How to describe such men as these? Men of vast and deliberate muscle. Men of spartan, militaristic coifs, men of rigidly cascading hair anointed with mousses of the highest caliber of holding capability. Men of rugged, insouciant, determined countenance. Men with devastating powers of erotic enchantment, capable of deploying a mere gaze or pelvic thrust to set even the sternest of females a-quiverin'. Men clad in the simple garments of American Empire Builders--chaps, hard hats, combat wear. Men with Day-Glo spandex G-strings wedged up their butt cracks.

Strippers is what they are, but that's not all. They are men with hearts, minds, souls, educations, feelings. Of course, it's those G-strings that matter most to the 2,700 women who are here at the Great American Male Strip-Off at Graham Central Station. It is co-sponsored by Playgirl magazine, and billed as the "largest male strip-off in the world," featuring the "Top 25 Finalists From Across the U.S.A." And I am here, too, humble man with slight beer gut and the Svengalilike ability to coerce my wife into shaving my back, sometimes twice a month. If I feel like it. But it's obvious I don't belong here, obvious as soon as I arrive at the front door.

There are women lined up, hundreds of women. Big, small, old, young, lovely, plain. Some wedged into daring, seductive outfits suitable for a night out in Scottsdale, some dressed to clean out the stables. A stretch limo pulls up and nine girls emerge swilling Zimas, hooting with excitement. A woman in form-fitting black locates her friends at the door and yells: "Hello, beautiful ladies!" One of her pals has a shirt straining across her chest; it says "100% Natural."

In other words, it's a mixed bag of people, just like at a male strip club. And that's where comparisons end; at most men's joints, the boys are pretty subdued, sitting in the dark as still as Lincoln's Memorial while the ladies gyrate for singles. But here at the G.A.M.S-O., anticipation and adrenaline flow through the crowd like a virus. Make no, uh, bones about it, these women are here to have a good time, and you can bet they're going to get it.

It's still a while 'til showtime, but the women are heavy into prep and recon as music blares from the PA. They're finding their reserved tables (ringside spots go for $15 a head), queuing up for drinks, stalking about in small groups, turning long, white cigarettes into smoke. Dancers who have traveled from macho sex capitals as far away as California, Texas and Vegas mill about, fully clothed, doing a little preshow meet-and-greet.

A lot of the ladies are familiar with the "talent," many of whom work for Body Heat, the company that is putting on this extravaganza and does male strip shows here every Thursday and Saturday. But those are not Strip-Offs, no sirree, not like tonight. This is special. There are knots of females around each of the dancers, chatting them up, getting the studs to put the ol' John Hancock on calendar shots, eight-by-ten glossies and magazine layouts. I approach one tanned, chiseled guy dressed as a cowboy and drag him away from his fans. This is Randy. Randy Master Blaster. Though the blue-eyed Texan's birth certificate bares the somewhat more simple name Randy Ricks, here he is indeed the Master Blaster, a stripper of no small accomplishment. At 36, he tells me he's been at it since February of '79, when he entered his first contest "on a dare" and found his calling. He makes "awesome money. I haven't made under $100,000 in 15 years." His only wish is to be "the best male stripper in the United States."

If there's anyone who is a font of knowledge on this profession, it is the Master Blaster. "There are two different kinds of people who do this, the ones that do it for a lifestyle, and the ones that do it for a living," he clarifies. "I do it for a living. I've owned the biggest outcall service in the United States for seven years, called Master Blaster's Strip-A-Gram. We do 60 to 100 shows a week, and I've been at the same club in Dallas for 12 years. That shows you determination, perseverance and job security."

I ask him to clarify a recurring theory about male strippers, that a good percentage are gay. He looks at me defiantly. "Zero percent. In 15 years, I've never met a gay man. I mean, I don't hate gay men, I have a lot of gay friends; it's just that gay men don't like women--they think they're tuna--they want to be a woman." I think I get it at this point, but Randy, who mentions that his girlfriend of five years was Playboy's Miss March for '95, offers more logic.

"A gay man's not going to come and work in a place where there's 500 fuckin' women. No gay man wants to be here, they hate it. They work in gay bars and dance for gay men." I wonder if Randy's unique vantage point, his decade and a half of giving the ladies what they want, has helped make him a more loving, caring, attentive individual. "I don't think so," he replies. "I don't think my job has really shaped the person that I am because I look at it as such a professional. I'm the same thing as Tom Thumb or Kroger or Foodland or whatever. They service a community with perishable goods; I service a community with male entertainment."

Vicky is in her 20s. She enjoys a good male strip show.
"I've seen most of 'em dance before," she yells over the din. "I used to come every Thursday night for months and months, and I've spent lots of money." Which is not to say she's jaded. Vicky is just as excited as her friend, who volunteers that she "is a virgin--this is my first time!" What the?? "No, no! At a strip club! Ha, ha, ha!"
I ask Vicky something really stupid, what the attraction here is. "Men. It's kind of like, you know how men are attracted to females? It's the same way, but opposite. It's like when a good-looking guy walks by--wow!"

Troy is a good-looking guy, and as he walks by me, I hear a lot of things. "Wow" is not one of them. He's a friendly, wholesome sort, says his dad is here to see him, and, like Randy, claims to make "an awesome living!" (Most of what people say here demands an exclamation point after it; it's that kind of night.) If you can imagine a kind of sweet, gawky Jimmy Stewart personality in the body of Baryshnikov--which I can't--you've got Troy.

"I'm just a farm kid, I'm flattered that anyone would even think to give me money for this," says the five-year veteran. "I lifted a few weights, grew up on a farm, I never thought I was better looking than . . ."
Flushed and tongue-tied, he continues. "I'm really flattered. The girls are really generous!"

The master of ceremonies, a swarthy gent with a deejay voice and a sleeveless tux shirt, takes the stage. "How many of you ladies busted your ass all week long, in the home, in the office?"

"And how many of you did not get enough pay or respect for the shit you had to do?"
YYYAAAA!!! "Well, tonight, tonight, you get to be the boss. So when these men hit the floor, what are you going to tell them to do? On three, I want to hear everybody say it at the same time--TAKE IT OFF!!!

"Who wants to see a little muscle tonight? And some hard buns? Well, we got it all for you and more! Ladies, we have about 30 men here tonight . . ."
"Goddamn!! Aren't you a bunch of horny animals!!!" So this is it. The raw, uninhibited, lust-crazed, animal essence of female, thousands strong, right before my very eyes. Craning, screaming, writhing, hyperventilating. A planet of women in control gone mad. I've never seen anything like it--other than in a handful of one-on-one situations, of course--unless you count old footage of Beatles concerts.

Ladies in attendance celebrating special occasions--birthdays, divorces, etc.--are brought onstage to sit in folding chairs. They stuff bills into parts of their clothing and various body crevices; the dancers' job is to pluck the money out. With their mouths. But they work hard for the money; these boys have acts. Choreography, props, little costumes held together with Velcro that come apart at dramatic moments. There's a dude up there right now dressed as a waiter, feeding a seated woman fruit, deftly removing bills and ripping his clothes off. The emcee announces, "Now it's time for the banana! How many think you could take the whole thing?!" The waiter grips a yellow Chiquita, holds it where his johnson would be and slowly peels. Puts whipped cream on the tip, and, tender yet firm, places it into the girl's mouth. She scarfs and grins; it is beyond shame, I tell you. But wait! Forget about the fruit waiter scenario--suddenly this is a camping trip! A sleeping bag materializes, he unfurls it and magically builds a fire, right there onstage. Begins a sort of ritualistic dance around the flames while the lucky lass sits dazed, then, apparently overcome with the fire's tremendous heat, he is forced to douse himself with a conveniently soaked towel.

The place goes apeshit as the emcee pipes up: "Anybody getting horny out there?"

And then we come to Randy, The Master Blaster, up there in full cowpoke regalia; long, stone-washed dusters, red leather chaps, dark brown Stetson. Well, he is from Dallas. But he's got a secret weapon, his personal touch to drive 'em wild. Randy is wearing six G-strings.

That means six times the yearning, six times the thrills, six times the money, each time he tosses one out to the crowd. I have to admit, the man knows what he's doing, exhibiting 15 years of determination, perseverance and job security with every bump and grind. Somewhere around G-string number four, he's at the edge of the stage with his barely concealed wang inches from some young woman's flushed face. She has bucks stuffed deep between her breasts, poking out of her halter top. He plucks them out (the bucks), sticks his butt out and moves the damn thing up and down. She looks like Jesus has just come down from heaven to tell her that Santa Claus is real. I don't need to see this.

While all this mayhem is going on, I notice a few women off in the corner playing darts. What gives? It's all a plot, natch; they're strategically situated where the dancers pass, going on and offstage. "We get a more personal view," Lois tells me. "There's a lot of traffic through here, and we get a lot more comments because they get all insulted if they think you're not watching them." They're having a double bachelorette party tonight, and it's not the first one they've spent at a Body Heat show.

But is it all in fun? Is the partying, the wailing, the kissing and laying on of hands completely innocuous? "It's easy, it's very easy to go home with a guy," Lois says. "We know this one girl, ugly as sin, and she went home with one of the best-looking guys I have ever seen. I thought it was sick. And at our last bachelorette party, one of the girls went in the bathroom with a guy and . . ."--she pauses, leans in a bit--"gratified him."

Other dancers come and go; a guy wearing little more than a leather choker takes a shower onstage, there's a biker, a chap dressed as Beetlejuice, a Viking and some more cowboys. Oddly, none is costumed as an explosively sensual, firm-bunned journalist. But that's okay; I've learned something tonight. This is the Great American Strip-Off, and this is America. A country where citizens--regardless of race, creed or gender--have the right to enjoy their fellow Americans' genitalia onstage, under spotlights, inches from their own faces. And I learned something else: All men are not created equal. Ain't that right, ladies--you bunch of horny animals!!!--Gilstrap


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