Sharing your honest self onstage as a comedian gets a lot more honest once you’ve not only shed any persona, alter ego, reputation or gimmick you use, but also every ounce of clothing you normally cover yourself with to further enhance whatever brand you want the audience to perceive.
So if you really want to see the essence of stand-up comedians, see them naked.
With his or her permission, of course.
It’s been done before, you know. I know, having interviewed Andy Ofiesh nine years ago in Boston, where he occasionally has hosted and produced naked comedy shows over the years — not just in Boston but also in Edinburgh at the Fringe, at private parties and nudist camps.
One fundamental difference between the new NYC naked shows and the ones I’d seen in Boston: Audience members are encouraged to and sometimes do disrobe, something that removes elements of perversion from the exercise.
“We’re giving the audience the option of getting naked, and it’s just about inviting people to making it an us thing,” Kaytlin Bailey told me before a show in October. “Instead of a naked group of people onstage and a group of clothed people judging them from the audience, I think it creates a more welcoming environment if more people get undressed and join the fun.”
About 30 percent of the audience went au naturel this summer; October’s audience, almost zero.
Perhaps that’s a function of how popular the show already had become. On that October night, people immediately crammed in like sardines as soon as the doors opened a few minutes past midnight. When you’re already shoulder-to-shoulder, the lack of elbow room makes even the disrobing process a bit more awkward.
That said and noticed, everyone behaved themselves. Relatively.
Event notices remind the audience in all caps: “NO PHOTOGRAPHY OR FILMING ALLOWED DURING THE SHOW!” With an addendum: “There will be no lewd or sexual acts during the show. Save that for later.”
As for the comedians, some of them show their nerves more figuratively than others. They’ve all signed up for this. It’s not a dare. It’s not peer pressure. But it’s not skinny dipping in the dark, either, and no matter how much experience you have with hot spotlights and a hotter mic, there may be a moment of anxiety that sneaks its way inside the room and inside the performer’s psyche.
Bailey, who’s not likely to be confused for shy onstage or off, said she’s there beforehand and during the show for moral support, in addition to onstage, too, as a fellow performer.
“It’s just a really vulnerable show, both physical and emotional,” Bailey said. “Exhibitionism, you’re just out there totally exposed in a lot of different ways. So, the last time I did the show – I know that it can be an emotionally overwhelming experience, both before and after the show, so I wanted to be available backstage to comics that wanted attention or whatever they need.”
And the most open of open mics carries with it a different adrenaline, since comedians aren’t just performing naked for strangers, but also for their peers.
The October lineup of performers — Corinne Fisher, Nick Naney, Alison Klemp, Jason Saenz, Phil Rizdon Burke, Kat Burdick, Jono Zalay, and Bailey — bottled that energy differently.
Burdick, who told me beforehand that she “went to a hippie school, so it’s not a big deal to me,” made light of the situation and wrote jokes just for the occasion. Whether those jokes worked worried her more than baring all onstage, because she hadn’t told them before. “It’s not like I can run those somewhere, be us I need to be naked for them to work,” she said.
Klemp confessed onstage that she’d performed on a different themed comedy show at The Creek a couple of weeks previously that showcased comedians under the influence of mushrooms. “How desperate for stage time am I?” she asked. She also revealed that she’d starved herself in preparation for showing off her body. So she made up for it by bringing a burrito onstage and eating it during her act. “In case anyone was wondering this is what feminism looks like.”
Both Burdick and Klemp were “Naked Comedy” virgins. Evan Jones hosted the October event, and had tossed aside his clothes before for the summer show. “How many times can I do this before this just becomes my thing? 2 times!” Jones joked. He also was the only performer to literally be in his birthday suit, having turned 25 that night. He said when he was 19, he vowed he’d make it to TV by 25. “Well, close enough,” Jones quipped.
Burke was one of the few comedians to stick to his regular stand-up routine, with jokes about the planned all-female Ghostbusters reboot and the new black remake of Annie. He did open with a quick one-liner of self-observation: “I hope my jokes are good enough that you don’t notice my torso looks like a face.”
And Zalay found a successful punchline in wordplay. Among his jokes: “I’m embarrassed. I wore the same thing as the host!” and “What a year the NFL is having, eh? They’re more exposed than I am right now!”
The Comic’s Comic interview with comedian Kaytlin Bailey before the Naked Comedy Show in October 2014 outside The Creek and The Cave: