The underbelly diaries written and performed by Aaron Berg, tonight (August 28) and every Thursday at 10:30 pm. $5. Yuk Yuk's Downtown (224 Richmond West). 416-967-6425. Rating: NNN Rating: NNNNN
when stand-up aaron berg walks out onstage and opens with a story about how he once masturbated in front of two men for $150, you know this isn't going to be just any comedy show. The Underbelly Diaries is Berg's monologue about his life in the sex industry, which included (after he'd built his body up with steroids and pumping iron) working as a stripper, hustler and sometime pimp.
"Part of the show is therapy, sure, but it's really about getting to the truth," says Berg, who's been workshopping the show since mid-July in hopes of turning it into a full-length piece he can take on the road to places like Comedy Central in L.A.
"I'm not trying to justify what I've done, but I think on some level there's a lot of poetry in there," he explains.
In his stand-up act, Berg - who holds a philosophy degree and has trod the boards in Shakespeare - has always been good at poetic free-associations.
He'll riff, in mock Elizabethan couplets in his distinctive, honking voice, on what he hears or sees from the audience. There's an unpredictable edge to his act. He'll set up a dreamy, idealized scene about high school football heroes and then slap you with a punchline about those former jocks now enjoying their Carlsberg Light years.
In The Underbelly Diaries he finds vivid imagery in the most unlikely places. Poetic? Absolutely.
He describes a black colleague stripper's red-tipped member as a "neapolitan cock." He delivers a smart and funny public service announcement about the joys of using steroids. He recounts an awkward interaction with a female client who wanted to pay him in instalments, then delivers this zinger: "Is this a layaway fuck? This is a penis, not a couch."
Whether Yuk Yuk's Downtown is the best venue for this kind of alternative show remains unclear. On the night I went, about 10 people walked and two gay men lodged a complaint and asked for their money back.
But Berg explains that while he's had offers to headline at other clubs, Yuk Yuk's' Mark Breslin has supported the show from the start and given him lots of freedom.
Berg also admits the show needs work. He's a little vague about why he, a nice Jewish kid who coulda gone to law school, ended up peddling his assets.
"I think it was this sick feeling of entitlement: I worked out so hard, why should I have to do anything in life?" he tells me. "It's almost this weird ghetto feeling, that all you have in life is your body, why not make a living from it? Or maybe steroids dement the mind."
And is there any difference between stripping, stand-up and presenting a solo show?
"They all happen at night in front of a room full of strangers," says Berg. "Instead of wagging my cock I'm wagging a bit of my soul and mind."