Lloyd Kaufman at Indy PopCon: a Trom-matic experience 

A Q&A with the film director, producer, screenwriter and actor behind The Toxic Avenger and Tromeo and Juliet.

click to enlarge Lloyd Kaufman and his wife Pat "The Commissioner" Swinney Kaufman. Kaufman requested that his wife be photographed as a "hot head." - KYLE JONES
  • Lloyd Kaufman and his wife Pat "The Commissioner" Swinney Kaufman. Kaufman requested that his wife be photographed as a "hot head."
  • Kyle Jones

Lloyd Kaufman and Troma Entertainment have been pissing people off for over 40 years, so why should a weekend at Indy PopCon be any different?

Here’s the story of how I lost my press privileges and why Lloyd Kaufman and his brand of entertainment are still so rock n’ roll after four decades of independence.

Lloyd Kaufman: What’s your name again?

(Kyle Jones/NUVO): Kyle

Kaufman: Kyle what?

NUVO: Jones

Kaufman: Jones, ok.

NUVO: This isn’t your first time in Indianapolis is it Lloyd?

Kaufman: Uh, Brad Jones….uh Kyle Jones. Listen Kyle, I’ve been to Indianapolis more times than you could spelled Hoosier.

NUVO: Can you spell Hoosier Lloyd?

Kaufman: No, but I’ve been to Minneapolis many, many times…and I’ve been to Indianapolis!

NUVO: So both of them?

Kaufman: I took a lot of acid in the 60s so there’s no brain left in Lloyd Kaufman, creator of the Toxic Avenger and President of Troma Entertainment, the longest running independent film studio in North America and if its not the longest running it’s the longest running film studio in North America that has never had a hit and as long as I, Lloyd Kaufman, am president of said, Troma Entertainment, we will never have hit and I will continue that unblemished record!

NUVO: Can I quote you on that?

Kaufman: If you can remember what I said, and if I haven’t put you to sleep then yeah you can quote me, of course.

NUVO: So what’s your favorite part about coming to Indianapolis? Do you have a favorite spot in the city?

Kaufman: Well I’ll tell you, one of my favorite spots is a little place called Elmer….Elmers, (Note: Kaufman was referring to St. Elmo’s Steak House) its next door to a little hotel called the Méridien, you go upstairs, and there’s a very lovely little bar and restaurant downstairs too. But if you want a good shrimp cocktail, now I’m vegetarian, so I don’t each shrimp but my wife eats everything. Except for one part of my body, and she had the best looking shrimp cocktail that I have ever seen in my life.

NUVO: Lloyd are we talking about your wife or “Elmers?”

Kaufman: My wife has got a very good tuna, but the shrimp cocktail was in “Elmers!” It’s a wonderful, wonderful restaurant and of course I always like to stop by the Indy PopCon when the Troma Team and I are in Indianapolis, and it’s the best convention that I know of for pop art and American underground and cult movies and…creatures.

NUVO: So you talked about Troma being around for forty plus years, so where does the company go now, especially after the 80s and 90s, which seemed like such a perfect time for Troma, in comparison to today’s more politically correct climate?

Kaufman: Yeah we’re living in a horrible age aren’t we? It’s so PC, you cant say anything now without some angry housewife putting it up on twitter or something. We really live in a horrible age.

NUVO: Well how does Troma survive then now as it approaches 50?

Kaufman: Well I had to finally admit that I am a white man, nobody would believe me but I finally had to admit it….

At this moment a PopCon media relations representative walks by and notices the interview.

Kaufman: Well, hey there’s Mr.[Retracted], come on down!

[Retracted]: Hey, How are ya?

Kaufman: This man brought me here.

[Retracted]: Hi, you got all access?

NUVO: No, press.

Kaufman: This is an independent journalist.

[Retracted]: Where are you from?

NUVO: I’m here freelancing and volunteering.

[Retracted]: Well that’s cleared with me

NUVO: So that’s cleared through you? So I have to come back and talk to you?

[Retracted]: Yeah.

NUVO: I can’t talk to Mr. Kaufman now?

[Retracted]: No you can’t.

Kaufman: He’s the guy who is the boss of this whole thing.

[Retracted]: You got to get it cleared through us, no clearance. So, sorry guys.

Kaufman: Oh ok oops, sorry.

NUVO: So can I finish this?

[Retracted]: Finish this but if you do it again I’ll have to kick you out.

Mr. [Retracted] lingers around about two feet away looking generally displeased.

NUVO: So before we were interrupted, you can’t really say anything in this PC age. Where does that leave Troma?

Kaufman: The biggest problem Troma has is there’s been consolidation in the media. Rupert Murdoch and the other giant devil worshiping international media conglomerates have taken over the medias so that its almost impossible to succeed and support oneself as an independent artist unless oneself is allied with a vassal of one of the giant devil worshipping international media conglomerates, and of course I’m so unbeloved that no giant devil worshipping international media conglomerate or vassal or thereof wants anything to do with me. So it’s never been more difficult for Troma. It’s all thanks to our fans, if we didn’t have our fans we would not be here.

Mr. [Retracted] continues to look unpleasant by the second, as he awkwardly shuffles about, staring us down with an attempt at intimidation.

Kaufman: Do you want me to stop this?

[Retracted]: No that’s fine…

Kaufman: If we didn’t have our fans we wouldn’t be here, in fact we recently ran out of gas and we couldn’t finish “Return to Nuke ‘Em High: Volume 2.” Thanks to our fans we got sixty thousand bucks from Kickstarter and we’re now able to finish what will be the second half of “Return to Nuke ‘Em High.” Probably Troma’s, Michael Herz (Co-Founder of Troma Entertainment) said it, probably our best film in forty one years. “Return to Nuke ‘Em High” by the way is a two volume movie. The first volume premiered at the Museum of Modern Art and the second volume premiered…or is being edited now, its two halves, like Kill Bill.

NUVO: When does that premiere?

Kaufman: The second half of, I don’t know, we have to finish it. Nobody wants it.

NUVO: This year or next year?

Kaufman: When we finish it we’ll see. The Toronto Film Festival, we’re aiming for that, and if they like it, if we can finish it. We don’t really have a schedule because we’re artiste…when the cupcake is properly cooked, we present it to the fans.

NUVO: So we’ve got “Return to Nuke ‘Em High: Volume Two” on it’s way, so what other projects are coming out for Troma?

Kaufman: We are producing a movie in Portugal called “Mutant Blast” by one of my protégés Fernando Alle, it will be in the Portuguese language.

Mr. [Retracted] has finally had enough and steps in to break up the conversation and establish order to Indy PopCon.

Kaufman: Hold on one second we can put this on hold. Sorry about the 2 o’clock thing…

As I soon found out after a very professional and polite conversation with Mr. [Retracted], Kaufman had blown off an earlier appointment and interview with a podcast being recorded earlier that day. As celebrities are incredibly busy people, Kaufman would no longer be allowed to speak with me…at least not until we were both outside the convention center. Hours later.

NUVO: So we were interrupted and “tossed out.”

Kaufman: Yes, we were bad boys.

NUVO: We were last talking about the PC culture and how Troma fits into now and how does it survive?

Kaufman: There is a public that enjoys Troma movies. The problem is how do you get to the public that enjoys Troma movies because the paths of distribution are all controlled by the big conglomerates and if you want to spread your message really wide or if you want to make a lot of money or have a lot of attention you’ve got to be hooked up with one of the vassals of one of those conglomerates. Otherwise there’s no hope.

So its not about that, the fact that we’re politically correct or not politically correct doesn’t matter, it’s that no one can see our movies without going in with one of the big conglomerates and they’re not going to have us.

NUVO: So what’s the best way to see a Troma film or get a Troma film in your town?

Kaufman: Well thanks to our fans we’re here, without our fans we wouldn’t exist, but our fans do go to their local cinemas and ask them to have a Troma night or Troma weekend.

Sometimes I can actually come here, and have like what I did this evening and have a Toxic Avenger live commentary. And I do, “Return to Nuke ‘Em High” has been to about 100 cities, about a 100 theaters in the U.S. and Canada and I’ve been to about 15 of them.

The Commissioner and I, (Kaufman refers to his wife as The Commissioner as she is the executive director of the New York State Governor's Office for Motion Picture and Television Development and the deputy commissioner of Empire State Development.) have been to a theater in Texas and we spread the Troma love everywhere we went.

But the fans are our distribution secret weapon. Our movies have really great word of mouth even though nobody hears of them and even though we cant afford to do any advertising.

The fans talk about it and we have three generations of Troma fans now, people my age who are fans, and children who are fans. Women didn’t use to be fans and now they’re fans. We have a lot of non-male gyno fans so the fans are really the secret weapon and no matter how big Rupert Murdoch’s company is, no matter how big paramount or Viacom or whatever. No matter how big they are they can’t buy word of mouth. They can’t do it! They can’t buy it! You can brainwash people and get them to come into the theater but you cant brainwash them into liking the movie!

NUVO: So a slight connection to Troma, something in the news recently, marriage equality…

Kaufman: Oh, so you know that I’m a gay married man is that what you’re getting at?

NUVO: No, not at all. It just seems like Troma has always been so supportive…

Kaufman: Yeah, the underdog you bet.

We were there! The only people in town who supported Toxie was his mother, the little children and the gay guys, that’s it. They’re the heroes.

And the new “Return to Nuke ‘Em High” volume’s one and volume two, that’s a major theme. LGBT rights, anti-bullying and crap food are very interesting themes of volume one and two of “Return to Nuke ‘Em High.”

NUVO: You said crap food?

Kaufman: Yeah, crap food that’s being shoved down the throats of students. Unfortunately, it’s the first generation that’s going to live less and fewer years than the parent generation, one that’s unhealthier than their parents, it’s the first time in our history and that’s because of the crop that’s being hoisted on them so that’s a theme of “Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead” and its comes back even stronger in “Return to Nuke ‘Em High” volume one and two.

NUVO: Do you think the Troma Films have been good at raising awareness for these types of things and supporting those communities?

Kaufman: Yeah definitely because the people who see our films are the people whose minds are still young and fertile. The movie “Fast Food Nation” sucked. It was boring and it also was aimed at the people who already were fast food nation people. “Poultrygeist,” people saw that movie and for the first time they started thinking fast foods disgusting. Those are horrible people that make the fast food, its terrible. Unless you’re a shareholder and get a dividend.

NUVO: So we talked earlier about getting Troma out there, and you told me the Troma YouTube channel has over 150 movies online, do you think the internet, such as YouTube and other video streaming places are viable and does Troma have a home there?

Kaufman: That’s a good question, and the only reason other than the fans that are still around is because of the Internet. We are not making money off the Internet but we are keeping in touch with our fans, and our fans are keeping in touch with us.

The word gets spread on the Internet and we have things like the Troma Channel on YouTube which has about 100,000 subscribers which is very good. It actually has about 250 free movies and it’s got about hours and hours of short videos that are a lot of fun or are politically significant or controversial. The Internet is by far the only reason anyone knows we’re still around.

NUVO: Do you have any last words for the people of PopCon, the people of Indianapolis or for Indiana?

Kaufman: I think the most important thing is that Michael Herz and I, and the Commissioner, thank our fans in Indiana who have been supporting us, not just in Indianapolis but in Franklin, Ind. and Lafayette and La Porte. We thank them, we’re so grateful they’ve stayed with us and told their grandchildren, not just their children but grandchildren coming here to this wonderful convention, Indy PopCon. So we’re very grateful, without a doubt.

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