My cool Vermin Supreme story
As our American political discourse slides further into the gutter with every new televised debate, it may be worthwhile noting that there are some who saw the satire in our politics decades ahead of time. One such person is Vermin Supreme.
Vermin Supreme, you may know, is a perennial presidential candidate who wears a boot on his head and promises everyone a pony. He’s attempted to turn religious conservative candidates gay by pouring glitter on them and promise to fully fund time travel research.
It was 1992 and as the Democratic primary continued to go on then-Governor Bill Clinton’s only real competition after the early primaries was former California Governor Jerry Brown. Brown was the Bernie Sanders of his day, a more liberal alternative to the establishment favorite who captured the enthusiasm of the younger, more activist wing of the Democratic Party. He swore off corporate donations and set limits on what individuals could donate through a 1-800 number (this was in the days before widespread Internet.)
At any rate, that spring before the New York and Connecticut primaries, Jerry Brown had a rally at the University of Connecticut. This was during my freshman year there. I was a columnist for UConn’s Daily Campus and since I showed up there with a notebook, the campaign staff waved me ahead to the press section where I sat among more serious and established members of the media.
Brown’s rally was at the large theater on campus. The event was well attended and the crowd was enthusiastic. When it was over, I hung out with the rest of the media contingent, most of whom were bored by the whole thing (“Once you’ve seen the candidate’s speech you’ve seen them all,” I overheard one say.) Jerry Brown answered some questions before being whisked over to do a live interview with the local news.
As I watched Brown do the TV interview in the auditorium that was now mostly empty, I noticed a strange figure head down a side aisle unnoticed. He was dressed in a coat made of fur pelts and he had a large boot on his head. He continued walking down the aisle until I lost sight of him. As Gov. Brown wrapped up his interview and hurry away to his next campaign event, I heard a voice amplified by a speaker or bullhorn call out to him.
“JERRY! WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT THE WEATHER?!? WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT THE WEATHER, JERRY?!?”
Brown looked over in the direction the voice was coming from but didn’t break stride as he exited the building with a gaggle of campaign staff.
As I stood there I spotted this same strange figure coming back up the aisle. He and I made eye contact and he stopped to address me.
“Another candidate avoiding a question about the weather,” he said, shaking his head. He moved on and I had had the strangest political campaign experience ever.
Years later I saw Vermin Supreme on television and was glad that he hadn’t lost the boot on his head and that he was still engaging in the kind of absurd spectacle that has sadly seemed downright dignified compared with some of our discourse today.
I hope Sid Yiddish seriously considers him for his running mate.
Sid Yiddish for President
Sid Yiddish is a Chicago performance artist who is running for president as a write-in candidate. He describes himself as a “Lincoln Republican” though his politics are more in line with the Democrats, but you are welcome to write him in on whatever ballot you choose; he’s not picky. He is the only candidate promising to invade Denmark.
Why Denmark? “Because it’s there and because I can,” he said. He has performed in Denmark but did his first show with Danish musicians over Skype for the Chicago Calling Festival in 2009. He travels the U.S. frequently. This Friday, Jan. 22 (2016) will find him in Kansas City, Missouri at the Poetry & Absinthe Open Mic at the Uptown Arts Bar.
Sid Yiddish usually dresses like a kind of mischievous cantor, as if The Rocky Horror Picture show took place in a Catskills summer camp or if Fiddler on the Roof was an avant-garde punk rock opera instead of a Broadway musical. With a prayer shawl and Kittel – a traditional garment worn by orthodox Jewish men and a face mask, he both pays homage to and satirizes Jewish heritage with his appearance. When he appeared on America’s Got Talent, Howie Mandel called him a “Hasidic Lone Ranger.”
A Sid Yiddish performance is always an eclectic ensemble of songs, poems, comedy and compelling noise. Each performance will usually involve some form of Tuvan throat singing, which sounds like it is painful to do and can rattle the uninitiated. He often performs with a band, the Candy Store Henchmen. With connections in various cities, his auxiliary of Candy Store Henchman can be summoned to perform on short notice and very little rehearsal.
[Full disclosure: I have known Sid Yiddish for several years and have performed in the New York City version of his Candy Store Henchmen. I met him through Mykel Board, who had the wisdom to write about Sid much sooner.]
His presidential campaign is his latest effort in reaching out to the world. His platform includes heavy support of the arts. “I believe schools should cut sports from schools and give all their money to the arts.” He would also buy everyone a new pair of shoes and hand out bubble gum with good comics in them, not the shabby comics that have become the standard today.
He has extended his reach through some small acting roles. He appears briefly in a Ludacris video and recently had a bit part in the Showtime show Shameless, which stars William H. Macy. There’s an online petition to make Sid a recurring character on the series.
While he revels in his outsider status, he makes an effort to make each show as interesting and participatory as possible, inviting audience members to join his band and play instruments if they choose, even if that instrumentation consists of banging on a table top or tapping a beer glass.
He’s devised a series of hand signals that instructs the band on what to play. One gesture means to stop, another gesture means a free-for-all, other gestures mean other things. If you play the wrong thing, he doesn’t ask you to change, he just may be a bit more emphatic with his gestures. No two Sid Yiddish shows will ever be the same and he likes it that way.
Sid Yiddish describes himself as a late bloomer and suffers from depression. His past is littered with sad memories of where clinical depression can lead. He hopes his work can reach people and help encourage those who also suffer from the disorder. To him, being a performance artist is a redeeming experience that puts him on a good path and colors his worldview. “It feels like I take LSD without taking LSD,” he notes.
His music and acting takes up a lot of his time and he is interested in going to another audition for America’s Got Talent. “I’m a renaissance man, a Jack and Jill of all trades. No one can put me in a category; you can’t pin me down. But sometimes I’ve felt that I’m spreading myself too thin.”
The world has given up a good bit of the civility and thoughtfulness that was more commonplace when Sid Yiddish was growing up, and he offers himself as a one-man protest against that. Instead of waving his fist at the world, his hand gestures conducts a motley crew making avant-garde punk rock symphony. He can take your rejection; he’s faced it all before and just keeps coming back, serving as a reminder that the act of creation and expression is sometimes all that matters and all you have left.