Comedian Adam Sank (& BFFs) get naked for laughs
Comedian Adam Sank’s plush white towel hits the black stage slightly before he intends it to and he’s suddenly plunged headlong in that nightmare we all had in high school: standing naked in front of a crowded classroom full of our peers. But in this case, Sank is not en face de homeroom, but rather center stage at Daniel Nardicio’s Playgirl Mansion for the latest debauch on Manhattan’s PG-13 nightlife landscape.
The party is called Dirty Laundry, but there isn’t much laundry--dirty or otherwise--on the line. Instead, a series of gay male stand-up comics take the stage, fairly limited sartorially as their towels must also drop somewhere at the top of their act so they can also perform nude. Stage gear is pretty much limited to athletic or dress socks: a two-tone pair from Nasty Pig is as avant-garde as the wardrobe department can get.
"That wasn’t supposed to happen yet," Sank laughs, looking down at his towel atop the two-foot high stage. But he gives his unit a quick fluff, does a 360 degree rotation to rousing applause from the packed house and launches into his act Within the first 30 seconds of his material, Sank reveals his preferred sexual role, as, indeed, all the comics do at the top of their act. Queer sexual politics hasn’t been this transparent since the gay hanky code.
Being naked - multiply by ten
"There is something about standing up there with your clothes off that makes you bear your soul," Sank continues, "literally. There are no secrets. Everyone can see everything. Good comedy is always about revealing as much of yourself as you possibly can. Most comics come from a place of honesty and vulnerability. When you’re naked, that’s multiplied by ten."
"You can’t not when you’re naked," is how headliner Brad Loekle views the big top or bottom reveal. "You kind of gotta just say it. The thing is, when I do that bit about being a bottom, I’ll have beautiful men hit on me after the show. As soon as we get back to their hotel, they’re on their backs with their ankles to Jesus. And they’re literally like, ’Oh, I just thought it was part of the act.’ Why would I lie about being a bottom on a microphone?"
As a frequent headliner on Atlantis cruises and host of Sunday night’s Electroshock comedy showcase at Therapy, the stout and hairy Loekle is probably best positioned for what Sank calls "road cock." But Loekle classifies his rock star status in the world of queer stand-up as "when it’s good, it’s very, very good, but when it’s bad, it’s horrid."
A higher bar
And while Loekle’s excited about getting picked up by the gay cruise line Atlantis, and they’ve used him for everything they’ve done over the past year and a half, he still finds it difficult to land representation. "It’s hard to get an agent because they’re like, ’Wow, so you’re like a gay guy and not like a pretty one who designs people’s closets or does wedding dresses. You’re just like a gay, bald furry guy who talks dirty.’ So it’s a little, you know, peaks and valleys."
Sank also sees the bar set higher for queer comics. "We’re gay and we’re performing for a gay crowd," he explains, "gay audiences are always the most difficult in the sense that they don’t put up with any bullshit. Gay men in particular have such a high standard for what is entertainment and what is funny and what is new and fresh."
Does that stand make a queer cackle harder to come by? "We’re such arbiters of entertainment that you have to just really lay it out on the table and not hold anything back in order to really make them laugh," Sank replies, "make them feel something, make them react. I prefer performing for straight crowds because they’re so easily entertained, but performing for gay crowds makes me a better comic."
In your living room (only nude)
And at Dirty Laundry, part of becoming a better comic involves working harder. After comic Jason Barker’s set, emcee Sank is back on the tiny stage, but Barker returns to the room moments later. His sizable erection bounces mere inches from my face as event producer Daniel Nardicio, who’s been sitting Indian-style in front of the stage trying to light the proceedings with his iPhone’s LED lamp, motions him to the stage the way Shirley MacLaine mimes removing a jacket to get Meryl Streep out of her coat in "Postcards from the Edge." Sank momentarily halts the proceedings as Barker waves his cock at the crowd, subtly downshifting the evening from Showtime at the Apollo to Dance Moms as the crowd applauds vigorously.
"This is like you’re actually in someone’s living room while they’re doing nude comedy," Nardicio explains, "but with a good sound system." He’s standing in the alcove kitchen of the Playgirl Mansion--basically an outsized Gramercy Park duplex--which is doubling as an open vodka bar this evening. The all-you-care-to-drink libations loosen the crowd, but only one person takes Nardicio up on his promise that the audience can get as naked as the performers.
Nardicio is too busy rehashing the tech to notice. "I didn’t want it to be janky," he says of a lighting rig that blows last minute, "but next time I’ll have that fixed. My concern is that without a spotlight people would be talking, but the fact that they weren’t was a testament to the performers more than anything." And those were performers he had to look high and low for by doing everything from putting the word out in comedy clubs to posting on Craigslist. Sank says the majority of the people he asked mulled it over, but eventually said no. Another comic attributes the performers who did show up to either not understanding what the gig actually was or not believing it would actually go down that way.
"I was originally thinking about doing it at a comedy club," Nardicio continues, "but they’re the biggest racket in the world. So I thought, I’m not going to work in a comedy club. And I’m not going to do bars because you say naked,then you actually get there and they’re like, ’They can’t be naked!’ A lot of bars won’t let you do that. I think RockBar might want us to do it and it would be great there, but I like the idea of the living room setting. This is like you’re in someone’s home."
A nude audience?
When I was first invited, I immediately thought about bringing my glamorous and burgeoning comedian pal Rose Surnow. The moment I step into the venue I realize what a huge tactical error that would have been. The room is definitely a male-only space, perhaps dating back to its genesis as a showcase at Gay Naturists International’s annual summer gathering. And Rose is, well, self-described as "nine feet tall and six pounds so enjoy" and wouldn’t exactly lend herself to being smuggled in, but there but for the grace of having a gig that not goes she. And while many of the comedians afterwards thrall "love Rose!" there were also cunt jokes flying all evening.
"We weren’t sure how nude the audience would be," Sank explains. "I was expecting a lot more naked audience members, and if that were to be the case, women would not necessarily be comfortable here and the men wouldn’t necessarily be comfortable getting naked in front of them." For Sank, it’s not so much a war of the sexes as an issue for coat check. And if you don’t like a good cunt joke, you’re probably not ready for Sank’s HIV jokes. These comedians are nothing if not equal opportunity offenders.
But the world of stand-up is too rife with inequity for Sank to let that one go. "You know," he continues, "gay men and women have a kind of funny relationship. Gay men worship women. If you ask any gay man who their favorite comedian is he’ll say Joan Rivers, Kathy Griffin or Margaret Cho. Women’s sensibility and humor is really what relates to us, but when it comes to sex and nudity, we keep that very separate. The thought was let’s not try and mix those two on the first show because it might make people uncomfortable. Going forward, I don’t know, I would be up for having women there. I would certainly be up for having women performers if they would be willing to get at least topless."
On the other side of the spectrum, Sank addresses the rampant homophobia in the straight-male dominated universe of stand-up comedy, which is probably second only to rap music on the entertainment spectrum. "Many club owners and bookers are not necessarily homophobic," Sank counters, "but sort of limited in the sense that they think if you’re gay, you can only perform for a gay audience. If you’re black, you can only perform for a black audience. If you’re a woman, you can only perform for a female audience."
"That always seemed so ludicrous to me," he continues, "because whenever I put together a show, i try to pull the most diverse lineup I can. It’s not about being politically correct. It’s about being interesting and coming at the audience from different angles and each comic having his or her own story to tell. But yes, it is definitely more difficult for gay comics to make it in stand-up for the simple fact that stand-up is a very straight art form."
And if that’s sounding a bit like Sank belting the "Loekle blues," it could be because the two are BFF. They met over a decade ago, but didn’t bond until a more recent comedy showcase at the Ice Palace in Cherry Grove. "He’ll never admit this," Loekle confides, "but when we met he totally hated me and I didn’t care for him too much either. We were in different comedy clicks." That all changed one night at Ariel Sinclair’s Kamikaze Cabaret when they "spent the night locked in a bathroom stall just talking about our lives and what music we love and how similar we are. Then we were like, ’Oh my god, we love each other!’"
Today, Loekle will readily admit to being that buddy that comes over to shave Sank’s butt. "Adam likes to have his asshole freshly shorn when he goes to have sex," Loekle deadpans, "and because I’m a close friend of his and we used to live in the same neighborhood, I have probably gone to Adam’s house half a dozen times last year. We have a nice little dinner, then we go in the shower and spread his cheeks open. I shave his ass while we talk about the day or who we’ve seen in comedy. It sounds kind of extreme, but it’s a lot like Truvy’s salon in Steel Magnolias."
When I relay this intel later, Sank is livid. "He said that from the stage?" is his first question. "I’m happy to say my parents are lifelong, liberal democrats," Sank continues, describing them as "the sore thumb of the community" where he grew up in Summit, New Jersey. He sketches his hometown as "a place where people were very well educated and intelligent and somewhat cultural, but yes, they were fiscally conservative and they tended to vote Republican." He’s happy to see that changing and reports that the town "went for Obama in the last election. It’s very wealthy and very Republican, but not in that crazy evil Republican way."
Still, despite this pedigree and being a lifelong believer in Madonna as "being a tremendous force in making sex okay," Sank will admit that performing in the nude does come at some personal peril. "I don’t really want to see a naked picture of my dick on the internet," Sank admits, "mostly because it’s not that impressive. But if it happened, it wouldn’t be the worse thing in the world."
He goes onto describe what could be defined--in a post-Paris, green-screen porn world--as Lehmkuhl Syndrome. "It would be worse for my parents than it is for me," Sank admits. "There’s a power in saying I am who I am, this is it. If you don’t like it, that’s okay, but this is who I am and this is what I look like. At the same time, I’d rather perform with clothes on. I don’t understand why anyone would want to see me perform comedy naked, but if they do, I’m a people pleaser. I just want to give the audience what they want."
Editor’s Note: The next Dirty Laundry takes place on February 18th at 30 Lexington Avenue between East 23rd and 24th Streets on the 5th floor. Doors open at 8:00pm for an 8:30pm showtime and the party continues until 2:00am. Tickets are $30, $20 after 10pm, and available at: http://www.brownpapertickets.com soon.
Upcoming dates for Adam Sank are:
Sunday, January 22nd, 2012, Therapy Lounge, Electro Shock Therapy Comedy Hour - 10:00 PM, 348 West 52nd Street, New York New York;
Wednesday, January 25th, 2012, Laughing Devil Comedy Club, Hosting the Great New York Mic-Off - 8:00 PM, 4738 Vernon Blvd, Long Island City New York;
Friday, January 27th, 2012, Laughing Devil Comedy Club, Laughing Devil Presents - 10:30 PM, 4738 Vernon Blvd, Long Island City New York;
Wednesdays from February 1st to February 22nd, 2012, Laughing Devil Comedy Club, Hosting the Great New York Mic-Off - 8:00 PM, 4738 Vernon Blvd, Long Island City New York.