- The art of both Tommy Wiseau and the influencer Caroline Calloway has been ridiculed, but each has achieved cult status as a performance artist.
- They share similar modes of self-presentation, going against mainstream aesthetic norms in favor of a slightly off-kilter look that makes them instantly recognizable.
- Have you tried "nature's PBJ" and said "Oh hi, doggie"? Calloway's and Wiseau's most famous "lines" have seeped into everyday language. How many of us have written "oh HAI" (courtesy of Wiseau) or "BB"(Calloway)?
- Both had friends write long-form work about them: "The Disaster Artist" — about the making of Wiseau's cult classic "The Room" — and "I Was Caroline Calloway" are excellent pieces of writing, and their strength lies in the description of characters like Calloway and Wiseau.
- Some may not like their art, but they are their own best artwork.
In the span of two years, Caroline Calloway has gone through a lot of phases: former American transplant at Cambridge University and writer of flowery Instagram captions; standard New York City cool-girl hanging out with the "right" crowd; "scammer" in the wake of her panned creativity-workshop tour; the subject of a viral tell-all written by her best friend from New York University, Natalie Beach, chronicling their toxic but intense friendship; painter and crafter of dubious talents; and, last of all, acclaimed Twitter personality and writer.
The audiences' reaction has changed too: While she started 2019 being mostly ridiculed, now she achieved a cult-like status on Twitter and "New York Media," and her rebuttal to the infamous essay has raised nearly $50,000 in donations.
While her chaotic disposition is mostly unparalleled among other Instagram personalities, she is very similar to another cult figure in American entertainment, namely the writer, director, producer, and actor Tommy Wiseau, the creator of the cult classic "The Room" (2003) and the subject of the book "The Disaster Artist," written by his costar and collaborator Greg Sestero and the basis for an award-winning movie starring James Franco.
Similar to screenings of "The Room," which regularly sell out worldwide even though it's, objectively, not a good movie, Calloway commands the attention of online audiences, whether they genuinely like her or are there for the snark. Both Calloway and Wiseau have crafted cult followings around their seemingly unpredictable characters that are obsessed with their identities as artists, in the ultimate form of "so bad it's good" performance art.
Each has a distinctive appearance, fueled by unique aesthetics, which is instrumental in the making of an icon.
This is how I’ll likely look if you ever run into me in the West Village: wearing house slippers in public and holding wine. It’s from my favorite wine shop. Favorite because 7 years ago during Hurricane Sandy the power went out in lower Manhattan. I was at NYU because Cambridge kept rejecting me, but I kept wanting to go to school in England even though I was faking in love with New York. With Josh. The owner of my local rare wine shop—Matt—let me buy wine on some sort of honor-based credit-system because there wasn’t electricity. He couldn’t charge my debit card and I couldn’t I withdraw crash. I came back the next week and Matt and I have been friends ever since. In this album are some grainy, GRAINY photos I took during the hurricane. Also the first photo I’ve posted of Josh since 2014. He’s engaged now. Wild. Imagine the skyline of New York with no lights? That was the first 48 hours after Sandy. It was like a snow day in the sense that everything drew quiet and responsibilities lifted and time ground to a halt. But it was like being snowed-in with inconvenience and darkness. During the afternoon, Josh and I walked up to Times Square to charge our phones and ate dinner at the kind of restaurants we wouldn’t be caught dead in if the city wasn’t in a power drought. I’m not asking for sympathy—I’m just telling you a story. Then we would walk back to our apartments in the West Village, blocks away from each other, and light candles. On the second night without power Josh boiled pots of water for a bath. Today I put a blue ribbon in my hair and bought wine. Other things I did today: Filmed an orchid tutorial for my new Patreon community and renewed my lease. I know how I’ll pay my rent this month, but September? I have ideas, but nothing certain. I... Know this is a strange way to live. I really do. I know that a lot of people think that I should get a 9-5 or live in a place that’s cheaper or not spend money on shit they deem frivolous. I’m twenty-seven. Some people think my life should be different at this age. But it’s mine. I don’t know when it will end. The only thing I’m certain of is if I died tomorrow I wouldn’t want to have lived any other way.
Fashion-wise, Calloway is known mostly for wearing real flowers in her hair, ribbons, and then either evening wear with chunky sneakers or the daytime-friendly combo of peasant top, sweatpants, and house slippers.
Wiseau flaunts his wavy mane of jet-black hair with outfits such as beige cargo pants, a black tank top, and an oversize blazer; or skinny jeans, shirt, tie, form-fitting waistcoat, and two belts, one in its loops; the other cupping his butt. Why? "It keeps my ass up. Plus it feels good," he is quoted saying in "The Disaster Artist."
Calloway, similarly, often rhapsodizes about her own butt on Instagram. "Can you believe I built my whole brand without unleashing THIS ASS on you until today? It's taken me 27 years to arrive at this confidence, but I f---ing love my body. And I just want to take a moment to celebrate that. There are lots of beautiful asses in this world (all of them) and I think mine is a juicy peachy DELIGHT," she wrote on July 11, 2019. Wiseau flaunted his rear in an infamously long love scene in "The Room," justifying it by saying "I have to show my ass or this movie won't sell," per "The Disaster Artist."
Certainly, their appearance is pivotal in their own art. Just as Bjork is closely associated with her Swan costume that was first panned as a "faux pas" but was then reimagined by Valentino a decade later, or how the legendary Drag Queen Divine is instantly recognizable for her elaborate eye makeup that made her look like a cartoon, so do Caroline and Tommy's distinctive looks cement their status as iconic performance artists.
They do not necessarily don the most flattering outfits, but their fashion and beauty choices are an extension and manifestation of their artistic personas.
Calloway and Wiseau have dramatized their own lives and live aspirationally
ANNOUNCEMENT: Mid-May I will be returning to @cambridgeuniversity to receive my MASTERS in the History of Art. Due to a strange and archaic rule in the charters of both Cambridge and Oxford, students who receive Bachelor’s degrees from Oxbridge are eligible to return to their alma mater three years after graduation and receive an AUTOMATIC MASTERS in whatever course they studied for undergrad. This means I will have a Bachelors AND a Masters in Art History from Cambridge!!!!!!! EXTREMELY on brand for me—I know. Next stop? When I’m in my thirties I’d like to get my P.h.D in Art History at Yale because it would allow me to continue being at least partially based in New York, specifically the West Village. My area of focus for my doctorate thesis would be something around digital culture, social media, and memes and their introduction to the more traditional cannon of fine art. In my spare time from research I plan to find, use, and lose plates. At Yale. Yale plates, if u will.
Self-confidence does not seem a problem for Calloway or Wiseau: She calls herself a "creative genius," while Wiseau seriously thought he could submit "The Room" for consideration at the Academy Awards.
They also sport an obsession with youth, a lack of pride in their origins, and the worship of what they each deem as elite.
At age 28, Calloway continues to call herself a "young girl" and her love interests are always "boys."
"I call myself a young girl. The female life expectancy in the United States is 78. I see age as relative," she wrote on July 16. In "The Disaster Artist," Wiseau insists on being 28. "No one on planet Earth would have believed this," Sestero quipped. They both distance their current selves from where they came from, and had their names changed. Calloway says she had to pull herself "out of the middle class," while Wiseau, despite his thick Central/Eastern European accent, claims he hails from Chalmette, Louisiana, and his origins are still debated.
Despite what they call humble origins, Calloway and Wiseau have created self-mythologies around what they perceive to be aspirational. For Calloway, it was the Ivy Leagues, Oxford, Cambridge, and aristocracy, while for Wiseau it was the legends James Dean, Cary Grant, and Tennessee Williams, as he earnestly thought "The Room" was celebrating the legacy of the greats of American theater — "You're tearing me apart, Lisa," an iconic quote from "The Room," is an ode to a Dean scene in "Rebel Without A Cause."
Some would say this is a form of "fabrication" and drone on about a lack of self-acceptance, but, artistically speaking, for them, worshipping youth, elite institutions, and creating one's own backstory has been conducive to the creation of a persona that is a big focus of their own art.
Both have branded themselves with one-liners
The script of "The Room" might be cheesy, and Calloway's writing might be overly flowery and chaotic, but both somehow managed to have people adopt their turns of phrases, which failed to happen with more established writers and filmmakers.
Other than "You're tearing me apart," other famous phrases uttered by Wiseau entered common parlance: "Oh Hai Mark"; "You're a chicken, cheep cheep cheep cheep cheep"; "I did naht"; and "I am fed up with this world" have been widely used on memes and viral parodies, most notably "Star Wars," and several friends and I incorporated them into our everyday speech patterns.
The same happened with Caroline, who is fixated with idioms and turns of phrase: the "mannerist slope" of her neck, being "culturally f---able," and a "smol bean." Other highlights include: "bb" "tittay" "smart as f---, hot as f---, hard to f---," "eat your greens, kiddos," and "nature's PB and J," referring to a sandwich made with peanut butter and whole raspberries.
I am ashamed to admit that my friends and I started addressing one another as "BB" and that I ate plenty of "nature's PBJ" in the past months, and I've seen many adult women earnestly calling themselves smol beans.
Borrowing speech patterns from someone does cement their status as an icon: In everyday conversations, we barely quote lines from "Harry Potter," "Titanic," or any award-winning memoir, but greeting someone with "Oh, hai BB" has become fairly common.
Calloway and Wiseau blur the line between artist and muse
—sarah fowerbaugh (@sarfow11) February 4, 2020
While both Calloway and Wiseau are creators, fans think more about them as muses than as artists. Hardly a day goes by without anyone posting fan art of Calloway, whether that be a painting, a digital illustration, or a video game rendering. Wiseau has his bespoke video game, "The Room Tribute."
The same consideration applies to the best-known works about them. Both "I was Caroline Calloway" and "The Disaster Artist" are excellent works of prose, and their strength lies in the fact that each pits two types of creatives against each other: The narrators, Natalie and Greg, are self-restrained and straitlaced, while Calloway and Wiseau come off as larger-than-life and histrionic characters. The humor, or cringe, derives from the uneven relationship between the two types. And, as much as it hurts to admit it, character-wise, you'll remember Tommy and Caroline much more than the narrators.
In fact, while Caroline Calloway's and Tommy Wiseau's artistic outputs may meet the standards of neither mainstream nor highbrow culture, they are the protagonists of their own art. With their stage presence and personalities, not to mention unique getups, they're the two most recognizable performance artists of the 21st century, who breathe new life in the concept of camp.