Keith Cole (performance artist)

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Cole at a mayoral debate in 2010. He is in the second row, first from left

Keith Cole is a queer[1] Canadian performance artist and political activist. Originally from Thunder Bay, Ontario,[1] he is currently based in Toronto, Ontario. An alumnus of York University's Fine Arts program, Cole has worked in film and video, dance and theatre performance, both as himself and in character as drag queen Pepper Highway.[1]

His theatrical work has included the shows Mine, Alma, The Needle Exchange and Dodged Bullets/Missed Opportunities.[2] He also appeared in Maggie MacDonald's play The Rat King, Luis Jacob's A Dance for Those of Us Whose Hearts Have Turned to Ice and Jim LeFrancois' musical revue Arthouse Cabaret, garnering a Dora Award nomination for Best Male Performance in a Musical in 2008 for Arthouse Cabaret.[3]

He has produced and hosted live events in Toronto, including Porn-a-Roake, a comedic event which blended karaoke performances with amateur porn videos, and Cheap Queers, an annual performance night of LGBT entertainers at Buddies in Bad Times.

Cole is notorious for an incident in December 2004. While hosting a fundraiser at Buddies in Bad Times, the audience appeared to be losing interest in some of the performers — accordingly, during one of his introductions he pulled down his pants and began to urinate on the stage.[4] Although he was publicly criticized by Fife House, the event's beneficiary, he has noted in subsequent interviews that the press attention he gained from the incident actually advanced his career.[4]

He has been the subject of two songs by Toronto-based queercore band Kids on TV, "We Are the New Keith Cole" and "Still On About Keith Cole". Cole performed a vocal in the album version of the former song, and directed the music video for the latter.

In 2013, Cole participated in Salvatore Antonio's Truth/Dare: A Satire (With Dance), an interactive audience participation show which featured staged reenactments of scenes from Madonna's 1991 film Truth or Dare, at Buddies in Bad Times during Toronto's Pride Week.[5] The show's cast also included Adamo Ruggiero and Gavin Crawford.[5]

In 2014, Cole performed in a solo re-telling of Oscar Wilde's visit and lecture at Toronto's Allan Gardens in 1882 called Wilde in Allan Gardens. The work is immortalized in Michael Alstad's award-winning Queerstory app[6].


Cole has had an extensive career in television, with cameos in Queer As Folk (American TV Series), Locker Room (TV Series) for Pride Vision, Colin and Justin's Home Heist on the Style Network, and CBC's Baroness von Sketch comedy series. In 2006, Cole was a contestant on Canada's Worst Handyman on Discovery Channel Canada. Cole went on to win the competition[7].


Art Exhibitions[edit]


  • Harold Award (1999)
  • Pink Triangle Award for Community Service in the LGBT Community (2000)
  • National Tap Dance Award (2004)
  • XTRA! Magazine Mouthiest Queer Activist Award (2010)
  • NOW Magazine Best of Toronto Reader's Choice Award for Best Performance Artist (2014)

Mayoral candidacy[edit]

In 2010, Cole ran as a candidate for Mayor of Toronto in the city's mayoral election.[8] His major campaign themes involved support for arts and culture, improvements to the city's bicycling network, and efforts to increase and develop a renewed sense of civic engagement in the city, where recent municipal elections have seen voter turnout of as little as 40 per cent or less.[8] He also campaigned on the issue of adding green space to the city's Yonge-Dundas Square, staging a "MILF Diaper Toss" on May 9 after having a political discussion in which he was discouraged from pursuing the issue on the questionable grounds that adding trees to the square would encourage young mothers to litter the space with dirty diapers.[9]

He was one of two "minor" candidates, along with Rocco Achampong, selected by an online vote to participate alongside the six "major" ones in a debate on municipal voting reform sponsored by the civic advocacy group Better Ballots.[10] He also initially led an online poll to select a "minor" candidate for inclusion in a debate sponsored by ArtsVote on the city's arts and culture programs, but withdrew due to concerns that the poll was too easily manipulated and hijacked.

Academic Career[edit]

Cole holds a BFA from York University and an MFA from the Ontario College of Art and Design University. Since 2014, Cole has taught visual culture in the Faculty of Liberal Studies at Seneca College. In 2019, Cole was appointed the Faculty of Community Services and Faculty of Arts Artist-in-Residence at Ryerson University[11].


  1. ^ a b c Paul Bellini. "Will a queer be Canada's Worst Handyman?" fab, Issue 290.
  2. ^ "Keith Cole-Darryl Tracy dance collab unveiled". Xtra!, August 26, 2010.
  3. ^ "Palace of the End, Drowsy Chaperone, Arthouse Cabaret Are 2008 Dora Winners in Toronto" Archived 2011-10-13 at the Wayback Machine. Playbill, July 1, 2008.
  4. ^ a b "Keith Cole is still No. 1". Toronto Star, October 20, 2007.
  5. ^ a b "Truth/Dare takes on the Material Girl". NOW, June 20, 2013.
  6. ^ "Allan Gardens". Queerstory. Year Zero One YZO. Retrieved 10 November 2019.
  7. ^ Patriquin, Martin. "Canada's Worst Handyman by day". Macleans. Maclean-Hunter. Retrieved 10 November 2019.
  8. ^ a b "Keith Cole announces Toronto mayoral bid". Xtra!, February 19, 2010.
  9. ^ "Keith Cole and Friends Toss Some Diapers"., May 20, 2010.
  10. ^ "Better Ballots hosts mayor's debate"., June 3, 2010.
  11. ^ "Keith Cole Appointed Summer 2019 FCS & FA Artist-in-Residence". Ryerson University News. Ryerson University. Retrieved 10 November 2019.

External links[edit]