In May 2016, Channing Tatum announced Magic Mike Live Las Vegas with a two-minute puppies-and-muscles daydream of a video on Cosmopolitan.com. He ended it by soliciting feedback from women on what they would want to experience at the male revue. As creator and co-director, Tatum said he wanted to build “a world where women are given the same options men have been given for centuries.” And when he spoke about it on Ellen in September, he promised that the production would emphasize “women’s empowerment.”
How so? While Tatum and company were searching for 13 muscular and rhythmically gifted male dancers, he also decided to cast one female comedian who would a) entertain the Magic Mike Live audience in her own right and b) ensure that women’s real desires are accounted for onstage.
“When I read the description of the role, I felt like my life all of a sudden made sense,” says Lyndsay Hailey, the woman who landed the job. The Virginia native has spent the last 12 years of her career studying and teaching improvisational and sketch comedy, most recently in Los Angeles, as well as did a stretch in the Chicago-based Second City touring company. (Get a taste of her humor in the video below this chat with her).
We recently sat down with Hailey to discuss the significance, challenges and sometimes, awkward rehearsal moments that come with being the female lead in a male-dominated production.
What made you decide that you wanted to be a performer?
When I was little, I always felt like I was going to move to Hollywood. My parents used to call me “boop ba doop,” which was a nickname because I used to imitate Betty Boop. I used to walk around the house going “boop boop be doop!” And you know how, sometimes, you feel like your parents know you before you know yourself? My mom, or maybe I, started gravitating to old film stuff. Betty Boop stuff and old movie cameras. I tried to follow a very unconventional path for a very long time. I didn’t really perform in high school or college. I was an interior design major with business marketing. I took a hard left turn after college. By that time, all of the repression had caught up with me. I was an interior design major, so that meant that I would be doing AutoCAD design behind a computer. I loved it, but something just welled up in me. So I would say my coming to terms with [being a performer] wasn’t until I was about 22. And then I went deep in. [Laughs] There was no going back.
You juggled a lot of odd jobs while you pursued a career in comedy. What was that like?
I was doing stand-in work for Sophia Bush on One Tree Hill when I heard about the Second City [improv troupe]. I’m big into fun, mystical stuff, and I heard “Second City” three times in one week, having never heard of it before. A friend sent me an email that they were touring at that time. And that’s the touring venue—in addition to the Groundlings in L.A.—that fields Saturday Night Live. I was already falling in love with improv comedy and doing shows on the weekends [in Wilmington] and then I heard this. I was 25, had zero dollars and two suitcases when I moved to Chicago. I signed up for Second City classes, and then the weird odd jobs started.
I started off working in a law firm and I got very quickly fired, but lovingly. I just couldn’t take it seriously because I was so invested in this other world. Then, I started doing street teams marketing because the pay was pretty good. Twenty bucks an hour or something, because know one else would do it. There was a campaign for US Cellular called “Talk Your Ear Off” where we’re walking around in big ear costumes. That was a funny one because that was at the Taste of Chicago [outdoor food festival] and it was like 105 degrees out, we’re in these big foam ears with these ice packs and you have to rotate. It’s not just me in that ear, it’s a cast of like four people. That day, I had a dad come up to me with his son, and he said “That’s what happens when you don’t get a college education,” pointing to me in the ear costume. And I’m in there being like, “I’ve got two degrees! I’ve got two degrees! This is a choice. I’m following my dreams! This is what that looks like!” So, yeah.
All the way up until this job, the people that love me the most have just watched me eat crap, time and time again. They’re always in the audience going “Oh god! Is it going to be another one?” This time, we finally made a connection. My parents are probably like, “Oh thank God!
How did you tell your parents that you got this gig?
My parents are lovely, conservative Virginia folk. My whole life to them has always been like, “What happened? What went wrong?” What weird cosmic star were we under when we procreated this life?” I talked to my mom first. Days later, she calls back and says, “Are you going to be posting on Facebook about this job? I just wanna warn the coffee group. I just want to warn the book club.” And I’m like, “Yes, mom, part of my job, most likely, is to promote what I’m doing.” There’s just a few ladies in the group I think she’d rather not know that I’m involved with a sexy male revue.
My Dad, right there on the phone, he says, “You gon’ be taking off your clothes?” and I said, “No sir, but the boys around me will.” And he said “I don’t know, I don’t know if I can come see that.” I said, “Dad, this is my first-ever job with health insurance. You don’t think you can just come and support?” And he goes, “Ok, I’ll watch the boys take their clothes off just the once.” [My parents] are quirky and I don’t know if they always understand why I’m on the pilgrimage I’m on, specific to some of the content, but they’re always there. They’re always supportive.
How does the female perspective shape this show?
Through the audition process, I learned a lot about the typical male revue. Our role as a collective is not to condemn any of those shows, by any means, but to redefine what is actually sexy for a woman to experience in that environment. I had to research a guy that [performs as] Neo from The Matrix. You just kind of go, “Who is this for?” He’s like, “I know what women find sexy! I’m going to put on black [sunglasses], a trench coat and bad graphics and they’re all just going to rip their panties off!”
We’re looking at the whole thing and asking: “What do women actually find attractive? What actually makes her feel empowered?” Every cast member [got involved] because they felt like they knew how to handle that line. Channing’s job in this is really fascinating because, above all, he wants the show to come from the female voice. He’s got a lot of women in place. Female consultants, choreographers. And even in his training with the men, they’ll converse about how to engage with the women. This is their show.
What responsibilities do you feel in your role?
We’re in a phenomenal point in history where the paradigm is reversing. [Women are really] stepping in to their power. I feel very strongly about not becoming the female version of the men that we were condemning for all of time and history, not objectifying men by any means, but just having an equal and honest conversation.
That moment of “What’s she doing up there?” is gonna happen. We have to be aware of that as a production entity and tackle that conversation. I love the challenge of that. Not falsely winning over the ladies in the audience but actually having to work for it. The truth of the matter is that they’re there to see a male revue and that I’m something else inside of that they’re going to have to deal with for a second. It’s just going to make me have to really work for it, and I like that.
How comfortable is it for you to work inside of this dynamic?
The first day we all got together, [the producers] were playing some song cues to introduce the guys to the feeling of the show, and this one fella, he just gets up! I’m trying to be a professional and take notes or whatever, and he just comes in and pushes his chair back and puts his leg up on the table. He just can’t contain himself! I’m like, “Oh my gosh. Where have I landed?” There are moments like that where [the guys] are so comfortable in the most beautiful way that I think it’s elevating my comfort also, with my body, with my sexuality, with the role of being a woman inside a male revue.
The show gives me a platform to be funny from a feminine point of view, instead of me feeling the need to be funny from a masculine point of view, as a female. Compartmentalizing that is a little weird, I know, but that’s been my greatest challenge [as a comedian]. I can fall back into that very easily. But that’s not the goal of this show. The goal is to embrace the feminine perspective.
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Camille Cannon is the founder of skirrt.com, a small corner of the internet where rap, comedy and feminism grind together. See her exclusive video interview with Lyndsay Hailey below.