Tommy Wiseau’s The Room: My Funny Valentine

(This movie has such a select and devoted audience that I make no attempt to summarize it, but assume that its plot is already well-known to the potential reader. Obviously, spoilers are below.)

I write of this movie, one now infamous, with affection1, as a thing that has provided me with uncountable hours of relief from this sorrowful life. In “Teaching The Room, Amanda Ann Klein writes that one possible aspect of the movie’s pleasures is feeling superior to those within it, “I am better than this. I am superior to this.” This, to me, might be the predominant aspect of enjoying reality TV, and I think it is soul destroying, and if it were any part of the essential joy of this movie I would not watch it again and again. I have never been part of a Room event, and I have no desire to give myself over to its sometime cruel laughter; when I laugh during this movie, I do so with malice to none, simply grateful to the great escape that any comedy gives us. What follows is not an attempt to jeer at this beleaguered film, but to examine sincerely my own enjoyment: why does this movie make me laugh so much, why does it work so well?2

There is the first striking difference between The Room and other such favorites, like Plan 9 From Outer Space, Glenn or Glenda?, Rocky Horror, etc: there is nothing exotic in its subject, no cross dressing, no alien plan for the undead, no madness. The Room should have no possibility of belonging to this class, of exceeding most of its members, because it is a simple character study, very much a movie that started out as a play, one of innumerable movies about romantic life and its difficulties, among which you might include Kicking and Screaming, Swingers, the Before Sunset trilogy, etc. In conception, it is closer to an earnest Henrik Ibsen play then any mad vision, without tinfoil spaceships, without monster make-up, and yet it becomes something strange and hilarious.

One of the first things to be noted is there in the opening credits, the movie’s music. We might expect a lo-fi minimalist score for this small scale drama, and instead we get something that sounds like the theme for a medieval epic, though a slightly cut-rate one: it is a sweeping score that sounds as if it is done entirely on a home synthesizer. It is music for an ancient story, but also an incredibly important one: every note that plays over the introductory San Francisco footage is full of dramatic weight, signaling that this is a story for the ages.

Many have described the plot and dialogue of The Room as maddeningly strange, yet this, I think, is a mis-reading. The Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero, the actor who plays Mark, and Tom Bissell, gives some grounds for puzzling out what undergirds the project. Though the book is entirely from Sestero’s perspective, rather than an oral history of the project, at no point do we feel he throws anyone over the side for his benefit. Nothing he says ever raises the reader’s skepticism, not even his portrayal of Tommy Wiseau, who he describes with a mixture of sympathy and understandable exasperation. The book no doubt benefits also from the work of Bissell, who never intrudes into the text (it is told entirely from Sestero’s “I”), but whose perspective we assume to be the same which made his Extra Lives, a book about video games, so good; an attitude not of hostility or superiority, but genuine enrapturement, who wants to understand the nature of the spell.

The Disaster Artist reopens The Room — and uncovers even deeper mysteries” by Nathan Rabin sees a movie embodying the tension in the book between two aspiring actors, Sestero and Wiseau, with the latter coveting the beauty, youth, and success of the former – Sestero is much younger than Wiseau, and was a former model. The Room‘s Lisa, possibly the most malevolent character in the movies who doesn’t kill anyone, embodies the fickleness, the malice, the superficiality of Hollywood itself, choosing Mark over the achingly virtuous Johnny. Though I think Rabin’s analysis is sound, I can only see the movie as being about another of the book’s themes, one which immediately gives sense, for me, to much of the movie’s strangeness.

Wiseau is a man who has kept much of his life secret, and though Disaster Artist retains a discrete veil over many things, it does give us a portrait of the most essential things. Wiseau is a man from the former Soviet East Bloc who led an extraordinarily difficult life before finding success as a businessman in America. For Wiseau, America is truly felt to be a promised land, and he has a love for the country which is sincere and unfeigned. He flies two massive American flags from a building he owns; he insists that the crew for The Room observe a lengthy moment of silence on the first anniversary of September 11th, berating those who break it and extending it until it’s finally fully observed3. I see The Room as an expression of this love, as well as a desire to more fully belong to the country from which, despite his success, he still feels apart. He does so by making a movie in which he stars, to be part of what he feels to be an American universe, by being in a film made in the style of a distinctly American form: the old-fashioned sitcom.

Despite its often serious nature, The Room has all the earmarks of this form, its seriousness often resembling that of a sitcom’s very special episodes. The cast, with the exception of Wiseau, are a smooth featured photogenic ideal. The actors of Plan 9 are incompetent, while those of The Room are efficient professionals. You don’t have any difficulty imagining them in other, similar work; Sestero had a part on Young and the Restless while Carolyn Minott, who plays Lisa’s mother, Claudette, and is easily my favorite actor in the movie, was on the sitcom parody That’s My Bush!. We also see the various types which might populate a sitcom: the best friend, the girlfriend, the nagging mother, the adorable scamp orphan. The movie’s title reveals another definitive trait it shares with sitcoms: it takes place almost entirely in one interior, just like Friends or Seinfeld.

The show is a tribute to this form, but like other tributes to a form which produce something extraordinary, the blueprint has gotten mussed. We might liken it to the westerns of Sergio Leone, which are passionately, unironicly, westerns and yet are also entirely alien and distinct from the very movies from which they take their cues. The Room is a replica of a sitcom, but one built with mismatched and otherwordly parts, so it becomes something funnier and more memorable than its source. It is there in the parts of Denny and Claudette, who Wiseau has read correctly as being, respectively, younger and older than the rest of the parts. This is correct, but he then makes both parts much older than they should be. It is not just that Lisa is in her twenties, and we expect her mother to be in her fifties and not older; it is that she has the formal bearing of a much older woman. That she might have known hippie life if she’d lived all her life in San Francisco is never a possibility for the audience, because her whole manner suggests someone born far before that. As a character, Claudette doesn’t quite fit as a mother of a woman in her twenties in 2003 – yet she makes sense as an imitation of another type, the girl’s mother from a sitcom out of 1993 or 1983.

We don’t notice this mistake as much in Claudette, but it is just ridiculous in Denny. When I watch the movie, the character’s unsettling mixture of ersatz naiveté and mischievousness always makes me refer to him as Serial Killer Denny. Wiseau clearly perceived the abstract of the child sitcom character, someone of indeterminate age who is both precocious and yet in an entirely innocent state about sex and love, played by an actor who is older, sometimes much older. There is an indeterminacy of age which allows the character to seemingly persist for years and years without getting their first serious girlfriend or graduating high school. The abstraction is correct, but the representation in The Room goes ludicrously wrong. The way Denny acts in much of the movie makes sense if the character were much younger, nine, ten, or eleven, at the outer limit, and would be unremarkable, rather than sinister, if the actor appeared to be that age. It makes sense for a young boy to be clueless about sex, and to leap into the bed of Johnny and Lisa to pillow fight. His confessional to Johnny that he feels something for Lisa makes sense if Denny is a young boy. Even the gesture which baffles everyone, when Denny eats an apple after the lovers ascend the stairs, makes sense in this context: a young boy ignorant of sex slowly gets a sense of what it is after his older friend, Johnny, goes to the bedroom with Lisa, and this knowledge is symbolized by his eating the apple. As said, all these things become elements in the movie’s insanity because of Denny’s age. He is not simply not a boy, but someone in college. Philip Haldiman, who played Denny, was in his twenties when the movie was made and looks much younger – but not young enough to make his innocence look anything other than a creepy act.

Tommy Wiseau's The Room

Tommy Wiseau's The Room

That the movie is modeled after the sitcom ideal explains the strange disconnection of its scenes. A situation comedy is built around a conceptual situation, and each episode involves a particular event, chosen for its eventfulness and comedic potential, after which the characters remain entirely unchanged. The Room can best be thought of as consisting almost entirely unrelated short episodes from a sitcom whose central premise is a great guy falls for an undeserving woman who cheats on him with his best friend. I’ll try and convey the similarities by quoting a few plotlines from the wikipedia plot list of Growing Pains episodes. Part of the ludicrousness of The Room is the way in which very serious material is there side by side with lighthearted scenes; you can see from these plotlines that this is very much part of sitcom DNA, where the morbid intermixes with the humorous:

After Jason reviews a marriage-compatibility test for his work, he and Maggie take it. They’re in for some unpleasant surprises.

Mike becomes romantically attracted to a “Madonna look-alike” (Dana Plato), which worries Maggie; Ben accidentally ruins Carol’s plant project.

After being conned out of $10 by Mike, Carol and Ben (with their parents’ help) hatch an elaborate scheme to get it back.

Ben hits puberty and–with advice from Mike–tries to hit on his babysitter.

On Christmas Eve, Ben is having second thoughts about Santa Claus; a patient of Jason’s threatens to commit suicide by head-firsting down their chimney.

Ben doesn’t have enough money to buy Jason the really good present he thinks he deserves, but Mike’s advice causes him to accidentally commit a crime.

Jokester Uncle Bob dies in his sleep during a visit; after the funeral, Mike believes he’s seeing his ghost.

Listing the scenes of The Room in comparison might establish their similarity to such sitcom plotlines, especially the most disconnected ones:

Johnny buys Lisa a dress, which she loves.

While Johnny and Lisa are away, Mike and Michelle drop by for a heavy make out session.

The boys throw a football around in the alley. Mike tells Johnny his underwear story.

Peter gives Johnny relationship advice.

Denny is confronted by a drug dealer, Chris-R, that he owes money to. Mark and Johnny manage to save him and take the dealer to the police.

Peter gives Mark relationship advice.

The boys dress up in tuxedos and play football.

Lisa throws Johnny a birthday party, during which he learns that Lisa has been cheating on him with Mark.

Johnny, overcome with grief, commits suicide.

These scenes make sense conceptually, and might make sense in a sitcom, but they become absurd within the movie. Some, as concepts, are not ridiculous at all, but only become so in execution. “The boys throw around a football” is not absurd as an idea, but becomes hilarious when they do so in close proximity. These football sessions feel like events that exist only as signifiers: it must be demonstrated that The Room is an American movie, and we will do so by showing the characters playing an American sport like football. Wiseau wishes to be part of America, and so he stars in a movie that resembles a sitcom and which clearly establishes itself as American, by the characters constantly playing football. This desire to belong might be the reason behind the subplot involving Mike and Michelle at Johnny’s house. These characters appear without introduction, and during public screenings, they are greeted by the audience shouting out “Who the fuck are you?”4

Tommy Wiseau's The Room

If we look at The Room as a movie about Wiseau’s desire to belong, then the couple of Mike and Michelle are not incidental, but crucial to the movie. Johnny and Lisa are the unhappy couple, while these two without a trace of unhappiness are a contrasting pair. Lisa, Mark, Mike, Michelle all have the smooth photogenic quality of sitcom characters, and with whom, by comparison, Johnny is a man who can never belong. Sestero describes Weiseau as a man whose appearance suggests a man haunted by secrets, and his look is that of someone broken apart and reassembled again, roughly and carelessly. His face suggests, vividly, a life lived, in contrast to those actors around him. It is a face that would not be out of place in a movie of the social realistic genre, but it becomes absurd in an ersatz sitcom setting. His appearance makes obvious the lives, or aspects of life, that the sitcom leaves out. In turn, The Disaster Artist makes clear the desperation and uncertainty of an actor which the ubiquitous physical beauty of those in movies and TV seemingly denies: the physical perfection implies a perfection of the universe, and how can there be such things as squalor, envy, hunger, thwarted desire in a perfect universe?

There is the striking contrast in appearance between Wiseau and the rest of the main cast, as well as one in performance. The first issue separating Wiseau and his other actors is that Wiseau had extraordinary difficulty with his lines, according to Sestero, requiring take after take5. The second is the extraordinary influence that James Dean had on both Wiseau and Sistero, which is given fascinating space in The Disaster Artist; the classic line “You’re tearing me apart, Lisa!” is, of course, a quote from Rebel Without a Cause. The line readings of the other actors are those expected in a TV comedy or drama, crisp, well enunciated, efficient. There is no mumbling in a sitcom, no talking over each other, just the simple and effective delivery of a line with an intonation denoting the obvious meaning. With or without his accent, with or without his difficulties preparing for the role, if Wiseau delivered his lines in the manner of the other actors, his dialogue would not be so ridiculous. Instead, he is surrounded by crisp sitcom efficiency, while he draws out and delivers his lines as strange, wayward poetry, full of unexpected intonations and emphasises. This turns some ordinary dialogue during a scene where he and Lisa get drunk into something hilarious and memorable. “You must be crazy,” he says, resisting. “I can’t drink this.” After they get drunk is one of my favorite moments: “I’m tired. I’m wasted,” he says. “I love you, darling.” Again, I don’t think there’s anything bad about this dialogue and there’s nothing egregiously wrong with the line delivery; in a setting where everyone gives such loose delivery, a saloon in a Walter Hill western or an artists colony in a Philip Kaufman movie, say, I don’t think it would stand out as wrong or absurd, anymore than the memorably baroque line readings of Christopher Walken do. It is only amidst the pristine context of a sitcom replica that we have absurdity. Even Weiseau’s best line, “In a minute…bitch“, would have been innocuous if delivered with regret or exhaustion, instead of being one of the funniest things ever said in a movie.

Tommy Wiseau's The Room

This highlights the fact that the dialogue of The Room, line by line, is relatively normal. There is the welcome absurdity of lines like Mike’s “I gotta go see Michelle in a little bit to, uh, make out with her”, “Did you, uh, know…that chocolate is the symbol of love?”, and Mark’s infamous “Leave your stupid comments in your pocket!” but most of the dialogue, again, line by line, is without major encumbrances. The problem is when these lines are placed one after another. One of the scenes which makes me laugh the most is the one between Lisa and Claudette, where she declares with a sigh, “I got the results of the test back….I definitely have breast cancer.” This doesn’t prompt a hug, or any move closer on the part of Lisa, but a nonchalant “Look, don’t worry about it. Everything will be fine. They’re curing lots of people every day.” However, it is not even the famous cancer line that really makes me laugh, but the one that is placed incongruously afterwards, and what makes me laugh is that it arouses greater passion from Claudette then the fact that she might be dying from a fatal disease: “Oh. I heard Edward is talking about me. He is a hateful man.” The randomness of this dialogue gives a strange spin to even the most conventional lines from what should be a stock, predictable type, so when Claudette says “Of course I’m right. I know men,” you think, god, what a slut.

Sestero describes the situation of the actors in The Room as people who aren’t naive co-conspirators in this mad fantasy, but actors doing what they always do, trying their best with what they’re given. All of Carolyn Minott’s readings are professional, they are entirely faultless and fitting with a character such as this; the very professionalism turns the performance into lunacy, an ordinary character giving solid line readings which one after another add up to insanity. This reaches its apex in the rooftop scene involving Chris-R, the drug dealer, which is surrounded by a kind of perfect storm of strangeness. These elements include, among others: the homoerotic overtones of the buff Chris-R pressuring Denny for money; Claudette and Lisa appearing out of nowhere; The Room‘s much beloved green screen; the normally calm Lisa going utterly unhinged. Though something like this situation might be found in all sorts of very special episodes devoted to drug use, and there is nothing inherently absurd in Claudette’s lines, somehow the surrounding vortex of absurdity makes her incessant nagging hilarious. I start really laughing at “How in the hell did you get involved with drugs? Were you giving them to him? Selling them to him?”, then reach the first peak with “This is not the way you make money”, before going even higher with return to homoerotic subtext part one, “Well, it is time somebody ganged up on you. For God’s sake!” followed by homoerotic subtext part two, “A man like that! Where in the hell did you meet a man like that?”, until finally reaching the crescendo of Denny’s “You’re not my fucking mother!” and Claudette grabbing the scamp: “You listen to me, little boy!”

Tommy Wiseau's The Room

Tommy Wiseau's The Room

Tommy Wiseau's The Room

Tommy Wiseau's The Room

Tommy Wiseau's The Room

The movie is an imitation of a sitcom, but this imitation is of something from a lost and ancient time. I mention Friends and Seinfeld as examples of the way such shows are usually centered around one interior, but the sitcoms it’s imitating are from before their debuts, things like Growing Pains, The Jeffersons, All in the Family or Diff’rent Strokes. The fault line is The Simpsons, which becomes an incredibly successful comedy show without laugh track that offers a skeptical ironic eye to the very form itself. There are no very special episodes in The Simpsons, just as there are no messages in Seinfeld or Friends. The Room is imitating something trapped in amber, just as the genre which Sergio Leone is re-creating had already been near dying or dead for a decade. There is something freeze dried to the love scenes of The Room as well, and something I find unexpectedly charming, though few, if any, mention it. These scenes feel like they’re imitating something from older movies also, the arty love scenes of Tequilla Sunrise or Top Gun, and what makes them hilarious is their extraordinary length. Usually a few shots are enough to convey well enough that these two characters are having sex; here, they go on and on, offering the further emphasis of Johnny’s ass thrusting up and down to properly tell the audience what’s happening. Accompanying every love scene is music by Kitra Williams and Wayne Davis, and these songs are easily the best thing in the movie. What makes me laugh when the music comes on has nothing to do with the quality of the music itself, but the abrupt break from the mood of the medieval score, and the way these songs kick in with Pavlovian efficiency every time the sexing starts. The music, as said, is trapped in something like amber as well, slo-jams very much in the style of the R&B of the early nineties. What I find unexpectedly charming is that you would never find such music in soundtracks of the early nineties for movies that featured exclusively white casts. You might expect to find it on Boomerang or Above the Rim, but not Singles or Empire Records. A native American of the time would, I think, be well aware of the racial codes that governed such things. Weiseau, an outsider, perhaps heard these slo-jams and found only one more part of America, no more distinct or alien than the sitcoms to which the movie pays tribute.

The movie, like all movies, is a massive act of faith. That the movie is so funny is thanks to the strength of this faith, its utter lack of skepticism or irony. Johnny’s virtuousness lies in his overwhelming belief in the good of others, though the good of these others is very often in doubt. Sestero gives us a picture of Wiseau as a man who bullheadedly believes as well, without self-consciousness, in his natural supremacy as an actor, or that he fully deserves the table at an exclusive restaurant. Sestero finds Wiseau’s indomitable self-confidence ridiculous, but also captivating; when Wiseau ends up getting the coveted table through his unhesitating deceptions, the reader feels as if it’s a victory for themselves. I might make here the nod to Susan Sontag’s “Notes on Camp” and how essential sincerity is to achieve true camp, but these connections have already been made in other essays on the movie6. I note instead that there are the obvious villains in The Room, such as Mark and Lisa, but there’s also the implied one in Peter, the psychologist, the man who goes at all things with analysis while Johnny approaches all things by faith. Everyone is fine with playing football in their tuxes, but only the skeptic Peter demurs. Peter enters the room for this scene and Johnny gives his only greeting that is without enthusiasm: “Hey…Peter.” Johnny is very fit, while Peter exits this football game when he stumbles to the ground. “Gee, Peter, you’re clumsy,” says Denny, the last line said to this character before he leaves the movie entirely. Wiseau appears to be worried about whether or not he fits in, and he might take comfort in making Peter into someone who fits in even less. It is sometimes difficult to discern what in The Room is intentional and what isn’t, and I’m unsure what to make of one moment and how it might fit with the previous analysis: Mark enters the room and Peter gives him a look on which the camera dwells, and the look appears to be that of silent longing.

Tommy Wiseau's The Room

Tommy Wiseau's The Room

Tommy Wiseau's The Room

Tommy Wiseau's The Room

What the full intention of this character might have been, like the actual vision of the uncut Magnificent Ambersons, remains unknown. We learn in The Disaster Artist that the reason for Peter’s early exit from the film is because the movie had already gone far over schedule and the actor playing the part, Kyle Vogt, had other commitments. Peter’s dialogue from the party is instead taken up by another character and another actor, Steven played by Greg Ellery. I find the section before the birthday party to be a little dull, and sometimes then I have doubts whether the film can still work its magic. By the time of the party, however, I am once again laughing so hard that I have difficulty breathing. I’m laughing hard enough that tears roll down my cheeks, in part because of the endless establishing exterior shots, partly due to the non sequitur “Lisa looks hot tonight” during the camera pan, but mainly due to the work of Ellery. His delivery of every line, unlike that of the cool efficiency of the other actors, is touched by melodrama. If one might imagine a doctor dealing with a zombie plague, to be played by the unironic 1960s William Shatner, that was re-written at the last minute as a marriage counselor, I think something of the intensity with which Ellery delivers his dialogue is conveyed. His best known line is “I feel like I’m sitting on an atomic bomb, waiting for it to go off”, but it’s far from my favorite because he’s off-screen when he delivers it and we miss the accompanying intensity of his face. I prefer “How can you do this! You make me sick“, the simple question, “When is…the baby due?”, and without a doubt, my favorite is delivered after Michelle’s “You have got to be honest with Johnny,” the simple affirmation, magically said: “I agree with that.”

Tommy Wiseau's The Room

Tommy Wiseau's The Room

This has been an attempt at an analysis of the qualities of a movie I very much love, and though I try at dilligence, it is very much marked by my own inclinations of what it is I enjoy in The Room. I have, for instance, given short shrift to Juliette Danielle, an attractive woman and a capable actress, perhaps because almost all the laughter directed towards her character I find unnecessarily cruel. Danielle is burdened with some of the most inept costume choices any actress should ever have to deal with, and though I can laugh at Claudette wearing a leopard print blouse when she announces she has breast cancer, I can’t laugh at Danielle’s, because after a while they feel like a quiet persecution: Wiseau hates whoever this fictional woman represents, and he takes it out on the woman playing her. Sestero treats Wiseau fairly, I think, in The Disaster Artist, and I’m sorry to say that he comes off very badly in the sections devoted to Danielle’s burdens, where the eternally cheerful actress falls to weeping under Wiseau’s treatment. On a lighter note, I have also given short shrift to the movie’s spoons, having not even noticed their ubiquitous devotional portraits, like those of a beloved child or founding patriarch, until many viewings in. I have also given no space to what might be one of the funniest moments, because it seems to entirely elude analysis: Mike starting to explain his underwear story, Mark saying “UNDERWEAR!”, before nearly killing Mike by knocking him into some trash cans.

Tommy Wiseau's The Room

The movie and accompanying book, The Disaster Artist, are full of tangents which I have only touched on, and that I hope to return to soon. For instance, Sestero makes Tom Ripley of The Talented Mr. Ripley the guiding metaphor of his book, whereas I find the relationship of Wiseau and Sestero to be closer to that of the two men in Paul Auster’s Music of Chance, in which one man gives himself over to the recklessness of the other, and Sestero’s participation in The Room feels like a kind of surrender as well. He writes with wistfulness of his first scene in the movie without a beard and how a viewer might see in Sestero’s face then the sense of a richer acting future disappearing. It reminds one of the ancient superstition over cameras, and we might think of The Room as having this same quality of enchantment, a chamber that is a soul trap.

Though I think these last notes are necessary points, they also introduce a melancholy which I have never felt watching this movie, a melancholy with which this life has an excess, and for which I watch The Room to make joyful escape. Some have given themselves over to whether the pleasures of The Room are intentional or not, and these are questions of which I don’t care. Any relief from the horrors of this world is so rarely found that I welcome, without nagging queries of its points of origin, the brief happy sanctuary of The Room.

(I think there is even more to be said about this movie which I enjoy so very much, but for the moment I leave it at that. This post, however, remains unfinished.)

(All stills from The Room copyright Wiseau Films.)


1 Among the best known pieces devoted to the movie are “The Crazy Cult of The Room” by Clark Collis, “The New Cult Canon: The Room” by Scott Tobias, “A Viewer’s Guide To The Room by House of Qwesi – because the AV Club recently shuffled around their links, a lot of their content is off-line, and this link may not work at the moment. A novelization of the movie, by Marcus Sullivan, can be found at Sullivan’s blog. A videogame adaptation, by New Grounds, can be played at New York magazine, “Play the Room, the Video Game”. Profiles of Wiseau include “The Man Behind the Best Worst Movie Ever Made” and “Tommy Wiseau Knows Better”. However, the definitive portrait of Wiseau is in The Disaster Artist.

2 I am relying on The Room, which has helped me out so often in the past, to help me out again with this piece, to break a mild kind of writing block so I might finish the unfinished and seemingly unending “Rising Sun: The Image of the Desired Japanese” which, at the moment, stops abruptly in the midst of “Rising Sun: The Image of the Desired Japanese Part Four”.

3 From The Disaster Artist, on Wiseau’s American flags:

“You have to trust me, young man,” Tommy said. “I have resources.” He directed me toward a bank of private spots on Beach Street. That’s when I noticed the sign hanging above the corner building: STREET FASHIONS USA. I recalled seeing the logo in Tommy’s condo and remembered him saying that he’d done marketing for Street Fashions years before. Two massive American flags—so massive I suspected they could be seen from space—were snapping in the wind on the building’s rooftop.

From The Disaster Artist, on Wiseau’s observance of September 11th:

We all looked at one another. What now? It was blood-boilingly hot inside Birns & Sawyer’s cramped studio space, but once Tommy got us all in there, he asked everyone to please be quiet and “remember the American flag.” We stood there, doing our best to be quiet. Then someone laughed. Tommy furiously decamped to another part of the studio and returned with a digital timer one of the camerapeople had been using during filming. Tommy set the timer to five minutes and placed it where everyone could see it. “Because you laugh,” he said, “we now have five minutes of silence for America. Have due respect.” Ten seconds into that five-minute silence, someone else laughed. Tommy reset the timer. “If I hear any laugh,” he said, “which is very disrespectful, we do another five minutes. You can laugh the rest of your life. So you be the judge.”

It was probably the longest five minutes I’ve ever experienced. Eyes were glazed and several mouths were trembling, but no one wanted that clock to be reset. Somehow, on our third try, we made it all the way through. The timer ran out to several gasps, and I realized how many of us had been reduced to holding our breath near the end to keep from cracking up.

Tommy followed these five minutes with a little speech: “This prick Osama is the biggest asshole-motherfucker-piece-of-shit who ever lived. He think he can stop America. I’m sorry, Mr. Dickhead Osama, you don’t have chance. We are the best country in the world.” He then led the room in a chant of “USA, USA!”

Five minutes of reverent silence followed by fist-pumping mania: That was a pretty accurate encapsulation of the patriotism of Tommy Wiseau.

4 From “A Viewer’s Guide To The Room by House of Qwesi:

At one point, two characters will show up in Tommy’s apartment. They will be fucking. No one will know who they are, thus it is appropriate to shout “Who the fuck are you?” whenever they appear onscreen.

5 This results in the most well-known shot of Room public screenings, where Wiseau signals an exhausted crew off-camera that he’s ready and where, in the theater, it’s played as if he’s waving to a group of people in the corner, is a result of these difficulties. From “A Viewer’s Guide To The Room by House of Qwesi, under “Activities / Cues”:

Saying “Hi” to Tommy when he appears to look down at the corner of the screen during the party scene. This entails running down to the screen and hanging out toward the bottom-right-hand corner and then shouting as his eyes acknowledge you.

From The Disaster Artist by Sestero and Bissell:

One of The Room’s more amusing audience rituals concerns this scene. There’s a moment right before Johnny makes his announcement in which he seems to look down and to the right and wave at someone. Consequently, some audiences send a small gaggle of people to converge in the bottom right-hand corner of the movie screen, where they gleefully return Johnny’s wave. So what’s really going on here? Well, after so many blown takes, Tommy is signaling to the cameraman that he’s ready, he’s got it, let’s roll film, motherfuckers. And yes, a take in which Tommy annihilates the fourth wall by motioning to the cameraman was the best take they got.

Tommy Wiseau's The Room

6 For instance, “On the greatness of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room” by James MacDowell and “Should Gloriously Terrible Movies Like The Room Be Considered ‘Outsider Art’?” by Adam Rosen.

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