If you happened to spot actor Gerald McCullouch (TV’s CSI, the BearCity trilogy) getting an excessive number of lap dances from dudes in the Ft. Lauderdale area last year, please know it was all in the name of research—though not for a role.
McCullouch was actually in the director’s, uh, chair, shooting his second documentary about gay male strip clubs, All Male, All Nude: Johnsons
McCullouch’s revealing 2017 documentary, All Male, All Nude, profiled Atlanta’s Swinging Richards and an array of its erotic dancers ranging in age and sexual orientation, while its 2019 follow-up turns its gaze on Johnsons, a new club in Wilton Manors, Fla., founded by former Swinging Richards staffer and competitive body builder Matt Colunga. In the doc, Colunga and his dancers share their stories, the realities versus the illusions they weave, and some tricks of the trade (how to choose your stage name, how to avoid giving dancers paper cuts when jamming dollars into their underwear).
Pronouncing his first name with a hard “G” (as in “grrr” ), McCullouch made his directorial debut with a 2002 short film, The Moment After, and directed and starred in a 2015 feature adaptation of Dan Via’s play Daddy, about a seasoned older man who falls for a young intern with a secret. While on vacation in Provincetown, McCullouch (who’s currently producing another doc, Stuck in Greece, about LGBTQ refugees in Greece) called up NewNowNext to chat about stripper secrets and if he’d ever give pole dancing a shot.
When did your obsession with male strippers begin?
I made a short film, The Moment After, during my CSI years and it did really well, and they brought me to Atlanta for the film festival premiere. That night my younger sister brought me to Swinging Richards for the first time ever. I had no idea a club like that existed, and I was floored. I met a dancer who was a fan of CSI and said, “If you’re in town with your movie, you should look into this world. It’s definitely a movie.” So he was my entry. It wasn’t my obsession with dancers so much, but someone presenting the opportunity to jump into a world I knew nothing about and uncover it in a way I felt was appropriate.
Breaking Glass Pictures
A dancer at Johnsons.
How did this follow-up come about?
Matt, the DJ and manager of Swinging Richards, left and opened his own club, and he said I should come down and check it out. I think the first film is one of my distributor’s top-selling titles, and they wanted to see what other stories I could mine. Although I didn’t want to repeat the first film, and wasn’t even that interested in exploring that terrain again, Matt’s club is unique and his story is inspiring.
Can you expense lap dances while making these documentaries?
I certainly can, and I have. More than once, motherfucker. It’s funny, because I’ve gotten quite a few lap dances in my day, but it is research! The dancers don’t know how the other dancers do a lap dance, so I’m the only one who experiences their individual vibes and techniques. As a filmmaker, I’m lucky I get to know.
Was producing Johnsons a very different experience from working on the first All Male, All Nude doc?
Yes. I had more of an opportunity to plan and schedule this, and spend time with the dancers and get to know their stories, and who would be willing to share theirs on camera. It unfolded very naturally. I was able to map out a part two, and not just rehash the same story—but still make it feel similar to the first film. In this film I wanted the dancers I featured to be more varied, and to admit they were gay. In the first film people kind of skirted around that issue.
For me, the biggest mystery is how you manage to get gay strip clubs to allow your cameras inside during working hours. Was that a major challenge?
Yes, and there were times when a portion of the dancers didn’t want my cameras anywhere near them, and if I had two or three cameras in the club they’d leave work. The first film was more of a one-man guerrilla effort. It was just me and a camera, and there were certain times I could and couldn’t go in, and jumping some of those hoops with management was very challenging. But because Matt, the owner of Johnsons, approached me about the second film I had much more freedom, and the time to get to know these guys and see who was willing to be authentic in this journey.
There were nights when Matt would say, “Gerald will be in the club for these hours, and if you don’t want to be filmed, don’t come to work.” Some dancers who were completely resistant at first, as they got to know me and see I wasn’t there to just expose the dirt, they warmed up. I wasn’t there to get anyone in trouble, and Matt really plays by the books and wants to challenge people’s perceptions of what a strip club is. His dream is to create the very first franchised gay strip club, and that’s in the works. There’s interest in opening a club in Dallas and Atlanta. This guy’s dreams are coming to life.
Matt Colunga (L) and Gerald McCullouch (R) with a dancer from Johnsons.
Were any of the Johnsons dancers a handful, so to speak, offscreen?
They’re not a handful, but what we do to get by influences who we are and who we become, and these guys spend their nights in this environment, so that influences them. Matt has 60 or 70 dancers working, and I spent time with about 10 of them. I tried to find a diverse group.
Matt’s a great archetype with a unique dream: He started as a stripper at 18 and has been in the industry for 23 years, and his goal was always to have his own strip club. He’s like a father figure to a lot of these dancers and takes pride in that. One of the dancers, Yankiel Mompeller, has been stripping since he was 18. He’s an immigrant and also an artist, and has used all his income from these 10 or 11 years of stripping to not only open his own art gallery in Ft. Lauderdale but also lease out part of the studio to other artists. He has shows every season and is rather well respected in the community, and has no qualms about doing what he does. As he says in the film, it’s a great way to support your art.
Another guy, Alexander, spends his days dressed as Spider-Man and other superheroes at kids’ parties, and from there usually goes to the gym and then on to strip for a mostly gay clientele. Another guy’s putting himself through school; another is a single father supporting his kids. Their stories are compelling, and I hope they challenge people’s stereotypes.
Some of the dancers’ confessions are blistering and frank, revealing how they might dislike clients, yet smile and feed their fantasies. Do you feel they endangered their careers by saying these things and explicitly stripping away the illusion?
I don’t. I didn’t want to show their whole hand, but those are all subjects the people who watch these movies want to learn about. They reveal some secrets, but their job is to make money—it’s not a hobby. Those who go to a strip club also know the game they’re about to play. But that doesn’t mean the relationships between them aren’t real. Their relationships are just contingent on money.
Breaking Glass Pictures
A Johnsons dancer (L) and owner Matt Colunga (R).
Did any of the dancers tell you stories about celebrity clients, like how Lindsey Graham came in one night for a lap dance?
No. They revealed some things to me, but nothing along the lines of, “Oh, my gosh, this celebrity came in one night and gave me this much money and this is what I did for them.” This one guy was straight but gay for pay. He was engaged, and his fiancée was also a stripper. She’d booked herself a $1,000 date one night, and he’d booked a high-paying date with a male client, and they were ecstatic because that’s how they were going to start paying for their honeymoon!
Might we see a third All Male, All Nude film?
That’s on my plate right now. Wilton Manors, Florida, is the second gayest city per capita in America, and they have an amazing Halloween event that’s a fundraiser for their LGBT center. While filming the second documentary I brought a full crew for the week of Halloween, with three cameras and a drone, and we have enough content to make a Halloween-specific film. But my focus is on this becoming a documentary series.
Would you ever try exotic dancing as a side gig?
I don’t think I would make a dollar.
All Male, All Nude: Johnsons premieres September 24 on VOD and DVD.