By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
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Michael Wheeler, one of the Pleasures Dudes, is riding the stripper like a horse. She scampers on her hands and knees while Mike slaps her butt and flails for the television camera. It's just after 9 p.m. on a Tuesday -- a slow night at Dandy Dan's, which makes the spectacle all the more peculiar. Along the mirrored back wall, middle-aged men crane their necks from the shadows. A dancer on stage turns her head to watch, gyrating absently. Mike, face contorted in a comic sneer, prods his mount toward the front door. The stripper, Laela, leaves a trail of dollar bills as she crawls on the thin carpet and nearly hits her head on the base of an ATM machine. The half-dozen young guys hovering near the bar howl with laughter.
"He's gonna ride her out into the parking lot!" someone hoots.
Mike has a catchphrase -- "totally sweet" -- and the 31-year-old shouts it now in the caustically screechy voice he assumes whenever the recording light flashes red. Idling outside the Federal Boulevard strip joint is tonight's transportation, a rust-colored H2 Hummer limousine chartered for an evening of filming. On the drive over, to the sounds of Top 40 R&B, Mike told his friend and fellow Pleasures Dude, Fred Gates, about his ideas for this "Olympic strip-off." Events will include stripper rodeo, stripper suction-dart targeting and, of course, the dance competition. Judging will be conducted by the Pleasures Dudes using numbers Mike wrote on some scrap paper. All footage and pictures will then be funneled into their website or their thirty-minute television show, Late Night With the Pleasures Dudes.
Technically, the show is an infomercial, occupying forlorn time slots between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. on a variety of local stations, including CW2 and UPN 20. But for insomniacs, party people and the sexually depraved, this is prime-time television. And somehow the Pleasures Dudes stand out among the glossy Cuisinart and Ab Roller pitchmen who populate the late-night airwaves. Maybe it's the unrefined production quality that charms audiences. Or the groping attempts at comedy: Mike and Fred play the Pleasures Dudes with a crude, boneheaded enthusiasm that make Bill and Ted look like linguistic scholars. What began seven years ago as a simple advertisement for a local porn video-store chain has morphed into a bizarre mishmash of skits, party footage and interviews with adult entertainment stars and C-list celebrities. But it's also become must-see TV for a certain set, and has elevated the Pleasures Dudes to the top of the town's favorite pitchmen (see sidebar).
Fred is a master of goofy smiles and chitchat. He's also part owner of Pleasures Adult Entertainment Centers, the largest local chain of sex DVD and video stores. The 39-year-old former BMX pro recently moved from his luxury condo in Glendale to a loft above one of the eleven Pleasures outlets.
Pleasures first experimented with TV commercials in 2000. The spots were straightforward and simple, with panning shots of the store and a sexy female voice describing the video selection. "And they didn't work," Fred remembers. Sex may sell, but it doesn't always sell itself in a world of 24-hour Internet smut and Craigslist "casual encounters." No, Pleasures needed something that would hook into people's memories like a brain parasite. At the time, Mike was working as the loudmouthed announcer for an independent pro-wrestling league, and he approached the Pleasures owners with the idea of using over-the-top personas to promote the company.
"The psychology behind it is that if two idiots like us could be all happy in these stores, anyone could feel comfortable," Mike explains. And so, for better or worse, "Rusty Boner" and "Derf Digler" were born. The first commercial they did was with legendary porn actress Nina Hartley, in town in 2000 for an autograph signing. The shoot was quick, and afterward, the Dudes claim, they got a surprise sexual tutorial from Hartley in the back of a Chevy Astro Van.
Fred grins. Mike shrugs.
"We got seasoned."
"It was fun."
Hartley, unfortunately, could not be reached for comment.
Since then, the duo has produced more than seventy commercials, sometimes two a month, featuring boggling, on-the-fly interviews with the likes of Ron Jeremy ("You are a damn good person!"), Jenna Jameson ("You are the raddest of the rad!") and former N' Sync crooner Joey Fatone ("Did you ever do, like, more than six girls in one night?").
This is a favorite subject for Mike: the list of celebrities that the Pleasures Dudes are friends with, or have brushed up against, or have taken pictures next to. And tonight he has plans to interview members of a big-time rock band scheduled to hang out later in the posh downtown La Bohème Gentlemen's Cabaret.
"Okay, so blink-182," he asserts into his BlackBerry. "In the VIP room. Twelve. We'll be there with the cameras." Mike is in high spirits, even after he's informed that blink-182 broke up over a year ago and that his source is likely referring to the band +44, composed of former blink-182 members and performing tonight at the Ogden. He admits he doesn't really know much about either group; he's more into Oingo Boingo. But he's arranged the schedule so that the Dandy Dan's appearance will be over in time for him to move the crew to La Bohème.