Gregor Robertson and tommy Wiseau compete for Vancouver's heart
// Colin Spensley

Many Vancouverites have some degree of respect for their Mayor; however, when one notes that his supporters often refer to Gregor Robertson as “His Worship,” it is quite apparent that the admiration goes much deeper.

Alternately, there is film director Tommy Wiseau, often called “The Legend” by his fans. He is a cult icon: a man shrouded in mystery and black leather garb; a man who looks more corpse than alive; a man whose voice is tinged with multiple, possibly fake, accents. Tommy Wiseau is the director, writer, and leading man of what the London Independent called “one of the worst films of all time.” Released in 2003, Wiseau’s film The Room already stands as a cult classic.

As part of Vancouver’s Olio festival, these two men, Robertson and Wiseau, were presented for an audience in an honest display of love and respect, either warranted or not.

“The Classic Comedy Roast of Mayor Gregor Robertson” took place on Sept. 22 and was the first of the two events. What one might expect from a roast is a seething undertone of insult coated with lighthearted humour. Instead, what occurred was a good natured and loving “roast” of a man who was clearly admired by everyone in attendance. This was partially expected by the audience, as rumours had circulated through people standing in line that the jokes were censored to produce an overall tone of admiration.

Hanging from the rafters over the stage was a massive painted portrait of Mayor Robertson, surrounded by text that read “Man of the Hour.” When Mayor Robertson arrived on stage to boisterous applause, he was nothing but smiles and laughs. The roast featured various figures of the Vancouver comedy scene as well as CUPE15 Union Leader Mike Jackson and City Council Member Andrea Reimer. Most jokes revolved around Mayor Robertson’s looks; for example, “It’s like looking at the sun: you can’t look too long or the image will be burned into your eyes,” said Roast Host Ryan Beil.

The comedy team behind the event is also responsible for the political website and CTV’s “The Party.” They did a fantastic job of lightly prodding some of Mayor Robertson’s standout traits. These of course include his “green” attitude on everything from front-yard farming, back-yard chickens, and bike lanes. And how could you really talk about Gregor Robertson without mentioning his involvement as the co-founder of Happy Planet? As City Councilor Andrea Reimer jokingly put it “Like all young girls, I needed something only Gregor could provide…free juice.”

Despite the playful nature of the roast, it was difficult to tell where the earnestness ended and where the sarcasm started. Mayor Robertson gave an honest plea for everyone in attendance to consider voting for him in the November election at the end of the night.

Fast-forward 24 hours to the Rio Movie Theatre on Commercial and Broadway. The line of anxious die-hard fans stretched halfway down the street in both directions. The event, called “The Master Class,” was the brainchild of Rio Theatre owner and operator Corrine Lea. The idea was to hold a script writing contest, bring in one of the most infamously terrible directors of all time, Tommy Wiseau, and have him direct a one-off “cold” reading with volunteers from the audience. The result was exactly what it sounds like: awkward and hilarious. With a theater full of fans dressed in costumes based on the cult classic The Room, it seemed like half the volunteers just wanted to get close enough to Tommy Wiseau to touch him, rather than act.

Wiseau is a haunting figure, pale and sickly looking with long greasy black hair, often wearing sunglasses and leather pants. Imagine an aged Jim Morrison, cast to host Tales from the Crypt. If you’ve seen The Room, you can imagine what it would be like to receive guidance from a man infamous for not being able to direct his way out of a closet.

The script chosen in the contest was called The First Hit. Volunteers were “punished” for whatever seemed to set Tommy off, be it a slow monologue or no head shots— mind you these were all volunteers hand-picked by Wiseau himself. Often contradicting himself and confusing everyone in attendance, Wiseau would say things like, “Always go overboard…give me something what you can, from your heart,” an obvious hyperbole of acting guidance, only to snap at another actor 20 minutes later with, “Don’t over-project! You’re making me angry with all the over-projecting!”

From the audience’s point of view, it was like being directed by a toddler who hadn’t had his afternoon nap. However, everyone on stage took it in stride, most seeming to be honoured to be spoken to by a man of such infamy. What came out of the cold reading was a hodgepodge of misdirection and confusion that kept the audience in constant hysterics. The volunteer actors shone through with great one-liners and improvised jokes. Wiseau himself seemed unfazed by the reaction and encouraged the audience to laugh, or rather, “I don’t care what you do, just have fun.”

The early screening of The Room itself later on that night at The Rio Theatre was much more chaotic than “The Master Class.” What has been called “the Rocky Horror Picture Show of a modern generation” had fans lined up almost three blocks deep down Broadway in hopes of being a part of what proved to be one giant inside joke. The Rio was packed by 7:30, with many people sitting in the aisles to catch a glimpse of the screening and the Q&A with Tommy Wiseau. When the lights dimmed, the crowd came out in full force.

For fans of “so bad it’s good” cinema, this is the cream of the crop. Mystery Science Theater 3000, eat your heart out: The Room screening had more shouted jokes from the boisterous audience than it had dialogue. Obviously, a large number of people in attendance had read “The Viewers Guide to the Room,” in which an author lays out all the cues for which fans can react to in the movie. This includes the throwing of plastic spoons in any scene in which the artwork depicts a spoon, which is a lot. Despite The Room’s gut-wrenching slow pace and atrocious acting, there couldn’t have been a disappointed fan in the over 500 person audience.

When Tommy Wiseau entered the stage for the Q&A, the crowd went into an almost religious frenzy. Most of the questions asked related to ridiculously in-depth references to scenes in The Room or hopeful requests for sneak peeks at upcoming Wiseau films. Since The Room’s release in 2003, Wiseau has released only one pilot for a TV series, entitled The Neighbours. Most questioners were hurried along with either a “no comment” or “next question” response from Wiseau, although anyone requesting a hug from him was ushered on stage to receive it. Also, for all those die-hard fans out there, The Room on Blu-ray will be out before Christmas!

The “so bad it’s good” genre has obviously taken off with a bang in the last few years with screenings of films like Troll II and the critically-acclaimed B-movie mash up Mystery Science Theater 3000. With The Room sitting at the forefront of the genre, it’s understandable that people react the way that they do to Tommy Wiseau’s presence.

What this weekend really came down to was the question of what is really more important to the people of Vancouver. It seems obvious that political satire must take the back seat to the abrasive and often obnoxiously open humour of The Room, but it does raise the question: how do you praise a man while also laughing openly at his lack of talent?

Regardless of how horribly Wiseau directs, acts and writes, he does deliver what people expect from The Room: a good laugh, just as Gregor Robertson gave you what you may have potentially voted for: a bike-riding, organic-juice-guzzling, handsome man of a Mayor. When cross-examined and contrasted, these two men seem to almost embody the city of Vancouver itself: sarcastic, witty, and not afraid to laugh at itself, but simultaneously conscious and driven. Maybe these two figures are more similar than we think: perhaps one day Gregor will watch The Room and throw biodegradable plastic spoons at the screen, while Tommy Wiseau cycles his away across the Burrard Bridge, drinking a bottle of Lulu Island Blackberry Smoothie.

// Colin Spensley

// Artwork by Arin Ringwald

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