An Interview with Lloyd Kaufman, President of Troma Entertainment (part 1 of 2)
Hi, boys and girls, I’m Jimmy Carl Black, and I’m the Indian of the group.
Now, believe me when I tell you that today’s Frank Zappa-themed episode of Mendo Talks to Rather Interesting People from Around the Internet is perfect for American womanhood, the Mother People, and every Idiot Bastard Son!
So, Bow-Tie Daddy, don’t you blow your top when I whip out the Chrome Plated Megaphone of Destiny and tell you that today’s contestant is:
Lloyd Kaufman, head of Troma Entertainment!
From Toxic Avenger to Terror Firmer, Igor and the Lunatics to Class of Nuke ‘Em High, Def by Temptation to Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD, Stuff Stephanie in the Incinerator, Fertilize the Blaspheming Bombshell, Video Demons Do Psychotown, Troma’s got it all, and Lloyd Kaufman’s had a hand in almost all of them.
(Although the less said about Big Gus, What’s The Fuss?, the better.)
Yes sir, Lloyd’s come a long way from his days as a location executive on Saturday Night Fever, to the head of the longest running independent movie company in America. Troma’s movies cover almost every subject matter, with lots of sex and violence thrown in, all for budgets that wouldn’t buy lunch in most studios. Sure, they occasionally stop dead for music videos from bands you’ve never heard of, but we forgive them, usually.
I know, most people think of Troma as the studio that bought and released films like Curse of the Screaming Dead, but for the most part, their work is a reliable source of entertainment. And long, alliterative titles.
And if that wasn’t enough, this marks our very first telephone interview! Oh yeah, kiddies, Mendo’s moving up in the world.
So let’s dispense with all this Nasal Retentive Calliope Music and make with the interview.
(What follows has been transcribed and edited for clarity.)
(And no, I didn’t make any of this up.)
What first inspired you to get into the movie business?
I read about movies on agonybooth.com and felt it was so inspiring I should get into the movie art form. This was, of course, in the 1800s, right after the American Civil War.
We’re gonna choose to believe you. Anyway, Troma films cover a lot of subject areas, what exactly do you look for in a pitch meeting?
I don’t take pitches, I’m a catcher. In fact, if you go to younghairlessasianboys.com, you’ll see that I’m not a pitcher.
That’s a very deep look into your personal psyche, we appreciate that. If we could get back on track, during your early days at Cannon Films, you crossed paths with such future luminaries as Oliver Stone and John G. Avildsen, and since then you’ve nurtured such talents as Kevin Costner, Samuel L. Jackson, and Trey Parker. What do you think of what some of them have gone on to?
Well, sigh, Samuel L. Jackson never made it, I feel sorry about that. But he should have, because he was very talented in Troma’s Def by Temptation; it’s just a pity Kevin Costner never went anywhere, he should’ve won at least one Oscar, but again, I don’t read the papers very much, or watch too much TV, but I know when I go to bed at night, I can wake up with confidence that Michael Jackson will be performing live at least once or twice a year.
While we’re on the subject, how exactly did you get Jack Palance to do Horror of the Humongous Hungry Hungan? Wasn’t that the same year he won an Oscar?
It was! Jack Palance won an Oscar, but he had been a big Troma fan, and the guy who made that movie just used the Troma Magic™ and Palance signed up, it was very nice. A lot of the mainstream people love Troma. We’re sort of a guilty pleasure. I think the people who made Precious are big Troma fans. Obviously they like Joe Fleishaker, the 600 pound action hero we have in many of our movies, and that may have had something to do with the casting of the main character in Precious. I think she weighs about 400 pounds.
Speaking of which, Horror of the Humongous Hungry Hungan is perhaps the most notorious of two very prominent Troma trends: insanely long titles, and posters featuring models who aren’t actually in the film. How did those come about?
We didn’t always have long titles. What was the second part of the question?
Posters featuring models who aren’t in the film. (When asked for an example, I bring up Video Demons Do Psychotown.)
We use models sometimes. The guys who made Psychotown, they didn’t take any stills of their actors, so we spent a lot of money to hire some beautiful young boys as models, so people should be very happy that we did that. Also sometimes in the movies you make “key art”, in much the same way that that blue Smurf you see in all the Avatar ads, you know that’s not a real person… Sometimes you just have to create key art for your movies. Like, in China, they bootleg our films all the time, they make their own key art. In China, it says that in Poultrygeist, they have Alfred Molina and Stanley Tucci, it says in the credit box that those two “star” in the movie. That is, of course, not true. We wouldn’t want Stanley Tucci; I would like Alfred Molina, but not Stanley Tucci. Maria Tucci, maybe, the theater actress, but I have no interest in Stanley Tucci. But I applaud China for having their bootleg before we had our video prepared from the 35mm negative, and also for adding in famous people. That’s how they got the Olympics.
Also, it’s one of many of your films from the ‘80s that very prominently feature music videos about halfway through. Were you trying to piggyback off MTV?
It was the other way around, we made music videos before MTV existed. Go look at Squeeze Play, 1976, go look at Waitress in 1980, MTV piggybacked off of us! They suck, by the way, that channel sucks. It’s awful, MTV. If you listen to Channel 616, if you get Time Warner Cable in New York, they have alternative music. You only get to hear it, but at least there you get some alternative music.
After Tromeo and Juliet, was there ever any talk about doing more Shakespeare adaptations?
Did I say that MTV sucks, by the way? Because it sucks ass! Um, there was a little talk about Two Gentlemen from Troma, about Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz, but Michael Herz does not like to appear on film, so that was nixed. Then we wanted to do The Merchant of Penis, but someone objected to the title, it’s a very long and sad story. We’re thinking of involving Shakespeare a bit, maybe, in Toxic Avenger V, because it’s going to be about Toxie’s twins. And The Boys from Syracuse, whatever play that was based on, that one we might possibly borrow from, but other than that, no more Shakespeare.
Aside from your own Toxic Avenger, if you could do any superhero adaptation, which comic would be best suited for the Troma treatment?
Well, I’m not really an expert on comic books. In fact, you’re not allowed to say “superhero” anymore, unless you’re prepared to get a cease and desist letter or a lawsuit from Time Warner; they claim they own the word “superhero”, so you have to say “superhuman hero”. When Toxic Avenger was a comic book, and it was put out by Marvel, we could call him a superhero, but when Marvel went bankrupt, we would use the word superhero and we would get a call from either Marvel or Time Warner, saying that they owned the word superhero, and that if we used the word superhero we would get our rosy-red asses sued. By the way, did I say that Time Warner sucks ass, too?
Speaking of Toxie, what did you make of the Saturday morning cartoon show they made of it? I think I may be one of five people who actually watched it growing up.
You know who else sucks ass? VH1. A lot of the mainstream world is destroying what’s left of the art scene, and the stuff that they shove down our throats sucks ass.
What about the Toxic Avenger cartoon show?
It was a great show! It was terrific, but unfortunately, and you can read about it in my first book, it was ruined by a division of Time Warner called New Line. But the 13 episodes that were made, they were terrific. The writers were very good; we got to write a few of them, we wrote the Snailman episode, we wrote the episode that had the abortion scene in it, with the de-fetusing of Toxie’s wife’s baby. So, I’m very happy with the Toxic Crusaders cartoon, and I think the children really liked it.
As someone with a great deal of experience making B-movies, how have underground films changed from the ‘80s to today?
That is a good question. Finally! No, I’m joking, the questions are all good.
The biggest change is that the devil-worshipping conglomerates like Viacom and Time Warner and Sony, they have been able to get the government to get rid of the laws that used to protect the public against monopolies, so as a result you have four or five devil-worshipping multinational conglomerates, who are the gatekeepers for the entire world, vis-à-vis the arts, not just movies. The theatre, the museums, the educational television, NPR, it’s all controlled by a small number of conglomerates, and as a result, the world of independent cinema has become very Stepin Fetchit. It’s become very “Don’t make waves”. I would say that Juno, perfect example of what they call “independent”, a) it cost 20 million bucks, whereas independent in the ‘80s was Troma’s War which cost $450,000. Juno is a very non-subversive, cutesy wootsey, bourgeoisie-pleasing movie that isn’t going to make any changes, compared to Jean-Luc Goddard or Andy Warhol, those were shit-disturbers, including Troma in the ‘70s and ‘80s, but now you don’t get to see any shit-disturbing movies, unless you are you (the Agony Booth), or anyone who’s willing to search the internet, and find Troma, or find the recent documentary Collapse, or find the small number of movies that dare to try to make the world a better place.
Most of what’s called independent is actually brought to you by divisions of companies that are vassals of the huge conglomerates, like Disney’s Miramax or Time Warner. They’re closing them down now, they’re putting a lot of people out of work, but basically Fox Searchlight, or Sony Pictures Classics, they’re basically putting out movies that are never going to change the world. They may be entertaining, Juno is very entertaining, but it’s an evil little movie that’s not going to make the world a better place. It’s going to make the world a worse place. Schindler’s List, an exploitation movie, is not an independent, you’re not getting Troma’s War anymore.
We’re still making movies, thank you very much for the attention by the way, but there’s very little of the media left now that the rules against monopolies have been struck down. So now GE, which owns Universal, they own the show. Four or five gatekeepers control everything you see and hear, and they’re down in Washington 24/7 trying to get rid of Net Neutrality, which is gonna fuck you right in the ass, because right now, if you put up a good website, there’s not as much opportunity for viewers as Disney. Troma gets half a million viewers on our website each month, we get a shitload of viewers, but the conglomerates who’re lobbying the FCC and Congress, if they get rid of Net Neutrality, you and Troma will get put on the dirt roads of the internet, while Avatar will have the super-highways, the Avatars and the 500 hours of horseshit will have the major highway, and we’ll be relegated to the dirt road, sort of like public access, and we’ll be even further away from the viewers. So, we really need to fight for Net Neutrality, but that’s in a nutshell how different things are for people who are independent or thought provoking or shit-stirring.