Arts & Entertainment
4 min

Half theory, half campy

Local variety show plays with stereotypes

HOME GROWN TV: Mark Kenneth Woods says his new House of Venus show is in the tradition of such classic series as SCTV and Kids in the Hall, but as it's specifically targeted to a queer audience.

OUTtv’s hottest new offering is a child of the West Coast. The House of Venus Show is a new half-hour variety program created by the identically named, Vancouver-based performance collective which consists of Mark Kenneth Woods, Michael Venus, Miss Cotton and Dickey Doo. The show premiered nationwide in July and is currently OUTtv’s only West Coast produced show.

Woods says the show is in the tradition of such classic series as SCTV and Kids in the Hall, but as it’s specifically targeted to a queer audience, it puts a distinctly queer twist on social, political and cultural issues.

It also features musical performances and interviews with international talent such as Carole Pope, Lady Bunny and Amanda Lepore.

Woods, the show’s creator and producer, explains that the show was a half-decade in the making.

“Basically, over the last four or five years, I’ve been making mostly short films that have sort of done the festival circuit, and they’ve done very, very well. And it just seemed very natural to sort of put a lot of them together as a package, and that’s basically what became the show.

“It’s like a sketch comedy variety show, but we do incorporate other things like interviews with international guests and we do profiles about Vancouver. We’ve done Celebrities, we’ve done Shine, we’re trying to pump up Vancouver at the same time.

“It’s the only show from the West Coast right now on OUTtv,” continues Woods who is also promotions manager at Celebrities. “So we just really wanted to highlight Vancouver and some of the crazy events and interesting things that would appeal to gay-lesbian-bi-trans people.”

Michael Venus, the show’s co-producer and founder of the House of Venus, thinks the show is very important because the world is full of so much negativity. “We need to laugh and think,” he laments. “The show does both. It’s also important as queer West Coast Canadians because we are the only [West Coast] voice on the network, and let’s face it, most television is stupid.”

The House of Venus began 15 years ago in Windsor, Ontario. The collective moved to Vancouver in 1994 where it became well known for hosting club nights and producing performance art. DJ Dickey Doo eventually joined the group as its musical mind, and in 2001 Woods joined as its resident filmmaker.

“It was actually OUTtv that approached us,” explains Woods, “but we’d had the idea for a long time. I think we just needed a little bit of a kick in the butt.

“We just took a lot of the work that we had already done and packaged it together,” he says.

As funny and accessible as the show is, it is nonetheless informed by a strong sense of social critique grounded in queer theory.

“It’s interesting to describe it, because [the show] really is unlike anything else [on television],” continues Woods. “Kids in the Hall is kind of the closest thing that I can think of, except that they didn’t have any musical performers or anything like that, but [all of us in the collective] are identified as gay, queer, or something in that spectrum, and a lot of the issues that we deal with in the sketches and in the jokes revolve around those identities, or breaking down those identities in a lot of cases.”

Woods describes the show as “half theoretical, half just really campy. It’s in bad taste almost, kind of like John Waters except a little more theoretical. There is definitely a theoretical undertone to everything that we do, whether it’s breaking boundaries of gender or playing around with stereotypes.”

An example of this approach is a spoof they did of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, a show that Woods personally finds irksome. “I can’t watch it,” he says. “Great that there’s gays on TV, and there are queers of all shapes and sizes doing whatever they want and that’s great. But on the flip side to that is that they’re doing what everyone thinks gays do all the time anyway. So are we really moving forward because they’re on TV, or are they just presenting gay as everyone else knows it?

“We did [a skit] called Designer Gays that was just totally making fun of that, just going way overboard with the stereotypes just to prove a point that it’s great that it’s out there, but at the same time what kind of queer identities are being presented on mainstream television?”

The show ridicules expected objects of queer wrath, such as George Bush and other conservatives but, says Woods, “We make fun of ourselves too and of the various gender choices that we make and the various identities that we take on. It’s all in good fun. It’s just to shake things up a bit.”

One of the central tenets of queer theory is the fluidity and instability of gender which is manifested in the show by, among other things, the liberal amount of cross-dressing that the four actors do. So what exactly does “fluidity of gender” mean for Woods?

“It’s almost like an elimination of identification as far as categories go,” he says. “I could go out there and say, ‘I am a gay man.’ But is that going to be forever? Or is that for right now, this minute? What does that mean? I just think [sexuality] is so much more complicated than what we give words to and how we describe categories.

“There’s this whole area in between that’s completely unidentified. And that’s really where everyone sits. You’re not always going to be the same, your interests are not always going to be the same for your whole life. Even the whole idea of gay and straight has changed over time. These are words that have only been in existence for a few hundred years.”

The House of Venus website calls Miss Cotton a “bombshell that has set the standard for inner and outer beauty and is always filled with love and enlightenment.” She is also the collective’s queen. She offers a less academic take on fluidity of gender: “Enough with labels-we are all aliens in shells we call human beings!”

With the possibility of queer networks in the US and France picking it up, the House of Venus Show may have a bright future, but why should people watch this show?

“To be cultured and informed,” says Venus. “We showcase many great up-and-coming legendary children and promote a positive way of being; not to mention if you watch this show you will be really cool.

Really, though, I feel it’s important for people to support independent work and realize you don’t have to be a corporate giant to be seen and heard.”