Vermin Supreme brings satire, silliness to politics
Cape Ann's own Vermin Supreme was in Tampa for the Republican National Convention last week, goading the local police.
Maybe goading isn't the right word. "Come out with your hands up and your pants down!" the veteran provocateur teased through his omnipresent bullhorn outside Tropicana Field, where the GOP was holding its kickoff on Sunday. The cops smiled; some went so far as to laugh.
Vermin Supreme — yes, it's his legal name — would like your vote for president. Yes, of the United States.
He's "all about constituent services. I want them to exercise their First Amendment rights of assembly and speech."
Wearing his trademark rubber boot on his head, carrying an oversized toothbrush, and promising a pony for every American, the perennial fringe candidate uses humor to diffuse the tension at politically charged protests and demonstrations. Law enforcement's number one weapon in crowd-control situations, he claims, is not tear gas or pepper spray, but fear.
His mock-serious antics, he said, “create laughter. And when laughter comes, fear is dispelled.”
This year has been perhaps the highest-profile yet for Supreme, who began performing his “ridiculous” (his word) brand of political theater back in the 1980s, when he launched a tongue-in-cheek campaign for mayor of Baltimore while working as a nightclub booking agent there. YouTube videos of him, including one in which he “glitter-bombed” alternative presidential candidate Randall Terry at a New Hampshire event last winter, have gone viral, and a Minneapolis filmmaker has begun working on a feature-length documentary called “Who Is Vermin Supreme?”
"Absurdism has always appealed to me," said Stephen Onderick, on the phone recently as he prepared to join his subject in Tampa. The two have met at several rallies in recent months, including the NATO Summit protest in Chicago in May and the Rainbow Gathering in Tennessee in June.
The time is right to take Supreme’s oddball act to a wider audience, said Onderick, who recently launched a Kickstarter online campaign to raise $10,000 toward the making of the film. “This is a moment in history with a great deal of discontent on both sides of the political spectrum,” he said.
If all politicians are vermin, Supreme likes to say, then as the Vermin Supreme, he is most qualified of all. He chalks up his burgeoning fame to several converging factors, including "the crappy selections people were being given" during the most recent presidential primary season, the evolution of digital media and social networking (he has 10,000 subscribers on "the Facebook machine") and the fact that his advancing age (he is in his 50s) means he's had "extra time to grow a really nice gray beard."
Contrary to his cackling-wizard image, Supreme speaks in a mellifluous, reassuring baritone that seems tailor-made for radio. It had nothing to do with his decision to go into street theater, he said.
"That's incidental. But my quote-unquote radio voice comes in very helpful when trying to keep the crowd and the police calm. One of the most important things about using a bullhorn is you don't have to yell over it."
Though he has bonded with Onderick over their mutual support of the Occupy protests — the documentarian made some short films of the recent scene at Occupy Minneapolis — Supreme figures that fans of his comic subversion of the political process run 50:50 — half liberal, half conservative. At the Ron Paul festival in Tampa before the GOP convention began, he was “showered with love,” he said.
"Everyone's a mixed bag. I'm a utopian social anarchist, but I'm also a pragmatist."
In something of a Globe exclusive, Supreme said he has chosen his vice presidential running mate: Jimmy McMillan, a registered Republican who has gained notoriety by running for various offices under the banner of his own The Rent Is Too Damn High Party. McMillan first pursued political office when he ran for mayor of New York in 1993.
Supreme points out that his own political aspirations have earned him a high ranking on the Museum of Hoaxes' Internet list of the top 20 satirical campaigns.
"I come in at number seven, between Pat Paulsen and Stephen Colbert," he said proudly.
Born and raised on Cape Ann, Supreme prefers not to use his given name, arguing that his supporters would rather not know.
With his growing national profile, he steers clear of getting involved in local politics.
"You don't poop in your own nest," he said. "My neighbors know who I am and what I do, but they like me for who I am."
James Sullivan can be reached at jamesgsullivan@gmail. com.