Adult-film actress Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels, speaks as she departs federal court in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., April 16, 2018. (Reuters/Lucas Jackson)
It's late and the strip-club crowd is braying. Except the sexy firefighter who sashays out to wild applause is no ordinary stripper.
She's Stormy Daniels, whose alleged one-night stand with Donald Trump has turned her into one of the most famous women in America.
Wearing a black sequined booty-skimming dress and helmet, grinning knowingly under the green and red neon lights of the Penthouse Club, she launches into her striptease to the pumping beat of Talking Heads "Burning Down the House."
This is a club on the industrial outskirts of Philadelphia, a far cry from her star turn on "Saturday Night Live" opposite Ben Stiller and Alec Baldwin, but the inveterate performer knows how to work a crowd. And she likes an in-joke.
After all, Stormy -- real name Stephanie Clifford -- and her lawyer threaten to bring down Trump over revelations that the president's personal lawyer bought her silence for $130,000. A different kind of burning down the house.
"She really worked for it," grins Howard, 58. Refusing to give his last name, he eggs Stormy into ever more provocative poses, sliding dollar bill after dollar bill into her thong before sinking his face into her voluptuous chest.
Yet if Trump and his legal team have been drawn into confusing and contradictory statements about the Stormy Daniels payment before the 2016 presidential election, few patrons see her as a real threat to Trump.
"No chance," scoffs Mike Sawchuk, 72, wearing an Eagles jacket and baseball cap, excitedly heading into the night with six Stormy autographs, purchased at $10 a pop, scrawled on baseballs.
He doesn't think for a second that the busty blonde poses a serious threat to Trump, pointing out that sex scandals also dogged the presidencies of John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton.
"I love Trump, I hope he straightens out this country. The other presidents really screwed us bad... Look at Korea, he almost has that straightened out!"
- 'She's just a stripper' -
Neither was he the only detractor among the 50 or so clients who came to watch Stormy on a Monday night in Philadelphia. In ultra-polarized America, there are plenty of detractors about a scandal that has dominated headlines for months.
Howard, who refuses to give his last name, believes Trump has the upper hand. "He is bigger than that... and she is just a stripper."
The president has always denied any sexual relationship. Clifford claims they slept together in July 2006, just months after his third wife Melania and current first lady gave birth to their son Barron.
A few tables away, a young couple who also refuse to give their names on the grounds that they work in "the public sector," came on a whim, keen to see up close the woman who has dared to take on the president.
"He got away with too much already," says the 27-year-old woman, referring to Trump. "I like what she's doing... someone needs to bring him down. I just don't think it's going to be her, or he would be down already."
In the strip club, Stormy Daniels appears reluctant to mix politics with business. Her 20-minute routine made no direct reference to the president or to politics, but patron after patron enthusiastically stuffed banknotes into her thong.
After the show, work continued. She changed into a skimpy red dress to sign CDs and magazines at $10 an autograph. Customers can buy a Stormy T-shirt for $25 or pay $20 to take a selfie.
Without her lawyer Michael Avenatti in sight, she refused any photo or statement to the handful of reporters in attendance.
"I don't like journalists," she says, half smiling, half threatening.
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