There’s no shortage of Black webseries creators looking to have their Awkward Black Girl moment, but we’ve yet to see one that matches the wicked wit of Hard Times. The 11-episode season, which debuted last week, follows the misadventures of Derek Walker, a struggling recent grad who finds himself unemployed and desperate for cash---until he decides to start stripping. Hilarity ensues.
Just where did filmmaker Tahir Jetter find inspiration for Derek’s plight? Well, he didn’t have to look too far. We caught up with the 26-year-old Maryland native to hear all about his brief foray into the world of adult entertainment and how his own “Hard” time made for great material
"I didn’t have any job prospects. I went to NYU and I started working retail gigs and then went into personal training, which I did enjoy for a while---and then I got fired. That was the first time I had ever been fired for anything in my life. I had always been quite an overachiever, academically speaking. It was 2010. It was around the time the economy was really bad. I got let go about a month after my 23rd birthday. I had clients that really liked me. And there was one in particular who really liked me. Just before I had gotten fired, somehow, we had got into a conversation about male strippers. I just started talking to my other fellow trainers about it. I worked at Crunch in Fort Greene, Brooklyn and it was known for having a lot of good looking trainers---they used to call it ‘the handsome Black guy gym.’ It turns out a few of them had done it, or posed for calendars, modeled for 'beefcake' photos…there were a few interesting side hustles that seemed to come with our training work.
So when I lost my job, my now-former client brings it back up: 'You know I do these parties with my friends sometimes.' And by 'these parties,' she meant sex toy parties, where a bunch of women who are in their mid-20s and mid-30s get together and there’s some kind of like, exchange of gifts or toys or something---which is something I never heard of---and a male stripper is hired to perform for them.
I was broke, depressed, I figured, ‘Why not?’
I had a few weeks to prepare. I was pretty toned and fit, the largest I had ever been just because I had spent these months working out with these meatheads at the gym. I spent a few hours in the mirror practicing and looking at music videos, trying to replicate some things that I had seen. I had two female roommates at the time. They were actresses so they were pretty open to the idea. I did it for them. They gave me some tips.It was funny, but not as awkward as you might think. Then, I went and did my little routine as a dress rehearsal for my client and her friends, at the place where the party was going to be held. I felt confident, like “Okay, I can actually do this.”
Watch a teaser from Episode 1!
HARD TIMES - Episode 1: Inception Directed by Tahir Jetter
There was, of course, the matter of my costume. I was broke as shit, but I had to go in there and I had to come up with something that was a little kitschy and appropriate for a male stripper. I figured the construction worker thing would be easy. I bought a tool belt, a brush and a hammer. I had on some kind of work boots---because you have to have work boots as a Black male stripper---and a vest. I wanted a hard hat, but I couldn’t afford it. I did buy some Velcro straps and adhered them to my pants so they could rip off easily. I’m no tailor, so that didn’t go well. I got to the venue and I was nervous and I could barely get the pants on with my Velcro handywork. I had a little mask, a little Robin-style masquerade mask. In hindsight, I don’t think they cared so much about what I had on---but I’m sure I looked pretty crazy.
Showtime finally comes. The house is packed. There was like, 30 women in the room between the ages of 25 and 40. But there’s also another cat who was a much older and more experienced stripper who had been in the game for years who was there to before me. He’s in his 40’s but he’s built like a football player and he’s been doing this for years. I figured my youthful enthusiasm and flexibility could outshine him---he was a little stiff. My former client who liked me enough to set all this up for me? Yeah, she helped me ease my nerves and, um…prepare. Google the term 'fluffer.' I didn’t quite expect that, but I was grateful.
Old boy gets the crowd excited, and then I come out. I had a whole little mix on my iPod: Ginuwine’s 'Pony' because I thought that was the obligatory 'I’m a young Black stripper trying to make it in the game' anthem, there was 'Lollipop' by Lil Wayne, I had 'Rude Boy' by Rihanna…I had a 10-15 minute set, I was doing some work. Looking back, I don’t know what the hell I was doing for that long. I know I picked a few of the women up and I do recall hitting a handstand and putting my feet on the wall, then shaking my privates in one lady’s face. She enjoyed it, until I tried to grab her hair. I didn’t realize it was a weave and she was like 'No, baby, nooo.' I’ll never forget that.
It ended up being one of the funnest nights of my life. I don’t think people are aware of the extent of female sexuality and I had never seen anything like what I witnessed in that room. To be in that place was so interesting. They look at me like a piece of meat and they’re slapping me and all this other stuff. I felt objectified, but I still felt like I was in control. And again, there’s so many of them. I can’t adequately describe what it felt like to feel desired by so many people at once---and no, I didn’t go home with anyone.
I came home that night with a toiletry bag of soaking wet dollar bills---a grand total of $171. It was a night I won’t forget, but not enough money to make me give it another shot. I think the real payout was the inspiration for this series. I don't think there's anything wrong with being an exotic dancer, but I'd much rather be making movies.
As an artist, you crave new experiences and interactions. And when this one was over, I told my friends “We got to do something with this story. And that’s how Hard Times came to be."
-As told to Jamilah Lemieux