It's a Saturday night in Windsor, Ontario, and the Leopard's Lounge strip club is packed.
"You guys ready for some tossing?" the announcer asks, as Mötley Crüe blares over the sound system and audience members start to chant, "Dwarf! Dwarf! Dwarf!" while pounding their hands on the tables.
Everyone's here to watch Michael Murga—an entertainer of short stature known as Mighty Mike get tossed in the air as bare-chested strippers serve beer and usher patrons into the club's private booths.
A group of guys take turns grabbing him by the handles of a harness strapped tightly around a T-shirt promoting the club and throwing him onto a series of air mattresses laid out across the stage. It's clumsy, uncoordinated, and hardly reminiscent of the scene in Wolf of Wall Street, where Leo and the gang aim for a bullseye on a Velcro target. He's wearing a helmet and goggles in the name of safety.
In the bathroom, fresh from his toss, one man declares, "He's three feet tall [0.9 metre], but fuck, he's dense."
I watch a few turns and begin to wonder if this is really what all of the bitching, moaning, and fanfare is about. Are we here to champion Mike's right to consent, or are we all just sitting in a damp club overpaying for drinks because of its forbidden allure? It's a contentious "sport," one with worldwide protest—after all, it was included in Wolf of Wall Street as a clear indication of how absolutely fucking shitty those greed-mongers were.
And that makes me wonder what this popular event says about my hometown.
After ten tosses, Mike takes a break and heads into the club's back room to rest his back. He's no stranger to the entertainment industry, having toured with Britney Spears, acted on American Horror Story, and performed as Mini-Elvis and Mini-Eminem. His website calls him "Entertainment's #1 Little Person for World Tours." He's avid about staying in shape in order to protect his body from being injured by each toss.
"I work out. I have a strong will. It's not just something where it's pick up a midget and toss him. I have a strong torso. If you land wrong, your back gives out, so you've got to have a strong physique," Mike tells me.
In an average night in this line of work, Mike will be tossed between 50 to 60 times, occasionally at a distance of eight to ten feet.
I've been strictly instructed by Renaldo Agostino, the event organizer, that I'm not allowed to ask him about controversy surrounding the "sport."
"When I'm up there, I am in the zone," is the only thing he tells me when I hint toward the issue.
I ask why he thinks there's such a draw for this event, and Mike explains it's the novelty of it. He sees mainly men in their twenties and thirties line up to heave him across the stage—or if he's in LA, into a hotel swimming pool.
Back on stage, two women grab him from either side and fail to toss him, letting him drop to the ground as the crowd laughs and cheers and orders more booze.
"Premature a-dwarfulation," the announcer chimes. "The whole secret is in the grip."
Dwarf-tossing has a history of complaint and outrage in Windsor, the activity angering a local MPP enough to try to get a law passed banning the spectacle. Windsor West MPP Sandra Pupatello put forward a private member's bill in 2003, but it failed to pass to its second reading. "My community is up in arms. My phones have been besieged. The community is outraged that this event should be allowed to happen," read Pupatello as she introduced her motion in 2003. The bill would have seen a fine of less than $5,000 [€3,200 EUR] or imprisonment of less than six months for those convicted of organizing or participating, had it passed.
The event returned in 2012 to further complaints and calls to Windsor city councillors, yet again it proceeded as planned.
VICE reached out to Pupatello for comment but never heard back.
This year, with back-to-back events at Leopard's and a Detroit club, The Toy Chest, an online petition was created on Change.org started by the organization Little People of America.
The petition states, "dwarf tossing is a disgusting spectacle that subjects people with dwarfism to ridicule and physical harm," and it "treats people of short stature as a piece of equipment and encourages the general attitude that people with dwarfism are objects."
It drew in over 3,600 supporters, with comments describing the event as "demeaning" and "objectifying," to "a travesty that any decent society should condemn."
In 2012, Game of Thrones actor Peter Dinklage brought attention to dwarf-tossing, when he made a shout-out in his Golden Globe acceptance speech to a man who was injured in an incident believed to be inspired by dwarf-tossing.
Despite the complaints, the outrage, and the fanfare, there was a notable lack of any protest outside of Leopard's during the event.
James Campeau, a machinist in Fort McMurray, has been away from his hometown of Windsor for the past five years. When he read about the event online, he seized the opportunity to fly home to take part.
"It's just fun. I don't think it's demeaning or anything. He's getting paid well, I'm sure. They flew him out here, and they put him up in a hotel. It's not like we're throwing him against a brick wall. They've got mattresses out, and everybody is having a good time."
Speculating on what Mike's being paid, Campeau tells me, "Even if it is $1,000 [€650], he's hanging out at a strip club for five hours, making $200 [€130] an hour in Windsor… the highest-paid wage in Windsor, you're making $40 [€26] an hour. He's making four times that, and he's hanging out at a strip club."
Agostino wouldn't divulge what Mike is getting paid for the night, but assures me when I arrive that, "He loves it. He makes what a pretty good DJ would make. He's getting paid what a decent out-of-town band would bring in."
Two bystanders in the audience, Andrew and Kristen, tell me they wouldn't normally step foot in a strip club but wanted to see for themselves what a dwarf toss would be like. They're here with a small group of friends, standing in a corner of the room with big grins on their faces.
For one of the club's dancers, Shannon, it's the oddest event she's seen in her ten years of working in the industry. This is coming from a girl who once watched a stripper squirt and soak everyone in "pervert's row like a fucking water gun."
"It gets busy on Saturday nights, but not like this. Right now there are some people who don't even have chairs. Usually everybody has a table," Shannon tells me. "You're not going to get a dance are you?" She asks as she realizes I'm not going to be coughing up the money for a private show.
The toss is crass and tasteless, marked with controversy which mainly serves to shotgun it into the spotlight. The club owners eat it up, profiting from the exposure and free publicity. Without the wires and effects from Hollywood, Mike soars a couple feet from awkward tosses thrown mainly by young drunk men who showed up to have a laugh at his expense.
He'll fly back to LA in the morning and go back to being "Entertainment's #1 Little Person for World Tours."
The rest of us will still be in Windsor, where dwarf-tossing can draw a big crowd on a Saturday night.
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