AIR SEX COMMISSIONERChris Trew begins every Air Sex show the same way—with a killer Air Sex routine that he’s choreographed down to the last thrust—and here is how it goes:
Over a magnetic, beat-heavy score, Trew pretend-chooses a pretend woman from a pretend bevy of them onstage. He pretend-kisses her sloppily, then takes a step back, pretend-unbuttons his cardigan, pretend-takes off his belt, and pretend-unzips his fly. His hand, subbing for his penis (public nudity is just as frowned upon in Air Sex as it is in life), becomes a quivering fish out of water, flopping and excited; the crowd responds in kind with a mixture of hooting, applause, and some bizarre humping gestures. Trew spits—not air-spits, but really spits—a long loogie onto his hand to get his pretend erection going. He pretends to put his pretend condom on. He pulls his hand back, teasingly, like a toy that needs to be revved to work, and sticks his hand into the vagina of his pretend partner. Then he dances the joyful dance of insertion.
Next, he grabs a terry-cloth headband from offstage and triumphantly mounts it around his forehead, then sinks down to perform some cunnilingus. The audience cannot even. Trew turns into a bird, flapping his wings—that’s how good he is at this cunnilingus: The human form can no longer contain him. Finally, there is intercourse.
We are at the Mohawk, in Austin, a dimly lit open-air bar with a wraparound upper level made of wood, featuring enough sky to showcase the city’s greatest cultural attribute: that it probably won’t rain. Tonight is the Air Sex World Championships—the culmination of the circuit’s sixth annual tour. Trew and his associates have spent the summer canvassing twenty-two U.S. cities for regional champions of this fine art, a sport in which a group of “nothing-fucking motherfuckers,” as he calls them, mime sex acts for an audience. We are here tonight to witness the best of the best. Amateur hour is over.
Trew—a comedian as well as a pro-wrestling manager as well as an improv teacher who co-owns The New Movement Theater in New Orleans and Austin—finishes his routine to wild applause. Then he announces: “This is not a fucking game.” No, he booms, it’s “the most prestigious sport in America.” He can prove it. “Visualize the Olympics. The World Series. Whatever the golf one is.”
What those don’t have is a runner-up prize like the one offered by Air Sex: a flashlight-shaped sex toy called a Fleshlight™, which allows you to insert your penis into the mold of a vagina, and sometimes a special-edition porn star’s vagina, so you can have all the sex you want with far less of the woman. The Fleshlight™, Trew boasts, is “the only trophy you can fuck. You cannot fuck the Stanley Cup.” This feels true to me.
HOURS BEFORE THE lights dimmed and the fake sex began, the finalists gathered and prepared backstage. Two men, Jimmy Death Nuts from Detroit and Wonton Soup from Denver, were, independently of each other, working out their equally disgusting ways to incorporate simulated poop into their routines. The finalist from Houston, dressed as Aladdin, fez and vest and all of it, told me to call him Lawrence of Alabia. Another finalist, a man from D.C. who called himself God Bless My Pussy, slid on shiny gold hot pants and stuck a pair of star-shaped pasties onto his nipples. A woman in pigtails called herself Juici Jessi. A man called Tootnanny pulled out a baby bottle. He just barely missed going to the championships last year, finishing second in New York. I asked him what his routine had been. He smiled with protruding eyes, chewed gum behind his reddish beard, Hasidic in its multitudes, and said, “Incest.” The routine involved a family member that was indeterminate, even to him. “A cousin,” he told me. “Or a daughter.”
By this December evening, I had already seen so much. I had seen multiple sex acts performed to a Miley Cyrus song. I had watched the bubbling belly of a man with a stomach tattoo—it may or may not have been the symbol of a white-power group, I’m too afraid of the NSA to Google it—hump a stage and then clean up his imaginary postcoital mess. In Phoenix, I saw a man in a bathrobe with a gold chain and a fake French name enact fake intercourse with a lotion bottle, trying desperately to become erect as his lover waited for him in the next room. And in Austin I had witnessed a woman mime the artful removal of a tampon as part of a pre-sex dance routine. I’d seen love made in ways that ignored the basic precepts of biology. I’d seen love made in ways that I hope it is never made to me. I’d seen a lot of anal. I’d learned that too many men believe slapping or doing a two-finger flick at a vagina is a thing that a woman wants. I’d seen men pinwheel women on their penises with no regard for physics or gravity or really even psychology. I’d seen one sex act so inscrutable that it led one of the judges to remark: “You looked like a mime building a snowman, which is an erotic fantasy I have.” I’d seen jackhammering. (The men who flick the vagina also believe we want the jackhammering.) I’d seen a man hump a stage like he was in a Bell Biv DeVoe video, slow and smoky, all push-ups and ab work. I’d seen a man have sex with an alien. And a dinosaur. And a robot. And fruit. Not all the same man.
I watched Air Sex performed in very crowded rooms full of drunken curmudgeons, where it was not so fun; I watched the show performed before literally five people, me being one of them, two of them leaving midway, and it was a hilarious success. In the smaller cities, the sex acts were smaller and more intimate—the squeals from the crowd arising from the mere fact that this was really actually happening. In the bigger cities, where I suppose public sex acts are de rigueur, things got a little more wild. In Los Angeles, a man dressed up as a coach blew a whistle for each thrust, apparently into the anus of an athlete in his charge.
On some nights, especially in the smaller cities, the roster of contestants can be small, and Trew has a trick for dealing with this: He pulls a blank piece of paper out of the “Fuckbucket,” which is where one puts one’s indication that one would like to partake in some Air Sex, and he announces something like “Goose Vagina!” He waits for no one to come up, then prods someone else into taking Goose Vagina’s place. In fact, roughly half of the finalists at the championships in Austin got their Air Sex start under these circumstances, and unless they read this, they will never know that there never actually was a Howard the Dick or a Hoochie in My Poochie. It is sometimes easier to board someone else’s wings to find the atmosphere at which we belong.
To discover the finest competitors in all the land, Air Sex commissioner Chris Trew, right, staged regional contests in nearly two dozen American cities.
AIR SEX BEGAN in Japan, naturally. This was 2006. Tim League, the owner of Austin’s Alamo Drafthouse, saw a news report sung to the tune of how sad it was that these Japanese guys were creating such a pathetic display. Sad? Pathetic? League thought it was hilarious. He called his friend Trew, who was already a regular judge for the air-guitar shows that the Drafthouse was hosting. Trew began hosting shows and eventually got League’s blessing to take it on tour. A few years ago, he brought on his friend and co-owner of The New Movement Theater, Brock LaBorde, a handsome man with a crooked smile and a wry sense of humor. In year six, they landed a sponsorship, and with it money, which meant that winning could be a meaningful thing. Meaning you could get a sex toy and a belt.
Back onstage in Austin, Trew reminded us of the rules. (1) You may not have a partner, meaning you cannot begin to hump anyone. This sport is all about “making love to nothing at all.” (2) All orgasms must be simulated. “When you come onstage,” he said, “you may not come on stage.” I also observed some unspoken rules: that making noises or speaking, while not formally prohibited, does not play well with audiences; that trying to look hot, rather than ridiculous, plays even worse; and that what plays worst of all is simulating a non-consensual sex act. When contestants do it, they are shut down immediately, removed from the stage, and made to feel not so good about their choices.
Trew introduced the judges. Among them were Jonathan Evans, director of Air Sex: The Movie, a documentary about the tour; LaBorde; Rob Gagnon, a very funny stand-up who joined a leg of the tour and does a great bit on circumcision (“Where my skinheads at?”); and Tori Black, a porn star whose very vagina was the model for the Fleshlight™ being given away this evening. Black wore a Lycra dress that seized every opportunity to ride up well above her actual vagina; it happened especially when she stood up at random and plentiful times to bend over and shake her butt at the audience, peering over her shoulder with a moany, orgasmic face. It was not always clear why she was doing this.
In my time following this gang, the least impressive judges were always the porn stars. The best way to judge Air Sex is as an athletic and creative endeavor, which is why the stand-ups and sportswriters tend to do well. The porn stars make everything too porny. They should be the right fit—this is sex, after all—but in their excessive lasciviousness and their sexed-up wordplay, they come across as desperate and tonally wrong, not unlike the performers who get rapey.
Something that should give you some hope for humanity: The poop didn’t go over well. It turns out you can ride some poop to the championships, but it’s too dirty to help you bring home the gold. Jimmy Death Nuts and Wonton Soup learned this the hard way. Wearing nothing but American-flag underwear, Jimmy mimed blowing a guy, tickling his testicles, and probing his butt with his tongue, then pulled out a king-size Baby Ruth—stored in his tube sock—and mimed defecating on his imaginary partner. He got a polite laugh from the audience.
Wonton Soup did not. His first move was to pull out the poop, and it was just too much too soon, even for this crowd. Where do you go from there? One judge said, “That was totally gross.” Another judge, perplexed, asked, “Were you vomiting while you came?”
At the regional-round Austin stop back in August, Mighty Joe Hung, whose routine is a tribute to hyper-consensuality—can I do it now? can I use another finger? stop laughing!—was an instant winner, winning not just a Fleshlight™ but the brand’s Stamina Pack™.* One of the more veteran judges had given him high marks: “Consent is sexy.” Now, at tonight’s championship, he had refined his routine so that it was even wittier: It was still set to “Wrecking Ball,” the Miley Cyrus song, but this time it was coordinated, like a ballet. There he was, asking her not to laugh at him. There he was, feeling grateful. There he was, asking if maybe three fingers are too much? At each break into the chorus, he was screwing it up and getting it wrong to the point where everyone at the Mohawk was awash in frustration. Then, at the last moment, he took charge and control, and when that final chorus played, he was doing it. The room exploded with applause and—is that…? Yes it is!—actual confetti fell from the balcony.
(May I break from my unbiased reporting to say that Lawrence of Alabia was my favorite? To Christina Aguilera’s “Genie in a Bottle” he finds a lamp, rubs it, gets three wishes: a bigger penis, which he then takes his time unrolling from his pants; sex with the genie; and his final wish, the genie ejaculating onto his face, which is not something I deciphered correctly at the time but was later explained to me. What can I say? I love literal song interpretations, and honestly, we forget how great a song that is.)
And finally there was Tootnanny, a man who understood the tension created by holding a pretend baby onstage when the crowd knows this is about sex. This time, though, the baby was just a red herring. First he put it down for a nap, closed the door (phew), and then got busy with married sex that involved: inserting a tampon, removing the tampon, sucking on the tampon like it was a Popsicle, removing his belt, tying the belt around his neck… And then I stopped taking notes, but you can see the rest thanks to the miracles of YouTube. We all hooted and hollered for Tootnanny, so grateful were we that he didn’t have pretend sex with that pretend baby.
And now the Fuck Off: competitive Air Sex’s moment of truth. It’s how the winner is decided. First, the judges choose the three top performances of the evening. Then the trio is summoned back onstage to engage in a simultaneous performance, each of them in their own little imaginary sex world, all to the same song. The champion is determined by audience applause.
Feel Like Fakin’ Love
To script a winning Air Sex routine, you need to master a few moves that we’ve all employed to execute a decent lay—and also some techniques many of us rarely dare. An abridged guide to Tootnanny’s championship performance.
Our finalists were Tootnanny; a freckly, fine-boned woman who called herself Rod; and God Bless My Pussy, who had been tricked into performing by Trew. (“Is there a God Bless My Pussy in the house?”) They were required to perform to the song of the year, at least in my household: “Let It Go,” from Frozen. Rod, playing a meathead in a trucker hat who watched the big game while encouraging a woman to go down on him, sloppy-drank beer and thrusted. God Bless My Pussy pranced around. Tootnanny continued to ride his pretend wife in a way that would not wake up their sleeping baby.
The room was united in humping, drunken enthusiasm. There was no denying it: Tootnanny was the winner, bringing home to the city of Brooklyn its first title since the Dodgers left in the 1950s. The other competitors rose to the stage to cheer him on and maybe would have hoisted him on their shoulders—had he not been wearing only white briefs, perhaps they would have. The only contestant who hung back, offstage, was Mighty Joe Hung, disappointed that he couldn’t score a win at home, not even with the confetti.
Joe was probably just a sore loser, but I’ll say this in his defense: Maybe he knew better than everyone else that this truly was not a fucking game. There is anxiety and insecurity present in every sexual act onstage, and in every sexual act everywhere. We don’t like to think of America as hyper-puritanical, but it is. We have five different ways to rate a movie; we have a game called Taboo; we have a special city where people go to enact, and then escape from, their most libidinous or dumbest versions of themselves. We court sex, we avoid sex, we prohibit sex, we make rules for sex—all for this, this thing we all do all the time, this thing that is literally the stuff of life. Air Sex is as real as it fucking gets, because sex is as real as it fucking gets. So we gather around in a place like the Mohawk to watch the great big cosmic joke: how stupid we look when we’re doing it.
* I never saw inside the pack, but since you’re surely wondering… According to the Fleshlight™ website, it includes: one (1) patented SuperSkin™ Fleshlight™ sleeve; one (1) exclusive Gold Fleshlight™ case; some Fleshlight™ Renewing Powder, which is probably a great thing to apply to your genitals; one (1) 4-ounce container of Fleshwash™, which, I mean, isn’t water flesh wash?; and of course a “FREE e-guide for increasing your stamina,” which is maybe pictures of nuns with acne? Your mother? A mirror?