images by George Pimentel
Toronto’s most popular lady’s night doesn’t involve a dimly-lit nightclub and nearly-naked gyrating men, but an evening with Canada’s gossip maven. Lainey Lui sat down with 1,000 of her fans to “talk shit.” And, yes, discuss a gyrating man. With a vegetable. Judging by the pap shots, Lainey says it looked like a zucchini.
On Tuesday evening, The Society hosted the eighth annual SMUT Soirée at the Evergreen Brickworks. The event has grown from an intimate gathering to Tuesday’s event selling 1,000 tickets in a few hours. While wine flowed liberally, food was thin on the ground (one attendee called it, “The Hunger Games”), and it felt like I was on a Hollywood starlet diet.
A group of 30 gossip lovers travelled from around the U.S. to attend the SMUT Soirée. Nikki Barnes Atkinson came from Brooklyn to hear Lainey, and bond with fellow smut hounds. “I always like really smutty stuff,” she says. And wants to know, “What’s Katie Holmes holding over Tom Cruises head?” Barnes Atkinson is a former blogger who organized “Gossip-Con“ in November 2012, hosting a dinner for 50 and inviting Lainey to speak to the group. “Gossip says something about who we are as a society,” she says.
While the fashionably dressed crowds preen themselves with hair touch ups and manis, or lined up for a free shoes lucky dip from ALDO (“I waited 900 years in the shoe line, but it was worth it!”), the crowd are here to listen to Lainey dish the dirt. Host Dan Levy is a perfect foil to the potty-mouthed Lainey. Levy began by asking, “What’s the biggest gossip item right now?” Lainey looked at him, loathing to use the name, ‘Kardashian.’
“What’s up with Kanye West’s girlfriend’s baby?”
“North West. What kind of fucking name is that? Lainey asks. “North West….like Oregon?”
Lainey and Levy spar back and forth, quickly getting to the down and dirty. “So I have a friend who told me…” says Levy. Using cryptic names, he tells of an affair between a vampire and a Spring Breaker. “This is where it’s going friends,” he tells the audience. This is here we’re headed,” before recounting a private text message between the two celebs: “You know how to BLEEP.”
Levy and Lui also take questions via Twitter, “What is Clooney’s contract for breakups?” and examined of whether Amanda Bynes has really gone off the rails or merely pulling of the kind of hoax Joaquin Phoenix tried to, but couldn’t.
The hosts of CTV’s The Social were bought on stage for what felt like a dress rehearsal to the show. Lainey sat on the outside of the group, drawing on her electronic cigarette like the Caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland. (“She’s judging me,“ Lainey says of her mother, “She thinks it’s low classy.”)
Melissa Grelo, Cynthia Loyst, and Traci Melchor share their own smutty stories, and argued the toss. “She looks happy, she looks sexually satisfied,” says Melchor on JLo’s relationship with Casper Smart. “She doesn’t have to make him a CEO,” Lainey argues. “He’s a choreographer,” says Melchor. “He’s a back-up dancer!” Lainey counters. The feisty Melchor also provided insight into the celebrity psyche, “They’re the same short guy who didn’t get the girls,“ she explains, “You carry that into celebrity, but with a lot of ‘yes’ around you.”
A regular contributor to eTalk and with her new gig on The Social, and a book coming out in the Fall, Lainey continues to grow her brand. “I’m just as catty or bitchy or snarky as I have ever been,” she says. Her site has expanded to include regular contributors, posting on film, fashion, advice – even motherhood — despite regularly lampooning what she calls, “the Minivan Majority.” “I’m writing for my friends, and they happen to be moms, “ says Lainey. “You know, the mini van majority is not the car she drives, its the attitude – is the fear that my kid might grow up a homosexual – it’s the fear, it’s the judginess.”
It is easy to dismiss Lainey Gossip as trite. Lui studied history and French at University and readers of her blog can see she is widely read. “What she writes is thought provoking,” says Barnes Atkinson. In Lainey’s blog introduction on Tuesday, the blogger opens with, ‘The Paula Deen mess that has been making headlines for days‘ and goes on to discuss Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People.
Lainey and I end up discussing Wendi Deng, former wife of media-magnate, Rupert Murdoch. Growing up in Australia with a lefty father, Murdoch might as well have been the devil-incarnate. “You know, this is just sort of a modern Emperor’s story,” says Lainey
“She was a girl in China who somehow met a couple who sponsored her to go to America and study and suddenly she ended up with the husband. And then she divorced him and ended up with one of the richest men in the world and had two of his babies.”
“Have you seen the movie, The Red Lantern?” Lainey asks me. “That’s how a lot of emperors in China would have behaved. This is classic gossip story that is modern and yet has thematically so many historical interesting cues.” It is this kind of understanding that drives a million readers to her site daily.
For Lainey, gossip is lens to view the world. “Its fun. And it’s entertainment. I’m not going make it anymore than what it is – but it’s also more than a lot of people think it is,” she explains. “Celebrity gossip can say more about who we are than who we are talking about. It’s insight into our standards and expectations, into our social culture, into our behaviour, how someone body reacts to a celebrity gossip story tells me more about who they are than what the celebrity is doing.”
Lui’s says her mandate is to provide a gossip education to the Canadian public. Topics under discussion at the SMUT Soirée included sexuality, helicopter parenting, religion, and gender roles. Like Toto in the Wizard of Oz, Lui draws back the curtains to reveal the inner workings of the celebrity machine – and ourselves.
Amanda Lee is a Toronto-based freelance writer whose work has also appeard in The Grid, Toronto Star, and Up! Magazine. Follow her on Twitter at @leeamandaj.