On this week’s episode, I spoke with Jamie DeWolf, founder of Tourettes Without Regrets, an underground performance art show in Oakland. The show has a few simple rules, one of which relates to consent, an issue our culture at large is slowly but surely beginning to grapple with.
Dani: I’m such a big fan of the show. What is your personal background? What other performing do you do?
Jamie: I’m a filmmaker, storyteller, I do slam poetry myself, and I’m performing at the Snap Judgment Live at the Paramount Theater. I do a lot of films for Youth Speaks, two different music videos, short films, all the crazy stuff.
Dani: How do you describe Tourette’s to someone new?
Jamie: It’s alternatively been described as the island of misfit toys, the funhouse for fanatics, the fight club of underground art. I mean, I kind of view it as really just the oldest form of variety show that there is, which is vaudeville, in a very contemporary Oakland edge. We have everything from circus to comedy to burlesque, to battle rap, to beatboxers, break dancers, aerial performers, slam poets, dirty haiku bouts, crazy audience contests, and all of that. It’s really like we’re high brow art and low brow smash together in one demolition derby.
Dani: Where did the name come from?
Jamie: The name actually came from me getting kicked out of every open mic because of language in particular. I was a really, really suicidal young man and I was actually coming through this incredibly, just totally abysmal low point in my life, and I was basically writing these incredibly incendiary and vulnerable pieces about trying to survive through this kind of suicidal period. People would kick me out because I had bad words in it.
There was a sense that I had of that these mics weren’t really open, that people don’t want to hear the full range of emotion and especially if it gets into kind of dangerous territory for this kind of really quiet teacup culture.
That was so infuriating to me that all of this exorcism that I was trying to do and all that, which in retrospect was absolutely selfish to sort of purge onto an audience, but I didn’t know what I was doing and I didn’t know where else to go. I didn’t really have any venues or outlets, so show after show … these were tiny little open mics but they would kick me out. There was a sense that I had of that these mics weren’t really open, that people don’t want to hear the full range of emotion and especially if it gets into kind of dangerous territory for this kind of really quiet teacup culture.
That was how I started the show, is basically the anything goes open mic where all kinds of expression were allowed and encouraged, because I just saw that there was this real lack of intersection from poetry to comedy and hip hop and theater and a lot of other worlds that I love, and that poetry just seemed really, really behind, that there is this aspect that this is a much more genteel, sort of safer form of expression, and I resented that with every fiber of my being.
I started Tourettes to basically celebrate all different kinds of expression and everything from emcees to songwriters to comedians. It kind of started with verbal expression as sort of the base, and then that quickly blew up into taking on all different kinds of performance that are relatively stripped down.
Dani: What’s your personal background with religion?
Jamie: It varied from sort of Baptist to Pentecostal to I’m not sure what. My mom would kind of go from church to church looking for a spot. I really, really internalized all of Christianity at a very young age and was very, very impressional and passionate about it. For many years, I wanted to be a minister myself and I was a classic archetypal, devoted Christian kid. I would literally tithe some of my allowance and send it to missionaries who were working with cannibals in the Congo. I was particularly obsessed with that for a while and trying to get letters back from them and making sure they didn’t get eaten. I just absolutely would try to minister to kids on the playground and read the Bible studiously and really talked to Jesus as my invisible friend, really all the way up until the seventh grade.
It was really hardwired into me, and some of that as I just think maybe is the way I was built. My brother, who’s a year and a half younger than me, he went to the same churches and it never had that same kind of an impact. He went to Sunday school, he heard the stories and all that, but I don’t think he was walking around talking to Jesus every day, when he’s out playing in the tire swing. For me, it was very, very … I was very devoted, and to a point where when I started asking harder questions, I was asking from a Christian perspective and I was not understanding the answers that I was being given. It was past logic and really past faith. I mean just some of it just fundamentally didn’t seem fair or fair from a God that I would want to give my life to.
Dani: People get abstinence-only approach from reading the Bible literally, but it was written in a very patriarchal culture.
Jamie: Absolutely. I mean I think that when you really go back and look at the formation of the Bible, if a Christian is allowed to accept for just an hour that perhaps, perhaps, a divine being in the sky did not ghostwrite every single word of this book that has also been translated a myriad of times by many, many powerful white men, but if we per chance entertain the idea that the Bible is really a historical mixed tape in some degree, and you look at the Nicaean Council, you look at the Dead Sea Scrolls … there are different apostles that weren’t accepted, the larger truth that I’ve read over and over and been really obsessed about is that there actually was a very strong aspect of femininity as divinity early on, and it was really just pushed out. It was written out.
You think if there’s a forbidden fruit, that the woman would be the one that would screw that up?
I mean just the way that even Eve is blamed for the apple in the Garden of Even, and I was just like, “Really?” I was like, “You think if there’s a forbidden fruit, that the woman would be the one that would screw that up?” I just think in my guts there’s a fair amount of that that just feels utterly absurd. Like, “No, that’s definitely a man thing.” You’re like, “Eh, you’re all good forever, okay? This is paradise, this is literally paradise. Don’t fuck this up. Just don’t eat that one apple.” I’m pretty sure it was the guy who was like, “I’m going to eat that shit.” I mean that. Come on, what’s the big deal? I mean it, you know?
Dani: What did your parents tell you about sex, or what was kind of like your education growing up?
Jamie: This is like a psychological field day, is I don’t recall ever really getting a good talk. I was really raised by a single mom, and I discovered this storehouse, this massive pile of hard core pornography in the dumpster. I was so confused by what I was seeing that I remember vividly, my sexual consciousness thought that women had … that the vaginas that we’re seeing were actually surgically removed penises and that that was the hole that was left. That was all I understood about it. I didn’t know why anybody would want to subject themselves to that, I didn’t understand what the interactions were, but I remember being really feverishly obsessed with trying to understand this but not feeling I can have any sort of safe place or time to ask my mom, that was an incredibly fearful thing.
I understood that this porn was like, plutonium, and I had to hide it in the woods, and would run out and study it, just didn’t understand the reaction I was having to seeing it and trying to understand. It was only when my mom got remarried that she sat us down in like an IHOP. I remember asking her, even the stupid shit, like “What is a blow job? Did they blow on your penis? What is that for?” She’s like, “No, they don’t exactly blow on it.”
Dani: There’s a rule at Tourette’s about consent. Where did that come from?
Jamie: There was a show, I think it was three or four months ago that we’ve been doing the opening hug for hug a stranger for years, and someone just grabbed this girl’s breast right in the very start of the show. She ended up socking two guys. They were kicked out of the show immediately and then we had to add a new rule to every show after that, which is “Ask first.”
It’s just like, you don’t know these people, what are you doing? It’s a little sad that you feel like you have to even state that but clearly from the culture we live in, and especially what’s happened these days, some people you need to make it as extreme as possible.
The thing is too is that before any man starts defending “Oh, what, I can’t be flirtatious,” … let’s be really clear that this is almost like 99% is from some fucking dirtbag that you don’t even know. You know what I mean? A guy you don’t know, you haven’t talked to, some guy who just thinks he’s some fucking magical Don Juan or something in his own minds, and yeah, these dirtbags just exist.
So yeah, some guys just really need some sort of extreme slap in the face to feel like, this isn’t all right. You can flirt with someone without making them feel profoundly uncomfortable.
Imagine if I walked up and I grazed you with my hand or cupped your ass or something like that, would you want to turn around and punch me in the face?
I feel like a lot of these conversations are super simplified if you ask a homophobic guy and you’re like “Okay, so you’re super homophobic,” and they’re like, “Yeah, super homophobic,” and you’re like, “Great, I hope that works out for you. Imagine if I walked up and I grazed you with my hand or cupped your ass or something like that, would you want to turn around and punch me in the face?” If the answer is yes and they’re doing that kind of action to a woman, then yes, you are a hundred percent in the wrong. I think some of these guys should probably get punched in the face. I think that we’re at a huge turning point in society which I think is gratifying to see, is that it’s okay for men to be scared that they’re not going to get away with some dumb shit. That’s oftentimes to some men, that’s really the only thing that’s going to correct that behavior. That’s why we have law enforcement, that’s why we have jail sentences. I mean now, it’s going to be pretty extreme for a while, but I’m glad that we’ve already had rules in place like that for a while at Tourettes.
Dani: What would you say is the etiquette around either initiating sex or declining it?
Jamie: One, I think everybody should be careful to never put themselves in a position where they don’t feel safe. I mean if you have any doubt, just don’t even go in someone’s bedroom. You don’t even go to their house, if you have to, if you have a glimmer of doubt.
I’ve certainly have left houses where girls were super intoxicated. I was like, “No, this is not what we should do.” It doesn’t make me heroic or anything else, it’s just something you shouldn’t do. I don’t want to have that kind of sex.
I think that this generation in particular, the younger generation who are really watching a lot of these dynamics change for the better is like, how do you be as clear as possible early on? I think that we have so much kind of fear and reluctance to talk about sex in general, that I think that it’s this at some point, if you’re going to have the sex, I think you’ve got to have a conversation about it first.
One reason why I would never advocate virginity before marriage is to me it blows my mind that there’s been centuries of people getting married to people and if you don’t have sex before marriage and you find out on the wedding night that maybe sexually you’re not that compatible. That’s crazy to me. I’m like, if I’m going to make a lifelong union with someone, I think the sexual arena is a pretty fair one to hope that you guys are cut out on the same page, cut in the same realm.
Dani: Yeah. Out of enthusiasm for marriage as lifelong commitment, you know, you actually want the marriage to work.
Jamie: Marriage is not a business, it’s not an investment. It’s supposed to be a lifelong narrative. If you want your partner in all things … if you over and over read what breaks couples apart, it’s so often it’s arenas like money and sex, these arenas that are really uncomfortable with and if you can’t be honest about early on, you’re going to have massive problems down the road.
The more honest and upfront that you can be to your partner, the better your chances are going to be, period, because people know what they’re signing up for. There’s nothing more bewildering when you are starting a relationship and you realize like, holy shit, I thought this was a love movie, and this is actually going to be a action-adventure-horror-comedy. I didn’t know this was the movie I was watching, all right, you know? When does it end?