Male burlesque

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A momentary lapse in concentration resulted in Time Out’s Comedy editor, Tim Arthur, entering a burlesque stripping contest. He had one month to prepare to bare…

  • Male burlesque

    It's business time: Time Out Comedy editor Tim Arthur gets down to the bear essentials

  • April 14, 10am

    The proposition

    This is how I got myself into it. It’s also proof that men can’t answer emails, listen to music and process important information at the same time.‘Hey, Tim, would you enter a male burlesque competition for me?’ asked Simone Baird, TO Social Club editor. ‘Yep.’ ‘Really?’ ‘Yep.’

    April 14, 12noon

    Realisation dawns

    This is the moment it actually sinks in. ‘I’ve called them. You’re in.’ ‘Eh?’ ‘You know, the Male Tournament of Tease.’ ‘The Male Tournament of… what?’Over the next five, car crash-slow minutes, Baird explains what burlesque is and gives me a potted history of its cultural significance and its current resurgence. What I hear is: ‘You have to get your kit off in front of strangers.’

    April 16

    No turning back

    ‘I’ve got you a mentor: Fred Bear. He runs an adorable group called Bearlesque. You can meet him tomorrow night. He’s hosting the first round of the competition.’ Baird explains that ‘bears’ are large, hairy, gay men. Cuddly bits of rough.New_76 Tim019edit.jpg

    April 17

    The fear

    Walking to Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club I begin to feel sick. Seeing other men strip will make it real – too real. Inside the club are 100 or so bears and non-bear gay men, a sprinkling of goths and a few women dressed in 1940s clothes. Dorothy’s words run through my head: ‘Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas any more.’I watch Fred, dressed in leather hot pants, tails and top hat, introduce the first act, then make a run for the door. On the way out, I catch a glimpse of a cross-dressing soldier doing the splits before I’m pounding the pavement towards the tube. What was I thinking? I can’t do this. Later, lying awake in bed, I realise quite how profound my body-image issues are. It’s not something I’ve spoken to anyone about, but over the years I have come to hate my appearance. Since the birth of my daughter 12 years ago I have lost my figure. This I put down to several things: finishing off her meals; not having any time to exercise (especially when football’s on Sky); and a drop in keep-fit motivation once I got married. Nobody but my wife would ever have to see me naked again and she loved me no matter what. But then my wife died, I kept on eating and hid my self-loathing behind a mask of humour. What started as some kind of fun dare is turning into a nightmare.

    May 2

    The consultation

    I meet Fred to talk about my routine. He is so kind, funny, understanding, matter-of-fact and all-round lovable that for the first time I think I might go through with it. We decide on a businessman routine. I’ll start in a three-piece suit and end…‘How far are you going to go, love?’ ‘I’m sorry?’ ‘Are we going all the way? Because they do love a bit of cock.’ ‘No.’‘Okay, you’ll end up in some jockstrap thing. Maybe we can put some lights on it.’‘I’m not sexy and I can’t dance,’ I blurt. ‘You’ll be fantastic. It’s about having fun. That’s the difference between male and female burlesque. Ours is less erotic, more cheeky and sexy. It’s all about teasing with a sense of humour. I used to feel exactly like you. A lot of us in Bearlesque were worried about how we looked. But why shouldn’t we celebrate who we are? There’s no reason why older men of a certain size should stop being sexual beings. Besides, you look great. They’ll love you.’ New_76 Tim x.jpg

    May 9

    First rehearsal

    I turn up winded from running round Soho fetish shops looking for things Fred said I need. Nipple tassels, or ‘pasties’, a black jock and a huge pair of red, frilly knickers. These were the hardest to find and most embarrassing to ask for. Fred and Bearlesque’s choreographer, Kym, are waiting for me outside a rehearsal room at the Actor’s Centre at Cambridge Circus.‘I warn you now,’ I say, ‘I can’t dance.’‘Right,’ Kym replies, ‘that’s the last we’ll hear of that kind of talk. From now on, you can do anything I say you can.’I sweat for three hours, learning how to shimmy out of trousers, remove a tie and use it as a whip, count two bars while ripping open my shirt. ‘And at this point I want you to grind up against the umbrella, like you’re fucking it. Go.’I grind limply. ‘Fuck it! Fuck the umbrella! Jesus, is that how you have sex?’ Kym laughs.

    May 12

    Final rehearsal

    Each night, after my daughter’s gone to bed, I’ve been practising my moves in the kitchen, praying she won’t come down for a drink of water and be mentally scarred for life. During the last run-through, thanks to Kym and Fred’s skill and kindness, I begin to enjoy myself… Then a woman pokes her head round the door and spots me naked except for a bowler hat and studded posing pouch. ‘We’re closing up in – Oh. I’ll come back later.’ The fear returns.

    May 14

    Last-minute preparations

    With a day to go, I start the fitness regime I had meant to begin a month earlier. I force myself to go for a jog and struggle through 20 pull-ups. For the final touch – and to heap on even more humiliation – I ask my dad to shave my back.New_76 Tim091edit.jpg

    May 15

    The big night!

    I arrive at the venue and find Fred upstairs, with the rest of Bearlesque, all putting on furry outfits.‘You’ll be amazing,’ he reassures me, painting glue on to the inside of two black leather pasties.‘Shirt off. We need to stick these on, darling, because you’re a little hairy.’I join the other competitors in the changing room. There are four of us on the bill (there are several initial heats, then a final): Rasp, a tall, freaky-looking but utterly charming goth; a hilarious diminutive guy called Jason; and French stand-up Marcel Lucont. We are a band of brothers about to go over the top into no-man’s land. The room fills rapidly with the stench of fear. Before I know it I am waiting to be introduced.‘What name?’ ‘What?’ ‘What do you want to be called?’ ‘Oh, shit, erm, Tim. No, Mr Arthur.’‘Ladies and gentlemen, I give you – Mr Arthur!’The music starts. The rest is a blur. I remember all the moves, all the turns. The tie comes off easily, as do the shoes. Before I know what’s happening I’m loving it. The place is packed with whooping, laughing people and I work it. Well, in my head at least. Then it’s over. A month’s terror vanishes in a flash. I have rarely experienced that level of elation. Standing there, more or less naked, I feel vulnerable, liberated and very emotional. I come off stage to hugs from Fred and Kym, and I feel a little like crying. Instead I go and get steaming drunk, watch the other acts, which are all brilliant, and have one of the best nights of my life. And how did I do? I come joint first with Jason, whose Invisible Man routine is a work of comedic genius. The best thing about the whole experience? Overcoming one of my biggest fears with the help of some very lovely people. The worst? Having to do it all again in the final… Cheer Tim through the Male Tournament of Tease Grand Final on July 10 at Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club.

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Users say

5 comments
niall
niall

HI, im from essex i want to get into male stripping or similar industry can anyone help point me in the right direction. I'm 22 5ft 8 chest size 38 waist 32/34 im a bear cub so to speak

Queen Hephzibah aka Beulah
Queen Hephzibah aka Beulah

Well Tim, The things you wouldn't do for me. I missed the greatest show I wager. Yup, I'm alive and still looking to come south. Men should stick to doing half a thing at a time! love,

Harmony
Harmony

Hello Mr.Arthur, thank you for writing this article. It was very helpfull for me since I have recently started working in Camden Town and had no previous understanding of what male burlesque is. Also, you light and humourous writing style gives me hope that one day I may become a journalist. Happy New Year.

The Devil
The Devil

Mr Arthur, what a joy to read this, it bought tears to my eyes. My experience of the competition was much the same the year before although my reasons may have been different. Your story is amazing and the way you have written it is an inspiration. I hope to appear almost naked on the same bill sometime soon. The Devil$

Fong
Fong

Amazing. Well done Mr Arthur for coming second in the final. A very brave, funny and sexy performance indeed. xxx