Keeping It Real: The Adventures of Greg Walloch directed by Eli Kabillio, with Greg Walloch, Stephen Baldwin, Anne Meara and Amy Stiller. 82 minutes. Screens Sunday (May 19), 4:15 pm, at the Cumberland Cinemas as part of the Inside Out Toronto Lesbian and Gay Film and Video Festival. For complete festival schedule, see Rep Cinemas, page 86. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNNN
Greg Walloch lives for a challenge. Why else would a gay, white, disabled man choose to live in Harlem and make his living as a storyteller/stand-up? His life is the focus of the documentary Keeping It Real: The Adventures Of Greg Walloch (see review, page 73), which screens as part of the 12th annual Inside Out Toronto Lesbian and Gay Film and Video Festival.
The film, directed by Eli Kabillio, looks at Walloch's personal life -- his parents, his home -- and captures his onstage performances, which seamlessly meld laugh-out-loud comedy routines and bittersweet tales of acceptance.
"Someone once called me the gay Garrison Keillor, and I thought maybe someone should check with Garrison Keillor on that. He may be the gay Garrison Keillor, and I don't want to steal his thunder," says Walloch with a laugh.
Walloch is sitting across from me in a huge, almost empty photographer's studio. He's come to town to appear at the We're Funny That Way comedy festival with his best friend, comedian Rob Nash. Because of cerebral palsy, he uses arm braces to walk. He's cute and charming, and his Hilary Swankish mouth explodes into action whenever he starts a story.
He knows he has a boyish niceness, so Walloch makes sure to undermine that effect in his act. In one of his routines he pretends to be a spokesman for a group called Fuck the Disabled, which asks women to fuck disabled men so they won't turn gay.
At his We're Funny That Way act at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre earlier this month, the gay male audience howled its approval. Walloch played to them, telling them, yeah, it's a bitch that straight society sees gayness as a more crippling disability than anything physical. He also unabashedly sent up the idea that society thinks of disabled men as sexual charity cases.
But he's no extremist. Walloch is all about gently bringing us into his universe without becoming the mouthpiece for disabled gay performers. There's a scene in the documentary when you see him bristling, obviously fed up with having to talk yet again about the same two topics.
"I'd spent three months on the film, and I thought, "I couldn't be any more gay or disabled if I tried!'" says Walloch. "I was worried that the film was going to focus on just those things, and Eli, who's a nice guy but a straight, ex-football-playing, ex-attorney nice guy, kept asking me the same questions every which way he could, and I was tired of it."
It's a small moment but a telling one, and it reveals the nature of documentaries: you can be the star of the show, but it ain't necessarily your show.
"Ironically, you have to let the idea of the truth go when you make a documentary, because there isn't one single truth revealed. Eli took hundreds of hours of footage and edited it together. And then I saw it and didn't think it quite represented everything I am. Eli said, "Yeah, but it's so compelling,' and I had to be OK with letting the film represent a single story, not my complete story."
Many of Walloch's tales have grown out of the fact that he lives in Harlem; he moved there from Chelsea (New York's white homo enclave) because the rent was way cheaper. Amazing things started to happen after he settled in.
"I would never pretend to say that I know anything about the black male experience in America," says Walloch. "But when I moved to Harlem three years ago I found that I felt more at home and more of a kinship and acceptance there than I did in Chelsea. It was so striking and unexpected.
"There's an unspoken understanding between me and my neighbours because so many Afro-American guys know what it feels to be judged based on how they look. People may look at them and think "criminal' or "drug dealer,' and maybe people look at me and think "sick,' or "pitiful.'
"It's hard to get across to people the weight of perception. It's an unbelievably heavy thing, and I'm the last person to walk around and go, "Oh, look at me, I'm s-o-o-o sad with who I am,' but wow, perception is so powerful. Harlem broke my own expectations of what I'd feel and who'd I connect with."
It's also seriously influenced his artistic direction.
"I really want to write more about this in the future. It's sketchy, exciting territory, and it's intense being a young white guy talking about this stuff. But I don't think it's out of line, or without understanding and love."email@example.com