Once a month for the past year, Sheila Heti and Misha Glouberman have been running Trampoline Hall out of the back room of the Cameron House, a venerable punk rock bar in downtown Toronto. Sheila finds three lecturers to speak on subjects they’re not experts in. Misha hosts. Last week, Sheila and Misha sat down for an involved conversation with Andrew J. Paterson for the first time ever. Andy is multi-media artist and has been called the “ultimate queer art insider,” which we imagine has been the case since sometime in the 1980s. He also works as a cocktail waiter at the Cameron.
The day was rainy. The conversation went on for an hour before Misha realised the tape was not recording. Sheila, sick, had pushed play instead. They began again.
Glouberman: Let’s recap everything we’ve talked about so far.
Heti: Go ahead.
Glouberman: We know that our crowd in general orders too much water.
Heti: But not as much water as the improv people—
Paterson: Those people just don’t order anything, those people. I mean, the free jazz guys—
Glouberman: They order nothing. They don’t believe in drinking.
Paterson: Most of them are reformed junkies who—
Paterson: Yeah, I was trying to figure out what your criteria was. I remember once when I had the very negative reaction to the one lecturer, that was Sigrid Johnson, who’s quite a good actress.
Heti: Yeah, you didn’t like that one.
Paterson: Yeah, cause I’ve been involved with arts organizations over the years. I have a bit of a life outside the Cameron — some people don’t know that. Where, you know, what do you mean by the community? Like, oh, this show is supposed to be seen by the community, as opposed to who? Artists?
Heti: I got the impression that you disliked the whole series based on the fact that you didn’t like that Sigrid Johnson was talking about the community at a certain point.
Paterson: I don’t really give a tinker’s damn whether I like it or not. I’m the server and my job is to make sure everybody . . . you know, and my job is also to, you know . . .
Glouberman: But you’re the impartial observer. We believe you’re the person who’s going to tell us whether it’s any good or not.
Paterson: Oh good Lord.
Glouberman: What does our audience know?
Paterson: I can evaluate in terms of whether somebody performs well, although I’ll contradict myself—
Heti: What are your criteria then?
Paterson: Well generally whether the concept interests me in the first place, or whether they’ve made me care about something I didn’t think I cared about.
Heti: But you’re going in and out.
Glouberman: That’s why it’s fair.
Heti: Do you think Misha’s a prima donna?
Paterson: Well, I think performers have that tendency in them.
Glouberman: But does it ever come out?
Paterson: Oh a bit. You know, there’s a bit of maintenance involved with your crowd. There was one night I didn’t work your thing in July because I actually had to get up the next day, cause I’m actually trying to make my life a little more respectable.
Paterson: Well, “excuse me,” though. Excuse me is being polite. You have to know my situation. That place is crowded. They’ve had trouble with overcrowding there. You know. They’ve been shut down for being overcrowded there. So I’ve been in situations where — I get caught in the middle because I remember once Kirsten Johnson pulled a bit of a diva-like, you know, fit, when she didn’t get in. It’s the overcrowding.
Heti: Overcrowding during which show?
Paterson: During one of your lectures.
Paterson: Paul thinks it’s me. He said, Put the sign up, you’re overcrowding. Paul comes down on me.
Heti: But Carl puts up the Sold Out sign.
Paterson: People will be standing; it’ll be overcrowded or whatever.
Heti: There aren’t enough chairs in the back at the Cameron House. You threw out all the bad ones; we can’t use the bad ones anymore.
Paterson: You’ve got to watch those aisles though. When people sit in the aisles it’s counterproductive. It’s hard for me to get to the people in the back who might be smoking and probably drink more, cause they go together. You know, I want to pay attention to those people. If those people want something it’s my job to get it to them. And with people sitting on the steps like it’s some stupid rock concert—
Heti: See, I don’t want people sitting on the stairs either, that’s why I wanted the chairs out.
Paterson: Yeah, but if they block the aisles with their stupid chairs, that’s even worse.
Glouberman: Could we have a loft? A second level on top?
Paterson: Yeah, right.
Glouberman: Like a playroom?
Paterson: They’ve already done that and made the place inaccessible. I mean I have very mixed feelings about the redesign in the back of the Cameron.
Heti: Yeah, with the risers.
Paterson: When people are sitting in the aisles I start to get like, Hello? The brown acid is purple! Warning! The brown acid is purple! Like it looks like some kind of Woodstock . . .
Heti: I don’t get that.
Glouberman: He thinks of our shows as being like Woodstock.
Heti: Were you there when we—when we—when we served the chicken?
Paterson: Yeah. I’m trying to remember the context.
Heti: Did you get any? It was Yom Kippur.
Paterson: It was Yom Kippur, too. It was the last . . . I think I had a little bit.
Glouberman: How did you like it? How was it?
Paterson: It was fine.
Heti: Misha rolls his eyes so sadly.
Paterson: Why, are you the cook?
Glouberman: I made the chicken.
Heti: It’s the only time he’s ever cooked.
Glouberman: It’s the only time I’ve ever cooked, really.
Paterson: To be quite honest, I always make a point of eating before I come there. So, you know. I remember it as being okay.
Glouberman: People said it was delicious. A lot of people said it was very delicious.
Paterson: Well good.
Heti: One pot was too oily. That was the one you didn’t take the oil out of.
Glouberman: I can’t believe everybody’s complaining about the chicken.
Paterson: You’re not intending the chicken to have any resonance beyond the fact that it’s a chicken, right? That song by Ciba Matto, like, I know a chicken—
Glouberman: —you’ve got to have a chicken . . .
Paterson: And of course, all the meanings of chicken?
Heti: No. It’s just because Misha’s family boils chicken on Jewish holidays.
Paterson: Like, he’s into chicken?
Glouberman: Yeah yeah yeah, no, it wasn’t that kind of thing at all.
Paterson: Oh, okay.
Heti: There was no pun involved. Just family.
Paterson: It’s also interesting in the context of the—how was the night you had at the Cadillac Lounge? A beauty contest, right?
Heti: A beauty pageant.
Paterson: Tell me about your beauty pageant. What kind of people won?
Glouberman: You know who won? I was so happy.
Paterson: You did.
Glouberman: No, the person who one was the one—
Heti: But there were votes for Misha.
Glouberman: —the one, like, twenty-five year old girl who wore a swimsuit. And she was the only person who was like actually—
Heti: You were very happy about that.
Glouberman: I was very happy about that.
Heti: Misha wanted the most beautiful girl to win.
Glouberman: I was happy we had, like—
Paterson: You don’t want to subvert beauty contests?
Heti: Misha doesn’t.
Glouberman: I think that it’s fun to play with subversion of beauty pageants, but at the end of the day I really was happy that the winner really was—
Heti: But she was also the most . . . eager.
Paterson : I’m so socialist. I basically hate awards and contests unless you take the mickey out of them.
Glouberman: While we were doing the beauty pageant we were so nervous because we thought we were going to offend people so much. First we thought it was because the crowd we run in is sort of feminist and they object to beauty pageants, but we realised, no, it’s just the crowd we run in are so socialist egalitarian that the notion of competition makes everybody so uncomfortable.
Paterson: Oh, but there’s also a lot of populist arguments in favour of prizes and things like that, simply to make different practices known. Like, there are a lot of people who politics are definitely not — well, sometimes I think they are populist-capitalist masquerading as being counter-radical, but there you go. But people who do think, for example, more arts awards could only be good, because the mythical John and Jane public, who of course I don’t believe in, but nevertheless will pay more attention to various art worlds and learn more about it, so an argument could be made.
Heti: Yeah, but nothing could come out of the kind of beauty pageant we staged.
Glouberman: No, I think we were bringing attention to beauty. Beauty doesn’t get mentioned in our society.
Paterson: I remember on Gilligan’s Island there was a beauty contest.
Glouberman: It was like that.
Paterson: Yeah. Because of course, the professor is behind Ginger . . .
[long conversation between Misha and Andy about Gilligan’s Island]
Paterson: . . . a bit of a flashback to that kind of thing where we have a radical deconstruction of Gilligan’s Island.
Heti: I don’t let anybody talk about pop culture.
Glouberman: Yeah, we do pretty well for that. We don’t talk about pop culture . . .
Heti: No one’s ever talked about movies or television.
Paterson: Yeah, Lynn Crosbie was there one night, but in the audience.
Heti: She wanted to talk about her dog, but I also don’t let people talk about dogs.
Glouberman: You don’t let people talk about their dogs?
Heti: No. Cause I hate dogs.
Glouberman: That’s nice. What else don’t you let people talk about?
Heti: Um, the history of the dildo. I don’t let people talk about that.
Glouberman: What else?
Paterson: What about the CN Tower? That’s the world’s biggest dildo, though.
Heti: Yes, yes. You may talk about that.
Heti: I think that’s it. Dogs—
Glouberman: Dogs. The media.
Heti: Dogs. The media. Pop culture. The history of the dildo.
Paterson: How about women who say Canadians can’t be feminists because eh is he spelled backwards?
Heti: Can’t be what?
Paterson: Can’t be serious feminists because eh is he spelled backwards?
Glouberman: E – H. The Canadian eh.
Heti: Oh. Oh.
Glouberman: Is he spelled backwards.
Heti: I get it. I would let you speak about that.
Paterson: I’d stretch it for one paragraph and after awhile it’s like, Hello? I made my point.
Glouberman: There’s all kinds of things Sheila wouldn’t let people talk about.
Heti: Somebody wanted to talk about the charm of you.
Glouberman: The what?
Heti: About you.
Glouberman: About me?
Heti: Yeah. I’ve been putting that one off.
Paterson: Was that the print spelling of U?
Glouberman: Don’t put it off, cause eventually the charm of me will wear off.
Heti: I know. It was earlier.
Glouberman: It’ll be like a historical thing.
Heti: What are you taking notes about?
Glouberman: I want to write things down. I want to remember the key points.
Paterson: Is there anything you really want out of me that you didn’t get?
Heti: I think a question is, Would you be sad if Trampoline Hall wasn’t any longer at the Cameron House?
Paterson: Yeah, probably. I mean, it could make sense for you to relocate if you really were working on a whole other scale, but, I mean, the reason I missed that one is I was looking for other work the next morning, so, you know, would I come if I weren’t working there might be a question.
Heti: Would you?