VICE: Can you tell me about yourself and what credentials you have to make theories that challenge the pervasive beliefs held by prominent religious scholars?
I’m an independent scholar. I have no academic training in what would be considered traditional Bible scholarship.
OK. How’d you start studying the origins of Jesus?
I attended a Jesuit military academy as a kid that studied the gospels. Although I drifted away from the church, later on in life, I retained an interest in the character Jesus Christ.
What intrigued you about Jesus?
Jesus had a more pacifistic and cosmopolitan view of things than the messianic movement of his day, which was very xenophobic. The Jewish perspective of the time was that it wanted the Romans out to have a religious state.
How do you know this?
To get an informed perspective on the gospels you have to read a guy called Flavius Josephus. He lived in Judea, wrote a history of the time and place when Jesus supposedly lived, and documented the war between the Romans and the Jews. If you read his work, you will notice there are parallels between the events in the war and events in Jesus’s ministry that occur in the same sequence.
I have no idea what you are talking about. But give me some examples, please.
For example, Jesus says to his followers, “Follow me and you’ll fish for men.” In the war, a Roman general says to his troops “Don’t be afraid. Follow me” and then he sends them out into the Sea of Galilee where they sink the Jewish fishing boats. The Jews try to swim to safety and then the Romans “fished them” with spears, according to Flavius’s account.
—Was Jesus a Roman Hoax to Trick the Jews? Read the whole interview
Unmasking Lucien Greaves, Leader of the Satanic Temple
VICE: Is the Satanic Temple a satanic, or a satirical group?
Doug: That is a common question. I say why can’t it be both? We are coming from a solid philosophy that we absolutely believe in and adhere to. This is Satanism, and to us it couldn’t be called anything other than Satanism. However, our metaphor of Satan is a literary construct inspired by authors such as Anatole France and Milton—a rebel angel defiant of autocratic structure and concerned with the material world. Satanism as a rejection of superstitious supernaturalism. This Satan, of course, bears no resemblance to the embodiment of all cruelty, suffering, and negativity believed in by some apocalyptic segments of Judeo-Christian culture. The word Satan has no inherent value. If one acts with compassion in the name of Satan, one has still acted with compassion. Our very presence as civic-minded socially responsible Satanists serves to satirize the ludicrous superstitious fears that the word Satan tends to evoke.
Reminds me of a darker version of the Yes Men.
Yes. Just as the Yes Men use very catching theatrical ploys to draw attention to a progressive agenda, we play upon people’s irrational fears in a way that hopefully causes them to reevaluate what they think they know, redefine arbitrary labels, and judge people for their concrete actions. I believe that where reason fails to persuade, satire and mockery prevail. Whereas many religious groups seem to eschew humor, we embrace it.
Read the whole interview
Celebrity Swatting and Other Popular LA Trends
Los Angeles kinda sucks. Ask anyone. It’s spread out, the people are weird, and also the devil lives here. Yes, the actual devil lives in Los Angeles. He has a duplex in Laurel Canyon and drives a Saab. His three kids are named Donald, Donna, and Rocketship.
In addition to the devil and his hell-spawn, Ryan Seacrest lives here. I think he’s tangentially related to Satan, but the blood test results are not in yet. Seacrest was the victim of a hot, new Los Angeles trend known as swatting. Due to the inescapable fact that Los Angeles is totally fucking boring, people here actually take the time to prank call various emergency-services agencies and trick them into responding to imaginary incidents at celebrity estates. Often times, SWAT teams will be called to the scene, hence the term swatting.
Swatting victims include Justin Bieber, Ashton Kutcher (who failed to see the irony in getting Punk’d), Charlie Sheen (who does not know how to spell the word irony), and Simon Cowell, who dealt with a false report that someone had been tied up in his home. Somehow, I doubt the report was actually false, since my only theory for why X-Factor is still on the air is that Simon Cowell is holding all the Fox executives hostage.
In the interest of honesty, let me say that I’m far more interested in the version of swatting where I get to slap Ryan Seacrest in the face, but I suppose we can’t all get what we want, can we? I’m not the Angelino who starts the trends. I just follow them. I went out to document all the hot new trends in La La Land and report back on them before they become passé in the next six hours.
Shove a famous person down your pants and sneak them through airport security. It’s even harder than it sounds, but it’s extra rewarding when you land in St. Louis with Jaden Smith in your cargo shorts.
The above gentleman is either cosplaying as a character from Sons of Anarchy, or he is just covering up a huge bald spot. Either way, dressing up is a big trending topic in Hollywood these days. This guy wants to escape his dull existence and pretend to be “hillbilly Michael Chiklis from The Shield.” My celebrity cosplay dream is dressing up like Shaquille O’Neal’s seventh illegitimate child, Rufus. If you actually just want to be yourself, chances are you shouldn’t be living in LA.
I was about an hour into my interview with Merry Prankster elder statesman Ken Babbs when he suddenly jumped up and announced that we needed to have an “outside adventure.” This sort of erratic suggestion would have been kind of weird and off-putting coming from anyone else. But for Babbs—the Merry Prankster who helped Ken Kesey teach the hippies how to be hippies—the impulsive and unexpected come naturally.
It’s been almost half a century since Babbs, Kesey, and the Pranksters painted technicolor murals across their 1939 Harvester school bus, stocked it full of acid, and drove from LA to New York’s 1964 World Fair—a trip that later inspired the Beatles to write The Magical Mystery Tour. The Pranksters and their driver, Neal Cassady, who was immortalized as Dean Moriarty in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, went on to party with the Hell’s Angels, live side-by-side with the Grateful Dead, and host psychedelic sensory orgies called Acid Tests. Their exploits were captured in Tom Wolfe’s 1968 book, Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.
Time has been good to Babbs. At 73, he still bursts with energy and ideas even if he no longer looks like the spry, DayGlo weirdo from Tom Wolfe’s book. These days, he dresses like a grandfather. When I met him, he had on a fedora, a button-up shirt, and loose-fitting stonewashed jeans. As he told it, the conservative clothes are Prankster tools of deception. They let him slip around unnoticed. But his tie-dye socks still peeked out from under his cuffs.
I visited Babbs at his home back in October. He lives on a few acres of land in the woods outside of Eugene, Oregon, with his wife in an eccentric barn-style house that he built himself. The place smells of old books and Triscuits and, of course, it didn’t have a normal bathroom. Instead, there were two stalls with multicolored seats sitting right in the living room. If someone had taken a shit, you would’ve seen their feet dangling from the dining room table. My hungover photographer, who desperately needed to drop some friends off at the pool, kept his cheeks clenched the whole time we were there.
Babbs has collected so much historical detritus from his life with the Pranksters he had to build ramshackle sheds around his property to house it all. He lead me to one of these sheds for our “outside adventure.” It hadn’t been opened for decades. There wasn’t even a door. When we took a screw gun to the shed’s wall and Babbs and I peered inside, I felt like Geraldo Rivera at Al Capone’s vault. Babbs dove in and started tossing out DayGlo toilet seats, psychedelic piano keyboards, and handfuls of tie-dye trinkets. He riffed on each item we dug up except for the giant “WHUMP!” banner. He let that one speak for itself.
Basically, Babbs lives in a museum. It’s funny that the guy who always played the lighthearted counterweight to Kesey is now the Prankster’s myth builder, spending his days among his artifacts, spouting off quotes that he attributes to Kesey—even though I’m pretty sure he makes them up on the spot.
In the midst of excavating his shed and avoiding his bathroom, I managed to talk with Babbs about pioneering the acid culture, what happened to their bus named Furthur, and how it feels to build a personal mythology.
VICE: Hey Ken, the life you’ve led has become a modern legend. How much of it all was real and how much was revisionist history?
Ken Babbs: People always ask, “Was this true? Was that true?” I say “Absolutely.” Our story has been retold so much that it has become myth. If all the people who said they were on that bus when we went to New York City in 1964 laid end-to-end, it would be about ten miles long. The really neat thing is that, as time goes on, the myth continues to grow. Everybody is adding to it. It’s getting huge. And then, a long time will pass, and it will be like Homer finally writing about Achilles. It’ll be condensed down into just the essence. I’d like to be around in 1,000 years and see what this myth will be condensed down into.
You’ll be the new Saint Peter.
I doubt that. Kerouac was the saint. We called him Saint Jack.
He was the holy dharma bum, the holy Beat, who saw that the “beat” was for “beatitude.” He blew soul. He sacrificed his life by drinking so much. He had to do that in order to keep his center centered. A lot of people drop out that way. It’s a sad story.
An Interview with Jerky Boys Creator Johnny Brennan
My parents still don’t know why I turned out the way I did, but one man deserves at least 30 percent of the credit (or blame): Johnny Brennan, creator of the Jerky Boys.
In early 1994, I bought a copy of the now classic prank phone call album The Jerky Boys on cassette at the now sadly-defunct Just Music in Longview, Washington and when the album was done playing I was a changed young man. That evening during my nightly argument with my old man about my “attitude,” I had a secret weapon he didn’t know about: Frank Rizzo.
But the Jerky Boys were not only a good offense against the evil forces of Mommy and Daddy, they were the perfect brand of comedy for anyone who had a slightly anarchistic sense of humor. Brennan and his sidekick Kamal Ahmed elevated prank phone calls to the level of theater, thanks to such memorable characters as the neurotic Sol Rosenberg, the flamboyantly gay Jack Tors, crotchety old coot Kissel, and other misfits. This was hilarious shit and soon it was pure Jerkymania all across America.
Eventually the hype died down, Kamal (who voiced the characters Tarbash, Kissel, and a few others, such as the memorable Curly G.) left in the late 90s and Brennan focused more on doing voices for Family Guy. But you can’t keep a good prankster down and now Brennan and his characters are back and making brand new calls that will soon be released on The Jerky Boys website. Brennan has also kept the Jerky Boys brand going with a great podcast on iTunes, interacting with fans and discussing the background behind some of the classic Jerky calls. Brennan recently made one of his first live appearances at Gotham Comedy Club in Chelsea, dazzling rabid Jerky Boys fans with stories from behind the prank call trenches. I got him on the phone (naturally) and we discussed it all—the assnecks, the pissclams, chocolate juice, lamby nipple chops with minty pickled sour sauce; the whole enchilada, tough guy.
VICE: So you just did your first live gig last week? Tell me about that.
Johnny Brennan: Yeah, it was great. Doing it live, it’s a completely different form of comedy. I noticed when I started doing the podcast that the fans really enjoyed the behind the scenes stories from their favorite calls, like for example finding out who Brett Weir really was. The calls are so legendary now that people just really love finding out the stories behind them. So I just figured instead of doing a podcast from my studio at home, why not just go out and interact with people live? It’s really cool.
It’s hard to believe were coming up on the 20th anniversary of the release of the first album. The Jerky characters are now almost like best friends to fans.
Well, yeah, but remember the bootlegs had been around for years, going back to the late 70s, early 80s. Before it was released in 1993, it already had a long track record. The New York Times called it the largest bootleg in history, and then when the album came out it still sold millions and millions of copies. And I got direct from the horse’s mouth why that happened — people told me “Johnny, dude, we are so glad we can finally buy these calls on CD because our cassettes that we’ve passed around for eons are completely destroyed.” Back then all you had were cassettes and when I made some of those original cuts, CDs weren’t even invented yet. So people passed those tapes around for years and played the shit out of them so much that they were ruined, so when all those bootlegged calls like “Auto Mechanic” or “Sol’s Eyeglasses” were finally released on CD, people were just so freakin’ happy.
And now you’re releasing new calls on your website every month?
Right, they’re called the Jerky Boys Six-Pack. I tried to get the ball rolling in May but I had a couple of legal issues I had to take care of, but they’ll be coming. They will be five brand new calls and then one classic Jerky Boys call where I give commentary over it.