Keith Cole Might Not Really Be Sorry (So Get Over It) – Mariko Tamaki

Pepper Highway: photo by David Leyes

Keith Cole. Photo by David Hawe

Keith Cole. Photo by David Hawe



 

Keith Cole Might Not Really Be Sorry (So Get Over It)

The following article contains conversational clips from an interview with Keith Cole, bits from a public “apology” written by Keith, and a series of my own thoughts on the nature of Keith.[1]

 

The Entrance Applause Song
From the Needle Exchange Project
Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 2008


I don’t care what the people think of me
To be or not to be? I think I’ll be.
When the morning pulls me from my bed
And says, “Sweet Keith — try on this head.”
I don’t care what the people think of me
I don’t care what the people think of me
Especially those in rows 1, 2 & 3
My bladder’s full
And what is worse
You’re gonna feel it — if it bursts
I don’t care what the people think of me
 

 

Part One: The Basic Stuff

What can, and should, be said about Keith Cole?

Mariko Tamaki: What would I describe you as? Do you describe yourself as a filmmaker? Do you describe yourself as an actor?

Keith Cole: No. This is where the word performance artist came into play. Because years ago, I said I would never consider myself an actor. And then all of the sudden it became Keith Cole, Performance Artist, but I never actually said that. […] I do think when I say “actor” I have too much respect for actors to consider myself one.

MT: Well and that’s not the majority of what you do. You don’t really play parts that other people write for you very often.

KC: Yeah. Like it’s very, very rare. It’s not like I’m… I’m not a Stratford [or] Shaw kind of guy. ((Laughs)) Although I’d love to be.

MT: Well, you know, what if this whole mayor thing doesn’t work out…?

KC: Yeah and the Governor General is still not up. So I could go for that.

Whether he is on stage, MC-ing a local cabaret, or even, arguably, sitting down for a breakfast interview, Keith Cole is, without a doubt, a performer. The first time I saw Keith, he was a contestant at the Images Festival’s Art Fag 2000 competition. Wearing a jock strap, he kept turning his ass to the audience and then bending over (which I thought was strange, only because he did it a number of times).

It’s hard to say, sometimes, if what gives Keith such impact as a performer is his talent or that fact that he is simply an overwhelming force of nature. I would say that Keith is possibly the most stunning when he is in drag, if only because he is such a practiced artisan of the kind of drag that is less artful mimicry and more full frontal assault — drag that wants to beat you with her heels, then make fun of you.

Keith’s talents are many. He is a flasher, a lip-syncher, a tap dancer and a very creative liar. My favourite Keith Cole moment was when he excused a certain Toronto singer for her absence at an event, explaining that her cat had “punched her in the vagina.” I have more than once been introduced by Keith as the star of Toronto’s Miss Saigon.

Needless to say, Keith is as well known for his performances as he is for just generally pissing people off (mostly on stage). Keith once took the stage in drag in a t-shirt that read “Drinking Ain’t Native” and then did a tap dance to a Styx song. He makes the kind of jokes most people won’t make, because either they feel it’s wrong to joke about race/sexuality/culture or because they’re afraid of what people will think if they make these sorts of jokes.

Oh, and now he’s running for mayor of Toronto.

Which is partly why I’m interviewing him for No More Potlucks.

Notably, at our interview, Keith actually does look the part of a lefty, albeit kooky, mayoral candidate. He’s even wearing a windbreaker from the recent Vancouver Olympics. The jacket was a gift, and Keith is super thrilled with its ability to repel water, allowing him to shake off unwanted droplets like… “water off a duck’s back,” is my assessment.

Kind of fitting given what we are about to talk about. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

 

Part Two: Keith’s Surprising Answer to my Question About a “Pivotal” or Noteworthy Achievement in his Career as a Performer.

As Keith and I enjoy our relatively symbolic brunches, we are blocks away from Buddies in Bad Times theatre, the site of the majority of his theatrical achievements, most recently The Keith Cole Experience (a variety show which currently takes place on Friday nights at Buddies). In addition to being a regular on the Buddies’ stage, Keith is also a member of Toronto’s awesome Hardworkin’ Homosexual, who produce the infamous Cheap Queers cabarets. He’s also, as he points out, a pretty accomplished filmmaker.

KC: I’ve got like 17 films that were made that I’m quite proud of.

MT: That’s good.

KC: And I just think… you know what I always forget? That I was the Polkaroo[2] on TVO. And I forget… you know this woman…

MT: Wait a minute. You were ALWAYS Polkaroo on TVO?!

KC: No just for one season. They had this thing called….TVO…

MT: What was that TV show called?

KC: The Polka Dot Door. And it was the year that TVO’s slogan was “TVO opens your eyes.” And I don’t know what year it was…

MT: I cannot even believe that you were the Polkaroo. That is severely fucking with my head that you were the Polkaroo. Wasn’t it supposed to be one of the other actors on the show?

KC: Sometimes… That outfit was disgusting by the way. But they treated it like gold. There were rules like — it’s like you could never take the hood off.

MT: Right. Because it can’t be your head and the body [of Polkaroo]…

KC: Because a child would die.

MT: Wouldn’t it be hilarious if I was interviewing you today because you had to apologize for taking off the head of the Polkaroo?

KC: And some child died!

MT: Yeah exactly. And I’d be like, “So, how was prison?”

 

Part Three: Oh and Did I Mention he’s Running for Mayor of Toronto?

This past year, at a dinner party of friends, Keith Cole decided to run for Mayor. Prior to this, Keith had never really considered running for office, or anything to do with active participation in municipal politics.

KC: I’ve always voted though. Ever since I was 18.

MT: Okay. ((Laughs)) Everybody has to vote, Keith, that’s not a big deal.

KC: ((Laughs))

MT: So why run for Mayor, I ask.

KC: I was at a little dinner party this was back in… I guess November, and these people invited me over to their house and we were talking politics or whatever and then it became very clear that they were like, “Yeah you should run for mayor!” And that’s why they invited me to their house for dinner.

MT: So some high society falutin’ people are like…

KC: ((laughs)) Oh these weren’t high-society falutin’ people.

MT: Oh really I picture you like… in a tuxedo like, “Oh Martha [Stewart]?”

KC: Drinking brandy in a wingback chair?

Apparently Keith’s is not a campaign hatched in a corporate office, or anything so grand as to have a wingback chair. And, since its conception, the majority of the people working on Keith’s campaign have all got jobs. So he’s mostly going it alone. But it’s GOING, baby. At this point in our interview, Keith artfully slips a flyer on the table.

MT: Why [use] this picture [for your campaign flyer]?

KC: [It’s] light and about life. See the Maoist suit [I’m wearing in the flyer]? It’s not a tailored suit. Something loose. Like a worker suit. And I’m feeding chickens and there’s this pretty girl and way back here there’s some children playing and a meadow.

MT: A little cooperative farm!

KC: And the CN Tower and a bucket. And this girl’s having fun.

MT: There’s no men in this poster though.

KC: Nope. It’s just me. Well, there’s probably some boys in there.

MT: At the cooperative farm. [Wait] You know what this is? Sweat shop. Right there. Sweat shop.

KC: ((laughs)) What?

MT: ((laughing)) That’s clearly a sweat shop. And these are the little workers.

KC: ((laughs)) NO they’re just having fun! They’re just like wah wah wah wah.

So far, and we are very early in the race, things are going well. Since announcing his campaign at The Keith Cole Experience, Keith has received some press and some support. He is registered. He has the binder of stuff mayoral candidates have to read. The Torontoist and several other periodicals have covered his presence in the campaign. He’s hoping to make it into the top six. Other wishes may prove harder to facilitate.

MT: If you had a dream backer, who would it be?

KC: … the most despised person in the world — it would be a total flip if he did it — would be Brian Mulroney.

Keith makes for an interesting presence in this particular mayoral race. City Counsellor Adam Giambrone launched his campaign for Toronto mayor (with much fanfare) on February 1, 2010. The campaign ended several days later, February 9th, when the Toronto Star published an interview revealing that Giambrone had cheated on his girlfriend. Giambrone, like so many politicians and public figures before him, made a public apology for his actions (which technically had nothing to do with his municipal duties) and then fled to France (on vacation). News of Giambrone’s infidelity was followed by several calls, including one from mayoral candidate George Smitherman, for his resignation (under the premise that Giambrone was not 100% committed to his duties (or girlfriend)).[3]

Two days after Giambrone removed himself from the race, Keith Cole made the official announcement of his candidacy.

Campaign slogan: GET OVER IT.

This is not to say that the two “politicians” are in cahoots. Or even that Keith is referring to Giambrone’s media blitz. More than likely, he’s not.

But it’s an interesting choice of words, a curious injection of artistic observation into the campaign. A meaningful statement with regards to political campaigns and political persons in general. It’s also just very Keith Cole.

MT: It’s kind of like you’re saying from the get-go that you’re not going to apologize for stuff in your campaigns.

KC: Yeah. You just have to… just move on. Get over it. This is who I am. This is what I do. This is what you can expect. And you can expect the unexpected. And we just have to kind of get over it. I’m not going to fall in line and do what you’re expected to do….I think it’s more like yes I have done all these things and you can dig them all up and they’re all there but let’s just move on. Even just going through this stuff [for you for this interview], I forgot about half of it.

 

Part Four: The Questionable Actual Crime in Question

In 2004, while hosting a benefit for Fife House, a non-profit organization that provides housing and support for persons living with HIV/AIDS, Keith was sitting backstage when an unnamed person visited to tell him that the show was, essentially, kind of sucking. The next time he got up on stage, Keith, possibly in a bid to save the night’s performance, urinated on the stage. The crowd, and Fife house, were super pissed.

MT: What made you decide to do a public apology? How do you go about doing a public apology?

KC: Basically the Fife House people were breathing down my neck. […] I remember I just had to go, “Okay I got two choices here, I could either run with this or just dive under my couch and die with this.” It’s like what am I going to do? And so I talked to my dad about it. My dad was just like whatever you decide I support, if you want to die with it or run with it. I would rather you ran with it.

MT: Right. So, your DAD would rather you run with it?

KC: I was like, you know what, I’m going to run with this. And so I wrote it and they were like, “We want you to send it to the community.” And I was like, “You know what, my community includes the world.”

So he sent it to the world. And the world picked it up.

An Open Letter to The Community:

I wish to apologize for my sexist, racist, homophobic, class-ist [sic], anti-Semitic, size-ist, age-ist and any other negative comments that I made on stage at the recent fundraising event SUSHI. I also want to apologize for my distasteful, disrespectful and illegal act of public urination on stage at SUSHI. I want to apologize to the staff and Board members of Fife House and Buddies in Bad Times Theatre and to any and all audience members and performers who were offended by my irresponsible and horrific actions.

It was a story that had great tags: AIDS, art, performance, gay, urine.

In the end, if anything, Keith’s apology garnered him a ton of publicity (it helped that it was a slow news week — although two weeks later there was a Tsunami in Thailand and interest in Keith’s story dropped significantly). Initially, most of those who Keith thought of as close friends in the arts community distanced themselves from him, until the story gathered a bit of momentum, then they came back. They all came back. It wasn’t long before Keith was performing again, MC-ing again. Back to his old tricks.

Apologies don’t always make way for change, or even for changes of heart.

At present, Keith frames his apology as less of a personal offering and more of a piece of satire; to him it is as much a comment on the ever expanding lists of “ists,” things to apologize for, as it is about his actions in and of themselves. The event itself has become more of a thing of infamy than a thing to actually apologize for anyway; the only person personally affronted by the whole thing, a girl who claims her Uggs got peed on, has since proven unreliable as a witness to the event. Keith has said if she can prove the pee is his, he’ll get her new boots. No such evidence has been provided.

 

Part Five: Will You Vote for Keith Cole?

Whether or not he wins, or even comes close to being in the running for the race for mayor, Keith has undoubtedly profited from his pee pee incident — and it’s not a touchy feely kind of profit. More like the Sarah Palin kind of profit.

MT: Are you of the ethos that life is art? Like everything that you do is art.

KC: Oh yeah, very much so. I think that everything I do is just… I think I’m a business. I’m my own entity. I think… there are two of me. There is a difference between Keith Cole public and Keith Cole private. But that’s just… I mean, I know the difference myself but I think other people can’t figure it out sometimes.

MT: Your currency is how public you are.

KC: Yes.

If anything, I think Keith’s story is one you can add to the massive anthology of “There’s No Such Thing as Bad Publicity,” produced by TMZ.com, with chapters by Sarah Palin, Paris Hilton, Martha Stewart, Dog The Bounty Hunter, David Letterman, Jay Leno and so on.

If I were to hazard a guess, I would say that Keith counts among his fans, and will count among his votes, those persons who are tired of the media push-and-pull with stories like Keith’s, tired of being led through a constant cycle of demonizing-redemption, tired of having to weigh in on personal shit that, more often than not, has nothing to do with anything.

Keith has a slightly different appraisal of his fans.

MT: What does it take, to be a fan of yours?

KC: Imagination… and a bit of a tough stomach.

Fortunately for me, and for Keith, I’ve got a stomach of steel

Photo Credits

1. Pepper Highway: photo by David Leyes

2. Blue Tank Top: photo by David Hawe

3. Balloons: photo by David Hawe

References:

[1] I’ve tried to keep all the quotes straight and honest, if only because of this one time where Keith and I were interviewed together by a certain theatre reviewer who gave all my smart quotes to Keith and all Keith’s slutty quotes to me, which was really annoying.

[2] For those of you who don’t know. Polkaroo was a character on the TVO kids show The Polka Dot door. Basically, The Polka Dot Door had a male and female host (of sorts). At one point in the show the male host would leave and the mischievous polka-dotted kangaroo, Polkaroo, would appear. The male host never got to “meet” Polkaroo. Like Santa Claus/Snuffalupagus, as SOON as the male host left, Polkaroo would appear, and vice versa. Polkaroo was one of the first puzzles I figured out as a kid. I remember telling my brother that the male host was Polkaroo. That revelation, at the time, totally fucked with HIS head.

[3] http://www.cbc.ca/canada/toronto/story/2010/02/10/giambrone-smitherman-ttc613.html

Mariko Tamaki is a hard working homosexual (along with her hero Keith) who is currently working on a variety of writing projects both short and long (solo and with awesome co-conspirators). Her past works include two graphic novels (Skim; Emiko Superstar), two works on non-fiction (True Lies; Fake ID) and one very short novel (Cover Me). Information on what she is up to can be found at www.marikotamaki.com

A graduate of York University’s Fine Arts Program Keith Cole is a performer, producer and filmmaker. His main interests lie in the interdisciplinary art forms of theatre/dance/film/performance and the intersections that they create. His films (currently 17 produced works) have appeared in festivals all over the world and in 2004 his film / performance style was presented by Pleasure Dome in “My Own Public Yentl” an evening dedicated to Keith Cole and his live and filmed creations. Keith Cole recently completed hosting and curating the highly successful ‘The Needle Exchange’ at Buddies In Bad Times Theatre and he recently directed the new music video for Canadian art star musical darlings KIDS ON TV. Currently, he curates and hosts his own monthly show “The Keith Cole Experience” at Buddies In Bad Times Theatre. In September 2010 he is choreographing a 10 minute untitled solo for Toronto based dancer / choreographer Darryl Tracy. Keith Cole is also a Mayoral Candidate for the October 2010 municipal elections in The City Of Toronto.