Days after filing a defamation lawsuit against the President of the United States — and with her accusations of an extramarital affair, a hush money payment and a threatening parking lot encounter still swirling around the White House — “the most famous pornstar in the world” came to Pittsburgh on Wednesday for the first of four performances at a Downtown strip club.
In a room choked with artificial fog and onlookers, Stormy Daniels, real name Stephanie Clifford, took the stage at Blush on 9th Street at 10:30 p.m. and remained there for much of the next half hour in various stages of undress.
Not long before her performance, Daniels was ushered into the club by a pair of bodyguards, at least one of whom stood sentry in the crowd during the entirety of her set.
Outside, patrons shuffled quickly past a gaggle of video and photo journalists assembled near the entrance. Inside, they spoke more freely, but still withheld their names.
“I felt like it was my civic duty to see her tonight,” said one man seated on a balcony overlooking the stage. He laughed and squinted into the light refracting off a nearby disco ball.
Another man carrying a grocery bag of more than a dozen “Make America Great Again” hats sidled up next to him to explain “the objective” for the evening.
“I’m going to get Stormy to sign these and cross the word ‘great’ out and have her replace it with ‘horny,'” he said before pausing to google the “price point” on his cellphone. The objective, it turned out, was making a profit.
“Make America Horny Again” is, after all, the name of Daniels’ current tour.
It has taken her to cities like Pittsburgh, and clubs like Blush, nationwide. In Pittsburgh, “Make America Horny Again” cocktail menus were scattered across club tabletops. Options included a “Dark N’ Stormy,” a drink containing rum and an almost inconsequential amount of lime and ginger beer, and a “Love Trumps All Old Fashioned,” a drink containing a similarly potent mix of bourbon, sugars and bitters.
When 10:30 rolled around, the lights dimmed and the announcer grabbed the mic. But at this point Daniels needs no introduction, really, at least not with a majority of Americans. She’s a household name. The most famous porn star in the world and, in a way, the embodiment of the Trump-Era zeitgeist.
She danced to four songs before leaving behind a stage littered with dollar bills and moving upstairs for a meet-and-greet with fans.
Her 30-minute act was about as apolitical as one might expect from a primetime slot at a strip club in the middle of the week, aside from the booming intro in which an announcer referenced both her prolific pornographic portfolio and her recent interview with 60 Minutes in which she divulged more about what she says is a decade-old dalliance with the now-commander-in-chief.
“There goes her top. Somebody scream,” the announcer said mid-show. The audience was happy to oblige.
The Blush club on 9th Street in Downtown Pittsburgh is pictured shortly before Stormy Daniels' performance there on Wednesday, May 2, 2018.COLIN DEPPEN / THE INCLNE
Some of Wednesday’s attendees were regulars of the club. Some semi-regulars. Some had come just for the spectacle of it all and the “you-won’t-guess-where-I-was-last-night” element that comes with attending a nude performance by one of America’s most politically relevant figures.
It’s not everyday that those worlds collide.
Her mainstreaming began, fittingly enough, during the presidential election, with resurfacing reports of an affair with Trump that Daniels now says began roughly a decade earlier, following a chance encounter at a celebrity golf tournament in Nevada. Their affair lasted roughly a year, she claims, and was initiated not long after Trump’s wife Melania gave birth to their son.
From there Daniels’ connection to the Trump presidency has only intensified. She is currently, along with attorney Michael Avenatti, a media fixation and a near-constant vexation for the West Wing. Daniels and Avenatti have taken on the role of goaders-in-chief to the commander-in-chief.
Daniels has sued the president and publicly acknowledged a $130,000 hush money payment from his personal lawyer weeks before the 2016 election that may qualify as an illegal campaign contribution. She’s also detailed a past threat implicitly tied to Trump’s inner circle. She’s also said to be cooperating with federal prosecutors investigating Trump lawyer Michael Cohen.
Trump has denied the claims.
Daniels declined through Blush to be interviewed.
Her critics argue she’s a pariah, an opportunist and maybe even a political pawn.
Across the street from Blush in the hours before Daniels took the stage, a group waiting at a bus stop was split between those who had never heard of her and those who viewed her skeptically.
Joseph Adams of Pittsburgh drew a parallel between the women who accused Bill Cosby of rape years after and Daniels coming forward roughly a decade after her alleged affair with Trump. (Cosby was convicted of indecent assault in a Philadelphia-area courtroom last week. Daniels first gave her account to In Touch Magazine in 2011 for an article that was withheld from publication until earlier this year.)
“If that’s not a gold digger, I don’t know what is,” he said of Daniels.
And to be sure, Daniels is in the midst of an unapologetic national tour with occasional nods to her newfound political significance but mostly driven by a keen sense of timing. Some of these appearances have been sparsely attended. At least one was met with a small group of protesters, according to the Daily Mail.
In answering critics, Daniels said she sees nothing wrong with capitalizing on her newly elevated profile.
“Yes, I’m getting more job offers now, but tell me one person who would turn down a job offer making more than they’ve been making, doing the same thing that they’ve always done?” she told 60 Minutes in March.
In Pittsburgh on Wednesday, the crowd — a mix of both men and women — certainly didn’t seem to mind. They whooped and hollered throughout her set and got even louder when Daniels paused occasionally to use her bosom to scoop dollar bills from the mouths of fans seated at the foot of the stage.
Daniels was slated to perform again at Blush at 12:30 a.m. Thursday and again at 10:30 p.m. Thursday night and for a final time at 12:30 a.m. Friday.
From here she’s on to Staten Island and Philadelphia as her “Make America Horny Again” tour winds on.
In June, she’ll be bringing it to D.C. for an appearance at a strip club not far from the White House.