We met Mr. Lobo at the B-Movie Celebration in Indiana where he did a spontaneous interview with John Huff about directing CYXORK 7. That interview was chosen by Troma as a bonus feature for the CYXORK 7 DVD. It also marks the beginning our appreciation for Mr. Lobo's work as a Horror Host. (watch the interview)
Later, when we fired up Cultmachine, Mr. Lobo was on the short list of potential interview candidates. Finally, we asked and he agreed to talk to us. The first batch of questions went out to him. His answers begged for more questions because we felt we were talking to a fellow traveler on the “road less taken.”
There are the same “up and downs,” the “getting ripped-off” moments, those unexpected creative reboots and reinventions. We can relate to the struggle of creating something out of nothing, that effort of getting projects off the runway and keeping them aloft, while others try to shoot them down.
We admire his stamina and his urge to move forward. Life is a one-way street and a dead-end road. One cannot slow down to reminisce while looking at the rear-view mirror, nor fret about dark clouds ahead.
We understand him not wanting to look back and thank him for doing so in this interview. -- Mr. Huff & Mr. Kossak
Mr. Huff: Okay, Mr. Lobo, I know about you but many do not. Whence came "Mr. Lobo"?
Darker and taller than most of the other kids at my school, I always felt like an outsider. In school plays, I was always the narrator. My way of dealing with being an outsider was a sense of humor cultivated by Mad Magazine and Saturday Night Live.
My first job at 15 was at a beautiful revival movie theater called The Crest. The manager there was the flamboyant film historian Matias Bombal who introduced classic films, movie serials, newsreels and cartoons in a tux. He also hosted films on TV and my childhood hero Bob Wilkins visited him on the set. I absorbed as much film history as I could and practically lived at that theater. I reviewed movies in comic strip form for my High School paper.
I did radio theater for 9 years at the UC Davis, College radio station and published underground comics. I produced TV shows for public access and entered local film festivals. In my mid twenties, I wrote for a Pop Culture magazine called Planet X and was the head writer for a weekly improv comedy talk show at a local pub called THE MOE BETTERMAN SHOW where I did many characters and read parody sponsor spots from the back.
Scott Moon, who published Planet-X produced a live tribute to Creature Features at a local dinner theater, called Harlow's and since we interviewed Bob Wilkins for the magazine he booked him to host it.
Scott asked if I would produce the show since we had done some film shows together locally. Scott collected vintage 16mm films. Nervous but excited, I met with Bob and wrote material and made props. On the night of his performance , he said..."You should get out there in a chair an host movies."I remember modestly telling him that I didn't know if that was on the table for me. He said that there are cycles and I could be part of a new wave of Horror Movie hosts. I secretly wished for this, but I denied it. I had even filmed a pilot on weekends with friends for something called Insomniac Theater. Four years later, a friend helped me get a menial job in the production engineering department of a local TV station KXTV 10.
The channel had a movie at 3AM on Saturday Night that ran 20 minutes short. It had 6-minute commercial breaks. My friend Mike Strange and I walked into the GMs office and asked if we could fill that extra time.
Mike was a Bob Wilkins fan and he, unlike other hosts, was not a vampire, mad scientist or anything but himself. He did have a big cigar as a prop to hide that he was nervous.
I was nervous... I couldn't smoke cigars and I was too self-conscious to be myself. My humor was mostly character driven.
I took my own last name because I thought I could live with it if it caught on. While trying to get into my car or walking down the street, I didn't want strangers to yell, "Hey, Uncle Spooky-Pants" or something like that."Mr. Lobo" was my prop. My cigar. It allowed me to relax because it wasn't me--it was the character doing all these stupid things. What I didn't realize is that the person who I was pretending to be was closer to my real unrepressed self than the person I pretended to be for bosses, teachers, family members and friends. My ex-wife says Mr. Lobo was all my annoying traits amplified. It actually was all my annoying traits finally set free.
Mr. Kossak: When Mr. Lobo does a show, how much is scripted, how much is improv?
Mr. L.: I started as a comedy writer and my performance was in defense of my ideas. I was in a comedy troupe before CINEMA INSOMNIA, and we improvised a lot. However, the “Movie” we were showing, the situation, and the deadlines, answered the question of “how much improv” for me. Live shows usually have a lot. There’s too much that can go wrong if you are not flexible. Cinema Insomnia on TV on KXTV-ABC originally was 100 percent scripted; I was a slave to what I had written, and we had little time to goof around as we only had the studio for a couple hours.
Mr. H.: Who are your favorite comedy writers and performers?
Mr. L.: Another can of worms! Even as a school age kid, satire is something I've always been drawn to; Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, George Orwell, Mark Twain, and even some of Edgar Allen Poe's work was very funny.
On TV, I idolized Dan Aykroyd, Michael O'Donoghue, Chevy Chase from the original SNL, Ernie Kovacs, Stan Freberg, Steve Allen, and David Letterman on LATE NIGHT. Buck Henry and Mel Brooks - GET SMART.
Mr. Lobo was definitely influenced by Joe "Count Floyd" Flaherty and all the other geniuses from SCTV. The awkwardly retro and kitsch aspects of John Kricfalusi's humor on REN AND STIMPY. I was also imprinted on by Shadoe Stevens on a million televised Federated Commercials that I used to tape on VHS. Joel Hodgson-MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER was such an influence that I had to stop watching his show. Plus, my mentor and hero Bob Wilkins; he was dry but hilarious on Creature Features.
Mr. H.: Tell us, please, in painful detail about what befell the Mr. Lobo product several years ago.
I have had to reboot the show every two years or so. On KXTV, we were getting great ratings at 3AM. The management never watched the show and didn't get it. If we had stayed under the radar, they would have left us alone. They put us on hiatus in 2002 until we could have a meeting about a better time slot or perhaps adding a producer, but it never happened. After 3 Months, I begged to produce the show myself with my own resources to keep it going. They agreed on the condition that I did not use the 24 episodes we made with them or any of their resources. Also if I sold the show to a competing station in the same market, I'd loose my job.
I found out Bob had written to the station trying to convince them to keep me on and said that I was the "Best Thing Going."
I moved the show to local public access station trying to hang on to my audience. One by one, my very proud broadcast affiliate crew walked out--refusing to lower themselves by continuing to work on the show for community TV. Bob was there to show support and cohosted my first official Halloween Special for this new channel. I made 18 shows for public access, Saturday Nights at 11 and those episodes aired on Public Access stations across the country via an web site called The Horror Host Underground. It's a network of public access hosts keeping the traditions of Creature Features alive.
I was contacted by a producer in Virginia who had seen my show and wanted to run it on cable in the Norfolk Area and the new UPN station in Monroe, Louisiana which also wanted the show. I took that as cue to stop focusing on local public access and instead on syndicating the show.
I sold the show to a syndicator that made a deal with UATV-- a satellite network that supplied small independent broadcast and affiliate stations with off-prime content. For two years, we were seen on hundreds of cable systems and stations in cities coast to coast; our 2006 Halloween Special had a footprint of 45 million households.
UATV went bankrupt and Cinema Insomnia was forced to reboot again. This time, I sold the show to a San Francisco Bay Area PBS station. It was a great market for the show and I cleaned up with merch at local conventions.
Our ratings were great on late Saturday nights in the number 3 or 4 market in the country. In 2008, they were bought out by another PBS station who absorbed them and did away with their programming.
Before my PBS stint ended, I began talking with a UHF station in San Francisco that wanted to do a late night movie show in the spirit of Creature Features. They loved CI and asked me not to shop it around to anyone else giving them time to develop their own show behind my back. For three months, I told all my fans that I was going to be on this station.
Then they premiered their own show created in-house. The show was very successful and I was unsuccessful in selling my show to any other station in that market. That same year, my mentor Bob Wilkins died and also in that year, my girlfriend of 3 years left me. And the show was off the air again.The television market was clearly shrinking. My syndicator who sold the show to UATV started their own network called AMGTV. I made a new deal with them to run Cinema Insomnia in 35 or so markets nationwide. It kept it going and new fans found the show, especially in Cincinnati and Orlando.
In 2011, they couldn't afford to buy new episodes so I began a Kickstarter campaign to create new shows for the 10th anniversary season. The fans rose to the occasion and we raised over 10,000 dollars. This would have been a greater feat if we hadn't lost our production crew again. Suddenly, we had to pay for things we used to get for free because everyone wanted a piece of "the fortune" we made on Kickstarter. We were bleeding money fast.
A station on a college campus in Hayward, two and a half hours from home, wanted to run the PBS version of the show in the Bay Area Again and in exchange help us make new shows. The volunteers couldn't meet my technical needs for new shows we shot and much of the new material had bad video or bad sound and was either unusable or hard to fix in post. The 5 hours of driving for 3 hours studio time didn't add up. It just fell apart.
I looked at my own habits and how little I was watching traditional TV and Cable. Internet based content seemed to be where the future might lead. I started to create my own ROKU channel with my tech guru Olav Phillips. Before we could go live with it, we were approached by a new streaming horror channel called Zom-Bee TV.
They flew me out to their base in Virginia and put me up in a hotel near their production studio. They looked at every horror host and they wanted... Mr. Lobo. They liked my style, how I did things, my knowledge of the genre and the fan base; they saw a lot of potential with the character.
We shot an episode together with a film they owned and we hit it off great. The show looked better than ever and I was re-energized. We drew up a contract and I signed with them. Now, I'm the spokesperson for the channel. They are serving up my show on one of the fastest growing streaming internet based channels out there.
This and other opportunities out East prompted my new bride Dixie and I to move to the East Coast. Zom-Bee TV helped us relocate with some moving cash. Right now, I'm writing 5 shows at once from our new home in PA about 2 hours from Zom-Bee TV studios. The way I see it, they will boom or bust. If they are booming, I want to be on the ground floor helping them get there. If they go bust, I want to make as many episodes as possible with them at their fabulous studio while I can...
Mr. K.: How does Mr. Lobo overcome bitterness of being imitated and have his ideas stolen?
I think success is measured in many ways... cult success is usually fame without fortune anyway but INFLUENCE is power also. People come up and tell me that my work is a major influence and I have to think of all those who influenced me and what they mean to me. Industry and creative folks want to pick my brain and that gives me more power than it takes away. One artist who does something innovative, it’s a fluke. If a bunch of people do it, it’s a movement and if a bunch more people are interested in that movement, then it’s a phenomenon. One guy’s ideas can change the world. It only burns when the electric bill or child support payment is due and you’re broke.
Mr. K.: Where does Mr. Lobo’s find the energy to constantly reboot his show? What would it take for him to throw in the towel?
Mr. L.: Give up what? Almost everyday, someone tells me to keep doing what I’m doing. Don’t give up. Like I’ve got terminal cancer. This is not some valiant vigil. It’s a simple equation. I had straight “normal” jobs for years and I was broke and miserable. The worst case is that I do what I’m driven to do as much and as often as I can and it'll never support me financially and I'll die broke. Well, I spent my life doing what I love and that’s not bad. If I give up on my career and make a bunch of money doing something else or more likely NOT make very much money doing something else, then I’ve wasted my life. That seems much worse to me. I feel I’m very good at what I do and I want to share it. My philosophy may sound selfish and egotistical.
I believe talent, gifts, and skills create a responsibility. If you learn something, you are obligated to teach it. If you can do something great, you are obligated to share it. If you can make people laugh or think or feel with your work, then you must... otherwise, what’s the purpose of it all?
What would it take to make me give up? If I thought I couldn’t do what I do very well. If I felt I was a hack. If I felt I couldn’t execute my ideas the way they are in my head or I stopped getting ideas. If somehow I was impaired emotionally or physically to the point where I felt I would embarrass myself or undo the good work I have done. Or, if I stopped having good feelings about my work... loveaffairs fade sometimes.
Mr. K.: Does keeping up his show cause a lot of stress for Mr. Lobo's personal life?
Mr. L.: Like alcohol and religion, it is both the cause and the solution to all my life’s problems. My first wife of 15 years was embarrassed and admittedly jealous... she did not like being Mrs. Mr. Lobo. She said she wanted a divorce and cited my chosen career as a big part of that.
Many of my friends are distant. I really don’t like to go to parties or bars or just “hang"... it’s painfully awkward and boring for me. I like to make stuff and do stuff. People who don’t know me out in the real world ask if I’m a magician. Or they roll their eyes at how I dress or carry myself. “Who are you supposed to be?”
A lot of my friends help with the show but usually on and off. It’s fun for people for a while but I think my novelty wears thin or reality knocks at their door and friends and collaborators move on. It attracts people but also pushes them away. I worry a lot. I don’t sleep well. I get frustrated that I can’t make more shows more often or get bigger projects off the ground. I often resent paperwork and taxes and bills and laundry and washing dishes and family gatherings and real life stuff that keeps me from my work. A lot of people ask for my help and it’s hard to say " no." I spread myself very thin. At any given time, I feel like I’m letting lots of people down.
My blade of fear cuts both ways. I’m terrified I won’t get to do everything I want to do in my career as an artist and I also worry that feeding this desire may cost me all of my personal relationships, including my new wife, and perhaps a bit of my soul. Will I end up like King Conan on a throne by himself on a pile of bones with a troubled brow?
Mr. K.: If an old widow (by mistake) would give Mr. Lobo 100,000 bucks, what would he do with that money? What if he’d get 1 Million? What if it were 10 Million? Would he expand CI?Mr. L.: I would want new CINEMA INSOMNIA episodes every week and focus on finding more obscure films and reviving classics. With more variety, guest interviews, and informational content — like a sub-culture Johnny Carson. Perhaps I'd shoot them LIVE in real time. I would love to know what would happen with the show if we could keep up our momentum. I’d like to keep the show going in some form or another even with other projects going on.
With a Million bucks, I would make a MR. LOBO MOVIE and travel with it like William Castle. Something with audience participation and gimmicks.
With 10 Million, I’d produce multiple low budget movies in the B-vein like a sequel to THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE, and launch several series including a comedy version of an anthology show like the Twilight Zone called THE BEYONDO... I have a few scripts for this already. And a Halloween themed Twin Peaks type series HAPPY HOLLOW USA as well as a Captain Kangaroo type kids show called ALL SYSTEMS GO.
Mr. K.: What does a typical day in the life of Mr. Lobo look like?
Mr. L.: There is no typical day. We always joke about something a friend of mine keeps saying: “You know how you wake up and you know exactly how your day is gonna go.” This is hysterical to me. Sometimes, I wake up with an idea and go right to the computer. There, I am usually distracted by tons of emails and communications from fans, collaborators, clients I must respond to right away. So I end up writing nothing.
Then my wife or I will make breakfast or we go to a nearby diner where we talk about what we want to accomplish that day over eggs, pancakes, bagels, cereal, or whatever. COFFEE is important. Dr. Pepper for Dixie. We'll make a plan and I sometimes will try to nail down specifics over the phone about an upcoming project or I'll find out that everything has changed. Sometimes we get a phantom call from someone who needs me to work on something right away. Or I suddenly remember something that I had committed to. We'll get orders during the night and have to go to the post office and mail Fan Club Kits, artwork, or other merch. Or we might have to start organizing our merch for an upcoming convention that weekend. Then I discover I need to drive 40 minutes away to get a special prop or item for the show. We may have to spend a week in another state shooting an indie movie or making episodes of my own show. I might get a sudden fit of inspiration and spend the whole day painting or drawing or I might get depressed and spend the whole day in bed. I pray for structure but right now since my move to the East Coast, things haven’t settled down enough. We need a nurse...
Mr. K.: Does Mr. Lobo identify with Ed Wood? If not, who would he identify with?
Mr. L.: Ed Wood is a big inspiration. He definitely spread himself thin and had too many ideas and too many passions and too many demons to execute them well. Even though I’m not in drag, I do understand cross dressers as I feel closer to my true self when I’m in character — I always liked neckties. He wanted to be fearless for the sake of his art. He ignored criticism and just kept banging out stuff!
Rod Serling, the storyteller and spectral narrator, is another person I strongly identify with. I would love to expand CI into a twilight zone kind of format. I have tons of stories and ideas for stories. Throw in some Alfred Hitchcock, William Castle, Douglas Adams, Terry Gilliam, Dr. Suess, and Mr. Rogers... and you’re getting there...
Mr. K.: How important is his interaction with his fans? And how does he interact with them? Does it take a lot of his time?
Mr. L.: Fan interaction is very important. I do dozens of conventions and live appearances. It takes a lot of time. Sometimes, I get hundreds of pieces of mail a week. I try to answer them all but many slip through the cracks and it makes me feel miserable.Bob Wilkins was great at this. If he met you, he would get to know you, and make you feel special. A good host makes the audience feel special; that’s what I try to do. I try to be very delicate and leave out some of my acerbic humor. I don’t always succeed. I must remember that even though I don’t know them really... they feel they know me. I am a “companion” for people in the middle of the night... some are disabled, suicidal, depressed, or just lonely. Sometimes, they latch on and you have to disengage them carefully or they will monopolize your time.
Mr. L.: Lloyd Kaufman is a lot like Yoda. Annoying and imp like on the surface and brilliant and wise once you get to know him. We stayed at the same bed and breakfast together as we were both guests of the same film festival/convention. At the show, he was Mel Brooks on speed and a Frat Boy...buzzing around calling every set of boobs "Troma's newest inspiration" and mugging in front of every camera. Over breakfast each morning, he read the newspaper cover to cover and was quiet and insightful and a great conversationalist and a great listener. This was the Lloyd that impressed Mr. Lobo the most.
Ido feel he has done an amazing thing reaching out to indie producers and filmmakers and making them feel special as if they are part of a great chaotic rebellion against the status quo. This has branded him as the poster child for DIY Guerilla Filmmaking and is the reason why he is so beloved.
Troma is like the underground railroad of trash cinema. Misfits with an absurdist streak find a film like THE TOXIC AVENGER, or CLASS OF NUKE 'EM HIGH, or SURF NAZIS MUST DIE, or TROMEO AND JULIET, or POULTRYGEIST and they feel they must protect it, keep it safe, and defend it if necessary. Even treat them like real movies. Troma films are real movies, of course, but there is this absence of conformity and reverence that viewers get addicted to. Far from what the authority figures in your life try to impress on you, there is a coming of age discovery you make on your own which builds a strong bond that lasts a lifetime. It's reading Mad Magazine under the covers, staying up late to watch the original Saturday Night Live, finding a Troma movie on cable or in that dirty run-down video store... it feels so wrong, that it feels right!
Mr. K.: How does Mr. Lobo imagine his old age? What will he do? Where and how will he live?
Mr. L.: Vegas is looking good right now or maybe some coastal region of California. As an oldster, I will probably do more writing and art, I expect. But I hope to be doing some kind of creative work as long as I am able with the senses and agility I'll have left. Until the grim reaper retires me.
Mr. K.: What books is he reading? What books would he like to read? What books has he read more than 3 times?
Mr. L.: My wife has read JOHN DIES AT THE END and THIS BOOK IS FULL OF SPIDERS by David Wong and sometimes, she reads aloud to me. I hope to read both of those when I have time; they sound great. I’m not much of a novel reader.
I read a lot of short stories and “how to” books and old issues of Popular Mechanics or comics that I saved from the flea market. George Orwell’s 1984, Douglas Adams' HITCHHIKERS GUIDE TO THE GALAXY series of books, Grimm's Fairy Tales, The Dictionary, What You Should Know About Carpet, and the1964 Western Auto Catalog I have read over and over as they are a source of inspiration.Mr. K.: Mr. Lobo realized that the internet is a great outlet for independent shows like his. In a similar way writers are getting out of the old and rigid publishing structure -- agent-publisher-editor-printer-whole seller-bookstore -- by publishing eBooks. Thanks to eBooks new voices can now be heard and books can reach an audience that would have never get through the filters of the old system? Does Mr. Lobo see parallels to his own path?
Mr. L.: I do see parallels and you have given Mr. Lobo something to think about. I’ve published a few underground magazines over the years and would really like to explore e-publishing. [Cultmachine is working on it...]
Mr. K.: What is Mr. Lobo's response to Cultmachine’s "non-business" motto: “Some ideas are too important to turn them into a business?”
Mr. L.: Yes! Mr. Lobo believes that is true. It goes back to what I was saying before... if you learn something, it's your obligation to teach it. If you have a gift, it is your obligation to share it. One person's ideas can change the world. And if you’re sitting around waiting for a paycheck... the world is also waiting for truth, beauty, inspiration, ideas, and someone to challenge the status quo.
MR. LOBO on the web:
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