The latest look at the story of the all-male dance revue known as the Chippendale’s is now unfolding on the streaming service of Hulu. This version focuses on Somen “Steve” Banerjee (Kumail Nanjiani), an Indian immigrant who became the unlikely founder of the world’s greatest male-stripping empire.
Nanjiani (“Eternals”) doesn’t believe that the story of the Chippendale’s has caught the attention of so many filmmakers over the years because it deals with men dancing for women and not women dancing for men. He sees the story as a piece of history.
“I think what makes the story interesting is that it really is the story of a time and place in America and it really becomes about what it means to be successful in America and the kind of things that you have to do to be successful in America, particularly as someone who’s not American,” Nanjiani says. “How does America treat someone who doesn’t look like how a lot of the country thinks Americans should look and what does it take to succeed in that kind of world? So it’s really situated in a very specific time and place in America.”
At the same time he sees the story being very distinct to the 1980s, Nanjiani can see how the story is applicable to what is going on in the world today. He thinks the idea of American success is a very specific thing and non-American people’s interpretation of it is also a very specific viewpoint whether it be 40 years ago or 40 days ago.
The majority of the public saw the group of men dancing their way to stardom. What the series explores is the dark side of the business inspired by the true events that included an FBI investigation, a murder and arson attempts.
Those elements were just part of the story that interested Nanjiani. He was fascinated by the way his character created to his advantage a world where women could express their sexuality in the most uninhibited ways.
“He did create this space where women could really express themselves in a way that they had not been able to in a big group like that. However, that was not why he created that space, right? He was trying to just make money,” Nanjiani says. “He sort of hit on a great idea at just the right time.
“He used, obviously, the feminism angle when he needed to, to become more successful. But, to me, that was always interesting about him is that he did ultimately a really exciting thing that was just for the service of, in some ways, himself.”
Series creator Robert Siegel knew going into the project that sexuality would be a big part of the series. But, he sees it as being only one part of a larger and more complicated story.
“What I just love about the show is it’s a show about male stripping, but it also really goes pretty deep into the nature of the American dream, capitalism, assimilation, second-wave feminism, not to get too brainy, but racism,” Siegel says. “I mean, we haven’t really even talked about that, but racism and what it means to be a non-White person in America. It goes really pretty deep into that.
“Then there’s like a lot of really interesting intersections with all these themes. Like the feminism starts to get affected by the capitalism because Steve sees these opportunities. The club starts as this place where the tables are turned and women are kind of treating the men as sex objects, but then one thing Steve discovers is that if he lets men into the club after hours, he’ll make a ton of money. So that whole thing about women being in charge kind of gets, in a way, thrown out the window when he realizes he can make a buck letting men in, so it’s sort of no longer this safe space.”
Helping tell the story is a cast that also includes Murray Bartlett, Juliette Lewis, Annaleigh Ashford, Quentin Plair, Robin de Jesús, Andrew Rannells and Spencer Boldman.
Lewis plays Denise, a fan who becomes a costume designer for the Chippendales. She was attracted to the project because of her love for stories where what you see on the surface is very different from what is happening behind the curtains.
She compares what was happening to the Chippendales to reality television.
“People’s lives are falling apart behind the scenes or what have you. And the fact that it’s the ’80s and it’s done so well,” Lewis says. “It’s a really wild ride of juxtaposition of realities that’s exciting. I think it’ll be exciting for people to see.”
The first two episodes are now available on Hulu.