Before the digital explosion and the growth of YouTube, creating your own videos was more of a challenge. Still, there were dedicated public access cable pioneers like Jerry White, Jr., and the cast of “30 Minutes of Madness.” White and the cast wrote and starred in comedy sketches and bits, which were filmed and archived on VHS cassettes.
“20 Years of Madness,” a new documentary from White and director Jeremy Royce, shows what happened when White tried to get everyone together again.
“I had, in some ways, kept the torch going on and off throughout the years. Like 11 years ago, I registered the website and started archiving and uploading old skits,” White explained when reached by phone for an interview. “As computers got better with doing video, I would digitize more footage and edit skits. But the genesis of purposely getting everyone back together to start this new show really was something that came up in August 2011.”
Ultimately, White added, getting the cast members back together was not that hard. “I think people were really hungry for it. Maybe one or two people said ‘No,’ and they were not people who were that central to the show in the first place. The people that were the main people behind it were all saying ‘Yes.’ They were happy to have an excuse to get wild again.”
Joining White on the call, director Jeremy Royce said the two of them met at USC Film School when they both happened to move into the same house.
“He was a year ahead of me, but we coincidentally ended up in the same rental spot and exchanged videos. About two years later, Jerry went back to Michigan and talked to [cast member] Joe [Hornacek] for one of the first times in a really long time,” Royce said. “When he came back, he told me about it and told me about where all of the other guys were, what they were struggling with. Some of them, he hadn’t talked to and he sort of discovered what was going on with them once he got to Michigan.”
Twenty years after playing wild and crazy characters on the public access cable show, some cast members were dealing with mental illness, drug addiction or homelessness.
“It just seemed like a fascinating story, to look at sort of how art can be a vehicle for people to cope, thinking that they were probably struggling with some of those things back in the day as well. They were all brought together, not in spite of those struggles but maybe even because of them. That was the thing that struck me most,” Royce said.
After talking about the show, the two decided to make the “20 Years of Madness” documentary. After the recent Slamdance Cinema Club screening at the ArcLight in Hollywood, Tom Green, who got his start in public access, moderated the Q&A.
“He was doing public access at the same time as us. We may have even started a little earlier. Obviously, he had no way of seeing our stuff, and we didn’t see his stuff. When he came out and got on MTV, he met with great success,” White offered. “We had been doing our show for a while and suddenly saw this guy, and he had come from public access. That was our dream made viable; that’s what we hoped would happen to us, but it didn’t.”
The “30 Minutes of Madness” crew was, as White pointed out, doing the show in their spare time. If they had a budget and perhaps some handlers, the show might have gone to the next level.
“But on the other hand, I don’t disagree with our friend John in the film. He said if we had met some success, it might have killed him because he wouldn’t have been able to cope with that. Similarly, I would not have had the same life journey. I had delusions of grandeur as a teenager,” he said.