MARIKO TAMAKI performing in Cheeky Tongues, with Sonja Mills, Shoshana Sperling, Dawn Whitwell and others, tonight (Thursday, January 11) at the Rivoli (332 Queen West) at 8:30 pm. $6-$8. 934-1255. Rating: NNNNN
amateur sexpert mariko tamakiis fluttering about the sex emporium Good for Her helping out the clients. A guy is trying to buy a dildo as a Christmas present for his girlfriend, and Tamaki is giving him the goods on all the gear.Her demeanour is quiet and cool as she warns against using one of the ridged dildos too vigorously. "It could hurt," she says with a sober nod.
Only her outfit -- a short, and I mean very short, bright turquoise and white polka-dot dress, army boots and a yellow flower of a hair clip -- gives her away. She's a noisy, fearless freak who is rapidly getting a name for herself as one of the smartest new writers and performers in town.
Later, in a studio upstairs from the shop, I ask her how such a boisterous laugh riot can contain herself while selling sex toys. Doesn't she wanna crack a joke every now and then?
"Understand that for some people, usually women, it's a huge step to just walk in the door, so you gotta use a soft touch," she says. "But," she smiles, "funny things do happen here."
Find out what she means when she does a number at Cheeky Tongues, a mixed slate happening tonight (Thursday, January 11) at the Rivoli. She'll spin an anecdote set in the store and deliver what she promises will be a hopelessly hyperbolic vignette.
This is a young woman who has no trouble getting noticed. Based on Tamaki's appearances in Strange Sisters (Buddies' annual lesbian performance extravaganza), Dawn Whitwell, one of the Cheeky Tongues producers, thought of her immediately for the show. It's unusual, says Whitwell, to see a performance so polished from someone so new to the scene.
Ann Dector had her in a writing class and was so impressed she published Tamaki's clever first novel, Cover Me, via her McGilligan Books.
"It was obvious that she had talent," says Dector. "She has a way of plucking a metaphor out of the sky and getting it onto the page."
Broadcaster and queer culture vulture Jane Farrow watched her perform at Strange Sisters two years ago and quickly hooked her up with the First Person Singular segment of CBC Radio's This Morning show, where she performed A Former Underdog Reflects On The Future Of Revenge.
"It was a high school revenge piece," says Tamaki, "a message to the students of Havergal (Tamaki's alma mater) that the freaks were gonna be famous and the popular people were gonna be nowhere."
If the fame part refers to her, she's probably right. She'll use any medium; print's just a starting point. Her short film called Shelf Life, about two dykes having a relationship meltdown while trying to put together shelves purchased at Ikea, can be viewed online (see resume this page). Her revenge rant was perfect for radio. And her live performances almost always hit a nerve.
She and sometime creative partner Lisa Ayuso wrote a sketch piece called Women Working For Very Little Money In Very Tight Suits, whose title speaks for itself.
"We wanted to call it WWF," she says, "but the World Wrestling Federation wouldn't let us. So we now call it the Corporate Wetnurse Association."
"She's the bad girl you can send into a party to shake it up," says Farrow. "When she tells a story, you just wish you could have been there while she was doing all that mischief. She's smart -- that's obvious -- she's determined, she's got great feminist chops and it's all married to humour."
Still 20 and change, her life experience is, well, limited. You can tell by reading Cover Me that she's been to high school, got mad, and that's about it. But she's not afraid to mine her minor moments and turn them into major statements. And she's got a drive to express herself that makes it hard for her to say no.
"I've never turned down an offer," says Tamaki, explaining her quick rise to performance prominence. In conversation, she's disarmingly direct and confident.
"I'm a freak at heart," something that's hard to express at a private school. "I didn't fit in. I did the only thing I could with the uniform. I painted my thumbnails black and then held them inside my fists so the wrong people wouldn't see them.
"And on what they called casual days, when everybody else wore T-shirts and jeans, I'd wear a low-cut vintage dress so everyone could see my tattoos."
Though she has a Japanese name, she hasn't got much of a stake in that identity. She adopted Mariko, her second name, when she was old enough to reject her first. "It was Karen," she says, rolling her eyes.
She has way more invested in her identity as a fat girl. With Ayuso, Abi Sloane and Allyson Mitchell, she formed the political performance troupe Pretty, Porky and Pissed Off as a vehicle to fulminate on the subject of body image and the ways women are obsessed with it. These babes are in-your-face in a big way. Their Baby Elephant piece, in which the four don black leotards and plunk themselves down into birthday cakes to the tune of the Baby Elephant Walk, got audiences really upset.
And that's just the sort of response that fuels Tamaki and the gang.
"They don't make black unitards for big girls. They're all a size too small, so in this instance black didn't have a slimming effect," she says with an ironic edge. "It just outrages me that people see big women and call it a health issue or ask why we glamorize unhealthy women."
They'll air out the piece again as part of Blubber, an all-round fat performance, art, movie, food show they're putting on at the University of Guelph in February.
"We're having to move a ton of stuff with us to do the show, so we're looking for cars." she says. "Anyone have one they could lend us?"