The Chippendales have a lot to answer for. Big hair atop even bigger pecs. Acres of hairless, orange manflesh bordered by white cuffs and red bow-ties. Rictus grins. High kicks in black bulging Spandex. Medically-dangerous galvanic pelvic thrusting. Female GERREMORFFFFFFFF!!! hysteria. Forget Reagan, Yuppies or Madonna, the greatest and hottest invention of 1980s consumerism was pectoral muscles basted in baby oil.
If ever you needed proof that women have no taste in men you just have to look at the tremendous, ear-splitting, glittery global success of the Chippendales. Though, actually, the Chippendales were the product of a man's taste in men. A man who, at least according to this memoir, seems to have had a lot to answer for on his own account.
"Do you know anyone who would want to kill Nick DeNoia?" asks the cop investigating the murder of the man who "basically invented the Chippendales" in the prologue to Unzipped, David Henry Sterry's account of his time as the male strip troupe's roller-skating MC. "Do you want the short or the long answer?", Sterry replies. Of course, we get the long answer, which is Sterry's memoir. Alas, it's more about Sterry than DeNoia.
The short answer, well-known because the sensational case was widely-reported and spawned at least one TV documentary, is that Nick DeNoia was bumped off in 1987 by a hit man hired by his Indian business partner, Somen Banerjee, as the result of an argument about who owned the lip-smackingly lucrative touring rights to this troupe of fritzed faux-flashers. Banerjee was caught trying to put a contract out on some other associates and committed suicide in prison before being found guilty, so that ownership of the company would pass to his family. (I told you that male stripping was a very serious business.)
The long answer, Unzipped, with its stories of "$" (as Sterry denotes money), drugs (the strippers were apparently selling them to the punters from their posing pouches), and backstage blow-jobs and bust-ups is enjoyable, funny, slickly written, and almost as meticulously choreographed as a Chippendale show. Sterry writes about his life with the Chippendales in the kind of pulpy fashion that is required these days, along with a large admixture of self-loathing and self-mockery.
In case we might envy him, he keeps referring to himself as the "ugliest man at Chippendales" and seems to have garnered just one blow-job, which he was offered only because the girl wanted an introduction to one of the strippers. Sometimes, though, Unzipped seems a little too slick, a little too stand-up to... stand up. Though I'm sure the film-rights have been sold already. Or maybe, with those roller skates and high kicks, it should be a musical first.
We also get some flashbacks to an unhappy childhood. This is Sterry's second memoir: his first, Chicken: Love For Sale on the Streets of Hollywood, was an account of his time as a teenage gigolo in LA – a job he was introduced to by his boss at the fast-food joint where he fried chicken. For someone who isn't a looker, Sterry seems to have managed to make a living out of the sale of manflesh.
The real star, however, of Unzipped, as Sterry's prologue more or less admits, isn't Sterry, or the male strippers, or even the sozzled, screaming ladies clawing and biting at the ripe manflesh jigging around in front of them, but Chippendale choreographer Nick DeNoia, "silver fox in cashmere clothing, combination queen mother and charismatic dictator", a man who Sterry himself seems to love as much as he hates.
DeNoia's theatrically sadistic, swishy Sergeant Major way of publicly humiliating people – even his way of over-using the word "Faaaaaaaaaaaaab.U.Lous" – brings a real drama, humour and Spandex tightness to the page and is lovingly rendered by Sterry. However, as DeNoia's vicious tongue and sharp eye move out of frame and Sterry's love-affair with the feisty female costumier blossoms, for my $, the story becomes less gripping – and less well-choreographed.
DeNoia's sharp queer eye is, as Sterry makes clear, what made the Chippendales. While the Chippendales' "bottom line" was all about pleasing the ladies and prying open their purses, the top line was about pleasing DeNoia by showing him your buttocks. Little wonder that, at Chippendales, "the notions of hetero-, homo-, and bisexuality seem hopelessly outdated. Gay? Straight? Seems like under the right circumstances everybody's capable of doing anyone." Whether there was an actual casting couch or not, wannabe Chippendales had to submit themselves – oiled up in a thong – to the rapacious gaze of DeNoia, a man who makes Simon Cowell look like the kind of person you'd want to share a pint and your problems with. In fact, if DeNoia were still around today Cowell would be his Louis Walsh.
One NY Latino guy dares to turn up a little overweight. DeNoia, standing ominously behind him, grabs his love-handles and squeezes, painfully. "That. Is. Un. Acceptable..." he decrees. "The Men of Chippendales are not fat. It's disgusting, it's laziness, it offends me. Do you think a Lady wants to come to Chippendales to see a pudgy, fat little fuck? Helloooooooooooo?"
The Latino doesn't seem to mind. He just smiles and replies: "Hhhey, tha's jus' more of me to lub!" DeNoia is impressed by the man's spunk and commands him: "Go. Leave. Make yourself beautiful. Call me." Which is, from DeNoia, a tender dismissal indeed.
Twenty years on, in a world conquered by metrosexuality, we can see that men did indeed make themselves beautiful. Terrifyingly beautiful. Being "lubbed", oiled up in a thong, is what most men seem to want today. DeNoia's heavenly – or hellish – cellphone must be ringing off the hook.