- by Aaron Berg
Bay Area Reporter March 18, 2004 (Adam Sandel)
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- Baring It All Onstage
- Aaron Berg's 'Underbelly Diaries' at EXIT
- He was a boddybuilding steroid freak. He was a stipper and stud-for-hire
for women and men. What's a nice jewish boy doing in a life like this?
- Aaron Berg lays bar his life of sexual misadventures in The Underbelly
Diaries, a bracingly candid and frequently hilarious one-man show at
the EXIT Theatre, through April 3.
- On his first trip to San Francisco, the former bad boy shared the story
of his checkered path over lunch in a Mission District restaurant. A native
of Toronto, Berg started out as "a chubby, beer-drinking university
kid" who began working out after a bad breakup with a girl.
- "I thought, if I get in shape, she'll want to be with me again
and regret breaking up with me," he says. "I was always thinking
about sex, and working out was a way to get attention and more sex."
- He found that steroids made the bulking-up process much easier, and
at the age of 21, the 5'6" Berg went on to become Mr. Toronto '94.
"Ever since I was six years old, I used to look in the mirror and
fantasize that one day I'd look like a superhero," he reveals in his
- "Unfortunately, Schwarxenegger already got that whole muscley
movie-star thing. Ferrigno got some of the leftovers, but for me there
were remnants of a boom left from the '80s that still had some trickle-down
- Berg started stripping at Toronto's Fantasies club for a primarily
female audience. The attention was addictive, even through Berg admits,
"I couldn't dance, so I'd just strut around the stage naked. Women
go nuts for naked men."
- He'd told his family that he was working as a waiter at the club, but
the night that his mother and aunt showed up with a group of friends proved
otherwise. "I didn't know they were there," say Berg, but at
Sunday dinner his mother told him they'd caught his act. Her reaction?
"She said, 'I can't believe I diapered you.'"
- One of Berg's biggest fans was a suburban girl who offered him $50
to have sex with her. "I was living in my parents' basement, so we
had to go do it in a park," he laughs.
- Private Dancer
- His buffed physique became not only a source of attention, but money.
Sunday nights at the club brought in a male crowd, which led to offers
from men who were looking for "private shows" in their homes
and hotel rooms.
- Many of his fellow strippers claimed to be straight. "The idea
is that you're not gay if you do it for pay," he says. Despite the
money be made being "gay for apy," Berg gradually discovered
that his sexuality was more fluid than that.
- But the attention and the money he was getting during that period didn't
fill his inner void. "While I was stripping, may personal life was
secluded," he says. "I lacked social skills, and social interactions
were very awkward."
- Throwing in his G-string, Berg went back to school and finished his
degree in Philosophy. His attempt to be a personal trainer was ill-fated.
"I got my certificate out of an ad in a bodybuilding magazine, and
I was terrible at it."
- His first and last client was an overweight, middle-aged man whom Berg
drove so hard that the man was rushed to the hospital with a heart attack.
"He called me to the hospital, took off his oxyygen mask, and said,
'The doctor thinks you might have done something wrong.' So I started waiting
tables, which was much less risky."
- A natural storyteller, Berg put together a standup comedy routine which
he performed at Toronto's Yuk Yuks Club. "I wanted to take a more
personal approach to comedy than just telling jokes," he says. After
hearing Berg's confessional routine, the club owner realized that he had
something unique to offer and asked him to put together a 25-minute late-night
- "I wrote a 40-minute show which grew into an hour, and I did it
every Thurday night," says Berg. But the club's straight, middle-class
clintele didn't always appreciate his material. "I started talking
about the first time I ever masturbated for men for money, and there were
lots of walkouts."
- But the humor and honestly of his show paid off, leading to gigs at
Toronto's Bad Dog Theatre and the Alt Dot Comedy Lounge. Berg was convinced
that his experiences had been unique, but after one show, "A man said
to me, 'Everything you've been through, I've been through.'"
- While his bodybuilding, stripping and hustling had all brought his
attention, Berg found that sharing his strory on stage has been most liberating.
"Bodybuilding and stripping were al about running from the insecurity
of who I am," he says. "Standup also starts as a defense: 'Laugh
at this so you don't pay attention to who I really am.'
- "But talking about it has put me in touch with who I am, versus
the facades I've been through trying to change who I am," he says.
"I like to think there are moments in the show that are universal,
about things we keep hidden. We'ree only as sick as our secrets."
- The tatoo on Berg's left becep captures his struggles and liberation
through performance. A muscle-bound Atlas struggles under the weight of
the world, and on top of that world is a microphone. After many years of
hiding inside himself, the truth has set Berg free.
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