An Interview with Jim Haggerty – By Brian Morton

Last month, I had the chance to check out the new movie from Jim Haggerty, ‘Is This A Joke?’. A sort of throw back to the old ‘Kentucky Fried Movie’ or ‘The Groove Tube’ type of anthology comedy movie from the 70s. It’s a very funny movie that’s well worth you time. But, Jim is better known for his horror movies, so I wondered what made him want to do a straight-ahead comedy…and what better way to find out, then to ask him. So, I sat down with Jim to find out why a comedy, what’s going on now and what we can look forward to in the future!

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BM – Jim, thanks for taking the time.

JH – No problem, thank you.

BM – Since you started, you see to have leaned more toward the horror genre, what made you want to make Is This A Joke?

JH – I have always been a big fan of sketch comedy films and always wanted to make one – especially from the 70’s, which was like the golden age for that kind of film. Of course, that would lead to Saturday Night Live and various other shows like that. But then there was sort of a sub-genre within that which didn’t really have a name, I call them ‘dirty joke movies’. These were sketch comedies that didn’t consist of original material, but instead took a whole slew of old dirty jokes and acted them out with actors, sort of a live-action dirty joke book. I was watching some of these movies and I’d mentioned to my wife that these movies looked like they were fun to make, and probably relatively easy to do. She suggested we make one. My only issue was that while I found the movies fun and charming in a kitschy sort of way, they really weren’t funny because I knew all the jokes and saw the punchlines coming. But my wife pointed out – which was a brilliant observation – that people don’t really tell dirty jokes anymore, so a twenty-something audience probably wouldn’t know these jokes. It seemed strange to think of, but the more I mulled it over, I realized she was right. People don’t tell jokes much anymore, and what they do tell are usually topical jokes about things in the news, or clean jokes because things got so ‘politically correct’ in the 90’s, everyone is afraid of offending anyone. We’d auditiion actors and they’d start laughing out-loud at the sides we had them reading. I couldn’t believe they hadn’t heard these jokes before, but they didn’t. (laughing) They all thought I was some comedy genius.

BM – Did anyone get offended during the audition process?

JH – No, we fortunately found a bunch of people who were pretty open-minded and had a good sense of humor. Of course we were looking for folks with good comic timing and we told them what kind of film it was and that some of the jokes were pretty raunchy, so they knew what they were getting into. Of course some of the folks who have seen it have had issues with some of the gags, but it does kind of push things a bit – there are a lot of wonderfully tasteless scenes that are not for everyone.

BM – How did you gather all the jokes for Is This A Joke?

JH – Well, after we decided to make the movie, we did our homework. We rounded up every dirty joke book we could find and read them cover-to-cover – alone and to each other – searching for jokes that were funny, visual, and could actually be done physically. We marked up the books pretty good, crossing out the jokes we didn’t like, circling ones we did, and making all sorts of notes about who could play what or what we may have to change. The other thing we did was to watch as many of the old movies as we could find. We watched "Jokes My Folks Never Told Me," "Up Yours," "If You Don’t Stop It You’ll Go Blind," and it’s inevitable sequel, "Can I Do It Til I Need Glasses." I really studied them because I wanted to capture the vibe and feel of those movies, and also wanted to make sure we didn’t do any jokes that had been done before in one of those films. I think it paid off, because the film we came up with is very true to those kind of films – the look, the sound effects, even the music we selected. Of course, this is a forgotten genre of film that folks didn’t seem to like all that much at the time, so maybe this wasn’t the wisest or most commercial project to go with, but who cares? I’m happy with the film and several people have actually said they think it’s the best thing I’ve done. I think it will find an audience.

BM – You’ve done some different films, from vampires to witchcraft to just plain psycho killers…what interests you in a story?

JH – It’s hard to say. I love movies, all kinds of movies. I mainly like B-movies, because they’re a little wilder and don’t have to be so formulaic, but I like everything. I come up with ideas all the time for movies. I only wish I had the time and money to make them all, but that’s not the reality. But I guess no matter what you’re doing, if you have a good story, strong characters, realistic dialogue, and a great pace you’ve got a movie.

BM – You’ve been making films for years now, how do you think you’re movies are different now from when you started?

JH – Well, I love all my films, but I do think that I have shown solid improvement each time out over the last one. I read an interesting quote from William Girdler where he pointed out how people had picked apart a lot of his early films, but that guys like Steven Spielberg all went to film school and made student films and made their mistakes there. His film school was on the set, in the public eye, so his mistakes were out there for the world to see. It’s kind of like that for me. My first film, "The Slasher" was shot for $200 starring a bunch of friends who were not professional actors. I was feeling around in the dark, yet it still has a story, good characters, surprisingly good acting, and has a beginning, a middle, and an end. And I have met a lot of people who really love that movie and watch it constantly. But there are a ton of things wrong with it from a technical standpoint, because I really didn’t know what I was doing. I never went to film school, and this was me figuring out how to make movies. The next movie, "I Dream of Dracula," looks ten times better than "The Slasher" and so on. I’m still learning, and I’m still growing. But I don’t think I’ve ever taken a step back. I think I move forward, and I learn from my mistakes, as well as my successes. If I die tomorrow, I think it could be said I made seven interesting and enjoyable films. They’re all flawed, but they all have strengths that far outweigh the weaknesses.

BM – Would you ever consider going back and remaking a movie like ‘The Slasher’?

JH – Honestly, no. While it has it’s flaws and I’m probably capable of doing a better job at it today, I don’t really have any interest in re-visiting stuff I’ve already done. I went back and fixed up the quality for the 10th Anniversary version last year, but very quickly I was bored going back over old material. I have so many new ideas I want to do, I’d rather keep moving forward. Plus, I am happy with it, even if there are things that I know are less than perfect, it’s something I’ve done and I’m proud of it, so I don’t feel compelled to outdo it. Maybe some day someone else will remake it. That’s something I’d be interested in seeing.

BM – I know you’re about to premiere a new movie, ‘When Death Calls’, what can you tell me about this new movie?

JH – "When Death Calls" is another anthology film, like "Grave Danger." It stars my old friend Suzi Lorraine from "Witchmaster General" who is always such a pleasue to work with, as well as Tina Krause, who I’ve been such a fan of for so long and was so happy to finally get the chance to work with her. It’s a little different from the typical anthology films – it’s six stories, some of which inter-weave, sort of merging them together. I don’t think that sort of thing has been done before. The stories run the gamut from high drama, to monster movie, to slasher movie, to really dark comedy. It’s a real mixed bag, which is what I like about anthologies – and sketch comedies – instead of just one long story, you get a bunch of little stories, it’s like opening Christmas presents. You want to open up a bunch of presents, not just one big one.

BM – Is there another movie on the horizon after ‘When Death Calls’?

JH – Well, I am planning to shoot a short film – my first – which is called "Reunion." It’s a script I wrote that I’m really proud of, possibly the best thing I’ve ever written. Very different type of film, very character-driven. I’ve cast the lead already – a great actress I found named Risa Cohen. I’m casting the male lead now, I have several prospects at this point, I just want to get them in to read with the actress to see who has the best chemistry, since that’s really important for this story. But it’s been so hectic, I haven’t had the time to get that rolling yet.

BM – I’m looking forward to both! Thanks, Jim.

JH – Thank you.

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If you haven’t had the chance to see ‘Is That A Joke?’, then do yourself a favor and find it and check it out! Head over to http://www.yellowape.net to find out how. We here at Rogue Cinema wish Jim luck with ‘Is This A Joke?’ and can’t wait to see ‘When Death Calls’ and ‘Reunion’! You can check out all of Jim’s movies for yourself by heading over to http://www.yellowape.net.