Alex Seligsohn wastes no time taking off her robe. Underneath, she is wearing pearl studded nipple tassels and a black thong. “God, I feel so liberated right now! This is a dream come true!” she says to a cheering crowd. I’m at Strip Joker, a monthly event at Uptown Underground where comedians strip during their set to promote a message of body positivity. It partners with the “You are Beautiful” campaign. I went to the October “Strip Joker Gets Spooky” to check it out.
A few performers later, James Fisher Jr. takes off his hat to the same applause. In reference to his receding hairline he admits, “I’m vulnerable without my hat on right now.” A few minutes later, off comes his shirt, and he talks about being self-conscious of the stretch marks on his sides from losing weight. Once again, the crowd is warm and encouraging.
At Strip Joker, various levels of dishevelment happen, but the message remains the same. What surprised me was the diversity of content. From period sex to hairy nipples, childhood bullying to scars and abrasions, it got to the heart of what it means to be an embodied being. We all have unique bodies that we need to accept in our own ways.
One of the co-founders of Strip Joker, Brittany Meyer, was already very body positive when they started the show, and they didn’t think it was going to impact them much. Brittany explains that when they started performing on the show, they were surprised by how much got brought up by writing new material.
“I had really delved into the details of my mother’s obsession with me losing weight, being the fat girl on the swim team, having been the guinea pig on an experimental growth hormone, my fear of changing in the locker room, the anxiety I had about having sex and being naked in front of another person for the first time,” Meyer told me. “I didn’t realize until I started writing about all these things that these experiences have truly crafted me into the person I am, and I am so thankful for all that the body positive movement has done for me to learn to love myself. I’m amazed how Strip Joker continues to change me, even as an already very body positive person.”
There’s something about humor that’s truly healing. As Brittany explains, “I think humor puts us at ease. It connects ideas that we have (realized or not) and allows us to understand each other on a deeper level. Talking about taboo subjects helps us normalize taboos. Laughter is a unifier, and I do believe that if we can’t laugh about it, we can’t fix it.”
Kaia Hodo, a trans performer from Arkansas, agrees.
“I am nervous all the time, and humor is a great way of dealing with and coping with all those insecurities, and using my body is a big part, for me at least, of approaching how other people see me,” Hodo says. “If I can walk up in front of people and just show them and tell them and talk about my body in ways that are just absurd — so I’m not trying to be cool or sexy necessarily — I’m just distilling tension.”
“Let’s talk about the uglier parts of body positivity,” she says on stage. “I have cuts all over my arms.” She explains that she works in a kitchen and is an accident-prone person. When her therapist is concerned she’s self-harming, she remarks, “I might become the first person who is admitted to a psychiatric institution completely by accident.”
Hodo’s routine runs from online dating as a trans person to bleeding in a Target, where she later realizes she’s carrying a bag with an HIV prevention logo on it. She doesn’t shy away from topics that often make people uncomfortable but does it in a humorous way that, like she says, distills the tension.
“I’m kind of self-deprecating, but I don’t think it’s not body positive,” she says. “It’s a thing of looking at my anxieties, like ‘what if people think this? What if it goes that way?’ and being able to write a joke where a situation keeps going in the direction I’m nervous about, but we can all enjoy that moment together and everything’s fine.”
And that seems to be the point. If we face our fears and laugh about them — of course, not in a mean way— then everything can be fine, and we’re doing it together.
Meyer wants Strip Joker to become “a staple in the Chicago comedy community and be known around Chicago as this unique experience. We would love to invite everyone interested to come by and see the show. I want Strip Joker to continue to normalize these ideas and spread this message and the more people we can reach, the better!”
Strip Joker is held on the second Saturday of every month at 9:30 p.m. in Uptown Underground’s Starlight Lounge.