As a teenager, comedian Brittany Meyer (who prefers the gender-neutral plural pronoun) was four foot four and 140 pounds, and their mother put them on an experimental growth hormone in the hopes that they would "stretch out." While Meyer did grow more than a foot, they still continued putting on weight. A phrase from their mother has stuck with them ever since: "You need to grow up, not out."
"I didn't know I wasn't attractive until people told me as a teenager—otherwise I thought I was going to be a model," Meyer says. "People had to kind of tear me down. When I would see a model in a magazine I wasn't like, 'Oh, look at how thin she is.' I was like, 'Oh look, she's showing off her butt. I also have a butt— that's cool!' I didn't think anything of it."
Meyer rediscovered a love for their body as a nude model and by discussing their own struggles with weight and beauty expectations in their comedy act. A little more than a year ago they started Strip Joker, a monthly stand-up showcase that promotes body positivity by encouraging performers to show as much (or as little) of their bodies as they want—and in a safe and encouraging environment. Artist Matthew Hoffman, who's known for his stickers and public works of art that read YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL, donated a custom sign to serve as the backdrop to the stage.
"It was really appealing to me to make a show that celebrated all of the things people dislike about themselves," says Whitney Wasson, a coproducer for Strip Joker. "We agreed not to do anything that was raunchy, negative, or mean-spirited, which is really different from other comedy shows. Nudity in other realms of comedy is usually played for a mean laugh."
The lineups prioritize people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, and women or female-identified performers—groups who are most often scrutinized for their looks. What happens onstage varies, from fully clothed comics doing material about their bodies to a regular stand-up set in which the performer strips down to full nudity. Recently Meyer hosted the event while wearing only items of clothing that they wore during hookups, and would remove the material relevant to the story of what happened on each particular night.
Molly Kearney, another coproducer and frequent performer on Strip Joker, remembers being completely terrified when she initially went onstage. The first night she took very little off, but since then she's learned to use her body as a tool for her comedy, doing things like writing "carnage" on her bare thigh and then doing a bit about female fight clubs.
"Doing stand-up is scary enough to begin with, but taking off your clothes, it's like a whole other level," Kearney says. "But it was liberating. You've got to put on your brave pants, then take them off."
Meyer emphasizes that Strip Joker isn't just a novelty nudity show. They hope this is a chance for both the audience and the performers to explore their personal issues with their bodies and learn to love them through comedy.
"Seeing other people naked and admiring their flaws and insecurities, that helped me love my own even more," Meyers says. "Strip Joker's given me an even greater empowerment of my own body than I ever even knew I had." v