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Ray Routhier

Portland Press Herald staff writer Ray Routhier will try anything. Once. During 20 years at the Press Herald he’s been equally attracted to stories that are unusually quirky and seemingly mundane. He’s taken rides on garbage trucks, sought out the mother of two rock stars, dug clams, raked blueberries, and spent time with the family of bedridden man who finds strength in music. Nothing too dangerous mind you, just adventurous enough to find the stories of real Mainers doing real cool things.

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Posted: May 1, 2017

Air Sex show gets audience members to put on the moves

Written by: Ray Routhier
Photos courtesy of Air Sex Championship

Photos courtesy of Air Sex Championship

Part comedy show, part audience improv, the Air Sex Championships will give Portlanders a chance to thrust and grunt (alone) on stage.

Air guitar, says comedian Chris Trew, is not for everyone. But air sex, now there’s an activity anyone can get into.

“The people who do air guitar wish they were musicians, but air sex is for everybody, because everybody likes sex,” said Trew, 36.

While Trew’s logic seems sound, it’s debatable whether everyone would feel comfortable going on stage and pretending to have sex, thrusting and moaning for all to see. But a lot do, apparently, because Trew has been bringing his Air Sex Championships to venues around the country for nine years. He visits maybe 20 cities a year, and most shows get eight or more contestants. The show comes to Portland House of Music on Tuesday, May 9.

 An Air Sex Championship contestant

An Air Sex Championship contestant performs perform a panel of amused judges

Will Portlanders line up to mime their best bedroom moves on stage? Or will the Puritanical instinct of New Englanders take over and turn would-be contestants into prudes? When Men’s Health Magazine ranked 100 American cities according to which were the most sexually active, Portland was ranked dead last. Frigid Fargo, North Dakota, and family-friendly Orlando, Florida, were ranked higher.

But Trew is not worried. He says people who want to show off in imaginary sex shows are everywhere, and they can often seem shy and retiring.

“Some people are funny, but they don’t want to get up and tell jokes, but they’ll do this. Some people consider themselves shy in bed, but get on stage,” said Trew.

The show is, at its core, a comedy show. Trew got the idea partly from watching air guitar competitions and how silly people look doing that, and he saw a video of a Japanese version of an air sex competition. But he said the idea behind that one was sort of sad, that people who were lonely made the best of things by pretending to have sex.

Trew, who besides performing as a comic manages professional wrestlers on regional wrestling circuits in the South, thought air sex could be something to celebrate. He thought air sex shows should have the flair and energy of pro wrestling, and be funny.

An Air Sex Championship contestant

An Air Sex Championship contestant

He starts each show by demonstrating what air sex might look like, and lays down some rules. There should be no homophobic humor, nothing hateful or misogynistic. There is to be no body shaming, no making people feel like they are “freaks or outcasts.” And the person must perform on stage alone and only pretend to have sex. Props are OK, but the person can’t pretend to have sex with the prop.

“We want our shows to be weird, but we also are celebrating sex. We want these shows to be very sex-positive,” said Trew.

He says air sex is a great equalizer, because the people who are the best-looking or most attractive “by society’s standards” aren’t necessarily the sexiest or funniest or most creative on stage.

People who compete in Portland will be judged by a panel of, um, experts on air sex. And the winner will get a chance to compete for the title of national air sex champ, at an event in December in Austin, Texas. A few years ago there was a documentary film made about air sex shows, “Air Sex: The Movie,” and the filmmakers found people did air sex for all kinds of reasons.

One of the subjects of the film came out to friends and family as a lesbian after performing in air sex shows, Trew said. And she credited air sex with helping her get the confidence to do so.

At most shows, Trew says he can get eight or so people from the audience to come up on stage and perform for two and a half minutes. He says he usually gets the biggest turnouts in “weirder” cities. He has not gotten big turnouts in button-down Boston, and his shows have been protested in some places, including Tampa, Florida.

He’s hoping Portland will be like that other Portland, the one with the slogan “Keep Portland Weird.”

“Usually, the weirder the city, the less I have to worry about getting people on stage,” said Trew.

Air Sex Championships

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 9
WHERE: Portland House of Music, 25 Temple St., Portland
HOW MUCH: $14
INFO: airsexworld.com; portlandhouseofmusic.com

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