At 75 years of age, schlockmaster-in-chief Lloyd Kaufman is still as spry, wry, and sly as ever. Having carved out a long and storied career as a purveyor of low-class, high-irony, micro-budget masterpieces like The Class of Nuke’Em High and Surf Nazis Must Die, Kaufman now has a new offering for us: #ShakespearesShitstorm, a satirical gross-out gag-fest based on The Tempest. Kaufman not only co-writes and directs this one, he takes a leading role as Prospero, here reimagined as a pharmaceutical genius exiled to Tromaville, New Jersey after his morals get in the way of Big Pharma profiteering. It’s got more than a few things to say about the current state of affairs, but how can Troma’s cheerfully offensive brand of comedy thrive in our current offense-sensitive cultural climate?
Troma Entertainment has been around since 1974 and has weathered so many changes in the film industry. How are you handling the recent big upheavals, such as the pivot to streaming?
Well, the Troma model has changed in that we've been pushed deeper and deeper into the reeds of the underground due to the fact that the media world has become more and more consolidated. You have phone companies owning Warner Brothers and a cable company owning Universal Films and the company that makes Walkman or whatever they call them now, earphones, they own Columbia Pictures. So, you know, there's a smaller group in control of everything we see here, and YouTube and Amazon are kicking off a lot of independent sources of art with an unfair double standard. So, we depend on our fans. We've always been fan fuelled. We have about a million fans and supporters over the world who go to our socials and to my fan site and Troma's sites, so they keep us going.
"What do you do when reality starts resembling your own satirical output?"
With all that in mind, how did #ShakespearesShitstorm come about?
#ShakespearesShitstorm was a hundred percent fan fuelled. Fans gave us money, knowing they're going to lose money. Fans starred in it, a fan is the director of photography from California working for about 10 percent of what he normally gets. The main camera guy was from Denmark. the production designer came from Japan. We had people from Canada, from the UK, all over the world. They came to sleep on the floor and learn how to defecate in a paper bag just so they could work on something they believed in, and so they could enjoy taking some chances and experimenting a little bit and... I can't say having fun but doing something that really pleases them. “To thine own self be true” for them.
Speaking of “thine own self be true”, this sees you return to the Shakespearean well for the first time since 1996’s Tromeo and Juliet (written by James 'Guardians of the Galaxy' Gunn). Why go to The Tempest now?
The Tempest has always been my favourite Shakespearean play and I would have done it before, but I wanted to hold off till I could really feel Prospero. He's old, he's been banished, he deals in monsters and magic. It's a very trippy kind of movie. I'm old! I've been banished! Deep into the reeds of the underground. I do magic: making movies is magical. And, you know, "monster "works out, too.
It was a tough movie to make. Tromeo and Juliet was much easier because it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The Tempest is all a set up and then Prospero says, "Okay, everybody go! Let's all go home!" Yet, I love that play. It's my favourite one. I've seen it many times and I've seen most of the iterations on celluloid - which has the syllable "Lloyd", that's why I use that word. It's a wonderful play, it's just great.
You have two main satirical targets in this one. One is the pharmaceutical industry, while the other is so-called “SJW” or “Social Justice Warrior” culture. What did these two do to earn Troma’s ire?
Well, for the past 50 years my wife and I wake up to the chat shows in the morning and every 15 minutes, there's an ad going for some kind of a pill or a drug. You’ve got these five-year-old kids watching - they're not allowed to watch Troma movies, but they can sit there eating their sugar in the morning and watch these commercials about how important it is to take pills. So now we have a society in the U.S. that basically has normalised drugs and we're surprised that there's an opioid crisis, you know? It's ridiculous. It's, it's so obvious and nobody says it.
And then regarding the "SJWs", I've been, I've been cancelled a couple of times and it doesn't matter because Troma has this very loyal fan base who will stay with us pretty much through thick and thin.
But what pushed me over the line was what happened to Nicholas Christakis, a tenured professor at my university, Yale. Yale sent a letter to the students at Yale saying, please for Halloween, do not appropriate cultures. Don't wear a Mexican hat. Don't wear a Chinese pigtail. what is acceptable is dressing up as Elmo.
So, Christakis’ wife [early childhood specialist Erika Christakis] writes an open letter saying, hey, we think that Yale students are smart enough to dress up for Halloween. And there was a huge outcry from the politically correct crowd. [**Editor's note: This article provides a detailed overview of the issue, summarising the question about how colleges weigh issues of racial sensitivity and mental health against sometimes-competing arguments about free speech and academic freedom]. These kids are what? 19? 20? 21 maximum? And they’re screaming at him. He’s trying to have a nuanced debate, respecting them, and they’re screaming. They don't want an education; they want a place where they can be outraged and where everything triggers them. That really pushed me over the line when I saw that.
What’s interesting to me is that, in spite of Troma’s gleefully offensive, no-cow-too-sacred approach to filmmaking, you’ve always been a pretty progressive guy with very left-wing politics. Do you feel there’s a problem with the modern Left? Are they focusing on minor grievances and not seeing the forest for the trees?
I feel like it's been infiltrated and kind of taken over by these third-rate bloggers who build their reputations on destroying people, both on the Right and the Left.
I've gotten it from the Right. One of those influencers who's got a huge following and just makes stuff up said I was involved in PizzaGate, which was Hillary Clinton supposedly sucking blood from children in a pizza store or something. So, he put up all these photographs of me with children, and they were my own kids! But our fans, every time I’ve been attacked, the Troma fans go crazy and they stop it. This guy actually apologised, said he got it wrong. And the influencers all went back into their holes.
The PizzaGate conspiracy theory is so nuts it sounds like something out of a Troma movie. What do you do when reality starts resembling your own satirical output?
I tell you; you can't write this stuff. You really can't. Our country has concentrated on making bombs, but our public-school system has gone totally down the drain. Unless you're rich in this country, you can't get an education. The point is we f__ked up here - look who we’re running for president! Two old people who fed at the public trough, both liars. Biden has never done anything other than being responsible for putting a lot of black people in jail. That's his only achievement. I put a hashtag up, #settleforBiden because it can't be any worse.
Finally, what’s up for Troma and Lloyd Kaufman going forward?
Our big lifesaver during this COVID period is Troma Now, which is a streaming service. We’ve got about a thousand movies and shorts. In fact, after YouTube stiffed at us, we migrated all our movies to Troma Now. it's been around for five years, it has shorts, features, movies of the future. documentaries, movie making lessons, comic books - it's a wonderful, truly independent streaming service.
#truthandlove. That's what it boils down to. And you know, that's sort of Prospero’s message. I think it works pretty well.
#ShakespearesShitstorm is playing at various locations around Australia this weekend as part of MonsterFest.
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