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Q&A: Ken Ferguson, the guy who used Bunz to get strangers to let him bathe in their homes

Q&A: Ken Ferguson, the guy who used Bunz to get strangers to let him bathe in their homes

Bunz, a Toronto-based app that helps people arrange swaps of things they own (sort of a like a barter-system version of Craigslist or Kijiji), takes pride in the artist-type congeniality of its loyal users, known as “buns,” who might trade jeggings, cashews, Don DeLillo novels, dog-walking services or home-cooked meals. Genuine human interaction is part of the appeal, and nobody provides more of it than Ken Ferguson, an actor who plays a central role in a new Bunz documentary, ISO: Tall Cans, Tokens & Compassion, which premiered last Thursday at Dundas Video. Ferguson is best known for using Bunz to bathe in strangers’ homes, which he did every day throughout the month of January. We caught up with him, between soaks.

So, why baths? I was out on a Bunz trade, swapping a shelf for some home-cooked food, and my host invited me into her home for a chat. She had a bathtub and I said I envied her, because I don’t have a tub—and then a lightbulb turned on: I could trade for a bath. I sat on the idea for about a year, because it was a bit weird, but with all of the hateful garbage that had been coming out in the media in 2016 I decided to do it, to make people laugh and try to give some relief during a shitty time in a lot of people’s lives.

How did it become a bath-a-day thing? I started with friends. And then to friends-of-friends, and then to complete strangers. I was willing to trade tea, fruit or meals, but most people didn’t want anything; they just wanted to hang out and meet new people and have a silly story to tell. I started in the tub alone, but people started joining me in the room, and then the conversations got deeper and some people even got naked in the tub with me and hung out.

What is this, then? An art project? A social experiment? My goal was just to make people feel better and laugh. I started getting messages from people thanking me and complimenting me, and I was elated.

Even very open-minded people might have reservations about letting a complete stranger bathe in their home. How do you gauge your host’s comfort level before jumping into the tub? I always talk with the people first and determine what they prefer: naked or in underwear. As the project got more well known, I felt safer going to people’s homes. One host had me over while her husband was away, and I got to hang out with her and her three-year-old daughter. When she put her daughter down for a nap, she left me alone for about 15 minutes downstairs. I could have trashed her place or stolen something, but she trusted me enough to let me into their home. And I actually started crying, because I was touched. I cried a few times during this project.

You’re gay, and you’ve said before that your sexual orientation helps people feel comfortable around you. Can you explain? I think it did. I seem way less threatening, especially since most of my hosts have been women—I think because women are encouraged to talk and be artistic and explore. I wish I had more straight men as hosts, because it would make me feel like we’re actually moving forward as a society. I think being a gay man has given me a better understanding of both men and women, and I think a lot more straight men need gay friends.

Were you surprised that people were so willing to open up to you? I was surprised. One friend said that I was taking a very private space where people are often alone with their thoughts and opening it up to discussion, and that’s why she wasn’t surprised I was getting these raw stories.

Is it easier to open up to strangers? Than some of my family and friends? Yes.

But it’s also mostly a party, isn’t it? You’ve been bathed in beer, plastic balls, cereal, milk, and body paint. One host serenaded you with a ukulele. Yeah. It’s ironic, too, because I was sober during the month of January and that was the time I got offered the most alcohol.

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You’ve been described by the film’s director, Justin Lee, as the “poster boy” for Bunz. How would you describe the Bunz community? I would say that the Bunz community is largely an artistic, open-minded, friendly group of weirdos and goofballs, or people that at least appreciate eccentricities. Most importantly, they’re all unified in the misery that is the high cost of living in Toronto.

What’s next? More baths? Since being covered by the media I’ve received invitations to bathe in over 20 countries around the world. And a bunch of people were encouraging me to start a GoFundMe to do a documentary. I’m probably starting with Switzerland and then off to Germany.

Do you offer to rinse out the bathtub after you use it? How dirty do you think I am?


Ken Ferguson’s greatest baths

The body paint bath:

The Barbie bath:

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The bicycle bath:

The beer bath:

The ball-pit bath:

The bird bath:

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