THE “backstage” area at the SassyBoys show is pretty basic; a curtained-off section of corridor with strip lighting and no mirrors.
Still, the pre-show preparations for Edinburgh’s premier male strip troupe are relatively straightforward.
“We do press-ups to pump up the muscles and use oil to get the body shiny,” says Erwin Kisielewski – aka Xtreme. “That’s pretty much it.” “Sunrise” – who is doing bicep curls in his pants using a gym bag full of props – chimes in: “And we train for six years to get this shape.”
Sunrise is a knot of shiny, tanned muscle, like a bag of walnuts. Along with his fellow performers, he goes to the gym five times a week, removes all his body hair and follows a strict diet to maintain the kind of physique that makes grown women screech whenever he removes so much as a sock.
The SassyBoys are a Polish trio – Delight, Sunrise and Xtreme – who perform a weekly strip shop in an Edinburgh nightclub for groups of women on nights out celebrating birthdays and hen weekends. It’s the beginning of the wedding season, so it’s a busy time for them.
Kisielewski – who recruited and trained the other two – works a day job as a security supervisor at a shopping centre during the week and has a fiancée who’s not entirely thrilled with the idea of him moonlighting as a stripper. “I did it before I met her and she knew what she was getting into,” he says with a smile. “And I’m behaving. I’m only here to put on a good show.”
He does acknowledge, however, that he enjoys the attention: “It’s just you and a room full of girls. It’s a nice feeling when they go on stage and they like you, they like the way you look, the way you move.”
The three men change into costumes for their opening number; pinstriped g-strings and Tommy guns for a gangster-themed bit. Out front, paying customers are beginning to arrive to the strains of Three Times A Lady.
Groups of bewildered men watching a rugby match in the adjacent sports bar stare as packs of still-sober women – each of whom have paid £20-£30 for tonight’s entertainment – trickle in, taking their seats at tables scattered with sweets, candles and glow sticks. If there is a dress code, it’s big hair, big heels, big smiles.
Waiters wearing only aprons appear with trays of bubbly and giggles fizz across the room as each table spots the bare bottoms weaving between the seats. A quiet hen party gathers around a table, making introductions. They drink their champagne timidly through penis-shaped straws. A more boisterous group arrives late, carrying an inflatable man, the lone chap in the audience.
The MC for the evening is a vivacious drag queen who belts out camp classics, cracks jokes about vajazzles and asks the audience if they’re “ready to see some cock?” Naturally, they answer in the affirmative.
Before they step on stage, I ask Xtreme what he likes best about his job. “If the girls scream,” he says simply. “If we take our clothes off and they scream. That’s what we like the most.” The screaming is fairly minimal during the opening number. Many of the women have just finished dessert (around half have paid for a package which includes dinner) and most are yet to get stuck into the cocktails.
With a little encouragement, a little flesh and a little bubbly however, the noise from the audience begins to build from embarrassed giggles to primal whooping. After a number from our MC, the trio re-emerge wearing police uniforms and pretend to search members of the delighted audience.
Trousers have velcro seams so they can be whipped off in a single beat of the pulsing music and soon the three men are twisting and grinding in their thongs. A single party popper goes off in the audience.
Next they don Western gear and gyrate to Save A Horse, (Ride A Cowboy) behind a semi-circle of flames, the flickering light catching the sweat on their torsos. The inflatable man bobs vigorously up front and the waiters dance at the back while the drag queen screams “get ’em off!”. A short break and our heroes step out in naval uniforms and aviator sunglasses, looking awkwardly bulky beneath the bright white costumes. This routine is slow and teasing, more of a palette-cleanser after the sweat-and-testosterone-themed first half. Slowly, methodically, they remove first their gloves then almost everything else (despite the drag queen’s opening question, they never do full-frontal nudity.)
Tight white vests are torn from torsos and thrown into the crowd where women fight over them playfully before the victors sniff them and scream like Beatles fans. It’s behaviour they’ve learned of course; there’s no impression that they’re being driven wild with desire. Rather, they’re enjoying the opportunity to behave outrageously, to have the balance of power shifted in their favour for one night only.
The fun is prescribed campery, more Carry On film than Striptease. There’s a sense that the excitement comes from the silliness of it all, that the women aren’t so much aroused as amused. They know the drill – chants of “Off! Off! Off!”, whooping, bottom-pinching – and they’re thoroughly enjoying falling into line.
The excitement is ramped up a notch when women are selected from the audience to participate. Yara Deserbelles is from Brazil but is marrying a Scot next month. She wears a white corset, matching tutu, thigh-high socks and a veil. Naturally, she’s led up on stage where she giggles and covers her eyes coyly as the three strippers take it in turns to writhe on her lap. Her friends clap and cringe for her in equal measure.
“I was a bit nervous,” she tells me after being led rather sweetly back to her seat by Sunrise. “But it was fun. We don’t do this in Brazil but it seems like it’s the thing to do in Scotland. It’s an experience, definitely. A lot of hot men, good bodies. It’s quite in-your-face, but it’s fun.”
Most of those hauled up on stage look like they’re having fun, not so much because of the proximity to oiled-up men but more because the ritual humiliation of it all is so amusing. If they’re not chuckling with embarrassment, they’re going for camp bravado, clutching at bare buttocks theatrically. For the brides-to-be, it’s an initiation, a gauntlet of flesh that they have to run before the night is through and it all goes up on Facebook.
By now, numerous pitchers of Sex on the Beach cocktails have been imbibed and inhibitions have all but evaporated. For their final number, the three men don kilts and do the can-can, a display which reinforces, if it were needed, that this is about silliness, not sexiness. So high on cocktails and flesh are the audience that near-naked waiter Danny Scott can’t take an order without being stopped for a photograph. He swivels obligingly, allowing a pair of women to pose with their pursed lips hovering millimetres from his bottom. Moments later, one of them has wedged a glow stick between his cheeks and the whole table hoots with laughter.
A chirpy, dimpled sports science graduate with a large tattoo of coral and butterflies over one shoulder, he dismisses it as “just part of the job” when I ask him how he felt about it. “I think if my mum saw it she wouldn’t be best pleased though,” he adds.
“I don’t mind if a girl has had a bit too much to drink and she’s a bit touchy-feely. What really affects me is when someone speaks to me in a degrading manner. It’s only if I’m spoken down to that I ever get a bit disgruntled. But if a girl grabs my bum, it’s just a bit of cheeky fun.”
He paid his way through university (“I got a first-class honours so I’ve got the brains as well as the bum”) serving up champagne, canapés and his own body to hen parties. Since graduating he has branched out on his own, setting up VIP Butlers UK who are catering tonight’s event.
Though it’s his job to look like he’s having fun, he does seem to be genuinely enjoying himself. “It never, ever feels like work,” he says. “I earn reasonably good money, I’m my own boss and I get to meet a lot of interesting people. And I dunno, it smooths over the ego.”
Like the SassyBoys, he caters to private parties, where the women tend to be a little wilder and a lot freer with their hands. “It depends what kind of party you’re going into,” says Xtreme after the show. “Sometimes you just feel like a piece of meat to be honest. It depends what kind of girls are at the party, how much drink they’ve had. Sometimes its OK but sometimes they just want to rip your clothes off and scratch and stuff. So many times I’ve left a party scratched, blood.”
So they’re allowed to touch? “We let them touch us. Not everywhere, but we do let them touch. If they touch nicely. And if they’re not slapping us because they might think it’s funny but it’s not really a nice feeling. It’s painful sometimes.” Delight slaps his own bottom to demonstrate: “Ouch.”