If you find anglophiles intolerable, blame Alistair Cooke. From 1971 to 1992, Cooke hosted Masterpiece Theatre, a PBS-produced TV program that introduced nostalgia-hungry Americans to British period drama. An Englishman who spent most of his life in the US, Cooke’s accent and tweed jacket made him irresistible to those eager to denounce Hollywood and worship the BBC. Sitting across from a single candle, Cooke introduces a 1977 adaptation of the British novel Poldark by saying, “Now is the time for the party to settle into a spate of dueling and loving and wenching and poaching.” Eighteenth-century Cornwall sounds a lot like Jersey Shore.
In Masterpiece Weirdo, Jibz Cameron has stepped into Cooke’s loafers to deliver recaps of Weirdo Night, the monthly variety show she’s hosted in LA since 2016 featuring comedians, drag kings, musicians, and oddball entertainers. She says her partner, filmmaker Mariah Garnett, who directs each episode, came up with the Masterpiece parody idea, which the two shoot in their garage. But whereas Cooke plays the professor eager to hold Americans’ hand across the Atlantic Ocean towards refinement, Cameron bites that hand and eats it with a dollop of cashew yogurt.
“This is quite a show,” says Cameron’s persona, Dynasty Handbag, from the stage in Episode 5, putting “show” in air quotes. “We’ll see. There’s a lot of younger people in the show and I don’t have any faith in that, so, I don’t know, you get what you get.” After Uberdanzlaborunion performs choreography to Arcade Fire and Foreigner, Handbag quips to the camera, “White women! What can’t we do?!” In a recent conversation, Cameron said, “I make fun of the acts just enough to be abusive and to show I care enough to abuse them.” She cites hosts like Elvira and Cryptkeeper as influences, and says she learned the art of gibing from performers like Linda Simpson and Murray Hill. “I was in many of Murray’s shows in New York in the early 2000s, and he would act like he was completely disgusted by all the acts that came on, or tease you so badly you almost believed he thought you were terrible.” And she also points that snark at the audience.
Handbag makes fart jokes for the supposedly woke. How different is the sneer of an anglophile from that of a morally superior, oat milk-guzzling urban queer? “And then you called the Lyft and there was a weird smell in it! And a banana peel was driving it. Or it was a man, and you had to talk to a MAN.” Handbag knows the privileged gripes of her crowd, who she describes as “liberal arts majors who now work in Hollywood as PAs.” They’re privileged enough to take a Lyft to a performance art show but not enough to pay a mortgage. In “Vat Do You Vahnt For Bwekfas?” Handbag spoofs Kraftwerk to think about the amount of choices her audience has, using breakfast, or maybe more appropriately, brunch, as an example. “With toast on the side? No. How about sourdough? No. How about wheat? No. How about cracked wheatberry? No. How about bagel?“ The song’s narrator could have anything and chooses nothing.
Cameron’s hosting exposes her guests’ contradictions, and becomes an unlikely salve. She told me, “A good host is a glue to contextualize your experience, however discombobulated or terrible. They’re the parents you, I mean I, never had,” and if I take this sentiment to heart, the idea of writing a polished review in our current moment kinda makes me wanna throw up into my own blouse. I normally write these reviews without acknowledging current events, but in the fourth week of Coronavirus Quarantine, it seems particularly prescient to write ‘live.’ I’m in New York. I had tickets to a Dynasty Handbag performance in mid-March that was cancelled. Cameron and I have been corresponding over email about how and when to release this video, and I’ve included a piece of our conversation below. A few days ago, the Edinburgh Fringe, the world’s largest performance festival, was called off. Handbag’s audience, which includes me, are home or maybe sick, and I’m mourning the loss of our collective time spent in the same room with performers. In this way, it feels like a particularly apt time to turn the spotlight on Masterpiece Weirdo, the best way to access the magic of Weirdo Night, for now.
PATTY GONE: So, like, how are you? I know a lot of your stuff has been cancelled and that sucks.
JIBZ CAMERON: Indeed, it does suck! I am very very grateful to be physically healthy and am safe in my home with my basic needs met and no rotten children! I’m depressed and anxious a lot, worried for my sick friends, homicidal at times towards the incompetence and greed of the US Government. I’m not interested in making any work in response to the pandemic. I don’t feel ready to be vulnerable in the way I need to be to do Dynasty Handbag stuff. My immediate goals are to stay healthy, not read the news, stay off Instagram, stay indoors, curb my compulsion to order vitamins, be nice to my partner, and lean into death and nature’s order. Other than that… I’M FINE.
I had a lot of stuff cancelled, it’s true. The biggest disappointment is that my writing partner Amanda Verwey and I had just turned in our scripts to FXx for our TV show Garbage Castle that was supposed to shoot in April. I have no idea if it is even going to happen now—we have been working on it for 2 years. It’s about Dynasty Handbag living in a one room SRO on top of a pile of trash. She has a roommate who is a gay possum (played by Cole Escola) and a hippy landlord (played by Maria Bamford). Peggy Noland does the set design. Also all my live performances have been cancelled for the next 4-5 months, so I don’t know how I’m gonna make any $ – but $, she comes and she goes anyway. There is very little I can control right now, so I am trying to focus on what I can control, which is pretty limited, and doesn’t include how dumb Americans are and my addiction to chocolate chips.