Getting off the phone with Joe Pettis, curator and leader of the Underwear Comedy Party, I had to explain to my coworkers that the conversation they had just heard one side of was not, in fact, phone sex.
Here’s an actual question I had to ask, in the least creepy voice possible: “For someone who hasn’t seen your body nearly nude, how would you describe it?”
“I think I’m pretty average,” answered Pettis, an Atlanta comic. “I’m not toned at all, I have no definition, I kind of just have a flat torso. Thankfully I’m covered in tattoos, so that does help.” On OKCupid, he says, he identifies his body type as “Used Up.”
Unlike me, Pettis seems in no way scandalized by this interview. He put together the original Underwear Comedy Party at Atlanta’s Village Theatre as a way of seeing his friends perform stand up in their undies, but the concept caught on and he has since taken his show on the road to more than 30 cities. For the Charleston show, he’s enlisted comics Andy Ryder, Michael Clayton, Jason Groce, Ryan Firster, Justin Thompson, and David Appleton to bare (nearly) all onstage while delivering their stand-up acts.
Pettis says he was inspired to create the show after hearing about an all-nude comedy act in Edinburgh, Scotland. He couldn’t convince an American venue to let comedians get butt-nekkid, so he went with the next best thing.
“I’ve seen it all,” Pettis says. “I’ve seen everything from a guy wearing the skimpiest thong you could think of to people wearing long-johns,” Pettis says. “I’ve had people wear adult diapers onstage. I’ve had people wear multiple layers of underwear. There’s this girl here in Atlanta, she’ll wear 40 layers of panties and then take off a layer after each joke.”
When I ask if doing stand up in his skivvies has helped or hurt his self-esteem, Pettis doesn’t hesitate. “Totally improved, for sure,” he says. “I was already comfortable with my own body, but now I’m way more comfortable.”
He’s even gotten some half-compliments on his bod from audience members after the show.
“I’ve been doing this show for over a year now, and my plan for 2015 was I was going to actually start working out and come back to cities and try to be fit,” Pettis says. “But then everyone I told that to was like, ‘No, you wanna go the opposite route.’ If anything, you put on 20 pounds and it’s more humorous, I guess.”