David Jay Brown and Sherry Hall
Reverend Ivan Stang
Are we controlled by secret alien forces? When will the world end? How can we become more sexually attractive and make more money? These are some of the questions that Reverend Ivan Stang likes to consider. Stang Is one of the principal founders of the Church of the SubGenius, a brilliant and hilarious parody of the world’s organized religions and kooky cults. Actually, defining the church as simply a parody doesn’t quite do It justice, because It Is much more. It’s also a mind-bending art project–involving many extremely talented and creative individuals- and a genuine spiritual movement.
The Church’s doctrine centers around the notion that there are two types of
people- “normals” and superior “SubGenii”– and that everyone on this planet has been duped by a huge conspiracy that Is denying us our true birthright to “Slack”. But all Is not so bleak. On X-Day the world will end, and all dues-paying SubGenii will be carried off into escape vessels, piloted by the sex goddesses from Planet X., who will whisk them away to paradise. This has all been prophetized by J.R. “Bob” Dobbs– a smiling salesman with a pipe in his mouth, that was lifted from old Fifties magazine ads– who Is the divine messenger of the church. This fast-talking, sales-pitching hooligan promises “eternal salvation or triple your money back.”
But, hidden amongst all the bizarre ideology and satirical humor, there Is some truly valuable wisdom to be gained from the Church of the SubGenius: don’t take the world too seriously, don’t let the culture-at-large tell you how to feet, think for yourself, question authority, and have fun. The Church attracts many creative artists, and has been very successful. They have been having regular events for almost twenty years, and currently have over 5000 dues-paying members. They have also had a considerable Influence on popular culture. Many MTV-style music videos, as well as radio and television commercials, currently utilize the fleshing collage style pioneered by Stang and his cohorts. The smiling face of “Bob” has appeared everywhere from record album covers (such as Sublime’s 40 oz to Freedom) to blotter acid to graffiti on the Wailing Wall In Jerusalem.
Stang Is also the author and co-author of a number of popular books, Including High Weirdness By Mail, The Book of the SubGenius, Revelation X, and Three-Fisted Tales of “Bob”. He also produces the official SubGenius magazine The Stark Fist of Removal, a weekly radio show The Hour of Slack, many night club acts, and numerous “religious pamphlets”. Stang Is also an accomplished filmmaker, whose credits include the award-winning SubGenius video Arlsel, music videos for DEVO, a feature documentary China Run, and a series of PBS specials about Sioux art forms.
Ivan Stang currently lives In Cleveland, Ohio. I met the delightfully Irreverent Reverend at the Starwood Festival In upstate New York, where he gives annual midnight rants. My partner, Sherry Hall, and I Interviewed him a few weeks later on August 18, 1999. We spoke for over two hours on the telephone. Ivan is an extremely funny guy. He kept us laughing the entire time.
David: What was your religious environment like as a child?
Ivan: Mostly rational secular humanist– I guess you would say– with a touch of Methodist.
David: Did you ever go to church?
Ivan: Let me put It this way, when my mom and dad first got married, they went to the Methodist church my dad had grown up with. But as soon as they left,,South Carolina, where my grandparents lived, and moved to Texas, they quit going to church. Actually, they told me that they quit attending church after the preacher told them that they should stop drinking.
(laughter) In their case, the preacher may have been right.
But, at any rate, In answer to your real question– no, there weren’t any particular religions that burned my brain. I didn’t get my knuckles slapped repeatedly by nuns, and I have no real bone to pick with any particular religion at all. In fact, my general approach to religion has always been one of extreme Interest. I’m very Interested In the way these humans think about their gods.
David: What were you actually taught as a child about where the world came f rom?
Ivan: It was all left generally somewhat vague. I had a grasp of what evolution was supposed to be about when I was pretty young. My dad had a layman’s scientific grasp of things, and tried to do a little bit of educating when he could here and there. I did a lot of reading myself, as soon as I could read. Ha– I remember one time I asked my mom If there was really a God, and she said, “Yes! Of Course!”, as If It was a terrible thing to even ask such a question. Then another time I asked her, and she said, “No.” (laughter)
The Interesting thing Is my Dad now Is a part-time lay preacher. Even though he doesn’t believe all of that stuff, he knows a lot more about the Bible than most preachers do. He loves to go Into the church, or the Sunday school, In the little town where they live now, and he’ll bring up the most absurd, frightening sections of the Bible— the parts they usually don’t like to talk about. He’s kind of planting seeds of, If not doubt, at least thoughtfulness.
For Instance, he tells the Bible story about the children that teased the prophet Ezekiel over his bald pate, so God sent a She-bear to rend and tear the children. (laughter) Stuff like that; the really fun stuff. I really was not raised with very much religious input at all. I did think about It sometimes. I was surrounded by little Caucasian Southern Baptists In Fort Worth, Texas. So, very early, I did learn to feel like I was surrounded by religious nuts.
Sherry: Do your parents approve of the Church of the SubGenius? Are they members of the church?
Ivan: Oh yeah. My parents are both dues-paying SubGenius members, although you have to remember they were a little bit more open minded twenty years ago when I first started working for Bob. Since then, they’ve been a little bit dismayed at the curse words that pepper a lot of the SubGenius material. That really bothers them. But the basic philosophy– I think they understand where we’re coming from pretty well.
I wouldn’t say that they get all the jokes, but, on the other hand, my dad’s a lawyer by trade; we’ve discovered that doctors and lawyers see” be particularly attracted to the church. I think that’s because, like the church, It’s a priesthood based entirely on bullshit in both cases. They respect others who can come up with this Impenetrable, but yet, somehow slick-sounding, crap. There are a lot of doctors and lawyers who have our Divine Excuse on their wall. I mean, who forgives the lawyer?
Sherry: What’s your divine excuse?
Ivan: When you join the church and send in your thirty dollars, you’re ordained. You become an ordained minister, with all the rights that go with an ordained ministership-similar to the Universal Life Church. You also get a lot of fancy documents, such as the Divine, All-inclusive Excuse. Which Is, If you think about It, really what people need rather than forgiveness. And “Bob” Dobbs Is not highly placed enough to dole out forgiveness. He doesn’t really care about anybody’s sins anyway. (laughter) He’s here to rationalize and justify, and to excuse sins. Although there Is a list of 365 sins In Revelation X, personally I think there Is only one sin. I tend to agree with Ken Kesey, who said that the only true sin Is fretting. A little known Kesey quote.
Sherry: Can you describe yourself for us In a few carefully chosen words?
Ivan: (laughter) You’ll have to call me back on that one In about a hundred years. No, I am a bipedal primate of the planet earth, living on the northern American continent In the later twentieth century. All of those things as measured by people of that time and place.
David: How did you get Interested In unusual belief systems and fringe philosophies?
Ivan: Well, everything else was so boring. I’ve always been Interested In unusual things as far back as I can remember. People love to list their Influences and so forth, and they’re often very highfaluting. But I’d have to admit that, In honest truth, my main Influences In childhood were Warner Brothers cartoons and the Three Stooges– stuff that I saw on television when I was a kid. The surreal moments In those, and In monster movies, always held a tremendous fascination for me. I can remember the first two monster movies that I saw as a child on television when I was about three or four.
David: What were they?
Ivan: Mighty Joe Young was one, and The Ghost of Frankenstein was the other. It’s Ironic because I ended up later meeting the animator of Mighty Joe Young several times, Ray Harryhausen.
David: Oh, I remember loving Mighty Joe Young as a child.
Ivan: Yeah. Early In my career I was a stop-motion animator at first. Then I drifted Into film writing and editing. But I originally started off wanting to be one of those guys that animated the stop-motion monsters, which was the height of special effects technology In the middle-Sixtles. But I just was not mechanically Inclined enough for that.
David: It takes a lot of patience, I know, from making short animated films In college.
Ivan: Yeah, and also drugs came along. (laughter) I think, In the year 1969, when I was sixteen, somewhere along the line I suddenly lost my Interest In monster movies for several years. It did come back though.
David: The Interest In monster movies?
Ivan: Yeah, and some of the brain cells. (laughter)
David: What Inspired the creation of the Church of the SubGenius?
Ivan: The church, of course, Is based on the word of J.R. “Bob” Dobbs, who started throwing all this stuff together In the early fifties. My personal exposure to It was a direct result of my collecting crackpot and kook pamphlets. And my sister-in-law told me about a friend of hers, who had just moved to Dallas, who also collected crackpot and kook pamphlets, and was a comic book fan, and was -a Captain Beefheart fan.
Nowadays, that sounds like just the average SubGenius, doesn’t It? But, at the time, I was staggered that there was another being somewhere on the planet earth that had such a seemingly eclectic combination of Interests. That was Dr. Philo Drummond, the guy who really Is the co-subfounder of the church with me. Although he’s not very Involved now, he was Instrumental In getting the whole thing going. Heck, he Introduced me to “Bob”, and told me about the Conspiracy. I already knew there wasn’t enough slack.
David: Is there really a person named J.R. “Bob” Dobbs?
Ivan: (sharp Intake of breath) Wha? What? David! What , kind of a question Is that?l (laughter) That’s like asking a Christian, what? You mean there really was a Jesus?” Let me put It this way, would you go up to Hulk Hogan and say, “Hey, that wrestling stuff’s all fake, Isn’t It? You guys don’t really hurt anybody or get hurt do you? Ha ha ha 0 (laughter) Why don’t you do that, David? Go up and ask Hulk Hogan that question.
David: Gosh, I apologize. Are you surprised by the Church’s popularity?
Ivan: No, I’m terribly surprised that the world didn’t end like “Bob” predicted a year and a half ago. But, actually, I would not have been surprised either way. If It had become another Scientology, I would not be surprised. If we had simply petered out after a couple xeroxed ‘zines, that wouldn’t have been a surprise either. You just can’t predict what’s going to happen. In the prediction business, you just can’t predict things.
David: How many members does the Church currently have?
Ivan: I’d say roughly, over the almost twenty years that we’ve been around, we’ve had probably around 10,000 or more people sign up. The current mailing list Is, I think, around 5,000. At any given time we’ve lost half of them. We don’t know where they are. Some of them just join up on a whim. Others come and go over the years. And there are some that have been right In there from 1980 on.
Sherry: You had said that when you send In your thirty dollars, and get the ordination, that It’s a legitimate ordination. Are you then able to perform legally recognized marriage ceremonies?
Ivan: Well, we haven’t found any states where they’re not legally recognized… yet. If I’m not a real ordained minister then I guess that means all those couples are living In sin. (laughter)
Sherry: When they decide to breakup, do they have to really go through a divorce?
Ivan: They sure as hell do. I wish that we could offer short-duration divorces, since we offer the marriages. (laughter) No, seriously, all It takes In most states Is for the bride, or somebody, to go In and get the papers from the city, and then hand them to a preacher who signs them. They never even ask what denomination or what religion It Is In Texas, Louisiana or Illinois to my knowledge. People are always asking that question, “Can I really marry people?” And It’s like, hell yeah. Now If you’re worried about It, and you really want to be very sure, then you send a postcard to the Universal Life Church In Modesto, California and ask them for an ordination. They’re considerably more established as a religion than we are.
We’ve made deals with them. We tried to market our membership ordainments In a more mainstream way, and we checked with the Universal Life Church and said, “Hey, can we evoke your name and tell people to send for stuff from you, and still sell our membership for thirty bucks?” And they said, “Hell yeah. That’s the whole reason we’re here.”
I don’t know If you’re familiar with the Universal Life Church. It’s a group that was started probably thirty years ago by a guy named Hensley, I believe, In Modesto California, who basically felt (like “Bob” Dobbs does) that If all these other ridiculous yo-yos could write off their taxes with their silly superstitions, then why couldn’t everybody? And he has. They’ve steadfastly been ordaining people for the express purpose of writing It off on your taxes. You call yourself a minister, your house Is your church, and so forth. Sometimes It works. Ha.
The I.R.S. has been cracking down on that kind of thing for years now, but what Is It that makes a person a holy man? Let’s ask that question. Maybe the Wizard of Oz had It right– all that all you really need Is already there. I guess the Tin Woodsman, the Scarecrow, and the Lion— none of them were preachers. But If one of them had been, the wizard surely would have said, “What does Billy Graham have that you don’t have?” (laughter) Why, he’s got a doctorate of divinity from Billy Graham College (in a vacant lot next door to his house). So here’s your doctor of divinity. Now you’re as Holy as the next guy. (laughter)
We also do Short Duration Marriages, which are a joke. They’re kind of a riff on Sun Myung Moon’s mass marriages. I’ve been doing those for so long that I don’t even need my notes to perform the ceremony. But those are different from a real marriage.
Sherry: How long do the Short Duration Marriages last?
Ivan: Oh, however long you want them to. Usually twenty-four hours Is all anybody really wants. They’re handy In bars. (laughter) They’re a great Ice breaker.
David: What role do you see the Church of the SubGenius playing In the larger social sphere?
Ivan: “Bob” said that the real role of the church was to completely destroy the Conspiracy of the Normals, which would also Involve destroying the concept of money. Unfortunately, It’s going to take a hell of a lot of money to do that. So, In the big picture, we’re supposed to take over and control, or else destroy, the world. Simple. Like any other religion.
But, looking at the more Immediate prospects, I’m very proud that we seem to be one of those things that fills the same need for certain people that Frank Zappa, the Firesign Theater, and underground comics did for me when I was at the end of my rope as a young man, and thought I was completely Insane, or else everybody else was. I mean, I didn’t think there was anybody In the world who would even begin to think the kind of things that were going through my head.
When a person In the late Sixties, early Seventies, felt that way, hopefully they would stumble upon some of these eclectic artists, philosophers, writers, and so forth, and feel a little bit less alone. I’ve had quite a few people write to me, and come up to me, and It makes me feel a whole lot better about the hardship’s we’ve undergone when people say, “I probably would have killed myself If It hadn’t been for you guys. You guys happened to be there at just the right time to remind me that I was taking the wrong things too seriously.”
David: Do you think It gives misfits a sense of community?
Ivan: Not misfits necessarily, although that’s certainly, obviously, where we start. When you say misfits, that Includes everybody from brilliant wonderful, constructive geniuses, down to serial killers. And we tend to consider the serial killers not to be the kind of misfit that SubGenius defines.
David: What do you think It Is about the face of “Bob” Dobbs that gives him such a powerful allure and mystique?
Ivan: Simply because It’s a representation of “Bob”. There’s not just that one particular portrait of him. There’s a million pictures of “Bob”. Open up any old Better Homes and Gardens, Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, or whatever, from the Forties, Fifties, and early Sixties, and there’s these ubiquitous smiling pinks– Caucasian handsome guys, with short haircuts and these pipes. (laughter) Now, they’re not all the same person, but a lot of them must be– and that’s “Bob”. The classic portrait of “Bob” has an undeniable hypnotic hold over those who gaze upon It. I’ve been trying for twenty years to understand It, and I can’t quite put my finger on It. I know that his expression Is very difficult for even the very best artists to capture. He’s very difficult to model In three-dimensional graphics programs, although we’re getting close.
I think that grin, and the particular Insane gleam In Bob’s eye, Is a little bit like a skull. I mean, It’s a smiling man. It’s a happy man. Bottom line Is It’s a positive Image– a nice looking, healthy, happy guy. So what makes that any different from a smiley face? There’s something about that look In his eye by which you just know he knows something you don’t know. Or he just sold you a car. Or something (laughter) There’s some other thing… It’s not just an Innocent grin. So, of course, that causes people to ask what It Is In his pipe. They always assumed that he’s smoking some kind of high-grade marijuana. I think that’s as silly as assuming that UFO’s are from outer space.
Sherry: Isn’t It “frop” In his pipe?
Ivan: Well, “Bob” uses that under ceremonial conditions. We love the Tibetan herb habifropzipulop but even “Bob” has trouble getting hold of that. I think what “Bob” actually has In his pipe most of the time Is this cheap cherry blend stuff called Borkurn Riff that you get at drugstores.
David: What was that Tibetan herb you just mentioned?
Ivan: Habilropzipulops; Actually, the long name Is habifropzipulops mariphasa lupina. It’s a plant that grows in Tibet only In the moonlight. It blooms In moonlight. And It only gets you high If It’s the kind that’s grown on Yeti droppings, or the graves of Tibetan holy men, or both. To get the really good stuff you can get guys that were buried In Yeti droppings, and grow the frop on them– ho ho ho, ho… whoa! (laughter)
Yeah man, I mean, even toad licking doesn’t hold a candle to that.
(laughter) The problem Is the delivery mode; you have to pack It up In your exit wound to get off. That means you have to have an exit wound to begin with. It’s almost as difficult a way to get high as the use and abuse of face-fucking bat sperm antidote pudding-but I don’t think we want to go Into that. (laughter)
David: Have you ever received any threats from any religious fundamentalists?
Ivan: Oh no, not really. Not to speak of. When I was on the air live In Dallas over the ten year period that I was doing that, we only got two bomb threats. (laughter) We’d occasionally get a nasty e-mail from somebody. When I used to do radio talk shows occasionally there’ll be some misguided listener who calls In terribly upset that we’ve devoted our talents to mocking Jesus Instead of supporting Jesus. But my Idea of Jesus was that He probably didn’t really need our help, and could probably take a joke.
So, to tell the truth, I’ve been rather disappointed that we haven’t caused more of a stir. But they’re more concerned with real big evildoers– like Walt Disney and Proctor & Gamble. And on top of that, to them we’re just another cult. They don’t understand at all where we’re coming from. They take everything at face value. So, to them, we’re just like the Sclentologists, the Moonies, the Mormons, or any other bizarre tiny cult that they don’t understand.
Sherry: Have you suffered any other type of backlash from normals? Has anybody tried to squash your right to free speech, or tried to shut you down? Or anything like that?
Ivan: Well, needless to say, working In Dallas Texas, it Is a little tricky to find a printer at times. But luckily here In America there’s always somebody who’ll do anything for a buck. Our website has had to move from commercial server to commercial server. The excuse, or the reason they boot you off Is always, “Well, it’s not that we’re uptight about this stuff, It’s just that we’re afraid our other big customers will get upset.” So currently our website Is on a server that specializes In hardcore pornography. I figure we’re safe there. Same with banks. We have to use porno-friendly banks.
Sherry: Wasn’t there some performance that got shut down right after the Columbine shootings?
Ivan: Oh yeah, just recently we did have a peculiar problem. You know, of all things, we got shut down by some super liberal types on a politically correct basis– which Is kind of Ironic, because I’m more used to getting that kind of flak from ultraconservatives and religious fundamentalists types.
Sherry: What did they say? Why did they stop you?
Ivan: What happened was this rather earnest, well meaning, dumb-ass of a city councilman, who used to be the mayor of Cambridge, got some e-mail from some good citizen way down In Florida. Some friend of his who said, “I understand that there’s going to be a show In Cambridge by THIS GROUP! Look at this website!” And the url that he gave him wasn’t the official SubGenius website– It was for a website by one of our more, uh, mischievous and active preachers, who goes by the name of Papa Joe Mama.
Papa Joe Mama had created a splinter group off of the Church of the SubGenius, called the Holocaustals. He also had to Invent the more liberal arm, which was the Ivangelicals. It breaks down this way: the Ivangelicals are a bunch of sex fiends who really don’t want to kill anybody. They just want to make slaves of the normals after X-Day finally happens. And the Holocaustals, of course, as the name Implies, just want to kill everybody as soon as they get the power. So, this was all, of course, to be expected. You’re not a good SubGenius unless you schism and Rebel and so forth.
Sherry: What Is X-Day?
Ivan: Oh, X-Day Is the prophesied day that “Bob” had predicted for twenty years. He has said that on July 5th , 1998 at 7:00 In the morning, the men from Planet X- or we prefer to think of them as the sex goddesses from Planet X– will come down and rapture up the dues-paying SubGeniuses only, and take them away In the Escape Vessels to a never-ending paradise, while you’re still alive. Then you get more paradise after you’re dead, whenever that Is. Like any religion, we make a lot of big promises.
Now, the fact that the world didn’t end, and I’m not on my escape vessel since July 5th, 1998, Indicates either that: It’s not really the date that the Conspiracy has tricked us Into thinking It Is, and we’re In a false environment like that movie, “The Matrix” supposes or suggests. Or– and I know It’s hard to Imagine that a preacher, a religious man like “Bob” Dobbs, might lie or fuck up– but It’s possible that “Bob” fucked up. Or lied. I know that that’s a difficult thing for a religious person to swallow, that such a thing could ever even happen, (laughter)
But, apparently, that may be It. And hell, we were expecting It to happen In ’99. We had a great party out at that nudist campground again. But, damn! They still didn’t show up, so I guess now It’s going to be Triple X-Day 2000. (laughter) We’ll have to go back to Brushwood and do It all over again- with the the bodily fluid wrestling, the nude Bobtism, the crucifixions and tortures, and all the drugs and liquor.
David: Sounds like really tough work.
Ivan: Ah God, I mean, preparing for the end of the world– sure, It’s exciting, but It does take a lot out of you. Then I had to do the Starwood Festival too. Every year I have to do Starwood, two weeks after the X-Day drill.
David: Good God, how exhausting.
Ivan: So we really are one of the more experienced religions when It comes to dealing with the end of the world. I think the Jehovah’s Witnesses have predicted the end of the world five times, and have been kind of been embarrassed each time It didn’t happen. In our case, we’re not going to let the Jehovah’s Witnesses out-kook us. (laughter) We will happily sit there In total faith waiting every year. If it takes eight thousand years, we’ll be there at Brushwood waiting for those saucers. Or wherever.
You don’t have to be at Brushwood to get Ruptured, though. It’s a worldwide event. You know, it’s funny. There were actually two or three people who were disappointed when, for thirty dollars, In 1998, they didn’t get to destroy the planet. (laughter) And I just have to think It’s a damn good thing that we got to those people Instead of say, Heaven’s Gate. Because all we ever ask for Is thirty dollars, and Heaven’s Gate asks a lot more than that, especially from the men. (laughter)
David: What role have psychedelics played In the development of the Church of the SubGenius, and In your development?
Ivan: Well, I wish I could explain that. For some reason this whole thing seems to attract pot heads like crazy. Now, of course, I haven’t met everyone of these ten thousand people I’m talking about, but I’ve met a hell of a lot of them. And from what I can tell, about 85 percent of them are probably some kind of psychedelic drug users. Now, why that is, you got me. There’s nothing terribly overt about that In any of the books. In fact, It actually says that with “Bob”, you can throw away all your cheap conspiracy street drugs and never come down.
David: I picked up The Book of the SubGenius back In the mid-eighties, I think. I found It In a bookstore on 9th Street In Greenwich Village, and was Initially drawn to It because the book was crawling with psychedelic imagery. It just looked like a huge LSD trip to me. (laughter) When was It published?
Ivan: The first printing was In 1983. McGraw-Hill published It.
David: The book must have been, at least, partially Inspired by psychedelics. What role did psychedelics play In the Inspiration for the book and for the concept of the Church?
Ivan: It’s hard to put one’s finger on that exactly. I mean, somehow I can Imagine It all happening just fine without a lot of psychedelics Involved. Personally–speaking for myself– I actually did write a whole lot of that first book, and I was a very well behaved boy at that time. I wasn’t really touching anything except, well, about halfway through. (laughter)
I’d had a terrible freak-out on LSD when I was sixteen years old. It almost killed me. And when I was sixteen I had not even tried beer. I was very leery of alcohol, and I had not even been drunk. I had been stoned on pot I think a couple of times before I took my first hit of LSD In 1969. All my high school buddies were doing It. They could drop acid and go to football practice or take exams. Well, It didn’t really agree with me. I was a very Insecure kid, and It was a very close call.
If It hadn’t been for that nervous breakdown caused by LSD, and my own Insecurity, and a bunch of fucking Jack Webb anti-drug propaganda that helped fuel the panic of It all, I probably would just be a nameless special effects technician doing detailing on miniatures in Hollywood– which Is not bad. But when I had this terrible freak-out as a very young man, I didn’t want my parents to know this had happened, and I had to deal with It In my own way. My Interests changed quite a bit after that.
My entire approach to life completely changed. I was sort of schizoid and paranoid and terrified after that trip; for awhile, I thought that I would never be able to experience fun or slack or any kind of relaxation again. I thought I would always be on my guard against flashbacks for the rest of my life. I had two choices. I could either kill myself, or I could forget myself and remember that everybody else around me still had the capability of having fun and happiness and enjoying, and that I could help them do that.
As corny as this sounds, at the age of seventeen, thanks to a bad drug trip, I actually decided that maybe I better devote myself to serving others rather than myself. That all sounds real good, and I surely lapsed back Into normal self isness several months later when I discovered that alcohol was the perfect cure for LSD psychosis. Unfortunately, several years later, of course, I had to quit drinking alcohol, and by then I’d forgotten about being such a nice guy. But for awhile there I might as well have been like a wonderful little Catholic Jesuit monk, dedicated to service of others.
David: What do you think happens to consciousness after the death of the body?
Ivan: I’ll give you the most concrete answer you’ve perhaps ever gotten to that one: I don’t have the slightest Idea. And If I said that I did, I’d be, one lying motherfucker.
I saw your talk at the Starwood Festival David, and you discussed some of the responses that you’ve gotten to that question from the people that you’ve Interviewed. You mentioned Jerry Garcia’s believing that when you’re dead, you’re dead, which actually Is what the scientific literature would definitely lead one to believe for the most part. On the other hand, I noticed that Dr. Timothy Leary never would give you a straight answer to that one. I would have to throw my vote In with Dr. Tim.
That Is a very Interesting question. If we had a happy answer to It, about half of the world would probably commit suicide as soon as the bills came In. Except for there’s that one catch- If you kill yourself then you don’t go to heaven. But think about It evolutionarily. If we knew there was a life after death, that would not be a very handy thing. I would Imagine that the spirits, the angels, and the Gods would just as soon keep us guessing and paying lip service– which, obviously, most of them are.
I’ve noticed that a lot of the people who talk the most about heaven seem to me, behind It all, to be not at all that sure that that’s the way things are going to happen. They’re a lot more scared of death than I seem to be. I hate to see things wasted, but the last thing I’m scared of is death.
(laughter) In fact, I’ve already got my tombstone statement worked out. I’ve been telling this to people to years now.
David: What Is It going to say?
Ivan: It should say, Reverend Ivan Stang born 1953, died, blah blah. Quote: “I’ll get them for this.” (laughter) That’s about as wonderful a statement of futility as our war on God, which I now declare every time I do a sermon. I declare war on God– on the God that has to be defended from jerks like me by little Illiterate old ladles, the God you have to clap your hands to believe In, or he’ll dry up and blow away like Tinkerbell.
Sherry: What’s the strangest mystical experience you’ve had so far?
Ivan: They all had to do with failing In love with my sweetie. Those are the only real ones I can talk about. The other ones I’d rather not talk about because It would all just sound too– you wouldn’t even believe it. You wouldn’t believe It If I even started.
Sherry: Ah, now that’s not true.
Ivan: I’ll leave that one for some very far future autobiography. I’ve experienced synchronicity In vast waterfalls. But, on the other hand, I did discover very early in the Church of the SubGenlus that If you Ignore those coincidences, they stop happening. They only happen If you’re looking for them. When I first started working on the Church of the SubGenlus, for the first couple years, the level of sychronicities, apparent omens, and portents got so completely out of hand that I had to call a halt to It. I thought I was losing my mind. I thought, God damn It, I’m starting to make decisions based on superstitious omens and portents on something that I practically made up.
It got to where I realized, well hell, we’re starting to turn Into what we made fun of. Then It stopped. It starts up for every new SubGenlus though. It’s amazing when It happens. At some point In their lives they’ll spend time In a period where they’ll just be too many “Bobs'”, too many Instances of uncanny coincidences. They’ll turn on the radio and some ad will suddenly have five SubGenlus concepts thrown In all at once. And It somehow Is perfectly meaningful In the context of what had just happened an hour before with your boss. That kind of thing. It works just like any other self-validating philosophy.
Sherry: What are some of the most Interesting synchronicities that you’ve experienced?
Ivan. I’ll tell you the one that seems to be the most telling for me. This has to do with the fact that I seem to be unable to see UFO’s. When I was about twenty-one to twenty-three I lived on the Rosebud Sioux, or Lakota Indian reservation up In Mission, South Dakota. And, In those days, I actually was a kind of a believer In all kinds of stuff. It was before the Church of the SubGenius, and all my reading was about the paranormal, religion, UFO’s, and so forth. I was very Interested in all that.
I don’t know anything at all about UFO’s, but I actually know a whole lot about Urologists and Urology. Let me put It that way. But this one very cold night out In the middle of the prairie something happened. We lived In a trailer court In between two cities, or little tiny towns actually. We were about the only Anglos that lived there. Everybody else was Indian. I had been out getting firewood outside of my house. To make a long story short, there was this UFO, a blinding blue light hovering over the pond across the highway, and It was seen by damn near everybody else at the trailer court.
They said that It cast a BRIGHT blue light all over the whole trailer court. They watched It, and It suddenly vanished, or rather shot upwards so fast that It seemed to vanish without a sound. Classic UFO encounter of the First Kind. I had been outdoors when all this happened. I had gone out to get some firewood. Everybody saw me out there, too, while this saucer thing was going on. And they ran up to me as I brought my firewood In. I wasn’t thinking anything. There was a knock at the door, and there was Lorenz Black Lance and the other folks standing there going, “Whoa! Did you see that? God, what the hell was that?I11 I’m like, “Huh? What?” And then they kind of went, “uh … he … didn’t … see…It?” And then they didn’t even want to tell me. (laughter)
It could have been that I was just completely out of It, just absent minded-which Is possible. I’m the kind of person who could walk right by a dinosaur and not notice It If I’m thinking about something or worrying about bills. That was the beginning of when I started to think, well, maybe I’m the one who’s supposed to question these things. I’m personally horrified by the level of plain outright Dark Ages-like superstitions that I see around me. People will start lecturing me about ghosts, or how we never really landed on the moon, or how we’ve, got slave colonies on the moon, and whatnot. All kinds of things.
They’ll lecture with extreme knowledgeability about the most cosmic subjects-life after death, God, and so forth– and yet you find out they couldn’t tell you what the boiling point of water Is. They couldn’t tell you where China Is looking at a globe, and they wouldn’t know the difference between that country and Japan. As a practicing religious nut and mystic, I’ve told people for a long time, If the aliens had come In 1998 like “Bob” said, and given everybody everything they wanted for thirty bucks, then I would be standing on my escape vessel preaching the wonders of magic and religion. On the other hand, If I found myself still In nightclubs and bars after 1998, then you might find me singing the praises of rationalism and science.
So I’ve been fairly true to my word. I get a big kick out of speaking to pagan gatherings, New Agers and so forth, and basically working them up Into tears of concern and wonderment over the environment, and meanwhile sneaking In all this science and rationalist stuff. You might say we learned our lesson when those escape vessels didn’t show up. And although we still believe that everybody should send their thirty dollars to “Bob” to play It safe, also, maybe we should learn how to build our own ships.
And that’s actually been the thrust lately. It wasn’t really a planned thrust. It came along afterwards, and I’m glad It did. But It’s a great follow-up gimmick now. It’s like, yeah, well, for now we’ve learned all we can about the little grey men from outer space and so forth. For the time being UFOIogy does seem to be a dog chasing It’s own tall, and rife with buckets of self-delusion everywhere you look. Perhaps It might not be a bad Idea to maybe think about taking care of the spaceship that we’re on already, using something besides prayer. You know, It’s great for everybody to visualize world peace and pray and so forth, but when you talk about the hundredth monkey, you have to remember the hundredth Manson, or the hundredth Hitler. (laughter) All that other stuff.
Although all of that Is necessary and good for many people, I think that all too often these days we neglect the actual physical processes such as getting off your ass and doing things, that some of the other religions tend to leave out. They don’t stress knowledge very much, and we really are trying to encourage the dumb asses and the superstitious among our number to maybe stop listening to talk shows and read a book every now and then. But maybe read a book that they found In the library Instead of In the occult book store.
Sherry: That seems to be one of the most refreshing differences between your church and a lot of churches– that you encourage people to think for themselves and not just take the church’s dogma and obey.
Ivan: Are you kidding? We’ll chop their heads off If they take us seriously. (laughter) We’ve been deprogrammIng our own zombies for twenty years. Every now and then we’ll get somebody who really takes It all way too seriously, and does not understand In the slightest, “Bob’s” one law– the one law being, “Fuck them If they can’t take a joke.” Luckily, they usually don’t last very long, because If you really read our material, just when we got you believing, we pull the rug right out from under you. “God, can you believe we had you believing It? We almost had you there, didn’t we?” (laughter) Hell, we fooled you enough to get you to spend $16.00 on this book! Now, look how gullible you are. Maybe you better think twice next time.”
Sherry: Does the world seem like It’s getting noticeably weirder lately to you?
Ivan: No, not to me. But I’m forty-six years old.
Sherry: So, the world has always been weird?
Ivan: Yeah. It made a lot less sense when I was younger. I mean, it actually Is becoming dreadfully familiar. I feel like the more history I read, the more I’m seeing It repeat Itself. Seems like people never learn.
Sherry: What do you see as the biggest threats to life on the planet right now?
Ivan: “Bob”! (laughter) If we can get things our way It’ll be “BOB”! And If we can’t find “Bob” himself, we’ll make a 3-D computer graphic that looks and talks like him, and we’ll take over the world. Hey man, the antichrist Is due any minute now. The only thing that’s going to stop a One World Government Is going to be a One World Religion, or a One World Advertiser. So we’re trying to place ourselves. We’ve been trying to maneuver Into that position for the millennium for years now. We had twenty years to plan that 1998 party.
Sherry: Who are your heroes? Who helped you become who you are today?
Ivan: The Warner Brothers animators, and the Three Stooges. I was also very Influenced by the team of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, who did the bulk of Marvel comics In the Sixties when I was growing up. Jimi Hendrix Is a character that I’ve always been very fascinated by. He was evidently quite a SubGenlus, so to speak. He’s one of those people who could do one thing perfectly, or a couple of things perfectly– but that’s It. (laughter) Otherwise he was a complete space cadet.
I thought the writer Colin Wilson was a the most reasonable writer that I found In the field of paranormal, In that he didn’t seem to be particularly dogmatic. He had his own little theories about things but he wasn’t trying to explain everything exactly. I think that’s a real big mistake when you don’t have answers to pretend that you do. Federico Fellini did a couple of movies that really affected the way I worked. Oddly enough they were documentaries. Roma was one of them, and 8 112, which is autobiographical. I see that movie every year or so.
When I was a young man, my Ideal, what I really really wanted to be when I grew up was, well, I wanted to be Orson Welles. Early on I ‘had a pretty good dose of Hollywood. I was an award-winning teenage filmmaker, and I realized that I was not the kind of person that would be able to make Hollywood style feature films. I’m just not that kind of a person. I had a family then that was more Important to me, so that career move was out. But my big heroes, what I really would have been… I used to dream that someday I could do something as cool as the Firesign Theater had done with their albums, which I still consider to this day to be absolutely breakthrough In writing and media. And the underground cartoonists– Robert Crumb, Robert Williams, S. Clay Wilson, Justin Green, and several people who are not very famous. Bet the only one you recognized was Robert Crumb, right?
Sherry: And Robert Williams.
David: No, I know all of them. I’m very familiar with the underground cartoonists.
Ivan: Oh, really?
David: Yeah. I grew up with those guys. I started reading Zap comix when I was twelve, and collected them as a teenager. I used to have my mom buy them for me at the Postermat In Greenwich Village.
Ivan: They were pretty hard to find In Texas. Anyway, when I was twenty-five, I would have been absolutely flabbergasted If I’d known that two years later those guys would be calling me up and going, “Hey man, I got that pamphlet. It’s hilarious. Can we reprint It?” And so forth. So I actually got that particular dream fulfilled very very early on, as far as acceptance by the people that I wanted to be peers with. I felt real good about that.
David: I understand that feeling well– how Incredibly wonderful It Is to become friends with the heroes of your youth.
Ivan: The problem Is that there has never been any money or big mainstream kick to go along with all of this. It’s been a continuous struggle just to keep the post office box open.
Sherry: What about book and tape sales? Isn’t that sustaining you?
Ivan: No. I think the Book of the SubGenius has only sold about 50,000 copies, maybe 60,000 In all this time. Revelation X– pphh, they barely keep It In print. It sells just enough copies to stay In print. I think It’s probably only sold sixteen or seventeen thousand. It’s amazing how Influential we’ve been over the years, particularly with video and sound editing.
I started this radio show back In 1985– The Hour of Stock— and all I can say Is every damn radio commercial that I hear these days sounds like my editing. But not just me. It was me and a couple of other people who practiced this extremely choppy audio editing style that utilized a lot of clips from old movies. Like the way our books used to use a lot of clip art, we use clips from preachers, movies and other stuff. To tell the honest-to-God truth, we never heard anybody do that before we did. Now, every commercial on MTV looks that way. They look like our old video Arise! Have you ever seen It?
David: I have a copy of Arisel I’ve watched It a number of times tripping on acid. It’s wonderful.
Ivan: Well, that was done fifteen years ago, and think how many commercials you see now that look like that. Now, I’m not saying that we got ripped off In any way, shape, or form. But I do believe that we were very Influential to the kids who were exposed to Arlsel on that television show Night Flight, which used to show bits and pieces of It.
David: Night-Flight was a great show. Late night television designed specifically for stoners. I think It still airs In LA.
Sherry: Is Arisel available on video now?
Ivan: Yeah, It’s a Polygram video– although they pretty much sit on It, and pretend that It doesn’t exist. So it’s mostly just available from us through the website: www.SubGenius.com
Sherry: Ivan, do you have enough slack In your life?
Ivan: No, I don’t have enough slack. If I had enough slack I would Instantly be able to radiate SO much slack to you two on the phone right now, that It would become a chain reaction. It would spread all over the entire world. It’d be the hundredth “Bob”. Unfortunately, I’m afraid I may be the 99th monkey In that respect. I’m still holding that dirty apple and scratching my head wondering, ‘Why are all those other monkeys washing that fruit?” (laughter)
Yeah, I guess I have enough slack. I’ve got two grown kids that are wonderful, and I don’t have to worry about them. So for a parent, believe me man, In this day and age, that’s a lot of slack.
David: How do your kids react to the church?
Ivan: Oh, somewhat bored.
David: How old are your kids?
Ivan: My son’s twenty, and my daughter’s eighteen. They’ve both moved away from home, are In college, and they’re out on their own. My daughter came to Xday In 1998 and I’m really glad. It was wonderful, up until then she was still able to tell herself that her parents were completely uncool and out of It, and didn’t know what was going on. After they saw the kind of parties that we threw, compared to the kind of parties that her friends threw, she realized that we actually were pretty cool. (laughter)
Sherry: What suggestions do you have for people on how they can get more slack In their lives?
Ivan: Number one: buy The Book of the SubGenius and Revelation X. Number
two: send $30.00 to Post Office Box 140306, Dallas, TX 75214. Praise “Bob”! But really, we don’t tell people how to get slack, and we do not sell them slack. That Is a big misconception. What we do Is explain to them that they are owed slack by the conspiracy, but only they know what It Is. We can’t tell anybody what slack Is for them. The conspiracy does that all the time. Generally the conspiracy, more or less, lets you know what slack Is supposed to be to the average American. They’re constantly telling you that slack Is having lots of money, and your team just won the game, and life looks like a Miller Beer commercial. Everybody’s good looking by a certain standard.
Or other branches of the conspiracy would have you believe that slack Is sitting around smoking dope all day man, like Beavis and Butthead dude And slack may be those things for many SubGeniuses, but really It’s completely different for each person. And the day that anybody can bottle and sell slack, on that day, the conspiracy has won. As long as slack Is free, and the conspiracy can not define It for everybody, then It can’t win. So, like any religion really does, what we’re really doing Is providing Is a pep talk. Most people already know what we’re saying through common sense. They just need to be reminded. And If you can couch It In a new and non-corny way, some people really do benefit from those reminders.
Every now and then even I have to re-read that shit just to get my sense of humor back on certain things. So we try really hard to appear to be the kind of excellent fascists that our friends In Scientology, the Unification Church, the Southern Baptists and so forth are. We try to be like them, but we’re just SubGeniuses. We’re just not very dependable. Our trains don’t run on time. We blow things off. Most of the SubGeniuses are what some people would call lazy. We don’t care about your soul. So there are quite a few things that distinguish us from pretty much every other New Age and old age religion.
David: What are you currently working on?
Ivan: This week I’m trying like hell to finish editing the documentary video of XXday 1999. We have a wonderful two hour documentary about the main X-day In 1998 that I’m really happy with. It’s been shown In a couple of film festivals, and we sell It to SubGeniuses. It’s on the web site too.
Sherry: I think I saw your picture. You were wrapped In bubble wrap.
Ivan: That was during a certain part of It. We had a mock battle of Armageddon. Remember I mentioned that our friend Papa Joe Mama had Invented this split between the Holocaustals and Ivangelicals? Well, the day before the world was supposed to end out at Brushwood campground, there were 400 people there for that. And they divided up Into teams– whether .they were blood thirsty Holocaustals or sex-crazed Ivangelical cowards.
Most of the tough guys joined the Holocaustals. I knew that was going to happen. I’m like a bespectacled little wimp compared to most of the Holocaustals, but I thought, “Ah! There’s one thing I can do. I can get the gals on my side, the women, because they know I respect them. I’m not one of those macho brutes.” So I created this new motto for the Ivangelicals. It was designed to recruit body guards. Big, soft, full-chested body guards. (laughter) And the motto was, “When In doubt, run or eat pussy.”
Keep In mind, we were up against Holocaustals which were largely composed of ex-bikers. SubGeniuses are not all little bespectacled Star Trek fans. Some of them are ex-convicts. I mean, there are all kinds of people, and the great thing about this Is the fact that this Isn’t just a book, a record, cd, or just stage shows-It really does bleed over Into people’s lives. The active SubGeniuses really are what I’ve been lately calling ‘Human Cartoons’. I think a lot of us love to stage these kinds of things. We didn’t really know that we were doing this, but what we’re really doing Is staging these– I don’t know– like, encounter group things almost.
The real life aspects of a person’s personality that distinguishes them– makes them weird or eccentric– that’ll come to the forefront In SubGenius land, when your surrounded by your fellow SubGeniuses. These cartoons of real life just spontaneously develop. Very little of this Is ever planned. I try to take advantage of It using my editing skills. I’ll edit the footage down and continue to help promote these depictions of real people, as If they were legendary figures, larger than life. You’re probably not real familiar with our little cast of characters, but for instance we’ve got the Hooker With a Heart of Gold character, Sister Suzie the Floozy.
But the big tough biker, “The Cross and the Switchblade” type Of guy, Dr. Legume, who Is this hulking tough tough guy, Is actually a very talented artist and writer. And we’ve got the let-setting playboy SubGenius. We have these self-created stereotypes that, I guess In some ways, you might say was an escape from reality, because a lot of these people have boring jobs and so forth. But, actually, for the ones I’m thinking of, It’s not an escape from reality. It’s more like, “Oh, finally I get to do reality up the way It should be.” (laughter) It’s like how cross-dressers somehow feel a whole lot better when they can dress as they like. He may be a big fat guy with a mustache, but he feels a whole lot better If he’s wearing a little dress, and he’s with a bunch of other big fat guys wearing dresses. Well, there’s nothing wrong with that, and this Is the church for people who are so damned weird that no other church really particularly wants them.
I was having a conversation with this In-law of mine, who shall we charitably say Is not really an urban sophisticate. He’s a small town boy. I was telling him about some of our Interesting members, such as Popess Lillith, who at the mutant prom last year won both King and Queen, because Popess Lillith Is a transgendered person. You never know whether to say he or she. I was describing some of these characters, and my Baptist In-law said, “You know, I don’t think I’d like to meet those people In your church.”
And I said, “Well, maybe that’s why they don’t come to your church and come to mine Instead.” From what I understand their guru, that Jesus guy, the original Jesus, wasn’t quite so squeamish as his fan club Is. I thought that he said that you were supposed to at least tolerate the damn weirdos, Republicans, drunkards and so forth. I find It very Ironic that It takes a goddamn joke church to even think about doing that any more. Isn’t that sad?
Sherry: Yeah, It Is.
Ivan: Yeah! (laughter) I find I very very Ironic that for so many of those people, literally, the only church that will take them In, the only place where they won’t be mocked, and laughed at, and put down just because of the way they look or they way they are, Is a goddamn comic book joke church. What the hell does that say about the Catholics, the Baptists, the Moonies, the Scientologists and everybody else?
David; The Catholics probably wouldn’t even take Into Jesus to their church If he were alive today.
Ivan: That’s why He’s working for me now. (laughter) Actually, He’s not exactly working for me; He’s my younger partner. (laughter)
David: Those are pretty much the questions we had for you Ivan. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Ivan: I hope you guys see that, although people tend to want to, you simply can’t peg the Church of the SubGenius down as one thing or another. “Well, it’s just a takeoff on religion.” Usually misinformed people Insist on pinpointing It as being a takeoff on evangelists or evangelism. Whereas, actually we really do try to Insult EVERYBODY’S religion. We make fun of every religion, most of all our own. Others think that it really Is a true cult. Cult– hell, It’s Infinitely larger than Heaven’s Gate. I mean, It’s rather beyond the cult stage now; you’ve got to call It a religion, because there are so many people Involved.
And some people think that It’s somehow New Age. Others think that It’s got this terrible anti-New Age, totally scientific agenda, that’s designed to destroy everybody’s faith. Others think It’s an art project. (Which It Is.) And that’s the thing: It Is ALL of those things. Why can’t It be all those things? Why can’t It be a cheap joke? A serious support group? A very sophistlcated joke? A crappy support group? I mean, It depends. Even though I’m in the position of ringleading any mass media that’s done with it, or any commercial publications, I can’t even begin to control It.
I can only control our trademark. And, hopefully, I can keep Disney or ABC from stealing It from us and ruining It, making It the cheap joke that It first appears to be. Or even worse– making It Into the cheap mind-controlling cult that It can also appear to be. We wouldn’t want either one of those things to happen. It should always be all of those contradictory things. I think it’s more realistic that way. It’s more like real life. You’ll notice that we’re terribly ambiguous. That’s because we don’t want to tell people what to think. We’re not that confident ourselves. We might tell them how to think, We might tell them what to spend money on. (laughter) But one of the big slogans Is, “Bob’ Is not the answer. And neither Is anything else.” You must learn to think for yourself, but only J.R. “Bob” Dobbs can show you how.
David: Right, hidden In all the jokes Is actually, I think, some very valuable wisdom.
Sherry: Are you a fan of Bill Hicks?
Ivan: I worship Bill Hicks. I am ashamed of how lame my own act Is every time I hear Bill Hicks. Ironically enough, I never even heard of the guy until about two months before he died. A friend of mine showed me the HBO special about Hicks, and I just fell flat on my face.
Sherry: Me tool
Ivan: I was flabbergasted. I thought, my God I I thought I was the only person since Lenny Bruce who was even trying to do this, and this son-of-a-bitch Is succeeding beautifully. Then I got his address, and sent him a membership packet. A week later, after I sent that off, I learned he that he had died of pancreatic cancer at the age of thirty-four or thirty-six, something like that. God damn It.
Sherry: Yeah, that’s how I felt. I saw his special and then kept waiting to hear more. A year went by and I didn’t hear anything else. I finally asked somebody from Texas who knew about him, and he said, “Oh he died last year.” And I’m like, “Oh man!”
Ivan: Yeah. There’s still a following. But the Bill Hicks newsgroup has only got a hundred posts on It most of the time, as opposed to alt.slack, which has two thousand most of the time. It’s sick, because I really admire Bill Hicks. To me he Is the first one since Lenny Bruce to have both the balls and the talent to do what he does. It’s not exactly what I try to do, but It’s very close. I think somehow he managed to pack It all Into that short time that he had.
Sherry: Have you got all four of his C.D.’s?
Sherry: Oh, good. Part of my mission Is to spread Bill Hicks’ humor. I send copies of the C.D.s to people.
Ivan: I do that too. I’ve duplicated a lot of those myself. I’ve been shocked at how few people know about him.
David: I had never even heard of him before Sherry Introduced me.
Ivan: Man, Bill Hicks Is God. And, like I say, I feel sort of abashed because I do a similar kind of thing. I’ve never ever performed In a comedy club. We’ve never once called what we do comedy, but I do perform essentially a similar kind of thing– stand there and talk about really REALLY untouchable subjects, In a very blunt way. And boy, I mean, I just must not ever try to Imitate him. But It Is quite an Inspiration every now and then to listen to the guy.
David: How many hits does the SubGenius web site get?
Ivan: On good months, It’s probably a couple thousand people a day. Check out the front page. But I think that that has dropped off considerably. I think It’s more like a thousand a day now. We’re trying to sell ads on the thing. I mean, It’s a commercial web site. It costs us $225 bucks minimum a month to keep It open.
David: I would think that with that number of hits you could easily sell ads.
Ivan: No. It’s a rare company that really wants to be associated with somebody that does what we do. I’ve never been on any national television. Well, except once– Jon Stewart had me on his show for about five minutes, when he had a show. Needless to say he was canceled shortly thereafter.
David: I’m surprised you haven’t done more television. Why Is that?
Ivan: Because It’s religion we make fun of. It’s that simple. David Letterman has known about us since the very early Eighties. We had Simon & Schuster behind us for awhile there, and McGraw Hill. I’ve always had a lot of friends In media. I’ve been right next to Howard Stern’s radio studio, with his producers and stuff, but It was like, “Well, no, there are some things that really are going to far, and you guys are It.”
Sherry: You’re too far for Howard Stern?
Sherry: Oh my God.
Ivan: Well, you can degrade women and you can be a racist. You can do all kinds of stuff, but If you start poking fun at other people’s religion, that’s where everybody cope out. I mean, every now and then you see something done that bashes religion, but actually It’s usually In poor taste and rather crude.
David: Are there any Church of SubGenius members In the Middle East?
Ivan: There are some. God, as far as I know, It’s like we have one each In almost every country. Actually there are a lot In Israel. In fact, somebody sent me this photograph of the walling wall, where somebody had spray-painted a damn “Bob” on it. (laughter) It was In an Israeli magazine about graffiti on sacred site$. My agent noticed It. Yeah, so we do have some In Israel, but I can’t think of a single Islamic country where we have anything but English teachers.
We had a couple of addresses In Saudi Arabia, but they were Americans. A Japanese publisher bought the rights to the Book of the SubGenius, but nothing ever came of it. Of course, what we tell people, Is “The eighth translator just committed suicide. They’ve gone through eight translators now, they’ve all killed themselves.” (laughter) We have It translated Into Portuguese, Spanish, and French already, but no publisher. There’s one [one
SubGenius– and he’s gay too, on top of that- In Lisbon. God, boy, talk about a brave son-of-a-bitch. That’s a rough country to be gay or SubGenius In.
Sherry: Do you receive royalties when “Bob”‘s face Is used by other people? Did you collect any money when Sublime used the face of “Bob” on their 40 oz to Freedom C D?
Ivan: Yeah. We contacted MCA, or whichever record company It was, and said, “Hey! That’s our trademark and you ripped us off.” And they went, “Yeah, that’s true, you’re right. Okay, well, the band will pay you, such and such percent of each one.” And we went, “The band?1″ They went, “Hell yeah. We always rook everyone. We’re the record business. We shaft everybody. Of course the band has to pay for that.”
So we talked to the band, and the bass player said, “Our lead singer just died of an overdose man, we don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m sorry we didn’t pay you for that. How much would you have charged?” We said about two grand. And they said, “Can we just give you that? Because we’re actually kind of broke now.” So we let It go for two grand. I loved the album. I had never heard of that band, and I got to listening to It just because we were harassing them, and decided that they kicked ass! Just figures man. Every time I like a rock star, they O.D. on drugs, proving that they were SubGeniuses I guess. (laughter)
Now, one thing I should mention Is that a lot of times the focus Is on me, simply because “Bob” Is not available, and I’m the one running this office. But If you look at any of the SubGenius material, you’ll see that almost all of It has literally dozens of collaborators Involved. And that’s really been the key to the longevity of It. We’ve never had any kind of big mainstream success, but we’ve been around forever, and I think we probably will continue to be around forever just because of that collaborative aspect. Sure, some of the old-timers get bored with It and drift on to other things, or whatever. But there’s always new ones. So there’s this constant Influx of new Ideas. Occasionally somebody will describe It as a one joke Idea that just won’t stop, but that’ not true. It Is actually constantly full of a lot of new takes on life. I mean, because It takes the form of a religion, It can cover every aspect of life.
It’s a wonderful framework for people to jump Into If they suddenly have a wild hair. Say you work for the post off Ice, and most of the time you can barely lift your head. You get home, and you’re so tired you don’t want to do anything but watch T.V. But every now and then, you suddenly get this wild hair to do something creative. Well, If you do that one kick-ass thing a year, and It has “Bob” In It, then at least you know It’s going to get used somewhere. You may not get any pay for It. Or hardly any. I think when we did our role-playing game It had a hundred Illustrations In It, and each artist got thirteen dollars per Illustration. That’s the kind of pay scale we’re looking at. But, by the same token we’re a good place for people to get their first published thing. It’s like, I don’t know how many people can now say “Oh I’m a published graphic artist” because we used their stuff In our books, In our role-playing game or something.
David: Some of the most strangest, most bizarre Images I have ever seen In my life were In the SubGenius material. That’s what originally drew me to
It– the graphics. They were just quite astonishing. I couldn’t believe what I was looking at sometimes.
Ivan: Oh, they’ve only gotten even more astonishing now that everything’s on the Internet and we can use color. That was what was missing for the first fifteen years. My website has an art gallery that literally goes on forever, and It’s just gorgeous stuff. There are some Incredible artists. And some of them I don’t know personally. I don’t know how they can keep cranking this stuff out. There’s a newsgroup called alt.binarys.slack that’s just a repository for SubGenlus graphics and sound files. It’s one of the busiest graphics newsgroups, and It’s got some of the highest quality stuff.
I’ve looked at alt.computergraphics, and various other ones, and It’s generally less Imaginative, less technically accomplished, and less busy than the SubGenlus art newsgroup. On my website there’s a graphic section you can get right off the front page. Just click on the thing that says graphics, and It’ll go Into another subsection that covers both video clips and artwork. Paul Mavrides Is one of the key graphic artists whenever we do a big job. Revelation X Is designed by him. He really Is one of our most valuable artists. He’s also one of the best-known graphic artists that works with us. He’s a big part of the whole Church of the SubGenlus.
David: Didn’t Robert Williams contribute to the first book?
Ivan: He has mostly just thrown In one or two things when we were doing a book. That “Wings of Slack”– the emblem that we use a whole lot that’s got a winged clock with a dagger through It– was a detail from a Robert Williams comic book-Coochy Cootie. We asked him If we could use it and he said, “Yeah! Send me a bottle of Chivas Regal and fifteen bucks, and It’s yours.” (laughter) I really like that guy, because he talks sort of like me.
David: I did an Interview with him a couple years ago. It’s on my website. He’s a genius. His work has actually received a lot of serious attention over the past few years. He was part of a show at the L.A. County Museum.
Ivan: Well, It’s about time. He was bitching to me about how he still felt like he wasn’t getting anywhere near the money he should be getting.
David: When I Interviewed him, he told me that he was the only artist that completely sells out at every gallery opening In New York City.
Ivan: Wow. Well, I hope so. He’s another one of my heroes. I have a stop-motion film, kind of a claymation porno film, that’s dedicated to him.
Sherry: What’s that called?
Ivan: The short title Is “Reproduction Cycle-” The long title Is “Educational Series Number 17: Reproduction Cycle Among Lower Life Forms Underneath the Rocks of Mars.” It’s about the reproduction cycle of these microbes that live under the surface of the Martian rocks.
Sherry: Can that be ordered from your web site?
Ivan: Yeah, It’s in a collection called “Pre-Dobbs Stang Films”. I was an underground filmmaker before I was a pamphleteer. (laughter)
Sherry: So when’s the next Devival coming up?
Ivan: There’s something In Tampa Say, Florida In November, but I don’t think I’m going to be at that one. I don’t think they could afford me. That one’s going to have Papa Joe Mama and the Irreverend Friday Jones. The next
X-Day– Trlple-X Day– Is going to be the weekend just before July 5th, 2000 at Brushwood, a campground In rural far western New York, where the Starwood Festival Is held every year. Hell, I’m at that campground at least twice a year. I know about Brushwood because they Invited me to Starwood to speak at the festival In 1990. Whenever Leary or Wilson was too expensive or sick, then they’d call me. (laughter) Like I’m the poor man’s Robert Anton Wilson.
Anyway, Brushwood Is a wonderful place. I’m very good friends with the folks who own the land there, and I’ve been going to those Starwood things forever. I’m planning to move up there. I’ve had It with Texas. This place Is too hot. I’ve been here all these years mainly because my wife’s family was here. That’s honestly the main reason, for family purposes– my family and my wife’s family. I wasn’t especially ambitious to go off to Hollywood or New York, and that’s why I hung around.
David: I’d think that you would be Interested In moving out west, to join us here In California, where there are probably more SubGenii per capita than anywhere else In the world.
Ivan: Well, like I say, for twenty-five years I had family reasons to stick around. Those are no longer pertinent, and all I know Is I get treated great up north. I’m a “kook” here In Dallas, but In Cleveland I’m a respected satirist.
Sherry: Have you ever spent any time In Santa Cruz?
Ivan: Actually two years ago I did go to Santa Cruz and I desperately wanted to live there. There was some weird bunch of SubGeniuses throwing a party, some people I didn’t even know, something called “The Resort”. And a British television show wanted to do a report on the Church of the SubGenlus, and we weren’t doing anything. But these kids were throwing a party In Santa Cruz.
So they flew this British crew of absolute amateurs, and me, to that party. I rented a car and drove out to their party. Then I drove around the area and thought, “God! What a great place to live!” The trees, the ocean– I mean, I was just flabbergasted. I thought, this Is great. San Francisco’s cold and clammy and full of extremely pompous assholes. L.A. Is unthinkably nightmarish to me. But Santa Cruz seemed just wonderful. But It also struck me that It would be extremely expensive. (Sherry giggles)
David: I live In the Santa Cruz mountains, and I pay much less than I paid when I lived In L.A.
Sherry: It’s cheaper than L.A., but It’s more expensive than Colorado. That’s the one thing keeping me from living In Santa Cruz. I’d love to live there too. But the people out there are the real reason I’d want to move out there.
David; Santa Cruz is mutant city. We have the youngest population In the country. The average age here Is twenty-two. It’s just a whole town made up of misfits and outcasts, hippies and punks, artists and philosophers– the peak of Western alternative culture.
Sherry: But really cool misfits. Not the serial killer kind.
Ivan: Well, one of these days.
David: You certainly have a lot of fans here. You’d probably be respected as a deity by the kids If you moved out here.
Ivan: (sound of barfing, followed by laughter) Hey man, that’s what “Bob” Is there for. That’s the great thing about all of this, that you can always just point the finger at, “No, kiss his ass. Blame him.” No, actually on July 8th, at seven a.m. 1998, when the X-Ists (surprise, surprise) didn’t show up, and the prophesy failed, It wasn’t “Bob” that they wanted their money back from. It wasn’t “Bob” that got stripped down naked. It wasn’t “Bob” that had honey and pink feathers poured over him and thrown Into the pond. (laughter) It made for a wonderful ending to our video. It was like, how do you get out of this? How do we get out of this besides a few lame jokes? We’ve got to give this audience something to do. So we had a whole tarring and feathering- which I knew about. I even bought the pink feathers. (laughter) But I got to use all the comebacks that I had developed for a twenty year period.
Ivan: I mean, I knew what was going to happen. Or I had a fairly good Idea. And It was great. After the second or third countdown, and the aliens don’t arrive, there was a bunch of hemming and hawing. Then It’s, “String him up! He’s a charlatan!” I ended up, for about a half an hour, stark naked, covered with this honey and stuff, In this pond, with 400 people hollering basically funny shit at me. And me, getting to use all these comebacks, “what-ifs” and “here’s whys” and so forth-that we had come up with over a long period of time. And luckily the video cameras caught It all magnificently. So we had a wonderful ending for our little video. Plus now we get to throw a party for the end of the world every single year. You’ll have to come to one of our X-day things.
David: Cool. We will.
Ivan: That campground Is just a wonderful place anyway. I wouldn’t do It anywhere else.
Ivan: If I ever get out near Santa Cruz, I’ll give you a buzz.
David: Yeah, please do. I’d definitely love to show you around here and Introduce YOU to some Interesting people.
Ivan: I haven’t been to California really for a long visit, not since the church was cool.
David: Since the church was cool? What are you talking about? It’s still cool.
Ivan: Well, the church actually went through a super cool phase In San Francisco In the early Eighties. And then I think It became too old to be cool. And I think that we’re about to hit the twenty year nostalgia mark where we can then become cool again.
David: I think that the stamp of approval that you’re truly cool Is when you appear on blotter acid.
Ivan: That happened to “Bob” In 1982.
David: That’s an honor that “Bob” shares with Mr. Natural, Michael Gorbachev, and Bart Simpson.
Ivan: That’s why I say, we’ve already been there. It was shitty acid, unfortunately. (laughter) I did actually have In my hand, handed to me, blotter acid that was manufactured with “Bob’s” face. it wasn’t just stamped on after the fact.
David: Those are collector’s Items now.
Ivan: Unfortunately, the guy who handed It to me, the next time I heard from him he was In the federal penitentiary. Oh well. That’s what he gets for selling crappy acid. (laughter)