There’s the old chestnut that’s supposed to help you relax in front of an audience, “imagine them in their underwear,” and its dark twin — the classic nightmare of being naked in public. For comedians, the Naked Comedy Showcase provides a chance to experience both scenarios in real time during the course of one set. So, given the nerve it takes it step up to mic in first place, why would established and aspiring performers put themselves through the ordeal? According to New York host and producer, Kaytlin Bailey, “It’s a rush.” It’s also, in her experience, comedy in its most raw, honest and focused state. Since standing in front of a room full of colleagues and strangers in the buff is pretty much “everyone’s nightmare,“ she explains, “there’s something about being in the survival mindset and that amount of adrenaline that really brings the performer in to the room and they’re present from moment to moment and that’s great to watch.”

The brainchild of Boston-based comedian, and nudist Andy Ofiesh, Bailey took over hosting and producing duties in the New York in 2014 and has been playing to standing-room-only crowds ever since. As MC, Bailey’s job, in addition to the usual hosting duties is to open the show by introducing the cast, explaining the house rules (which basically amount to no photographs and don’t be a creeper), and letting the clothes fall where they may. If audiences wish to join in, they’re welcome to, but it’s not required. Bailey estimates about “30-percent” or so of audience members remove at least some of their clothing. From that moment on, it’s all about the material — so to speak — which is dictated entirely by the performers’ whims, which means the sets themselves may not even be that blue.

While the name might lure in a few prurient thrill seekers, the format is really designed to make the jokes (not the junk) the main focus. Despite the nudity, Naked Comedy occupies an entirely different space than say burlesque, which feature striptease as part of their enticement to audiences. “It’s not a sexually titillating show,” she says. “There might be a percentage of the audience that’s there for that, but they are disillusioned very quickly. “ Plus, she adds, “If you are looking to see pretty, naked people do sexy things on stage there are lots of places in New York to do that. This is something different.”

Clark Jones/Photograph by Mindy Tucker

Clark Jones/Photograph by Mindy Tucker

The reaction from the comedy world itself has been mixed; ranging from some insiders who dismiss it as stunt aimed at bringing in dudes and a flood of others rushing to try it for themselves as form of performance boot camp. Performers who do sign up for the thrill ride soon find the initial barrier of letting it all hang out is only part of the deal. As ever, what matters is whether or not the laughs are coming in. “I think the element of self-congratulations goes away fairly quickly as well. That’s the thing with performers: it’s the spectacle of that and the experience of having lived through it that I think draws people to the show,” Bailey says. “I think standing up there and facing your nightmare is a way of testing your mettle as a comedian and as a performer and it’s very liberating.”

Bailey also believes the show acts as an equalizer in the comedy world where men and women often face different pressures about their appearances. For women it’s a way of claiming power in a world where they can often be objectified. “Most young women in comedy are sexualized; judged by their bodies by everyone that they work with on some level all the time, so definitely a way of taking the chatter (even if only in your head) and sort of saying “So what!” For men as well, it can address a different set of fears and insecurities. “I think with men, nudity is very vulnerable, especially given the effect that adrenaline can have on their package, and so I know that that’s a super terrifying thing.”

In the end, however, that’s why the show works so well. When the initial shock and embarrassment for the performer and spectators have fallen away what remains is just a great excuse to laugh. Bailey believes that this is why audiences and comics have both embraced the format. “People are up there both physically and emotionally naked on stage and that’s a very cool environment for comedy. It’s different and a little bit scary for the audience. The audience is a little bit on edge, a little bit uncomfortable, which I think is a great recipe.”