Exclusive interview: performance artist Jibz Cameron aka Dynasty Handbag & director Mariah Garnett on Weirdo Night

Among the highlights at this year’s Sundance was creator-writer-star Jibz Cameron and director Mariah Garnett’s Weirdo Night. It’s a specially filmed version of the ordinarily monthly LA-based underground cabaret-style event that centres queer, female, and POC comedians, artists, and musicians, curated by Cameron and hosted with flair and a touch of filth by her performing alter-ego Dynasty Handbag. The night was birthed at a Silverlake Spanish restaurant, El Cid, in 2016 before switching venues the following year to Zebulon Café Concert, creating a monthly nightlife staple that’s been particularly welcome in a city devoid of a permanent lesbian bar. The live Weirdo Night show returns on August 14th 2021 at 6:30pm at Moca Geffen, Los Angeles.

Weirdo Night the film’s deliciously eclectic lineup includes the deadly serious looking music act Smiling Beth with a gorgeously mellow song, the double surgical masked (one over her mouth, one over her eyes) actress and comedian Patti Harrison (Shrill) with her band the Dildo Police (Vagabon and Sasami) offering an insane but catchy number with death metal vibes, I am not Gay, and then there’s the pink and yellow neon-outfitted drag artist Bibi FKA Blasia Discoteca with an entrancing lip-sync. There are also acts that take us away from the venue itself, like Morgan Bassichis coming live from his bathroom in NYC, comedian Sarah Squirm in the desert with a riff on the material of misogynist stand-ups, and Hedia Maron’s short film Another Movie About My Mother.

Jibz Cameron and Mariah Garnett had an exclusive conversation with The Queer Review’s editor James Kleinmann about the creation and evolution of the live show, acknowledging but dwelling on the lack of a live audience in the film version that was shot under Covid-related restrictions during 2020, and the queer culture that’s influenced them.

Weirdo Night. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

James Kleinmann, The Queer Review: Jibz, for anyone not familiar with Weirdo Night can you give us a flavour of the show and your character who hosts it, Dynasty Handbag.

Jibz Cameron: “The night started about five years ago in LA, shortly after I moved here from New York. I was looking for places to perform that had a crossover between the avant-garde and comedy scenes, somewhere that felt a little more expansive for what I do. I wasn’t finding that anywhere in LA, so I started the night myself. It was free and at this Spanish restaurant in the middle of the week, and then it just started to grow and grow, so we moved to a bigger venue. Then it became its own world.”

“I’ve been doing this stuff for so long and Dynasty Handbag has been worked into so many different mediums. I know lots of artists and theatre people because I’m also an actor, and I love a lot of different music styles, so I wanted to put it all together. There’s really no rhyme nor reason as to what goes into the lineup except that I have to like it. We have had some total stinkers on the show over the years for sure, but it’ll be a stinker with a kernel of something! It’s experimental and we include people at all different stages of their careers, from those who’re already established and well-known, to folks who are still in undergraduate school making weird performance art and who’ve never been on stage before.”

Weirdo Night. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

It’s vital for performers to have that space to experiment in isn’t it?

Jibz: “Yeah, it is the number one thing. That is where you get good. I’ve had so much experience on stage because I just took every single job that came my way for years, and toured as much as I could. With Weirdo Night, the regular live show, the crowd trusts me. They know that I will carry the whole thing through and even if something’s uncomfortable or whatever, they know that they’ve got a host who will make it all fit together somehow. For performers going on stage for the first time they get to perform for a hugely warm audience. A lot of times comedians will come on and they’ll be like, ‘Oh, this is a crowd of weird freaky people who just want to have a good time!’ They’re not like, ‘Make me laugh!’ It feels really good to be able to give performers a good crowd, a nice stage, beautiful sound, good lighting, all that stuff.”

Weirdo Night. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Mariah, Jibz mentioned the warm audience but of course as this film was shot in 2020 there wasn’t one due to Covid-19 restrictions. You’ve filmed other Weiredo Nights over the years, but what was your approach to getting this particular show on screen?

Mariah Garnett: “It was tough at first because I wanted to try to make it as close to the live experience as possible, but as we approached the shoot date we realized that was not going to happen because there wouldn’t be an audience. An actual Weirdo Night show usually runs about twice the length of the film because there are all these bands and acts coming on and off stage, so Dynasty Handbag will do stuff like harass the people putting up the drum kit and do lots of improv.”

“Initially we tried to replicate that on this film, the first time we had a band on stage we had her heckling the guy who was setting up, but it really dragged and just wasn’t the same without the audience. In the lead up to the shoot we sketched out a couple different options for transitions and decided to just go with the fact that we’re in an empty club, and that we’re making it because of Covid but without dwelling on that. I think a lot of the Instagram and Zoom performances were kind of doing the opposite to that and trying to pretend that you’re having a live experience, but the way that you’re watching it is just a depressing reminder that you’re not there. So we wanted to address that right off the bat and then move on.”

“It became a hybrid, with the shots sketched out and a shooting schedule, like a narrative film but paired with a documentation of the performances. We had the acts do their performances a couple of times, but they played them straight through as live, we were never like, ‘Cut, now let’s do a close-up’. We had four cameras going on all times.”

Weirdo Night. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Jibz’s transition scenes as Dynasty Handbag really hold the whole thing together and help it flow.

Jibz: “Yeah, we realized that it was the transitions that glued it all together. They’re only about a minute, but that’s long in TV language because it’s just one dimension. It’s so different to being in a club space watching something where your eyes wonder to other things.”

Mariah: “We made a web series called Masterpiece Weirdo that we shot in our garage where Jibz was in a very low-rent Masterpiece Theatre-type setting introducing the Weirdo Night show, then we’d cut to the live footage. So we considered doing the same kind of thing with this film, but we decided to stay in the club for those moments because we really wanted viewers to feel like they’d experienced a live show.”

Then you take us out of the club space with some of the video work that you include by the artists.

Jibz: “Ordinarily we would have some video work playing as part of live show anyway, but with this film it allowed us to include more acts that I love who couldn’t be in LA because of Covid. Morgan lives on the East Coast and Hedia is a filmmaker that lives in Toronto. Visually they break things up a bit too without it being like a variety show and all over the place. It was really fun figuring out how to make it work, like putting together a puzzle.”

Weirdo Night has become one of the very few lesbian nightlife spaces in LA hasn’t it?

Mariah: “Yeah, I think the last lesbian bar closed down about 10 years ago. There was one bar in West Hollywood which might technically have been a lesbian bar, but in reality it was basically just a gay bar. There was a lesbian night at a leather bar that shut down years ago too. There are still some lesbian nights, but there definitely aren’t any queer nights. West Hollywood is the hub of the “sponsored-by-Absolute-pride-parade” mainstream gay culture and it’s basically all gay bars, not lesbian bars. So there really aren’t many queer lesbian spaces, and although Weirdo Night is not explicitly a queer lesbian space, that’s where all the lesbians go.”

Jibz: “It’s not explicitly a queer lesbian space, but you’d better fucking watch yourself if come in here with your hetero shit! You’re gonna get razzed! It’s only once a month and then the rest of the time it’s actually a really amazing music venue that’s run by these French music nerd guys that are really cool and hip. They have lots of North African stars and jazz on their lineup. They’re amazing, but they don’t know any gay people! I know them from from Brooklyn from my music days. They loved Weirdo Night because there was always this big crowd and they loved that they could have a bunch of queers in their space.”

Divine in John Waters’ Multiple Maniacs (1970). Courtesy of Criterion Collection.

What’s your favourite LGBTQ+ culture or person who identifies as LGBTQ+, someone or something that’s had an impact on you and resonated with you over the years and why?

Jibz: “John Waters and the extension of John Waters, the whole crew, the whole community; Cookie Mueller, Divine, all of them. Divine was the first person I ever saw who I understood was a different gender than what they were performing as, from the movie Lust In The Dust in the 80s. Oh my God, I’m obsessed with that movie! So that’s probably my biggest queer influence. That, and Prince.”

Encounters I May Or May Not Have Had With Peter Berlin (2012) by Mariah Garnett.

Mariah: “I made a film about Peter Berlin and that was the first queer film that I made and the first one where I developed the style that I now work in. The film was called Encounters I May Or May Not Have Had With Peter Berlin, where I dress up like him and try to embody his persona. Then I ended up going to San Francisco to interview him. I love his work because it’s really strange. It’s erotic, but it’s auto-erotic, and weird. It’s from his very unique perspective. He’s hyper-masculine, but also kind of androgynous at the same time. He wears pantyhose everywhere. He’s an anomaly and he’s also kind of a recluse. He’s someone I consider to be a pure artist who would make art in a vacuum. Send him to a desert island and he’d be making art, posing and looking at his reflection in the water!”

Jibz: (In Peter Berlin’s voice with German accent) “The only thing that turns him on is his own image of his own naked self!”

Mariah: “Peter Berlin was a big influence on me and then David Bowie, who wasn’t queer but a queer-appropriation icon. From the time I was very young I was influenced by him and his aesthetics which are basically queer aesthetics.”

By James Kleinmann

Weirdo Night premiered in the New Frontiers section at Sundance 2021.

WEIRDO NIGHT RETURNS! AUGUST 14TH 2021 at MOCA GEFFEN, LOS ANGELES. 6:30pm. Follow @weirdonight on Instagram.

Weirdo Night (Movie!) Trailer

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