out again while the dancers are presumably getting dressed for the next number so they have a new outfit to take off. The women start shouting for him to take his clothes off, like they want to eat the threads of his clothing to steal his soul or something. A woman in front of us starts pounding on her table and when he says “No, no ladies, I won’t be taking my clothes off, my mother might find out,” she suddenly shouts “I CAN SEE YOUR VAGINA FROM HERE!” Yeah, that absolutely made me laugh, won’t pretend otherwise.
Ant: To be fair, no one is there the hear his jokes. No one is advertising sexy naked Australian men AND witty repartee with the host. As I said before, I really appreciate watching women behave loud and boorish. I had no idea that I did, until tonight.
Al: “Uptown Funk” plays. The men wear bright silk jackets. They dance a bit and exit. The host then brings three women up for a fake orgasm contest. Again: KILLING TIME. He asks one of them, “Are you single?” her response…”I have cats.”
Ant: Those were some pretty crappy fake orgasms. I’ll say this about the “Uptown Funk” number, the pants and shirts removing cues were very well timed. The part of the show that never gets old is when the dancers go into the audience. The ladies go batshit every time.
Al: One of them climbs up the host. She wins. Next comes, and I need to stress that I’m not making this up, a SWAT team number. Yes, they all enter with fake guns and in SWAT team gear. It was pretty weird. I maybe cowered a bit. Then I got distracted thinking “Do they called it a SWAT team in Australia?” Then there’s a high concept lap dance Anthony appreciates.
Ant: This makes me re-think my feeling on “sexy” versions of costumes. Every Halloween we cringe at the bajillion costumes for women that are a sexy version of everything. Sexy jelly bean, sexy Dorothy, sexy United States Senator. This show brings a certain balance to it, they really do run the gamut. There were sexy firemen (A staple I assume,) Sexy jungle men and yes, sexy Swat Team. There was just something so right about the reversal of roles. Men were there and objectified for the specific entertainment of women. It was kind of glorious.
Al: Next, there are firemen and fire hose sound effects. I express disappointment that the bottom half of the firemen outfits look suspiciously like khakis. At some point we receive our third set of drinks, identical to the second. “Come Together” plays. An interesting musical choice, though soon we are blessed with “It’s Getting Hot In Here”, to which Anthony claps along. Finally, after waiting and hoping for this moment all evening, I hear the dulcet tones of Ginuwine’s “Pony”. It’s a dream come true. Except it isn’t. He kind of phones it in. Listen, I don’t know much, but I know that if you are stripping to “Pony” you need to 1) BRING IT and 2) HUMP THE FLOOR. If you don’t hump the floor during “Pony”, GTFO.
We end our evening with predictable cowboys “dancing” to “Sweet Home Alabama” in chaps, obviously.
I admit to having had a pretty great time. There were drinks, and we were far enough away that we didn’t get too close to any dangly parts. I couldn’t help but feel, as the host professed “THEY’RE ALL SINGLE, LADIES, AND YES, WE’RE REALLY AUSTRALIAN!” that they must get tired of all this pandering sometimes. And all that waxing. They were pretty stiff (HAR HAR) in the dancing department. And the routines weren’t anything that any guy I’ve ever met could accomplish just as, if not more, effectively. I think Anthony had a good point when he said “You know, I think it’s just about the confidence. They just have the confidence to be up there, and not be fully clothed, and that’s what the women are reacting to.”
I have to agree with this. They clearly DGAF about being nearly nude. And good for them. No one’s paying to see my clenched butt cheeks…that I’m aware of. Based on the audience reaction, and the fact that there’s no way these guys are ALWAYS in the mood to do this, I have to say it’s theater. They’re putting on a show. Sure, it ain’t Hamlet, but nothing is. Even Hamlet, sometimes.
Also, my favorite part of the whole evening was the “sexy” illusion completely being broken by the stage manager, Nicole, who had to run onstage at least a half dozen times to move a chair to a different position on stage, DURING A LAP DANCE. I laughed so hard every time she ran on in her all black backstage-y clothes, to assist in a sexy-time dance. That was the best theater of all.
Allison Page & Anthony Miller are both writers and theater-makers who saw nearly nude men together. Just Google them, it’s easier.