Sporting his ubiquitous black boot on top of his head, Vermin Supreme erupted an audience in the Paramount Center into a chorus of his song “Psycho Kitty,” which required the audience to creepily drone the phrase “psycho kitty” while waving their hands above their heads.
Supreme was in the Bright Family Screening Room on March 17 for the Boston premiere of the documentary Who Is Vermin Supreme? An Outsider Odyssey to an audience of approximately 90. It was part of the Bright Lights film screening series.
The documentary follows the performance artist and perennial alternative presidential candidate as he takes to the streets to spread his beliefs in free ponies for all, mandatory toothbrushing, and zombie energy power. He attends as many protests as he can across the country with his megaphone calling for change, and is a well-known figure among activists.
Supreme is notorious for giving different ages to different reporters and keeping his birth name a secret. At the Bright Lights screening, he gave the age of 78.
The director, Steve Onderick, said he stumbled upon Supreme at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit protests in Chicago in 2012. Onderick, 29, ran into him a few more times after that, recognizing his outrageous costumes and humorous performances, and said he couldn’t pass up a documentary opportunity. After hearing Onderick’s idea, Supreme was ecstatic. The film, shot on a Canon 7D, shows the viewer how Supreme came to be, why he has run for U.S. president in every election since 2000, and what he says he truly believes in.
Trevor Howell, an audience member at the premiere, said he found the documentary simultaneously funny and informative.
“I didn't expect him to be as smart as he was,” said Howell, a freshman visual and media arts major. “Whether people agree with him or not, he makes very good points. He took political satire to a whole new level.”
In 2012, Supreme ran in the New Hampshire Democratic presidential primary, receiving about 830 votes. President Barack Obama won that primary with a little over 49,000 votes. Supreme has already announced his 2016 presidential campaign, in which he said he’ll be running as a third-party candidate.
“I can do anything I want and it won’t affect me in the polls,” Supreme said in the documentary, “because they don’t count me in the polls.”
Despite unremarkable results at the polls, Supreme said he continues to run because he owes it to his constituency. When asked by a reporter in the documentary who makes up his constituency, he responded, “Freaks.”
The documentary features an interview with Supreme’s mother, who talks about his upbringing. In high school, Supreme donned tailcoats and top hats to school, and during graduation, he lit his hat on fire, his mother recounts. When a group of his friends got in trouble with the police, he passed around flyers with a photo of a pig in police uniform and the phrase “Big Pig Is Watching.” It was this incident which first demonstrated his love for pointing out government flaws in a humorous way, the documentary said.
“Everyone who has any issues and is willing to express their issues all have in common that First Amendment, the freedom to express themselves,” Supreme said during a Q&A session after the Bright Lights premiere. “I consider myself a First Amendment activist.”
The documentary shows some of Supreme’s antics, like singing “Born to Be Wild” to a line of police officers on bicycles and holding signs about aborted fetuses being used as the main ingredient for McRib sandwiches.
Primarily, though, Supreme said he uses his humor to smoothe escalated situations between protesters and police. He said he is rarely arrested because police respect him—his cool attitude in high-stress situations combined with his leadership qualities make police think he’s more important than he actually is.
After Onderick and Supreme answered questions, the group talked via video chat with James McMillan, the founder of the Rent Is Too Damn High political party, and Supreme’s 2012 presidential running mate. Like Supreme’s boot hat, McMillan has a personal trademark: a beard in the shape of a scrotum. They both said in the documentary that they use these oddities to force the public to pay attention to them, despite their lack of major political backing.
“The whole system is totally skewed against the third parties,” Supreme said. “I don’t know what the future has for third party candidates. It would certainly be nice if there were several other strong parties, but ultimately it’s just a distraction from the main circus [of politics].”