Fans of men, muscles and mischief flocked to movie theaters last weekend for the opening of the highly anticipated Steven Soderbergh dramedy “Magic Mike.” It tells the story of Mike (Channing Tatum) and Adam “the Kid” (Alex Pettyfer) as they navigate the pleasures and pitfalls of working in a Tampa, Fla.-based male strip revue.
But how does the film's tale of oiled abs and excess compare to the real-life gig? I invited Chippendales performer and 11-year stripping veteran Jace Crispin to join me (and a theater of screaming women) at the movies to find out. Here’s what he and Thunder From Down Under hunk Shannon Robinson have to say about “Magic Mike’s” hits, misses and moves. (Warning: Spoilers ahead.)
Andrea Domanick: What was your impression of the movie?
Shannon Robinson: I enjoyed the humor more than anything else, it was different to see a movie about the guys [who strip] rather than women. But it’s nothing like the Thunder show. We don’t bump and grind, we’re not what’s called “hot-seat strippers”; we bill ourselves as a cabaret. We do get girls onstage, but it’s a non-tipping show. We stay up on the stage and do more dancing.
Jace Crispin: For what “Magic Mike” brought, it was a great storyline and a good play on that kind of show, but Chippendales is a revue. We don’t have dollars thrown at us, we don’t get drunk backstage, there’s no one-on-one lap dances and stuff like that. We have insurance and liabilities. Don’t get me wrong, Channing Tatum was great, and the choreography was awesome, but at Chippendales you sit down and you’re watching a professional performance.
A.D.: Your Las Vegas productions are clearly a different ballgame from the kind of strip club the movie portrayed, but you worked in those kinds of clubs before you came here. How did that experience compare to the movie?
S.R.: They essentially took what happens in that scene and amped it up for Hollywood. But it wasn’t that far from reality. What happened in "Magic Mike" is what happens with a lot of people before you make it into a big production (like Thunder). You might do that and then move on to what’s called “stripper-grams,” which is dancing at private parties, and then move onto a bigger nightclub and then a production. But some guys on the show come from a dance background and don’t have any stripping experience.
J.C.: The hustle game of the old dancing I did, it wears and tears on you. It’s a grind where it could be good tips, bad tips, whatever. Whereas in Chippendales, you come into a professional show atmosphere, and you’re putting on that same show every day. I’m very lucky. It’s a job that doesn’t feel like a job.
A.D.: What parts of the movie rang true for you?
J.C.: The hanging out aspect is very much the same. Everybody’s friends. They’re working together and having fun onstage, backstage. The banter, the kind of jokes they make, the eye contact — that was all very real. And you tend to bring that environment with you wherever you go. (Chippendales) go together to the lake, just like in the movie they went out to the sandbar.
S.R.: When they broke in the new kid, that sort of joking around is definitely something that happens. We’ll tell a rookie they have to rub oil on our backs just like they did in the movie, just to mess with him. Good-natured hazing like that.
A.D.: Was there anything “Magic Mike” got blatantly wrong?
J.C.: The scene where Matthew McConaughey teaches the Kid to dance in front of the mirror. That was just not realistic at all, I’m not sure what was going on there.
A.D.: So having an older dancer hold your hips and teach you how to pop and gyrate — that’s not accurate?
J.C.: (Laughs) No, no. I mean, I didn’t have a dancing background when I first started. You kind of just watch and learn and pick up on what works and what the ladies want to see. It’s trial and error. There’s no “magic move” like McConaughey teaches. You don’t go out there and do exactly what every girl wants; it’s just not possible.
A.D.: It seems like the Kid picked up his dancing skills overnight in the movie. He went from no dancing background to having one lesson and then being able to keep up with all the choreography. I imagine it’s not quite that easy in real life.
S.R.: For some guys, it can take six months to a year to pick things up properly. It depends on coordination and confidence, really.
What was accurate was when they threw the Kid on stage and made him dance his first night on the job. That’s pretty much what happens. When I first started, I had no dance experience and my friend said, “You’ve got five days and I’m putting you onstage in front of 400 girls.” I paid a woman who was a dance teacher for a few lessons and did my best to choreograph something myself. You’re really thrown in the deep end! Ninety percent of it is confidence. The rest takes time and practice.
A.D.: What about the rock-star lifestyle the characters live? Every night, they were out getting drunk or high and sleeping with different women.
J.C.: That was part of that specific story. But it depends on the person. It definitely exists [in the nightclub scene], if that’s what you’re looking for. But they had to have the drama and play it up, like the Kid O.D.'ing and stuff like that.
But in real life, it’s work. When they talked about Magic Mike being an entrepreneur and having all these jobs, they had just one scene of him doing construction work. But these guys that work on the real-life shows, they’re doing those kinds of jobs all day long before they go to the show. And then they go back to those jobs the next day and do them again. It’s a much bigger part of their life than one scene! You don’t go out all night and then party.
S.R.: It can be rock star. It definitely all happens, it’s all part of the industry — there’s a lot of girls involved, the drugs can happen, and you can get carried away like that. But we get drug tested on our show, and it’s full time. You do have the option of partying with this job, but in Thunder, we like to look out for ourselves. There’s three, maybe four hours a day of exercise, and then you do the show, so that doesn’t really leave any room to party. If we do, we’ll be suffering for quite some time.
A.D.: If you could give the Kid, as someone who’s just starting out, one piece of advice, what would it be?
S.R.: Get some dance lessons! He just sort of rubbed his stomach and does body rolls. Get some jazz lessons and hip-hop lessons, get some creative moves. And definitely go to the gym. He’s a really good-looking bloke, but he wasn’t in amazing shape or anything, he just looked like an average fit guy.
J.C.: Don’t let it get over your head. Don’t let it drown you because you can really slip into a bad side really fast.