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Here’s What Happened When I Met Tommy Wiseau In San Francisco

Updated: Jul 07, 2022 09:57
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Photo of Balboa Theater in San Francisco (courtesy of author)

This may come as somewhat of a shock, but before attending Balboa Theater’s showing of Tommy Wiseau’s infamously bad,  The Room,  I had never seen the film. I was aware of Tommy Wiseau as a meme, and figured if a film was so bad that the story of how it was made got its very own movie (The Disaster Artist), I might as well fucking see it.

The Balboa Theater is located in the Outer Richmond,  a relatively quiet neighborhood in the northwestern corner of San Francisco next to Golden Gate Park. A lot of the quirks that the City is known for isn’t really visible in this neighborhood of family-owned businesses, foggy streets and well-maintained rowhouses. However, as I made my way to the Balboa Theater, it became apparent that San Francisco’s trademark craziness had breached the Richmond and its nucleus was centered around a large group of fans waiting outside to catch a glimpse of the man, the myth, and potentially Russian-mob connected guy who may have made a shitty movie as a money laundering scheme, Tommy Wiseau.

What I’d love to know is the real story of how this movie was funded.

As I stood in line, there was a guy who worked at the theater giving moviegoers advice on what kind of questions to ask Tommy. “Ask him about love. He loves love,” the man at the door said. What I’d love to know is the real story of how this movie was funded.

Before I decided to attend this showing of The Room, I did a Google deep dive to learn everything I could about who Tommy Wiseau was, and to figure out how the fuck did a movie that was so absurdly bad secure six million dollars to ensure its production. And to my legitimate surprise, in this age of information, I found very little.

Tommy Wiseau during his scheduled Q&A at Balboa Theater

Apparently, according to the internet, Tommy Wiseau is from a small town in Poland, which explained his Eastern Bloc accent, despite this, he reportedly has told people he’s from New Orleans. And when it came to the question of where Tommy got the money to make the film, the explanation provided by Tommy was more ridiculous than the movie. Apparently Tommy moved to the Bay Area and worked a number of odd jobs. You know, jobs that don’t pay well, he somehow made 6 million dollars working at clothing stores and waiting tables in San Francisco and Oakland.

I spent over an hour doing research and found fucking nothing. This only made me want to see the movie more.

There are several theories on Reddit as to the origin of Tommy’s money, one of the most popular is that he is a former Eastern European gangster, that fled to the US with dreams of being a movie star. However, these remain unproven.

I spent over an hour doing research and found fucking nothing. This only made me want to see the movie more. So I bought two tickets and hoped for the best possible experience viewing one of the worst cult films of all time.

After waiting in line for awhile, I was finally in the Balboa and I saw Tommy Wiseau in the flesh. He looked like a legend. I can’t really explain it, but he did. You could feel his presence. I’m not saying this to be funny, there is something different about him. He has an aura. You just have to meet him to understand. He also doesn’t age. The Room, was released nearly 20 years ago, and he looks almost exactly the same. Maybe the Reddit posts about him being a vampire were true. Weirder shit has happened… I think?

After Tommy signed my poster and shirt, I got seated and waited for the movie to start. Once again, I had never seen this movie before. I had no idea what I was getting into except that I knew it may have been made by a Russian mobster who is also a vampire that also loves love. I felt like he could’ve been a side character on Aqua Teen Hunger Force.

Before the movie, Tommy came out and did a Q&A. He also showed us a trailer for his second film. Yes, he has made a second movie, and it takes place in his “hometown” of New Orleans, called Big Shark. It’s about a big shark that chases down two boxers in New Orleans. At least that’s what I gathered from the trailer. People asked Tommy questions about San Francisco and his sex life and some dude told Tommy he was a standup comedian, so Tommy  forced the dude to do a standup comedy routine in front of the crowd. I felt bad for the guy, he was nervous and Tommy didn’t seem to give a fuck. He made fun of his wife’s voice. No one really laughed. I did my best to quell the anxiety attack that was building inside of me on his behalf. He then got off the stage. Jesus wept.

And then the movie, the fucking movie. Holy shit.

The film felt like an inside joke that almost everyone in the audience was in on, but I was yet to figure out. It was bizarre and fun. Every time there was water on the screen, the crowd screamed “water!” When there was shot of the Golden Gate Bridge people would chant “Go” and the weirdest was when character in the film revealed she had breast cancer, the crowd would scream “cancer” every time she was in a scene. They’d also throw spoons and inflatable footballs at the screen. I was having the time of my life and I didn’t really know why.

The movie was about a guy named Johnny (Tommy Wiseau) killing himself after finding out his girlfriend slept with his best friend. I know this only circumstantially because so many people were screaming in the audience that I couldn’t really hear most of the dialogue.

After the movie was done and the I walked out of theater, Tommy and I caught what I assumed was eye contact, although I couldn’t tell because he was wearing sunglasses, but I smiled and nodded at him. He nodded back. It felt strangely meaningful. The Room is a lot like life. It just starts, if you overthink it, it sucks, but if you just sit back and accept its absurdity, you might leave it with a smile on your face.





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Abraham Woodliff - Bay Area Memelord

Abraham Woodliff - Bay Area Memelord

Abraham Woodliff is a San Francisco-based writer, editor and digital content creator known for Bay Area Memes, a local meme page that has amassed nearly 200k followers. His work has appeared in SFGATE, The Bold Italic and of course, His book of short stories, personal essays and poetry entitled Don't Drown on Dry Ground will be available early 2022.


  1. July 5, 2022 at 6:19 pm — Reply

    I was there that same night. Yeah, watching The Room for the first time in that crowd isn’t the way to go. But I do have to tell you the standup comedian was knocked off his game because as soon as he started, Tommy (who oddly stood right next to him) interrupted and started giving him notes on how he should start his set. Plus I think the comedian knew people weren’t there to see him so he told one joke and bowed out. And finally, people DID laugh. Really loud. I know because I caught it on video. And I’m that guy.

  2. July 6, 2022 at 9:10 pm — Reply

    “I was having the time of my life. And I didn’t really know why…” is GOLD! Great stuff..

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