Chastity Belt: No Joke

Chastity Belt: No Joke

Photo by Sarah Creighton

Photo by Sarah Creighton

I wrote my first long(ish) story in quite a while. It’s a profile of Seattle band Chastity Belt; there have been several of these, but I think it’s the first that doesn’t talk about Buzzfeed shenanigans. Instead it looks at the tension between being funny and being serious for bands, like Chastity Belt, who are on to bigger things.


The cult of Tommy Wiseau

The Room cast

It’s been way too long since I’ve posted on here, but after seeing The Room auteur Tommy Wiseau live, in all his rambling, possibly drug-addled glory* last night at a screening at UW, I couldn’t not write something about it.

A bit of background: The Room is Wiseau’s 2003 film, a melodrama whose only coherent plot point involves a love triangle between Johnny (Wiseau), his “future wife” Lisa, and his best friend Mark (Greg Sestero) that eventually leads to—spoiler alert—Johnny’s demise. Interspersed within this narrative are directionless asides, unidentified minor characters, extraneous B-roll of San Francisco, and no fewer than four cringe-inducing sex scenes set to canned R&B slow jams. (This informative Entertainment Weekly article—not an oxymoron, I swear—provides some good context.) I’ve seen the movie four times now, and I could go on for 2,000 words about everything that makes it terrible; it’s widely considered one of the worst films ever made. But unlike your average B horror movie, it’s bad for very memorable reasons, most of which stem from Wiseau’s leaden directorial hand. He also wrote and produced the film, and his  singular vision of interpersonal relationships, gender roles, and the American dream (“USA is the greatest country in the world,” he effused last night) permeates every aspect.

Screenings of The Room happen once a month at the Central Cinema, but those don’t feature Wiseau in the flesh. His long, stringy hair is still jet black, and he was wearing an outfit that made him look like a combination of Bono, a Hell’s Angels member, and a high-school sophomore going to his first formal dance. Sestero attended as well, but clearly out of obligation. He gave one- or two-word answers to questions while chewing gum, seeming genuinely bemused at the absurdity of him standing on a stage, taking questions from college kids about the dreadful movie he made nine years ago.

Wiseau, on the other hand, enjoyed every second of it. He gave advice, signed DVDs, and showed off his monogrammed boxer shorts when a student asked if she could called him Thomas. Wiseau makes a good chunk of his living through appearances like this one, and he seemed genuinely appreciative of the audience’s surprisingly genuine admiration (more on that in a second).

Tommy Wiseau at UW's Ethnic Cultural Theater, iPhone pic by me.

Tommy Wiseau at UW’s Ethnic Cultural Theater, iPhone pic by me.

Later that night, one of my friends said that the The Room is our generation’s Rocky Horror Picture Show. He’s right to some extent—audience interaction is what makes a screening of The Room special, but Rocky Horror lacks a cult of personality like the one Wiseau provides. For hardcore Room fans, he’s a transcendant leader. For me, the screening acted as a rebuttal to the attitudes expressed in that superficial, straw-man New York Times opinion piece meme last week about the end of irony. In theory, a Room screening should be ironic, but if anyone who attended last night did so out of irony, the joke is squarely on them—between waiting in line, watching the movie and Q&A session, and waiting in line again for Wiseau’s autograph, they would have sacrificed more than four hours in their contemptuous pursuit of a bad joke. Like any kind of cult anything, Room fandom is about the genuine adoration of a really, really bad art. And Wiseau—in all of his pale white, heavily accented glory—is the phenomenon’s unquestioned figurehead, irony be damned.

*Considering that Wiseau said “maybe” when an enterprising student asked Wiseau if he would smoke DMT with him and his friends after the show, I’m not entirely making a cheap joke here.