The Time I Performed Standup Comedy Naked
By Steve Brykman
For some reason, everybody wants to know about the time(s) I performed standup comedy naked. Forget about getting thrown out of the 2000 DNC. We want to know about the nudity! They think it's, like, a big deal or something. That I'm naked. That I'm not wearing any clothes and that a lot of people are seeing me that way. Maybe because it’s the unification of two things people fear most of all: public speaking and public nudity, joined into one terrifying whole. The funny thing is, when I perform standup comedy, the clothes I’m wearing are the last thing on my mind. After a minute or so, I literally forget I’m naked. The pressure is on. I’ve got work to do. Got to score some laughs. So from a performative perspective (phew) being naked makes the whole thing easier, getting laughs, that is, which is after all the main point of the thing. Particularly in my case, being as short and as hairy as I am.
First off, I should get this out of the way. The show I do is billed as “The Naked Comedy Showcase.” It's not like I just walk out there and tear my clothes off and everybody's like, "Woah, What the f*&k?!" Not at all. Anybody who buys a ticket does so knowing they are going to see a show made up entirely of unclothed comedians, both male and female.
People who study comedy for a living might tell you something like: it doesn't matter that a comedian is naked. Comedy is not down there, it's up here, in the performer’s face. In their facial expressions. In fact, recent studies have shown that within moments of the opening joke, a majority of the audience will stop looking at a performer's genitals and will focus their gaze on the comedian's face, where the jokes are coming from. And once that happens, once attention is removed from the groinal region, it makes little difference what the comic is wearing or whether he or she is wearing anything at all.
But here’s the thing. Even if they’re all looking at your face, making good eye contact and whatnot, you know it's always at the back of their mind, gnawing-away: Don't look at the junk. Don't look at the junk. Eyes off the -- oh, God, I just saw the junk again. And this tension, this inner conflict, ups the laugh-factor ten-fold.
For this reason, performing standup comedy naked almost feels like cheating. Because here I am, taking these things the audience can't help but laugh at—nervously or not—and literally shoving them in their collective face. I'm like Carrot Top. If I slip-up a punchline or two, no biggie. I’ve got great props to fall back on. Besides which, the crowds are always sympathetic: Of course the dude forgot his jokes, they're thinking, the poor fool’s naked. Cut him some slack!
Here are the rules, (at least for the Cambridge, MA stage):
Rule #1: Comedians may not come on stage clothed and remove clothing as part of their act. This is not a strip tease, people, this is a naked comedy show.
Rule #2: Performers are never allowed to engage physically with a member or members of the audience. This includes lap-dances, erotic-massage, fellatio, etc.
Rule #3: Overtly sexual gestures are not permitted. Artists may not to pull on or otherwise manipulate anything during the performance.
I am not especially proud of my genitalia. This may have occurred to you already. However, I can’t deny the fact it has served its function admirably, on occasion pleasing my wife—or at least appearing to— and eventually producing not one but two adorable children, which is really as much as one can hope for from a penis.
These are the kinds of things being naked enables one to say in public, made considerably funnier by the fact one provides Exhibit A as irrefutable evidence. You've put your money where your mouth is. The proof is in the pudding.
Got it now? Loads of fun.
So here's what happened. On this particular night, a TV crew from the show Chronicle showed up. They took some shots as we performed and then interviewed us afterwards (naturally, we did the interviews naked). I didn’t think about the ramifications. I assumed that, like most things in my life, no one would ever find out about the media coverage, and that would be the end of it.
That week, I’m at Nanna’s house, picking up the kids, and my dad tells me to come down to the basement for a minute. He needs to show me something. And there, in front of the fifty-five inch television, he sits me down and says we have to talk.
Steven, he says, brandishing a videotape, This is a very bad thing you’ve done. You’ve betrayed your people.
What? What’s that? I say, referring to the VHS, forgetting about the naked showcase I’d done months earlier, not realizing the
Chronicle episode had just aired, or that anyone in my family had seen it.
Your sister can no longer sleep at night. She’s freaking out.
About what? I say.
What do you mean about what! About your pulling your pants off in public is about what!
Then he pops in the tape.
Oh, sweet! I say, I haven’t seen this yet. Did you tape it? Channel 7 did a thing, too, I heard.
Your mother is having panic attacks.
Now, granted, my sister suffers from Fragile X syndrome which manifests itself as either anxiety, OCD, depression, or paranoia (depending on which of her neurotransmitters happens to be responding best to the pharmaceutical cocktail), so her concern wasn’t all that much of a shocker. My mother’s a different story. She’s been a social worker for the last forty or so years. She’s seen it all. She’s practically a Zen Buddhist.
I don’t believe you, I say, Since when does mom give a shit about stuff like that?
And then he says, You realize of course that that’s how the Nazis got started.
For a second there I’m thinking my dad’s referring to one of my old jokes. This bit I used to do where I tell a couple of bad jokes only Jews would laugh at, and then I say, Show of hands: how many Jews do we have here tonight? And then I say, You really shouldn’t raise your hands, you know. Because after all, that’s how the Nazis got started. Went from comedy club to comedy club doing bad Rosh Hashanah material..and God forbid if you raised your hand, boy!
And then I say, Just for the record. I’m not a self-hating Jew. I’m a self-cleaning Jew. Very low maintenance.
But he isn’t.
The Nazis? I say.
You’ve heard of them?
I think I should go.
Moral turpitude, Steven. Their Number One justification for killing Jews. They said we were guilty of Moral Turpitude.
But, dad, what we’re doing is perfectly legal. Some of the money even goes to charity.
I don’t care.
But, people are naked all the time! In the movies. On TV...
That whole thing about your balls...
Sweet! They got the balls bit on there?
What’s the big deal? You don’t walk into an art museum and go, Ach! Who let them hang all these nudies all over! Quick! Somebody paint some clothes on these people. How do you think they got on the canvases in the first place? They stood in front of a dude for like twelve hours or whatever, and—guess what—they weren’t wearing any clothes!!
In a painting, right...
So Barbra Streisand can do a nude scene, but I can’t?
Barbra Streisand never did a nude scene!
Owl and the Pussycat.
It got cut!
What the hell, dad? When did you get to be such a prude?
Nevermind prude. Number one.
So I guess we’ll know who to blame if ever there’s another holocaust, is that what you’re saying? Might as well go ahead and make this official: Hey, everyone! Just in case you were wondering why they’re suddenly going after us again...all I can say is, Sorry. Sorry me and my scrotum let everybody down.
Your grandmother’s sisters...I’m just saying.
What are you saying, Dad? Just what the hell are you saying?
Steven Brykman left med school to become Managing Editor of National Lampoon. His work has appeared in Playboy, Cracked, Tablet, Nerve, and The New Yorker where he was featured in Talk of the Town. He has written for/appeared on Prairie Home Companion, Comedy Central, NPR, G4TV, and the Food Network. As a writing fellow at the University of Massachusetts, his fiction was awarded the Harvey Swados prize.See other articles by Steve Brykman