Sex is weird. In conversation, it’s kind of out in the open. But in practice, it’s something we prefer to do with the lights off. We do it without communicating, and we sneak out quietly after it’s done, and we certainly don’t disclose the physical details without purposeful prompting from close friends.
But one comedian has set out to bring sex definitely out of the bedroom — by making people do it onstage, with imaginary partners.
It’s called Air Sex. And by presenting people’s most intimate behaviors in a performative context, Air Sex brings a whole new meaning to “foreplay.”
Established in 2007 in Austin and touring since 2009, the Air Sex show has brought invisible sex antics to countless comedy stages across America. Next year will mark the show’s ninth season in “action,” and its founder, Chris Trew, couldn’t be more excited. On the occasion of the show’s upcoming Brooklyn pit stop this Saturday (Oct. 29), Brokelyn sat down with the 35-year-old New Orleans-based comedian to get a better understanding of just what makes Air Sex — which is essentially the American equivalent of an Amsterdam sex show — so easy to stomach.
“It’s kind of like a sketch comedy show where the premise is the same for every sketch, which is, how do you fuck?”
Here’s how Air Sex works: every show starts off with Trew coming onstage to introduce the event by doing a demonstration, much like a comedy show’s host coming out to “warm up” a crowd in order to prepare them for what they’re about to experience.
“I get up onstage, do a demo, explain the rules, introduce the judges, then call up the contestants in a random order,” Trew explained.
Local celebrities fill out the judging panel in whatever city Air Sex happens to be in at the time, and range from sex industry professionals to comedians to sports personalities. After each contestant’s performance, the judges give feedback American Idol-style.
“At the end, our judges call back their three favorites and they perform at the same time, then the audience picks a winner.”
Wondering what “air sex” looks like? Well, it just so happens there’s a feature-length Air Sex movie that’ll give you enough visuals to last a lifetime. But if you don’t want to stream it for $2.99, you can check out the trailer above to get a sense of what performers do onstage. It isn’t just forceful thrusting, what you might expect from a community theatre production of Spring Awakening. Air Sex champs perform with plenty of tongue action, finger maneuvers and everything in between.
Suffice it to say, it isn’t for the conservative of heart. But Trew made clear that the show aims higher than utter pornography.
“You wanna have fun, do something that the crowd will rally behind,” Trew said. “The ‘yo mama’ joke [one that’s way overdone] of Air Sex is ‘I came too quick,’ and what happens every time is, the audience is bummed out because they thought they were getting a show. And it mirrors actual sex because everyone would be disappointed as well.”
And sure, as far as sex positivity, it’s no queer feminist sex education space. There are still normative and occasionally problematic physical depictions onstage at Air Sex, but only to the extent that the show’s sole subject happens to be a very gendered and problematic one to begin with. Trew finds a gentle, nuanced approach to the humor of sex acts tends to be the smartest.
“We learned that when people do things inappropriately not in a smart way, it wasn’t funny, so we would lead people away from that,” he said. “In the early years of the show some people would be like, wouldn’t it be funny if I fucked a baby? If you’re gonna do that, you be a baby. You can make the weird thing into the right joke but you can’t be a pedophile.”
As you’d imagine, stage names run the gamut of awful sex acts (“The Cleveland Steamer”), groan-worthy puns (“Cunt-astrophe”) and boastful titles. Trew vividly recalls “Danny Tanner is a Pussy Slammer” from a past show.
Performers ages’ are all over the place, too, from the cocksure 21 year-olds who jump onstage to the gun-shy 60 year-olds who wow everyone with their moves.
“One time we had a mother and son do the same show.”
Still, the comedian is certainly responsible for bringing imaginary sex into mainstream(ish) consciousness. In addition to his standup comedy career, Trew is also a hype man for professional wrestling shows. And it’s thanks to his enthusiastic efforts that in cities like New Orleans, Washington DC, Austin and New York City, the show has a cult-like following of curious weirdos who come out to compete again and again, or just to cheer on the show.
On its Facebook page, Air Sex is listed as a sports league.
Air Sex is doing its Brooklyn show this Saturday, at the Hall at MP (470 Driggs Ave.) in Williamsburg. Guest judges for the event are still TBA, but will include DJ Cipha Sounds. If you want to be guaranteed a competition slot, you should sign up in advance.
So by now, you must be wondering the same thing we were: Which city fucks the weirdest?
“I’d say Washington, DC,” Trew said. “We somehow haven’t tapped into the comedy scene, yet the funniest weirdest people are doing the show. I’m told it’s because DC is very strict and straight during the day and so people are wanting to get weird.”
Trew said that “Brooklyn does have to get a shout out,” but that it was to be expected our borough would have a bone-curious presence. “In cities like [Brooklyn,] Portland, Austin, New Orleans, you’d expect it.”
Balls deep in the sex show world, Trew is likely numbed to what we as an audience consider a thoroughly absurd and occasionally disturbing experience. Whereas for Trew, the best part of Air Sex is tracking the shift in pop culture references made by the competitors. When we spoke, he was already expecting a few common themes in the coming months of the show’s tour.
“I’m hoping that we’ll get some Hamilton references on this upcoming tour,” he said. “I’m sure we’ll get a Ken Bone.”
Air Sex comes to the Hall at MP on Saturday Oct. 29, 2016 at 11:30pm. Tickets are $7.50. 21+.