Harmony Korine’s latest film, Trash Humpers, is probably not coming to a theater near you – unless Chris Crofton makes it happen.
Korine wrote the screenplay for Larry Clark’s controversial 1995 drama Kids, and went on to write and direct Gummo, Julien Donkey-Boy and Mister Lonely. The Nashville-based filmmaker’s iconoclastic work has divided critics and audiences, and Trash Humpers is unlikely to change the opinions of fans or detractors.
Shot mostly on VHS and edited on VCRs, Trash Humpers is a master class in lo-fi, high-concept cinema. Korine has called it “an ode to vandalism,” a fitting description for a disturbing yet oddly beautiful film that appears to have been rescued from a dumpster.
Recently, I caught up with Crofton, a musician and comedian enlisted by Korine to act in Trash Humpers.
A Connecticut native who’s lived and worked in Nashville for the last nine years, Crofton is currently touring the country with the film, opening screenings with a set of his stand-up comedy.
In addition to fronting the Alcohol Stuntband and making stand-up appearances, Crofton is the host of The Chris Crofton Show, a gleefully irreverent internet broadcast featured on the alt-weekly Nashville Scene’s “Nashville Cream” blog.
I interviewed Crofton backstage at the Zodiac Theatre in Florence, AL, on Nov. 30.
John Hicks: How did you end up living in Nashville?
Chris Crofton: I grew up in Connecticut near New York City, and I went to college in Hartford. I got sick of being immersed in the rich, white, golf-playing world. At college I met some people from New York, so I went to New York and lived there for eight years. I started playing and I got on a record label, put out one record. I was playing acoustic and I didn’t need a drummer anymore, so my drummer moved to Nashville. I went to visit. I was sick of New York – well, I couldn’t afford it. I’m no good at making money. At all. I realized I suck at making money (laughs). Anyway, the rent in Nashville was around four hundred a month, as opposed to what was edging up to be a thousand a month in New York. There, I had no money left for food – or beer, more importantly.
JH: You started the Alcohol Stuntband in Nashville, right?
CC: Yeah. My first record was called Chris Crofton, the Alcohol Stuntman. When I moved to Nashville I started playing a lot with a full band. It just went from Alcohol Stuntman to Alcohol Stuntband. It’s kind of a drag, because at this age, being 41, it’s kind of a hassle to live up to that.
JH: Are the people you work with in the band and on The Chris Crofton Show from New York?
CC: At this point, it’s all Nashville people. There are a lot of talented people in Nashville, not just musicians. It can be difficult in Nashville. It’s still a country-music city. It’s not like you’re going to make money with a rock band. You can be a really popular rock band in Nashville, which we are, but the music lawyers are used to making deals for acts that sell a million records, so, if you’re a rock band, they’re like, “What’s the best we could do with a rock band? Sell a hundred thousand records if it was a miracle?” In Nashville, if you’re not working in country, you’re working for the sake of the art. There are a lot of great weirdos in Nashville, me included.
JH: What’s it like being known as a musician and a comedian?
CC: It’s funny. In Nashville, our band got really popular and then nothing happened. We became a fixture. That’s what happens to bands in Nashville. If you don’t get out of Nashville with your band after a certain amount of time, there’s no promotion. I started doing stand-up because some guy in Nashville found out I used to do it. Before I had a band, I did it for a year in New York. I really wanted to be a musician. But before I could play guitar, I was like, “I guess I’ll be a stand-up.” My friends had always told me I should be a stand-up. So I started writing down everything I said on napkins. Comedy comes from the same place song lyrics come from. It took me about six years to come up with decent song lyrics, and probably the same amount of time to come up with decent jokes. At the time, my whole worldview was just about girls. That was it. There’s still a lot of that in my stand-up.
JH: Harmony Korine approached you about being in Trash Humpers after seeing you do stand-up in Nashville?
CC: Yeah! I was opening for Neil Hamburger. Neil Hamburger liked what I did so much that he set me up out in Los Angeles, and I ended up doing a gig opening for Bob Odenkirk and Louis C.K. at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre out there.
JH: That’s a pretty good gig.
CC: The crowd was great and really liked what I did. I talked to Bob Odenkirk a lot. Louis C.K. just sort of comes in and does his shit and leaves. Good stand-up comics are rarer than good musicians. People can like a band for a variety of different reasons, but either you’re funny or you’re not. Now, it’s sort of annoying. I spent ten years on my music and about forty-five minutes on my comedy. People ask, “When is your next show?” and I say “We’re playing–” “Not the band.” (Laughs) In Nashville, seeing a band is annoying. It’s like, “Ah, damn, another band.” People in Nashville are totally spoiled. It’s horrible. “Live music again?”
JH: I read somewhere when Harmony Korine first talked to you about doing the film, you thought it might be a put-on.
CC: Yeah, it occurred to me, with Harmony’s reputation, that it was possible he was doing a movie of pranks where he showed people scripts and tricked them into making fools out of themselves. I haven’t seen a lot of his movies. I’ve seen Gummo, that’s about it. I’m kind of interested in seeing Mister Lonely, because that’s his big-budget movie. He was very young when Gummo came out. I wouldn’t call Trash Humpers a kinder, gentler Gummo, but in a weird way it’s not as mean. I know Harmony set out to make something offensive, but there are so many light-hearted moments in the movie. Talking sex-talk to a fire hydrant? That’s not scary, that’s just fucking funny.
JH: I thought your performance was one of the best in the film.
CC: Harmony had me do ten different things in fifteen minutes and that was one of the things he told me to do: “Do some homoerotic, Borscht Belt stand-up, maybe push some race buttons.” Or whatever. For months, I didn’t know if he was going to use what I’d done. He did say, “I think we got something.” But I’d done a whole bunch of different things [for the movie], singing, making noises. My friend was working as an editor on the movie, so I asked him, “Did they use my shit?” “Yeah, they used the stand-up.” And I was like, “Oh, god. That’s all about race and sexuality. Is that going to help my career?” I had no recollection of what I’d said during that scene. Shooting the movie was like (snaps fingers rapidly), “Now do this, now do this, now do this.”
JH: What was your reaction to your performance in the movie?
CC: I felt conflicted about it, a little bit. It’s a shame that race and sexuality are the go-to [subjects] for pushing buttons, but the fact is, those are the buttons. Those are the issues people get upset about. “Ew, I don’t want to talk about that.” Those are the things that make people squirm. Harmony likes to make people squirm. I like to make people squirm a little bit. I don’t know why. Because I’m mad. (Laughs) Because I’m bald. I’m bald and everybody else has to squirm.
JH: On The Chris Crofton Show, you spend a lot of time mocking celebrities and politicians, calling people out for acting like idiots. I think it’s hilarious, but I bet you get into a lot of trouble.
CC: I’ve always enjoyed making trouble. I get a kick out of it. I know when I’m being bad, and I like to do it (laughs). We’re talking about a world where people regularly apologize for politicians who make decisions that kill hundreds of thousands of people. Freedom of speech, this is it! This is a great country for this stuff. It’s something in the back of my brain I let out. I know it’s not acceptable. It’s some nasty little schoolboy instinct to write and say what you’re not supposed to say. There’s no deeper meaning than that. It’s more honest than people who pretend like they’re nice and behind the scenes are really racist or mean.
JH: Thanks for your time.
CC: Okay! That’s great that you listen to the podcast. Well, it’s not really a podcast, it’s an MP3. Google it. You’ll find forty episodes. I think it’s a good show.