I’m not an actor. At all. In any capacity whatsoever.
So it’s only natural, when there was a casting call for the opening sequence of a new television pilot, that I should be offered a key role immediately. Sure, this town, like any other, is brimming with struggling actors looking for a gig. But why hire any of them when you can get a writer instead?
To be fair, I was asked as a personal favour. My producer pals, working as the technicians on someone else’s baby, were having trouble finding people much beyond their own early twenties demographic to appear in this pilot project. The reason was simple enough. The pilot was for a show called Strip Club Confessions.
Are you familiar with Taxicab Confessions? Same deal, only contrived, scripted, and with strippers. How could it not sell? Buyers were already lining up to screen it, and principal photography wasn’t even complete, much less a viewable cut. The problem was that there had already been a fair share of twentysomethings in the footage shot so far. Now “older gentlemen” were needed for variety. To that end, I was asked to appear, along with my buddy Alistair, who I’ve known longer than most of the crew have been alive.
Being called an older gentleman made me feel like I was being recruited from the same acting pool that includes Ernest Borgnine and Christopher Lee. But I agreed anyway because I’m a really nice guy. And because they said they would pay me. I got a call back as soon as the location was locked.
“You know where Super Contact is?”
How could I not? I hadn’t been to a strip joint in well over a decade, but Super Contact is hardly subtle about its presence on St. Catherine Street. It was, as far as my limited knowledge of the Montreal skin scene extends, the first “contact” club in town. To advertise this fact, the façade of the building was outfitted with a gigantic four-panel animated neon sign showing a variety of grabby men having a hands-on experience with various bits of stripper anatomy. The effect is, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, a class act and not at all a blight on the city.
Alistair and I met in makeup where we were made less shiny, but not particularly more attractive. After a couple of hours of watching the crew heft equipment upstairs, we were asked to take our positions in a couple of private booths that would be featured in a long, overhead dolly shot. In the booths, we were assigned our own personal strippers who were to perform for us as the camera passed above.
And therein lies the crux of the casting difficulties. It gets increasingly hard to find guys, as they become “older gentlemen,” who don’t have a significant other who’s going to freak about their man appearing on a stripper show. All the other possible subjects the producers had access to had bowed out for exactly that reason. That left only me, with a cool wife who’s secure in our relationship, and Alistair, with a cool girlfriend who digs porn more than any five perverted men combined, to fill the void.
With the lights set and the camera rig ready to roll, my stripper prepared herself by peeling off half her uniform. When I say uniform, I mean that quite literally. It looked like a costume out of somebody’s cyborg Gestapo fantasy. Flesh was tactically revealed, mostly limited to nipples that could put your eye out if you weren’t careful. Special attention was paid by the designated stripper wrangler to make sure the thong was clearly visible to the lens. With everyone suitably posed, and my own embarrassment peaking, I was reminded why I hadn’t been in one of these clubs for so many years. The fact is, I really don’t like my pornography looking back at me. Time and distance is a separation I value when it comes to this most personal of personal entertainments. Nevertheless, I had agreed to help out, and it was too late to change my mind now.
“You’re really horny,” was the one and only piece of stage direction given me.
I soon discovered my stripper’s English was limited, as was her ability to understand stage direction. The word “cut” in particular seemed beyond her vocabulary, so she kept going through the bump and grind routine well past any chance of the dolly shot capturing her performance. As such I was treated to two or three times as much topless dancing as I was rightfully entitled to. I considered telling her to stop a few times, but wasn’t sure how she would take it if I asked her lay off her bread-and-butter choreography that was supposed to be, but wasn’t quite, sexy. Instead, I just let her continue until she figured out the show was over all on her own. I don’t really know why I even considered her feelings in this matter. I doubt she had any. I get the impression that strippers aren’t all that concerned about how enticing their dancing is, or how turned on their clients get. If anything at all is going through their minds at work, it’s sums. They’re little adding machines, these girls. My stripper, for example, kept me up to date, take by take, as to what “song” she had calculated we must be on. Normally pulling fifteen bucks per song when doing a private dance, the number of songs that could have fit into our shooting schedule was of paramount importance to her. There was no actual music playing, but I never doubted the accuracy of her accounting.
Any worries I had that I would forever find infamy as “Private Booth Client #1” were alleviated over dinner when I had to be reintroduced to the camera operator. He wanted to know how I was involved in the production.
“I was the guy in the first booth getting nipples poked in my eyes,” I explained. But my face still didn’t ring any bells.
“All I saw was an ass,” he said. And it wasn’t even mine.
My anonymity in the strip club shot assured, I was retained to play another more visible character later in the evening. For the second half of the shoot, I was to turn my thespian might to the task of portraying “The Executive Producer.”
Strip Club Confessions will intercut all the lap dancing action with a bunch of production people watching and listening via supposedly hidden cameras from behind-the-scenes. A running commentary is provided by the show’s Punk’d-style host, who alternately exclaims how hot the strippers are and how lame the guys watching them are. It seems reality TV has so lost its way, we’re now making fake reality shows that aren’t even trying very hard to seem like the real thing anymore. In this case, the guys watching the strippers are actors, and the people watching the guys watching the strippers are actors too. Even when it’s real production people playing, in essence, themselves, they’re still performing. All the strippers are genuinely strippers, but they’re being paid not to strip, but to act like strippers. By stripping. Which, of course, they do all the time in their day jobs.
My sense of reality has become all bent out of shape and I’m not sure when or how it happened. I’m still pretty sure I’m me, but I could be wrong.
Playing The Executive Producer called for me to stand behind the video commentators, stare at a screen, and make faces of approval or disapproval as to what was happening on camera and what was being said about it. I chose to use The Method for my performance, mentally becoming an executive producer. The end result was a face riddled with concern over how much money the production was hemorrhaging by the minute. It was, I felt, terribly authentic in theory. In practice, I was probably as wooden as a plank.
But does it matter? Of course not. I was hired to stuff a shirt, no more. Who would ever tune in to a show called Strip Club Confessions to look at the “older gentleman” dude standing in the background making faces? If they have any complaints about the show, they won’t be about my performance. They’ll be about the glaring lack of beaver shots.
And with that, I’ll have to concur.