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Mike Edward: from Showboys to Shorty Street

Mike Edward strips off the stigma of his former career.
Shortland Street actor Mike Edward

There are many stages an actor can perform on in their career, but not many can say they’ve performed on the same one as Shortland Street’s Mike Edward. For eight years, Mike’s career revolved around G-strings, baby oil and an exceptionally cheesy playlist of 1980s pop and power ballads as he made his living as a stripper.

For the affable Shorty star, who plays the sleazy Zac Smith on the long-running soap, his former career is not something he is ashamed of. Although he is known for his role as a player on the hit TV show, there are no similarities between Mike (37) and his character – despite him once partaking in a career that could be considered unwholesome.

“I’m always going to be that actor who was once a stripper,” he says bluntly. “But it gave me some of the best times of my life. It’s probably the most receptive audience you could perform in front of, 300 screaming women. “There is so much skill, athleticism and beauty that goes along with stripping, both male and female. “It’s just when you put that into the context of a club it turns into something else.”

At age 18, after playing a stripper in his first professional theatre job in Ladies’ Night, Mike found life imitating art when he needed a way to pay his way through drama school. “I was an angsty stripper,” he laughs.

Mike was popular with the ladies – for his good listening skills as well as his moves.

“You do get a bit ostracised from society because of what you’re doing, and to do that type of job, your morality can sometimes become a little bit blurred in order to be able to live with yourself. “But I’m comfortable in my own skin, you know, sticks and stones. I back my talent in other areas. I don’t let that period of my life define me.”

As part of an all-male group at Auckland club Showboys, Mike would work from 8pm through to 3am or 4am, performing three solos and four group performances most nights. But sometimes it wasn’t his dancing that wooed the ladies. “I’ve always been a really good listener, so I’d go in to do a private dance and I could sit there for an hour with a woman and just talk. I’m fairly sure they still enjoyed it,” he smiles.

Mike says one of his favourite routines was coming out on stage in a Star Trek uniform. “It’s always good in life to be surprised, so in that context the comedy was unexpected. I tried to fuse comedy with sexy – but maybe my sexy is comedy!”

And of course, no routine would be complete without paying homage to Patrick Swayze and his iconic film. “Everyone back then was so into Dirty Dancing and Swayze, so we’d do the whole (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life thing and lift a girl from the audience up.”

While Mike’s moves were guaranteed to get the girls giggling, there were still times when everything didn’t quite go according to plan. “Good stripping goes wrong all the time,” he grins. “Once, I pulled a girl out of the audience and she was sitting on a chair. I was about 5m away from her, pouring ice all over myself, as you do.

“I slid towards her with my head down and went to flick my hair up. As I did that, she leaned forward. I totally headbutted her in the nose and blood went everywhere. It was horrible!”

Despite the seedy stereotype of the profession, Mike had the support of his family, friends and girlfriend at the time. “She was pretty cool with it,” he says. “It’s hard to sustain a relationship when you’re doing it. But, you know, we have to live with our choices and I did the best I could.”

Mike (front, left) was a regular dancer at Showboys during the 2000s. He would perform up to seven times a night as both a solo dancer and in a group.

Mike hasn’t been able to get away from stripping in his acting career – he’s written a play based on his experiences. Along with co-directing his circus theatre company The Dust Palace – which is putting on his new play Love and Money in Auckland – Mike has also been a commercial property agent.

“It’s the same thing as stripping in a way,” he says. “You still go out, you listen to people, you empathise and you sell. If you can sell a private dance, it becomes easy to sell a product.

“Stripping movies looked to me to be written by people looking in, so you end up with these really strong clichés. “I wanted to show the skill and beauty of what I saw.”

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