David Jay Brown & 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
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
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
(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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
(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
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
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
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
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
Sherry: And Robert Williams.
David: No, I know all of them. I'm very familiar with the underground
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
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
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:
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
$225 bucks minimum a month to keep It open.
David: I would think that with that number of hits you could easily
Ivan: No. It's a rare company that really wants to be associated with
somebody that does what we do. I've never been on any national television.
Well, except once-- Jon Stewart had me on his show for about five minutes,
when he had a show. Needless to say he was canceled shortly thereafter.
David: I'm surprised you haven't done more television. Why Is that?
Ivan: Because It's religion we make fun of. It's that simple. David
Letterman has known about us since the very early Eighties. We had Simon &
Schuster behind us for awhile there, and McGraw Hill. I've always had a
lot of friends In media. I've been right next to Howard Stern's radio
studio, with his producers and stuff, but It was like, "Well, no, there
are some things that really are going to far, and you guys are It."
Sherry: You're too far for Howard Stern?
Sherry: Oh my God.
Ivan: Well, you can degrade women and you can be a racist. You can do
all kinds of stuff, but If you start poking fun at other people's
religion, that's where everybody cope out. I mean, every now and then you
see something done that bashes religion, but actually It's usually In poor
taste and rather crude.
David: Are there any Church of SubGenius members In the Middle East?
Ivan: There are some. God, as far as I know, It's like we have one each
In almost every country. Actually there are a lot In Israel. In fact,
somebody sent me this photograph of the walling wall, where somebody had
spray-painted a damn "Bob" on it. (laughter) It was In an Israeli magazine
about graffiti on sacred site$. 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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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)