Tom Green is only the Tom Green you know because of Public Access Television. That little miracle of ’90s film-making gave amateurs the chance to produce and broadcast their own TV shows to dubiously witting audiences across their municipal zip codes, eventually inspiring and spawning giants like The Tom Green Show, Tim and Eric Awesome Show and Derrick Beckles’ Hot Package.
But before Tom Green and all that, there was 30 Minutes of Madness, a frenetic, vaguely psychedelic Public Access show created by a group of young, audacious boyz that both terrorized and delighted suburban Michigan for years until its end in 1997.
Two decades later, the 30MOM crew is back and now the subjects of a heart-wrenching documentary director Jeremy Royce, who followed the show’s founder Jerry White Jr. in his quest to reunite the cast and make another episode … which of course, didn’t go as expected. Instead, it resulted in some startling discoveries about friendship, mental health and creative perseverance that resonate with anyone who knows what it’s like to love the people you grew up with forever and continue working with them, no matter what.
Its name is 20 Years of Madness and it’s every film festival’s indie darling. Half because it’s gloriously made and the story line is heartbreaking and unexpected, and half because no other film has probed the Public Access culture and its constituents with such rapt precision.
This is the trailer:
The doc was recently presented by ArcLight’s Slamdance Cinema Club, where rapt audience got the chance to relive 30MOM’s moving-ass story. Tearing up just thinking about it.
And that’s where we return to Tom Green. Turns out, Tom had a parallel trajectory to the the 30MOM crew; experiencing many of the same challenges and joys that they did on his way to household name status. So, it only made sense that he’s host a Q&A with the makers of 20 Years of Madness on the evening of its Los Angeles premiere.
Here’s a video of Tom Green’s Q&A with 30MOM crew-members Jerry White Jr. and Jesus Rivera and Director Jeremy Royce.
That was legit, but I didn’t think Tom Green was thorough enough with his interrogation, so I caught up with 20YOM producer Jerry White Jr. after the film premiered to get some answers of my own.
Here’s my own attempt at psychoanalyzing him.
What made you, after 20 years, think that this was something you wanted to do?
You know, the show never fully left my mind. I believed in it so much as a teenager, and in my early-20s, that I feel like it altered my DNA somehow. I began working on 30MOM.COM all the way back in 2004, made a “some old bullshit” compilation episode in 2008, and I’d finally started talking with Joe Hornacek again in 2010. Joe was the main guy I started this with back in the day, so I think all I ever needed was just a little push and a decent excuse to make a new show. With the 20-year anniversary of 30 MINUTES OF MADNESS approaching and me about to finish my MFA at USC, the stars felt like they were aligning. When initially confronted with the task of making a new episode of 30MOM and being the producer and subject of a documentary in August of 2011, it took me just a few days before I was like, “Yeah, let’s do this.”
What did you learn/ what’s the one thing you took away from the experience?
Man, I feel like I’m still learning from all of this—so many things! Making movies is hard? No, I guess I already knew that. Friends are the family you choose? Actually, I knew that too. I guess I still feel like I’m living in the world of the movie. But, the fact that doing a new show and reuniting these people meant a lot to them … I wasn’t sure that would be the case until it happened. And while it meant more to some than others, the fact that it ended up being important to someone other than me was validating and, in a way, redeeming of the thousands of hours I spent alone over the years shepherding the show in its various guises.
How did the experience change you or influence your friendships with the cast?
I think we all have a better sense of who we are and what we bring to the table—strengths and weaknesses, and hopefully a peace comes with that…an acceptance. I’ve definitely become closer with a lot of these people. Having a film about us, while in theory surreal, actually doesn’t surprise most of us I think. I’m hoping that we all feel a sense of pride in contributing to something that is impacting others and making them reflect on their own relationships, as well as encouraging creative collaborations.
What do you want viewers to get a sense of when they see this film? How do you want them to feel?
Touring with 20 Years of Madness this year at film festivals has been an eye-opener, because people have come up to me and have shared the very personal ways the film affected them, and so much of that has lined up with our goals for the movie. A guy at the Mammoth Lakes Film Festival talked about how he felt compelled to call up an old friend after seeing our movie—someone he’d been close to and hadn’t talked to in a long time. That was definitely something we hoped to inspire in the audience and it’s a response we get a lot. I also hope people see that, while it is work to get people together to do something creative, what you get out of it is usually worth it. But not just the end product, it’s about the process, making new memories. Especially when you’re being creative and getting weird. It’s playing pretend again, being someone else, which is something I think all children natively and instinctively do, but most of us put away for various reasons. So it’d be great if there were more people out there making weird little movies with their friends because of our doc. It’s especially healing I think for people who are struggling with tough adult issues. The line between creativity and madness has been long established, and if people who are struggling with mental health issues don’t have a social creative outlet, I think it can be terribly stifling and lonely for them.
Why is it important to repair lost friendships and relationships?
I struggle with this question. Because I think there are relationships we naturally grow out of and that’s totally healthy. I also think there are poisonous relationships that stunt our growth, hurt our self-esteem, or bring out the worst in us. That said, I think a lot of friendships can be salvaged by managing the appropriate proximity. And then there are friendships that ended over issues or circumstances that are no longer relevant, so why not reengage? Maybe you’ll discover something great with each other again. It’s complicated and I think it needs to considered on a case by case basis. In the best case scenario, you reconnect with someone who brings out a side of you that you love and have long missed and vice versa. Someone who holds special memories that neither of you might’ve recalled otherwise. And those friendships forged in youth are sometimes lost because they’re so painfully close and raw, which maybe we need more of. And maybe we can handle such raw emotions and closeness now that we’re older.
Is it important that you feel as if your younger self would be happy with your self now? Why?
Hahahahaha, this is a great question—I’m so glad you ask! Not to give too much away, but early in the film there’s a moment where I talk about how the version of me 20-years ago wouldn’t be happy with me now. And while it plays like I’m wistful or upset about that, I’m actually totally fine with it. I don’t think anyone should be beholden to what they imagined their lives would be before they’ve actually lived them! I mean, should I be upset that I’m not an astronaut because that was something I wanted as a little kid? I’m not going to live in some shame-bubble because me-as-a-kid couldn’t understand that as I learned new things and grew, my interests and aspirations would change. Kids are wild and wonderful, but not big on nuance and compromise.
I made a new episode of my teenage TV show and have held on, in various ways, to 30 MINUTES OF MADNESS, but that wasn’t about making my teen self happy. It’s because, for whatever reason, these are things that I’ve continued to want, even as I grew up. I wanted a lamborghini when I was a kid. I thought having a harem would be awesome. I have neither of those things now and I’m totally fine with it. I wanted to be a famous singer and movie star for most of my youth. I’m not haunted by the ghost of my disappointed youth having not achieved that. I’m doing what I can and those goals have evolved. It would be different if I felt like I’d sold out my core values, but I haven’t. And if younger-me argued that I could’ve worked harder or tried more, I won’t deny that. But I’d have to tell him that he’d end up doing the same thing, so he can either be upset at himself or cut himself some slack and live his life.
Why do people need an outlet to express their weirdness? What is the importance of absurdity to you?
There’s a quote in German … I forget who said it now, but it translates “Life is absurd and death renders it meaningless.” That might sound depressing, but not to me. I feel like absurdity is profound and liberating—and we’re all going to die someday, so fuck it. I even think weirdness is just a way that we express aspects of ourselves that are unique. I mean, that’s what we label weird: things that aren’t normal or usual. Now there are weird ways we can behave that hurt other people and I’m not in favor of that, but anything short of that is pretty much fair game. And necessary. Because it’s not just about letting the “weirdness” out—it’s about letting a true expression of ourselves out. It’s cathartic. And I think there are a lot of ways to do this, not just doing skits. It’s all connected to creative and personal expression. Whether that’s having a purple bottle cap collection, finger painting with mayonnaise and food coloring, or making music with guitars made of wood or metal or cardboard or air.
And just why not? Absurdity and ridiculousness are great spices for the mundane. So I’m not saying you need to be weird 24/7, because sometimes you have to do your laundry or just want to read a book and that doesn’t need to be a piece of performance art. It’s a potent spice and not suitable for all occasions, but sometimes you gotta be liberal with it!