Jacq The Stripper loves her job in computer programming (just kidding, she's a stripper). The bio on her blog, twitter, and Instagram - all of which are updated regularly from the frontlines of the New York strip clubs she works at - says: "I dance. Naked. For large (and occasionally insultingly modest) sums of money." Why? "I like looking ridiculously slutty, meeting strangers, having inappropriate discussions, and working 100 days a year."
The unapologetically feminist writer, stand-up comedian, and illustrator is lap dancing all the way to the bank, and calling out the cheapos and gropers she encounters along the way. Through candid accounts of strip club culture, Jacq is part of a new generation of sex(y) workers who are taking back the conversation around adult entertainment. While the sex industry can still be a deeply exploitative place for young women, Jacq follows in the footsteps of sex-positive activists such as former stripper Nina Hartley. With a rising comedy career and a memoir on the horizon, Jacq is fast becoming a major voice beyond the pole. We spoke to the former petting zoo face painter and Russian Lit university graduate about making art in a no-photography zone and why you should probably retire the term "exotic dancer."
Is the term "stripper" PC or derogatory?
I LOVE the term stripper. I think the term 'exotic dancing' is yet another sad attempt at calling our job something that it isn't. It's a term loaded with this put-upon shame! All 'exotic' does when you put that word in front of 'dancing' is ostracize us as dancers. We dance, sure. But we also morph into different characters, strip, pitch, sell and close. It's a hell of a lot more than just swaying my goddamn hips to some shitty music.
Something tells me you aren't so concerned about being PC.
I'd much rather be considered 'delightfully offensive.' What good would it do me as a stripper, writer and comedian to be politically correct? I'd be broke, surrounded by crickets. My ethos is slutty, funny and feminist. If being PC can't fit into this equation, I won't be devastated.
When did you start stripping professionally?
I was in Sydney, Australia after a six-month stint living in Bangkok and traveling around Southeast Asia. I was broke as hell, eating 99 cent bags of oatmeal and was like, fuck it. I'm gonna be a stripper.
What makes a strip club dope and what makes one super shitty?
The worst clubs are the ones where management treats you like a cash cow and denies your humanity. There aren't many, but they do exist and do absurd things like fire you if you deny a drink from a client, or fine you $200 for calling in sick without a doctor's note. These clubs are deliberately miserable places to work, and I think a lot of the clientele go there for that specific reason. The term for that particular breed of client is a "Captain Save-a-Ho." His fantasy is to 'take you away from all this.' YAWN.
On a happier note, there is something reassuringly familiar about the stench of beer-soaked carpet. I'm a huge fan of dank titty bars. The money might not be as big, but it moves with a more fluid and generous pep in its step. I worked at a club in Santa Fe where the manager would bring all the girls dinner from his restaurant every night. For free! That was a fun club. The girls were sweet and welcoming, the DJ played music I actually liked, and man was it ever dank.
I think it's tragic that some clubs still have the audacity to label themselves 'gentlemen's clubs.' THERE ARE NO GENTLEMEN IN SAID CLUBS. It's a horny-men-den and that's ok. Stripping isn't about being classy; it's about consenting adults having a good time for a nominal fee. Stop trying to put a tie and cufflinks on this pig.
What's the most common reaction when you tell someone what you do for a living?
Women ask what I wear. Then they always tell me their own personal sex work(y) story. Every woman has one. Most men react by making the following statement: "So you must really hate men." It really bums me out that men assume this. Because it means they believe themselves to be worthless pieces of shit sometimes, and care not to do anything about it. I can't wait for the day I tell a man I'm a stripper and he responds with, "Thank you so much for entertaining us, we really appreciate it. Here's a grand and a burrito."
Can you describe a time when stripping felt especially empowering?
The first time just blew my fucking mind. I stood on a pedestal, stripped down to my birthday suit, and had an old strange Aussie bloke sit and stare at my bits. Fifteen minutes later, I was $50 richer. It changed the course of my entire life.
Can you describe a time when it didn't?
In strip clubs, women are the ones in power. It makes men uncomfortable, and so they try on different personas to try to figure out how they are supposed to exist without being on top. The result is often a bevy of sad, over-compensating, rude jerks. Still, it's better than almost any walk down a New York City street, or riding the subway alone.
Your blog is amazing.
Thank you! I've always been a storyteller of sorts. I had a handful of directionless humor blogs throughout university, so when I started stripping, I was like, 'There is just too much information and hilarity here; it would be a disservice to humankind not to share it.'
Tell me about the #100DaysOfPleasantries project?
The Great Discontent was heralding this art project with artist Elle Luna on Instagram called The 100 Day Project. It's about creating one thing every day for 100 days. To develop a habit, to stimulate the artistic process, and also to relieve some of the pressure around needing to create something perfect. Initially, I really just wanted to write out the dialog of shit that's been said to me or around me at work, but then I realized that I really enjoyed the process of sitting down and drawing, too. Then my wife bought me a set of Prismacolors, and now I might even feel so bold as to call myself an illustrator. I create something every day that makes people laugh. I mean, this is my entire life's ambition.
What is the mission of the project?
One thing I love about strip clubs is that it's one of the last corners of the earth where you can't be snapping photos all the time. Photography is strictly forbidden in strip clubs, which is what keeps it so fucking magical. There are always these horrific attempts at 'documentaries about strippers' and I'm like, 'You can't get what you're looking for when you bring a camera crew into a strip club, Everyone will scatter.'
All of the ways I do my storytelling are ways to circumvent that, without compromising the authenticity of what's being said and felt.
Do you think the stigma around sex(y) work is disappearing?
Ever so slowly.I want the work I do to contribute to this canon of women who are fighting to change it.
What is it hard for people to wrap their heads around?
That I like my job. And that I talk about it into a microphone at comedy clubs... that makes people really uncomfortable (I may or may not relish this very fact). Comedians have been making stripper jokes since the dawn of time. It's time for the tables to turn.
My memoir, The Beaver Show, is coming out in the fall! It's a traveling tale of how stripping has made me a better person. 100 Days of Pleasantries is going to live well past 100, I know that for sure. A brilliant embroidery artist is turning some of them into limited edition needlepoints! I'll be telling jokes all over town. Still stripping!
Text Jane Helpern
Photos courtesy Jacq The Stripper