We are thrilled to excerpt this chapter from Robin Savage’s book STAND UP AND BE A LADY! When you read about Robin (see her author page on HO Press, you will understand why we are so proud and excited to publish this talented woman’s work. Also take note of the cover which was designed by her graphic designer husband Joe Hetro)
Four times in my life, I have performed comedy in front of a crowd of naked people. I was dressed, but the audience wasn’t. You would think it would be the opposite of stripping, but it’s not. I am still the vulnerable one. The crowd, clothed or unclothed, has the power to crush or inflate my ego. With stripping, it is about raw sexuality. With comedy, it is about invoking laughter with your words, but in this case, it happens while looking at exposed genitals.
The first time I was asked to perform comedy to an “au natural” crowd was at a clothing-optional resort. A local comedy booker was contracting his “club” out to one of the many nudist communities in the area. Rather than trouble these folks with the unpleasant task of putting on pants and coming to a comedy show, the booker was going to bring the comedy show to them and have a once-a-week “Comedy Night” in the bar located in front of the lobby.
The booker first approached me about being the house emcee, which meant I would have hosted the show every week. The idea was tempting: Guaranteed stage time every Friday night, and the pressure to write new stuff every week rather than get lazy and just depend on my reliable material from my set. The fact that everyone would have been unclad really didn’t faze me that much. I could get my comedy fix. It is the same way a smoker accidentally breaks his last cigarette, but figures out a way to rig it so it can be smoked anyway. Yeah, maybe a naked audience wasn’t ideal, but it was still an audience.
The booker chose me because I am a clean comic and despite the fact that the clientele walked around in their birthday suits, they were supposedly not fans of vulgarity. I found all of this to be a hoot. I came home and told my husband about it. He wanted to come along, not so much to see me perform, but to ogle strange, naked women. After decades of being in a relationship with me, I could not be any more sympathetic to his cause. I told him that I just had to go the first night and do a five-minute guest set, and that the booker was going to emcee the initial show, but after this night, I would be the house emcee. I told my husband that he could go on any other night after that. What could go wrong? Could I do something so offensive, it would ruin my opportunity to be a regular there? Yeah, right. (Eye roll).
My husband, in his glee to see any bare lady’s breasts other than mine, told our neighbor about the impending gig. My neighbor then told me that he had read that this particular resort had recently been busted for having Swinger parties. I was ecstatic! I had a whole bit about Swingers. It was really the dirtiest of my jokes, but wasn’t considered vulgar, as it was all innuendo. How could a room full of Swingers not like jokes about Swingers?
When I first arrived there, the resort itself looked pretty fancy. Had there not been naked people walking around, I would have thought it was a Disney hotel. The landscaping was perfectly manicured, and the buildings onsite were big and well-maintained. The actual room that the comedy was held in was beautiful. It was really two rooms. One was part was a large, rectangular-shaped bar that was adjacent to a larger open room with a stage on one side. The stage was enormous. You had to walk up six or seven steps to get on it, and it attached to it was a full-blown DJ booth, complete with a live DJ who acted as the audio guy throughout the show. Directly in front of the stage was the dance floor, with tables set up around it. That was my only real complaint about the setup. The audience wouldn’t be directly in front of me; they would be looking at me across an empty dance floor. Other than that, it was a really nice venue.
As far as the people went, none of nudists were attractive. When I thought about seeing a group of naked people, I pictured a bunch of hotties. In my mind’s eye, the room was going to be filled with Matthew McConaugheys and Jennifer Anistons, all beautiful and fit. That isn’t what happened. It was like going into Wal-mart and seeing those people in the buff. No one was young or “Hollywood fit.” They were just every day, run-of-the-mill people. I became of huge fan of clothes after that experience.
To be fair, not everyone was naked. Some people just walked around half-naked, some were partially clad, and others were dressed like strippers or prostitutes, which really isn’t that shocking when other people were exposing it all. I thought it was funny to see the men wearing just shirts and no pants. My whole life, I had seen men wear only shorts and no tops. The opposite seemed kind of feminine to me, in a weird way.
The resort also appeared to have a rule that if you sat down anywhere while you were naked, you had to put a towel underneath yourself. The “bottoms-free” people had towels slung over their shoulders wherever they went. I guess that rule was for hygiene. It would have left a horrible snail trail had people just sat with their bare undercarriages anywhere and everywhere. Still, I wondered if there was a special health inspector dedicated to nude establishments. I imagined a restaurant filled with a cooking staff, all with nothing on but hair nets, and a stern man in a three-piece suit walking around with a clipboard. He is the Naked Restaurant Health Inspector. They are all nervous.
“What is this?” demands the inspector, pointing to an open container. “Has this cheese been sitting out longer than 30 minutes?”
“No, sir,” replies some lowly food prep guy, quickly washing his hands, then putting Saran wrap on the container and returning it to the refrigerator. His balls flap all the while as he scurries around the kitchen.
The inspector’s stoic expression slowly turns to a smile. “Great job, you folks really know hygiene,” he says. The kitchen explodes in cheers. The staff all jump up and down while their pubic hair remains exposed. The End.
While I was trying to acclimate myself to these surroundings, I spotted the evening’s headliner, “Kit Handsome.” I had known him for several years. His attitude about the resort was different than mine. He wasn’t amused by any of it.
“What a bunch of elitist rich mother fuckers,” he said. “I know these types. They act like they are such purists, and none of this is sexual. What bullshit.”
“Have you really looked at these people, though?” I replied. “I think it just permanently decreased my sex drive by about 65%.”
While we were talking, an older man with a fishnet tank top, no bottoms, and a towel slung over his shoulder struck up a conversation with another partially-clad woman in front of us. Midway through the conversation, the man dropped the keys he had been jiggling in his hands (Where else would he have put them? He didn’t have pockets, after all), so he bent over and picked them up. That’s right, no bottoms, an old man, and a wide-open butt. Kit and I simultaneously groaned and looked away.
When it came time to do the actual comedy show, I was the second person to take the stage. The booker, as promised, did 10 or so minutes and explained to the crowd that this was going to be a regular weekly show. The crowd seemed appreciative, maybe a little tight, meaning it was a little bit difficult to make them laugh, but they seemed ready for a good time.
When I took the stage, I opened with a line that I had come up with earlier in the week: “So, I hear you guys would give the shirts off your backs for a good comedy show!” The crowd loved it. I got huge laughs. I always feel that I can breathe a little easier when I get that first big laugh right away. In my mind, I thought, “If they loved this, wait until they hear my Swinger material.” I began: “So, I hear you guys are ALL swingers here?. …” On and on I went. Instead of uproarious laugher, I got silence–awful, gut wrenching, deafening silence. Granted, I was only supposed to do a five-minute set, but when you die on stage 30 seconds into your act, five minutes seems like an eternity—a long, tortuous eternity. I did all of my time, but I started sweating and continued to get my zero laughs from the crowd. I had no idea what I had done wrong, but I knew it was something.
When I was finished and gave the mic back to the booker, he did the standard, “Let’s hear it one more time for Robin Savage.” Even that barely garnered any applause. I had started walking down the steps off the stage, when the headliner grabbed me by the elbow and whisked me away to the back of the club.
“You really fucked up, Robin,” Kit warned me.
“You’re not kidding!” I replied. “What did I do?”
“Apparently, they don’t like being called Swingers,” he stated.
“But my neighbor told me that they were Swingers and got busted for it,” I defended myself, growing a little scared. “It made the Internet news.”
I had sensed before when an audience disliked me, but never to the point that another comic felt the need to physically escort me away from the crowd.
“While you were on stage, some lady came up to me and said ‘We aren’t Swingers. There was a small group of people that got in trouble, but that doesn’t represent who we are,’” Kit explained to me.
“Oh, I guess my neighbor didn’t read that part.” I said meekly. At this point, I was starting to get genuinely concerned. “What should I do? Should I just leave?”
“No,” the headliner said. “Fuck them. You’re a comic. This is a comedy show. Sit down next to me at the bar. Drink a beer like you don’t give a shit about them or what they think.” Kit is from Boston and has that East Coast, cool-guy persona about him, which as a Midwesterner is very hard to duplicate.
“Sure, I can do that,” I answered. My tremor was kicking in double-time at this point.
We sat down at the bar, and I ordered a beer. I was watching the middle act, trying to feign aloofness, when there was a tap on my shoulder. It was a hefty woman, who fortunately was clothed.
“Honey, let me give you a little advice” she said. “You need to do your homework. We are not a bunch of Swingers here. You may have heard about a few people, but we don’t appreciate being called Swingers.”
I kept my hands at my sides. “That’s cool,” I told her. “That bit is a part of my act that I usually do it at the end of my set. I thought I would try it out here. I guess I was wrong. It happens.” I acted as if this was a conversation that I normally had. I said it with no more remorse than if I had been discussing fabric softeners—all the while planning my escape in my head.
“Well I thought you were funny,” she said, backing down a little, “but some people around here didn’t find it that funny. You just REALLY need to do your homework better next time.”
“I see your point. Cool. Thanks.”
The lady left. I was terrified.
“Are you sure I shouldn’t just take off, right now?” I whispered to Kit.
“No. Fuck that,” he told me. “Who does that bitch think she is? ‘Do your homework.’ I hate these rich elitist mother fuckers.”
I stayed for the rest of the show. Kit, as usual, killed it. He had them laughing for his entire set, and all was fine by the end of the night. I decided not to leave early, if for nothing else than to prove that I didn’t care about the thing that was actually giving me a stomach ache. I never heard back from the booker about being the house emcee again.
I had all but written off the nudist resort when I got a call about a year and a half later, asking me to fill in for a last-minute guest spot. My initial reaction was to not do it. By this time, the recession had almost destroyed my profession. The booker had gone from paying the headliner and feature to only paying headliners and just calling the feature spots “extended guest sets.” On that very principle, I didn’t want to be a part of it.
But in the back of my mind, there lay a feeling of regret over the whole Swinger joke debacle. I had a secret hope to do that room over again, to get a comedy mulligan. I hate bombing. It eats away at my soul. In my feeble comic’s mind, I kept rationalizing: “It wasn’t really me that they hated. It was my assumption of who I thought they were that they hated. Had I not insulted the very core of their belief system, they would have found me adorable.” So, being the pathetic comedy-addict that I am, agreed to play the club again.
The second time wasn’t the Rocky-esque story that I had secretly hoped for. There was no full-circle moment where they loved me. I did about 15 minutes, sans the Swinger material, and did alright. They laughed at all the places that I wanted them to. I have done better, but they didn’t hate me, and I wasn’t afraid about a possible attack by an angry (naked) mob after my set. All in all, it felt like a small victory for me.
As it always happens in comedy, nothing stays the same. Eventually, the original booker had a falling out with the clothing-optional resort. Comedy Night stopped for awhile and was taken over by someone else. The new booker wasn’t just a comic; he was also a nudist who paid comics to do the feature sets. So when I was asked a third time to come back, bad experience or not, I didn’t turn down a paid gig.
Although they say that a third time is a charm, this third time was more of an aphrodisiac wrapped in hormones and dipped in the party drug Molly. This particular show was on the Friday night prior to Memorial Day weekend, and the whole place was drunk, naked, and making out with each other in groups. Being that several years had passed, I don’t know if the conservative people were no longer predominately a part of the community or if they weren’t at this show, but these people were wired! I don’t know what an orgy actually smells like, but the pre-orgy seemed to have a lot of vodka fumes.
When I went on stage, I had their attention for awhile, but as I continued, their interest waned. They were more concerned about groping one another in public. “Fuck it,” I thought to myself. “I am going to go for the jugular again. It may not be as bad this time since most of their blood is currently being redistributed to other areas of their body.” I took a different approach.
“No one here is a Swinger, are they?” I asked.
That got their attention, and the whole crowd cheered. They hooted and hollered like only a horny crowd of middle-aged, naked, white people could. I proceeded to do my Swinger material to laughter. No one got offended or approached me afterwards about being disrespectful; they were all too busy rubbing up on one another like a bunch of out-of-shape, wrinkled teenagers.
After that whole experience, I didn’t blink an eye last summer when I was asked to play a nudist community. This was different than a nudist resort. At the time of booking it, I really wasn’t concerned about the difference between a nudist resort and a nudist community. It was a paid gig, plus I had the extra bonus of all of the comedians in the line-up being friends of mine. I figured the details would work themselves out.
When I attended the gig, the differences were glaringly obvious. The previous clothing-optional resort was a beautiful area filled with well-groomed foliage, lawns, and gorgeous buildings. This particular nudist community was an RV and trailer park that naked people lived in. The attractiveness level of the people was the same, but the surroundings weren’t nearly as pretty.
Other differences were just as obvious to me. This community didn’t have the “towel rule.” No towels–just bare butts, coochies, and nut sacks sitting everywhere their hearts desired, on the bar stools, chairs, benches, any place that one could sit, with snail trails anywhere and everywhere. The beautiful bar with a stage that the resort had was replaced by a screened-in lanai called The Butt Hut. Fun fact: This gig took place in August, in Florida.
Most of the people here were fully nude, not just partially clothed. One general rule I’ve found from just observing groups of naked people milling about: It is the smaller, finer-built men who are the larger endowed of the male species. The really big guys, 6’-plus types, were all sporting sleeping moles, while the smaller guys, maybe 5’8” to 5’11”, had their manhood swinging back and forth like pendulums on a Grandfather clock.
I had also noticed that the people here were a lot friendlier. In fact, most were downright hospitable and neighborly. They all wanted to talk to the comedians. They thanked us for coming out and providing a show for them. They were really wonderful, salt-of-the-earth type people. It was just hard to know where to look while having a conversation with them.
When it came time to do my actual set here, I decided to open up with my same no-clothes-on standard: “I hear you guys would give the shirts off your backs for a good comedy show.” This crowd then proceeded to cheer for me to take off my shirt. I have never been the exhibitionist type. Even back in my crazy twenties, I never flashed my breasts for beads or mooned people in passing cars. I don’t know if it is vanity or lack of confidence, but public nudity has really never been my thing. So I spent at least the next three minutes explaining to tables full of people–both women and men–that I was, in fact, going to keep my shirt on for the duration of my set.
“I am not taking off my shirt. That is not who I am,” I told them.
“Come on, take it off,” the crowd cheered back.
“No, seriously, I am not taking my fucking top off, people!”
I finally continued with my act, staying fully clothed. They were attentive and fun and laughed at my jokes. That is all any comedian really wants from a crowd. It was a great night. All in all, they were a wonderful, caring, fun group of (naked) people.
I look at these kinds of gigs like I used to look at traveling outside the United States. It was a cultural unfamiliar to me. I wouldn’t want to live there, but visiting gives me an appreciation for what I have. In this case, it is appreciation for not ever knowing what my neighbors look like in the buff.