Behind the Scenes of Stormy Daniels’ Cross-Country Cash Grab
As she profits from her newfound fame, the adult film star reveals a country that can't look away.
Stormy Daniels is late.
She’s set to take the stage at the Mardi Gras Gentleman’s Club in Springfield, Massachusetts, at 9:30 p.m., though eager onlookers who paid $15 per ticket—$5 more than a usual Friday night—will ultimately wait an additional hour before she actually begins. It’s June 22 and the house will reach its max capacity of 827 tonight, turning people away at the door, everyone yearning for a glimpse of the adult performer who’s become the most famous porn star in American history.
The bombshell allegations first hit in January 2018: Stormy, real name Stephanie Clifford, says she slept with Donald Trump in 2006, just months after Melania Trump gave birth to the couple’s son, Barron. Her subsequent lawsuit against the president alleges that Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen then tried to keep her quiet about the affair by paying her $130,000 in hush money in the run-up to the 2016 election. And she also claims that she and her young daughter were threatened by an unidentified man who approached her in a Las Vegas parking lot in 2011 and told her to “leave Trump alone” and “forget the story.”
Good luck with that. Anyone with a television in the United States now knows about her story, and both President Trump’s detractors and supporters have turned up tonight for a look at her. After the event is over, the club’s promoter, Tony Long, will estimate that around 40 percent of tonight’s attendees were “people who [have] never been to a gentleman’s club before, and will probably never go again…it was amazing.”
But before Stormy even comes out, it’s easy to see he’s right. One local patron contrasted this evening’s sold-out show with the club’s typical Friday night crowd: “It’s usually a ghost town.” Aside from the regulars—mostly white men who aren’t at all shy about taking advantage of the extra time to pay for a dance or two—there’s a stiffness and unfamiliar anticipation in many parts of the room, which is decorated with red, white, and blue balloons and banners. People old enough to be grandparents stand next to professionals in button-downs more appropriate for the office than a music-blaring bar full of nearly naked women. It’s impossible to tell exactly where allegiances lie amongst the demographics: “Make America Great Again” hats and pro-Stormy t-shirts are worn by all ages, and everyone has at least one piece of attire in common. A red, white and blue “I Survived the Storm” bracelet, handed out at the entrance, perfect to fiddle with during the wait for those who don’t have a drink or other distractions to occupy themselves with.
All the way from Arizona, Robert D., who chose not to give his last name, is standing away from the stage, ignoring protests from his broken foot and leaning on his cane while he waits. There are a few seats to the side and behind the stage, but they’ve been long-occupied by those who arrived when the doors opened at 7 p.m.
“I was in so much pain I forgot my watch,” he says, noting that he’s in town to visit family. He says he wanted to come to the performance for “the sheer novelty.”
“I’m here to support her,” he says, adding, matter-of-factly: “I’m not even a boob guy.”
That Daniels launched a cross-country striptease tour following her earth-shaking revelation might seem gratuitous and, for some, weakens her claims against the president. Meghan McCain directly questioned Daniels’ motives during a recent appearance on The View, saying: “It seems like a publicity stunt on some level … I understand that you’re being sued by our president, but it does seem like you’re benefitting a lot.”
Stormy rebuffs McCain in the clip, acknowledging that she’s “gotten more bookings than average,” but is doing the same job she’s done “for nearly 20 years.”
Alec Helmy, the founder and president of XBIZ, a leading publisher of business news for the adult industry, confirmed that a tour like this one is pretty common.
“Many porn stars go on ‘feature dance’ tours,” he tells RealClearLife. “It’s a good source of extra income and marketing exposure.” He adds: “Porn stars are accustomed to facing stigma, so what others may think of her profiting from all the controversy is probably the last thing on her mind. To her, it’s just business I’m sure.”
But how much of a profit is she actually making on this nationwide tour? Forbes estimates that her annual earnings, thought to be “in the low six-figure range before the scandal,” will “likely double this year, at the very least.”
But if any in tonight’s crowd at the Mardi Gras Club have qualms about paying to see Stormy, they certainly aren’t showing it. Chants of “STORMY! STORMY! STORMY!” fill the hall as the lights dim and the emcee announces that Stormy is finally making her way to the stage, clad in the same Red Riding Hood-like shawl that she hid beneath on her way into the club. She quickly disrobes, tossing the shawl away to reveal a red and white dress reminiscent of a French maid’s costume, cinched at the waist by black leather. Those pieces fly off until Stormy is standing in a thong—which she keeps on for the remainder of her tease—and a glimmering red bra, which she unclasps but then holds closed until the tension in the crowd is at a breaking point. Her release is climactic and palpable in the room, impossible to miss by even the strip club’s strangers: We are now seemingly connected, however strangely or perversely, to the President of the United States.
She jiggles. She jumps. She lays completely flat on her stomach with her head over the edge of the bar, giving the impression that she’s performing a sex act on the nearest patron. When she rises again, a milky white lotion pours from her mouth. A beat passes and she produces a bottle—previously unseen —squirting the same liquid across dozens of onlookers and herself. We’re all in on the joke now.
Her dancing continues, more sensual than skillful, as she hops from one side of the platform to the other over massive gaps that allow the bartenders to navigate through and serve drinks. She’s effortlessly calm as she leaps, steering clear of poles, bending down to press men’s faces in her breasts as crumpled dollar bills bounce from her body and the stage like bite-size pieces of hail.
When she takes a more proactive approach to picking up tips by using her bare, lotion-covered breasts to take dollar bills from outstretched hands, the emcee observes in amused awe: “Only in America.”
From beginning to end, her whole show is a mere 15 minutes, which is far too short for the crowd’s liking. Once she’s done, Stormy is quickly whisked away from the stage by her bodyguards, and while some patrons immediately head for the exits, a larger group files over to an area where they’ll pay $20 per photo to pose with Stormy in front of a background that reads “Make Mardi Gras Great Again.”
I wait 20 minutes and spend $20 to get past her security cordon. I have 30 seconds to ask her a single question while she autographs my ticket, and I want to know how this is different than previous venues. Is it just here in Springfield, Massachusetts, that voters sacrifice their Friday nights for a glimpse of this woman, powerful in her assertions that she’s done being bullied, crystal clear in her allegations, and constantly making the case that her occupation doesn’t make her less credible? Or is she seeing the same phenomena in towns across the country, where Americans are discreetly buying tickets to strip clubs they would never otherwise visit to spend an evening with Stormy?
She takes my question literally, telling me while she signs that “this stage is f-cked up” and dancing on it felt “f-cking terrifying.”
Then my time is up, and the rest of the line continues to move. But not everyone needs to wait to meet her for the first time. A few of her longtime fans are here as well. Outside, one man among that group, who declines to give his name, says he traveled from Connecticut to see the show. Smoking a cigarette and pulling up selfies he took with a topless Stormy on a previous tour she went on—before she was linked to having sex with the most powerful man on the planet, of course—he says he made the trip to Mardi Gras because “It’s an event. She’s an event.” Acknowledging that he’s a fan of her film work and noting she’s “super nice and friendly,” he ultimately thinks she’s taking advantage of the publicity because “what does she have to lose?”
And yet, this man also says: “I side with the president and the taxpayers.” He says he views the $130,000 she was paid as a mere business transaction. That case is closed, he says, and deserves no more attention. “I think it’s just frivolous,” he says. When I leave him he’s taking the last few drags from his cigarette, his red, white and blue bracelet still wrapped tightly around his wrist.