I don’t know about you, but it’s hard for me to imagine anything that would embarrass Paul Bellini. I mean, we’re talking about the man who appeared on TV’s Kids in the Hall every week clad only in a white bath towel.
But apparently this funny, fearless man (and my personal comedy-writing favourite) has a delicious tale to tell at Awkward: A Night of Queer Comedic Storytelling.
“I don’t think I get embarrassed easily,” Bellini admits. “I had to actually dig through some of my old fab columns to find material.”
With more than 300 columns under his belt, there’s certainly a wealth of reading. For 10 years, Bellini’s musings about the vagaries of life as a gay Torontonian have delighted readers of Xtra’s sister magazine. This is quite a milestone for a comic vagabond whose talent has landed him gigs in TV, film and even on the occasional music stage. But it’s his towel-bound turn on KITH that still makes fans like me clap their hands with glee.
“It can be weird because the myth about you enters the room before you do,” Bellini says. “It’s like ‘Oh, the towel guy!’ and then I come in and I’m just this slob. My presence douses the expectation. They ask me where the towel is, and I still don’t have a good answer.”
Despite looking nothing like a slob and being anything but a disappointment, Bellini’s paper-dry humour does seem perfectly suited to an evening that celebrates the self-deprecating. Handily, the venue is also close to home. “It’s basically right next door,” he says. “I might as well be doing it in my living room.”
Joining Bellini will be an equally unlikely candidate for public embarrassment. Comedian Maggie Cassella may seem anything but shy or discomfited, but she insists that she’s spoiled for choice when it comes to sharing a humiliating tale.
“Oh God, I’ve just had so many of them,” she says, laughing. “But I don’t feel uncomfortable talking about it. Although, I guess if you’re really truthful about it onstage, it might be. But nobody’s completely truthful onstage, unless you’re Meryl Streep.”
One discarded candidate for Cassella’s most-awkward moment will definitely ring true for many of us who have lost our gag reflexes by repeatedly shoving our feet into our mouths.
“It was one of those ‘Oh, are you expecting? Oops, she’s not pregnant’ moments,” Casella groans. “It was a real estate agent who was showing me a house. And that is why you should never wear an Empire-waist dress.”
Erin Rodgers is the event’s organizer and a woman who has finally come to peace with her own awkward side. “I humiliate myself regularly,” she says. “It’s just kind of who I am.
Rodgers came up with the idea while swapping mortifying stories with friends, realizing that there was more than just some healthy schadenfreude at play.
“Sure, the stories are always hilarious, but it’s just so great knowing that I’m not the only one,” Rodgers says. “I think we spend a lot of time as people putting on a cool brave face but feeling like there’s a spotlight effect where you just assume everybody has seen this embarrassing thing you’ve just done.”
Despite the mortifying catharsis, the comedienne likes to think of these moments as a photo album of her life; she feels they give her a chance to look back fondly on her younger self.
“It’s like, why exactly did I think wearing a T-shirt with a giant picture of Jean-Luc Picard on a school trip to Montreal would be the coolest thing?” she says. “Because nothing says cool and together more than homemade jean shorts and a Star Trek T-shirt. God.”
Awkward also features Marco Bernardi, Andrew Johnston, Rob Salerno, Dawn Whitwell, Shawn Hitchins and Gavin Crawford
Thurs, March 15 at 8pm
Buddies in Bad Times Theatre
12 Alexander St