Last week, for the first time since 2019, I got naked on stage. You might wonder why on Earth I would do such a thing and you wouldn’t be alone. Got me thinking of how it all came to pass and that’s what I’ll be digging into this week.

Late in 2010, I decided to try standup for the first time by signing up for the next season of Bungy Comedy. I hadn’t been to any comedy clubs in Sweden by that point but had heard of a club called Big Ben. Since my debut at Bungy was set for March 2011, I thought I’d go check out the scene at Big Ben beforehand.

I could be remembering this wrong, but I’m fairly certain it was this night that I saw a comic named Pontus Ströbaek. His set began with a story about waking up to discover his daughter had dressed his morning wood in Barbie clothes. Later in the set and without remarking on it at all, he began taking his clothes off while continuing to talk about other things, until he was stark naked except for strategically placed Barbie clothes. Perhaps this planted a seed in my mind; it certainly made quite an impression on me.

Speaking of impressions, I’ve always been jealous of comics who can do them well. Not impressions of celebrities, mind you, as I find them almost exclusively cringeworthy. I never think, “That sounds just like the person!” but, “That sounds just like the comic trying to sound like someone else,” with varying levels of success. Even the greats, in my opinion, don’t sound like their targets, but as parodies of them. Dana Carvey and Will Farrell as George Bush and George W Bush, respectively, are fantastic examples. When people off stage do impressions of the Bushes, they’re almost always doing impressions of the impressions.

I’m envious of comics who can do characters in voices different than their own, like Richard Pryor. Different backgrounds, dialects, even gender. Most of Pryor’s career was dominated by characters- it took decades for him to just be himself on stage. Even towards the end, though, he’d do his beloved Mudbone character (which actually started as a character talking about someone named Mudbone).

On an early album, he had a routine about a theater troupe putting on a play inside a prison for the inmates. The routine includes several different characters, including a guard, the warden, the theater director, lead actor, and lead actress. Pryor seamlessly flows from one character to the next and it’s mind-boggling.

After my start with Bungy, I began frequenting Big Ben on a regular basis, and in June or July I began performing at Maffia Comedy as well. It was there that I told a comic named Thanos I was jealous of his ability to inhabit so many different characters in his sets. After living in Boston for over a decade, I can do a passable Masshole accent- just take r’s off words that have them and add r’s to words that don’t, so car becomes cahh and idea becomes idear. Another consequence of living there and trying to erase my native New Jersey accent is that I can barely do one now, only that water and coffee become wudder and kawfee. The only other dialect I can do is, “Mamma Mia, that’s a spicy a-meatball!”

I’ll never forget Thanos’s reaction. “The reason you can’t do voices is because you say you can’t do voices.” Maybe he’s right. It was certainly a very Zen, be-the-ball thing to say. In any case, an idea sparked in my head and within a few hours I’d fleshed it out and committed to doing it on stage.

Maybe I have to credit Dane Cook as another seed. In his first special, he said he’d done a Jame Gumb impersonation for his girlfriend. But the ripping off, er, inspiration doesn’t stop there- I have Andy Kaufman to thank as well.

I did the act at the next show. My wife was also on that night and only she and the club owner knew what I was going to do. When I was booked for it, I thought it was a regular Tuesday night at Maffia, and this was months before I began hosting for the first time, but it just so happened to be Valentine’s Day. Once I realized that, I wondered if it was really the right time for the act, but I was committed by that point.

I told the crowd the whole story about being jealous of comics who can do impressions, including what Thanos had said to me. I asked the crowd if it was okay that I test a few impressions of classic bad guys from movies, and that, if they could recognize what movies I was referencing, that would mean I was good at impressions after all.

The first two were Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver, “You talkin’ to me?”) and Darth Vader (do I have to explain?). This was the Kaufmanesque portion of the bit- I wanted to build up the crowd about testing impressions, only to let them down by doing two extremely basic characters (and not especially well). Okay, they’d think, that’s the joke.

For the third, I said I’d need a little help from the DJ (also the club owner) who started playing “Goodbye Horses.” I took off my shirt, to the delight of the (surprisingly many, at least to me) women in the room, then took off my pants. I grabbed a bag I’d hidden onstage earlier and removed a robe and lipstick, both of which I put on. Signally the DJ to turn the music down, I said, “Would you fuck me? I’d fuck me. I’d fuck me hard. I’d fuck me so hard.” The music back on, I removed my boxers from under my robe, tucked in, and opened the robe wide.

Okay, so I never get naked naked on stage. While I don’t have enough self-confidence to flash my bait and tackle, I think it’s still pretty impressive (if that’s the right word) to reveal as much as I do, especially as an American. I could go into a long tangent here about the American psyche vis-à-vis public nudity and men’s insecurity in general, but the length of a blog post isn’t important, it’s how you use it.

Anyway, the bit went better than I’d imagined, as I hadn’t counted on it being Valentine’s Day and there being so many women in the crowd. The comics were appropriately shocked, especially the host who I flashed one last time for good measure. I’d asked another comic to film my set and while I don’t remember who he was, I do remember that he chose to zoom in on my mangina for some reason.

Looking back, neither I nor the club owner remember who had the idea, but from that point on, there would always be a special show on Valentine’s Day that I’d host, act included. It’s been a fun tradition, although I don’t understand why so many couples think it’s romantic to spend the evening listening to comics they’ve never heard of telling dick jokes. I’m glad they do, of course. In subsequent versions I dumped Travis Bickle and I’ve done it many times now, although I skipped the 2020 show and, due to the pandemic, there was no show in 2021. 2022 was meant to be my triumphant return, but at the last minute the manager of the venue told me I wasn’t allowed. A new manager was coming in and he wasn’t sure how she’d take it. How dare they censor me as an artist?! She turned out to be cool, which is why I got to do it this year.

I should also mention that I did the act at Big Ben twice over the years. The second time was also the second and so far last time I ever hosted there; the club owner’s first thirty choices for host weren’t available, so I got the gig. During the act I had a tuck malfunction, so the front row briefly got the Full Monty after all. I later heard that the owner of the bar took the club owner aside and said, “No one gets naked here ever again!” I choose to believe that the owner realized perfection had been reached, so why try to top it?