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'When Irish women go to a strip show they forget about the Bible'

The stripping industry, like many other issues relating to sex, came up against the Catholic Church in the past.

strippers Source: The Chain Gang Show

IRISH WOMEN WANT to see the full monty.

That is according to the man who set up Ireland’s first male stripper group – the Chain Gang – 21 years ago.

Tommy Egan saw the gap in the market during the 1990s and thought it was something Irish women would have “a bit of a laugh” attending.

Since then, he has been up to his eyes in thongs, g-strings and baby oil, whipping Ireland’s Chain Gang into shape as they became one of Ireland’s most popular male strip groups.

When we went to see the Chippendales perform in the Olympia all those years ago, it was a great show. But listening to the women chat at the bar afterwards, they were disappointed by one thing – no full monty.

“The women just ask for their money back [now] if they don’t get it,” said Egan, who told us the women love seeing a little flash at the end of a performance.

When we played the Olympia, we packed it out and we made sure there was a quick flash at the end and the scream would have burst your ears.

Egan said a venue will not book them now unless someone does full frontal in the show.

stripper

As you can imagine, it was a very different story 21 years ago.

The stripping industry is in the spotlight this year with the release of Magic Mike XXL. While Ireland may not have a stripping convention (the, eh, main plot point of the movie) it does have a long-standing business in the country.

Over two decades ago, stripping – male or female – was unheard of in Ireland, explained Egan.

“There was still a very reserved attitude towards sex and Ireland was still a relatively religious country,” added Leo St Ledger, an American stripper known as ‘Six Pack’ who joined the Chain Gang over 10 years ago.

MIKE

He said when he arrived to Ireland, he had a different idea of what it would be like, after hearing it was a very Catholic country.

When I came to Ireland I knew it was a Catholic country, but when you go out there on stage, believe me religion is put behind, women just go crazy!
Irish woman are well behaved but when they see naked men they will go wild.

When they come to see the strip show I think they forget about the bible.

Egan said he first came across male stripping nights in Ireland when his friend told him he was doing it in a pub along the quays in Dublin.

“All the women come in and I just take my clothes off,” his friend told him.

Invited along to check it out Egan said he was shocked to see the place packed full of women.

“The DJ came on first and got the crowd going, then they invited the men on stage. It was electric.”

strippers 6

“I thought maybe I could put something together for the pubs and clubs. I got a group of lads together and called them the Chain Gang.”

It wasn’t all plain sailing though. There were bumps along the road for the group.

Finding the guys was a nightmare. I went to gyms and gave out flyers. I got a group of guys together – they were all Irish.
At that time there were very few foreign nationals in Ireland. We called it the Chain Gang and we went around the pubs and clubs.
And, it was a disaster. It was the best comedy show in town. If you wanted a laugh, this was your show. They didn’t know how to take their clothes off, they didn’t know how to strip sexily, they weren’t in shape, even though I got many from the gym – it was a disaster.

People stopped coming to the show. It was bad.

Egan quickly ran out of money. “I had hit rock bottom,” he recalled. 

strip

Then one day his friend told him about a group from America coming to the Point Depot called the Chippendales.

I didn’t even want to talk about the stripping business, I was so broke. But he told me the show was sold out, so I said I would check it out. The moment I walked in the door I said ‘wow’ we should do this.

Egan said the Chippendales were on to a good business plan – they were selling merchandise, the show was jaw-dropping, they had amazing costumes and the choreography was great.

“They did something at the end of the show. If you wanted to have your picture taken with the lads, it was £10. A lot of money back then. It was unheard of, but the queue went from the stage to the back of the room – every girl wanted a photo with these American guys.”

I said Tommy boy, look at this, come away, have a think and regroup.

women

There was one problem though: he had no money.

I had to get a few bob. I was a long-term customer with AIB so I told them the plan and they rejected it. I went to the Credit Union, told them what I was doing and they went with me.

They took a chance on me and it was great. They listened to me, a man with no money, and believed in what I was trying to do.

After getting together with the best in the business, Egan built the project back up.

It was polished, sharp and we never looked back. It worked.

Today the group put on a two-hour show and perform up and down the country.

strippers 5

In the beginning, finding bookings was “fine” but keeping them was sometimes difficult, especially in rural Ireland where the parish priest could weigh in and object.

Bookings were made in local pubs, clubs and GAA clubs but once word got out about what was happening, there could be “a lot of backlash”, particularly from the Church.

It really only happened down the country, in small towns, but most of the shows in rural Ireland are packed out now, as if Elvis is coming to town.

Who are the rowdy ones?

“We find that when we do our Christmas shows in the hotels, the ages are mixed. Women bring their mammies, their grannies, everyone. It’s all ages and they love it,” said Egan.

Surprisingly, he said it is the younger women that are more shy in the shows.

You think the older crowd would be more reserved and wouldn’t be in to it – they’re the worst.

There are no Irish strippers in the Chain Gang these days which Egan says is a shame.

Any Irish guys we have there is a problem. The girlfriends don’t want them doing it. The lads say Aunt Maureen’s going to the show, his neighbour could be there, and the guys say, ‘I’m not going on stage’.

He said there is a market for Irish male strippers but said women also like to see something different, something with an “international flavour”.

strippers 3

Society has become a lot more open now, more accepting and people just go to our shows for a laugh.

Egan said he is surprised there is no bar here for women where men serve cocktails topless. While he said there are lap dancing clubs for men, there is a totally different attitude to that side of the business.

We have done pubs where they have booked the Chain Gang for the ladies and brought in the centre-folds from London for the men and it just doesn’t go down here.
The Chain gang seems to be fun, there is a different attitude towards it. Nine times out of ten the female show will be cancelled because of pressure put on the venue.
It’s just a different attitude towards it, this is seen as just a bit of fun. Whereas there is a different perspective taken for the female stripping shows.

stripper 7

So, how does one become a stripper?

St Ledger said he used to dance before he came to Ireland but never stripped.

I went along to an audition and everyone was nervous. I showed them what I could do and I was picked. A lot of work goes into it though. There is a lot of practising and steps to learn.
Even now every time you go on stage I feel a little bit nervous, even though I know every step and move I have to do. I have to say it did give me a lot of confidence, particularly talking to women. Before I wouldn’t say I was shy, but like any other guy I wouldn’t be so open and out there, but now being in this I am different.
Most people appreciate what the strippers do, said St Ledger, who said most wouldn’t have the nerve to do it.
However, like any job, it’s not without its downfalls. He recalls one evening on stage when a woman tried to cut of his G-string with a scissors and ended up cutting him on the bum. He even had to get stitches!
The women are there to see the full monty, that is what they paid for. They come up after the show and say fair play to us.

The Chain Gang do meet and greets with the women at the end of each performance.

For stripper Six Pack that’s his favourite part of the job: “For me that is the best part of the show.”

Egan says it’s a nice way to thank the girls for supporting them.

You have to remember without the women, you don’t have a show.

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