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Subversive stories

Author Shelby Simpson puts stories of sexual mishaps front and center in a stage production of her most recent book.

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Shelby Simpson’s Bad in Bed Live!, directed by Matthew Alvin Brown and featuring choreography by Hui Cha Poos, runs Aug. 16-19 at Tower Theatre. - PROVIDED
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  • Shelby Simpson’s Bad in Bed Live!, directed by Matthew Alvin Brown and featuring choreography by Hui Cha Poos, runs Aug. 16-19 at Tower Theatre.

Shelby Simpson didn’t want to read her own book. The Enid-born author didn’t think the subject matter of We’re All Bad in Bed, a collection of awkward sex stories, would go over well in a traditional bookstore setting.

“People asked me if I was going to do book readings to help with sales and all, like at Barnes & Noble,” Simpson said. “I was like, ‘You want me to go read about crooked dicks at Barnes & Noble? That’s not going to happen. I don’t think it’s that kind of gig.’”

But after seeing nontraditional readings by David Sedaris and Anthony Bourdain that incorporated off-the-cuff humor and multimedia presentations, Simpson reconsidered the format for a live reading.

“I just went home and thought about it and was like, ‘Hell, I can do whatever I want,’” she said. “‘There are no rules.’”

Bad in Bed Live! runs Aug. 16-19 at Tower Theatre, 425 NW 23rd St. The stage show, directed by Matthew Alvin Brown and featuring choreography by Hui Cha Poos, is based on stories from Simpson’s book but also incorporates photos, video clips and choreographed dancing to some of Simpson’s favorite “nasty ’90s hip-hop” with “chicks rapping over the tracks” live.

“I chose these songs because they’re part of my memory of fun and sex and rebellion,” Simpson said. “As a teenager, all we listened to in Enid was, like, Eazy-E and Tupac and Snoop and Digital Underground and Too Short. I don’t know why that was the music going. You’d think it would’ve been country, but no. We’d get down to the nastiest shit, and I loved it, loved it, loved it.”

Though much of this music, which Simpson called “street poetry with shock-jock lyrics,” has often been described as being derogatory to women, the author said she included it because it was the soundtrack to her early sexual experiences and it complements her writing style, which she described as “pretty raw, pretty street.”

“It is meant to be way overdone and make you drop your jaw to the floor,” Simpson said. “This was written by young boys at the time who wanted to break every rule and piss off everybody. … I thought it was hysterical, and I loved it because it represented how I felt, too. I wanted my parents to hate my music, and they did.”

Having women rapping and in some cases altering the lyrics live, Simpson said, is a way “taking it back and flipping it on its head.” Subverting the expectations placed on feminine sexuality was part of her intention of writing Bad in Bed.

“This is a comedy-driven production, but there’s layers,” Simpson said. “Why are we embarrassed of our sex? Why don’t we talk about sex openly? Why can’t women talk as openly about sex as men, ’cause we can’t without being shunned a bit, especially here in Oklahoma.”

Embarrassing mishaps

Simpson’s first book, Good Globe: Time for a Change of Hemisphere, published in 2015, was the first in a planned trilogy of travel memoirs, but Simpson, a 39-year-old living in Norman at the time, took a break from writing about her experiences as an international tourist after an awkward intimate incident.

“It was so embarrassing what happened, this sexual mishap, that I was like, ‘Holy shit. I don’t know what I’m going to do with this information,’” Simpson said. “‘And then I thought, ‘You know what? I’m going to write about it.’”

Inspired to write a collection of anecdotes about sexual misadventures, Simpson soon realized that she and many of her female friends had plenty to share.

“I have all these crazy stories, as anyone does, but especially chicks,” Simpson said. “Your sexual mishaps, they become legends, and everyone laughs about them year after year, and they’re just fantastic stories. Especially between my girlfriends and I worldwide, I have some doozies that I’ve been collecting over the years.”

To avoid embarrassing her friends, Simpson changed the names and locations of some of the stories. Though the intent of the book was always “for fun,” Simpson said writing it made her realize that men and women take different views on their sexual mishaps.

“I would say women share them more,” Simpson said. “I think we sit around and gossip about it more. I could be wrong. I’ve been in some circles with dudes, and I know dudes exchange sexual mishap stories, but, I mean, me and my girlfriends, we go into deep detail. We get great kicks out of it, and it lives a long life. … Maybe we’re trying to be a little more protective of our sex lives. I don’t know. I think it’s a cultural difference, the difference in how men and women are raised to look at their sexuality.”

By sharing these stories publicly with humor and without shame, Simpson said she hopes to remove some of the stigma surrounding female sexuality.

“Beneath [the surface layer of humor] is my right to speak about my sexuality as a female, and for any female to be able to do that no matter where you are, but especially in Oklahoma in this very red state in the Bible Belt, right?’” Simpson said. “That it’s OK, and that it shouldn’t define me as some vulgar, nasty woman because I’m not. I can be when I want to, and if it’s appropriate, what does it matter? If I’m surrounded by other adults who get the humor, what does it matter?”

Simpson said she also wants to fight the impossible standards of perfection promoted by social media. However, Simpson emphasized that the main purpose of Bad in Bed Live! is to have a good time.

“It’s like a car sing-along,” Simpson said. “If you were in the car and you had 100 people in your car, and you were banging it out to Too Short and everyone’s singing, that’s what it’s like. … It’s not meant to be taken super-hyper seriously. This is a night of fun. This is supposed to be a party where people, if they want to stand up and dance, do it. Please do it. Get out from behind your chair and your table and get buck-wild.”

Visit towertheatreokc.com.

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