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10 Smart Facts About Idiocracy

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Ten years after its original release in theaters, Mike Judge's Idiocracy is still garnering headlines—namely in regards to its eerie prescience as this year's presidential election revs up, with Judge himself describing the film's accuracy as "scary" and co-writer Etan Cohen saying that he "never expected Idiocracy to become a documentary." The movie starred Luke Wilson as Joe Bauers, an Army librarian who takes part in a military hibernation experiment with a prostitute named Rita (Maya Rudolph). They wake up 500 years into the future, where everything is dumbed down and highly commercialized and Joe is now the smartest person in the world. In honor of the film's 10th anniversary, here are some facts about the dystopian comedy.

1. A VISIT TO DISNEYLAND SPARKED THE IDEA.

Though Mike Judge had been jotting down some ideas for a movie about evolution as far back as 1995, the idea that would become Idiocracy all came together in 2001—on a trip to Disneyland, of all places. Judge and his daughters were waiting in line at the Alice In Wonderland ride when, according to Judge, "Somebody behind me had a stroller and two little kids and her and this other woman with two little kids was passing by. I guess they’d had an altercation and they just start getting in this cussing match with each other, just, you know, ‘bitch’ this. But you know, just yelling and like ‘I’ll kick your ass' ... and I was just sitting there thinking wow, the Disneyland of that was envisioned, way back in the ’50s and, to right now.”

Judge asked Etan Cohen (Beavis and Butt-Head, King of the Hill) to work with him on the screenplay. “It was almost like film school, except Mike Judge was teaching the class," Cohen said.

2. TERRY CREWS HAD TO AUDITION FIVE TIMES.

Terry Crews was up against some "big, big names" to land the role of President Camacho, according to the actor. "I met with Mary Vernieu, the casting agent, and it took me five different auditions but I just nailed each one," Crews said in 2010. "I was like, 'I am Camacho.' It got to the point where I was like, 'Dude, if you find somebody better just give it to him.' I literally told them that."

3. THE PRODUCTION DESIGNER HELPED JUDGE AND COHEN PREDICT THE FUTURE. (AND THE FUTURE WAS CROCS.)

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"One of the big things was Crocs," Cohen remembered. "Our production designer [Darren Gilford] had everyone wearing Crocs in the movie. We didn't even know what they were. Mike was like, 'You'd have to be an idiot to wear these!' By the time the movie came out, everyone was wearing them."

4. SOME OF THE FUN GRAPHIC ELEMENTS WEREN'T SCRIPTED.

Some of the logos, like Brawndo and Carl's Jr.'s new aggrieved look, were from Cohen and Judge's script, but graphic designer Ellen Lampl—working with Darren Gilford and the other designer—came up with the rest, like Nastea and FedExx. Lampl described the logos seen within the film as "A visual vernacular fusion of NASCAR, candy packaging, Mexico hand-painted signs and Japanese pop culture."

5. JUDGE WAS SURPRISED THAT SO MANY COMPANIES ALLOWED THEIR NAMES TO BE USED IN THE FILM.

Carlton Cigarettes and Wal-Mart didn't allow for their logos to be mocked, but everyone else did. Judge thought there was "no way" they were going to be allowed to lampoon most of the other companies mentioned in the script, until the studio's lawyers helped him. Judge recalled that when he talked to them about Starbucks clearance issues, the lawyers said, "Well, it would help if you didn’t pick on just one company and if you did more than one." Based on that advice, Judge and Cohen added the red light district which included Starbucks with the likes of H&R Block's Tax Return and Relief. "I couldn’t believe it all cleared," Judge admitted.

6. IT TOOK A WHILE FOR THE STUDIO TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO MARKET THE MOVIE.

Once principal photography on the film was finished, Judge and 20th Century Fox had some disagreements on a few key points, including how to best market the movie. "They're just overthinking it, which is what they always do," Judge told Esquire of the studio's issues with determining just the right way to market the film, including its trailers. "It's just dragged on way too long—a good seven months longer than Office Space (1999). I could have made another movie after I locked the picture before this one comes out."

7. IN THE END, THE STUDIO ESSENTIALLY BURIED THE FILM.

In the end, the studio's marketing team didn't create much fanfare around the release of Idiocracy. They didn't send out any press kits, and Wilson and Rudolph didn't do any press for it. After sitting on the shelf for a year, Idiocracy was finally released on September 1, 2006—but only to 130 theaters, none of which were located in big markets like New York or San Francisco. It made $177,559 during its opening weekend, and just $444,093 throughout its brief theatrical run. The New York Times published some theories as to why the film didn't have a wider release, with one blogger positing that, “some of the sponsors may well have been unhappy with the way their products are placed, and made some phone calls to higher-ups.” A Fox spokesman said the decision came down to an executive decision from the chairman of the studio. Some believed the studio did the bare minimum required to fulfill a contractual obligation with Judge requiring his movie to have any sort of theatrical release before being sold to DVD. In 2009, Judge himself told the Los Angeles Times that he thinks the studio learned from Office Space and simply opted to not waste their money marketing it.

8. AN ERROR WITH THE MOVIE'S TITLE MAY HAVE LED TO EVEN FEWER AUDIENCE MEMBERS.

According to Dax Shepard, who played Frito Pendejo, even moviegoers who wanted to see the film might have had trouble finding it. "Even in the theaters it did come out in, they didn’t list it correctly with Moviefone," Shepard told The A.V. Club. "I remember that was a big issue. They had listed it as 'Untitled Mike Judge Comedy' with Fandango, so even people who wanted to go see Idiocracy couldn’t find it."

9. FOR A TIME, YOU COULD HAVE BOUGHT SOME BRAWNDO!

In 2007, about a year after the movie's release, graphic designer/Omni Consumer Products founder Pete Hottelet—whose company turns pop culture products into realities—teamed up with Redux Beverages, creators of Cocaine energy drink, to produce 10,000-plus cases of Brawndo energy drink. Hottelet's key mandate was that the beverage needed to contain electrolytes and had to be "alarmingly bright green."

10. THEY WERE GOING TO MAKE ANTI-TRUMP ADS.

During the 2012 election, Terry Crews resumed the role of President Camacho to make some fun election ads. Crews, Judge, and Cohen had planned to do the same again this year, with a series of Camacho-starring, anti-Donald Trump ads—but 20th Century Fox would not allow them to proceed. "It kind of fell apart,” Judge told The Daily Beast. "It was announced that they were anti-Trump, and I would’ve preferred to make them and then have the people decide. Terry Crews had wanted to just make some funny Camacho ads, and Etan [Cohen] and I had written a few that I thought were pretty funny, and it just fell apart. I wanted to put them out a little more quietly and let them go viral, rather than people announcing we’re making anti-Trump ads. Just let them be funny first. Doing something satirical like that is better if you just don’t say, ‘Here we come with the anti-Trump ads!'"

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The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day Marathon Is Back
Shout! Factory
Shout! Factory

For many fans, Mystery Science Theater 3000 is as beloved a Thanksgiving tradition as mashed potatoes and gravy (except funnier). It seems appropriate, given that the show celebrates the turkeys of the movie world. And that it made its debut on Thanksgiving Day in 1988 (on KTMA, a local station in Minneapolis). In 1991, to celebrate its third anniversary, Comedy Central hosted a Thanksgiving Day marathon of the series—and in the more than 25 years since, that tradition has continued.

Beginning at 12 p.m. ET on Thursday, Shout! Factory will host yet another Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day marathon, hosted by series creator Joel Hodgson and stars Jonah Ray and Felicia Day. Taking place online at ShoutFactoryTV.com, or via the Shout! Factory TV app on Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire and select smart TVs, the trio will share six classic MST3K episodes that have never been screened as part of a Shout! Factory Turkey Day Marathon. Here’s hoping your favorite episode makes it (cough, Hobgoblins, cough.)

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11 Bite-Sized Facts About Cannibal! The Musical
Troma Entertainment
Troma Entertainment

Back in their film school days, the creators of South Park made a twisted tribute to Rogers and Hammerstein. Cannibal! The Musical is (very) loosely based on the life of Alfred "Alferd" Packer, an American prospector who resorted to eating his travel companions in the harsh winter of 1874. Below, you’ll find a buffet of bite-sized facts about this weirdly upbeat black comedy. Bon appétit!

1. IT ALL STARTED WITH A GAG TRAILER.

In 1992, Trey Parker was studying film at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where pretty much everyone knows all about the legend of Alfred "Alferd" Packer. Indeed, when a new restaurant opened up on campus in 1968, the student body chose to name it after this famous man-eater. The restaurant’s slogan? “Have a friend for lunch.” As a joke, Parker rounded up some of his fellow film majors and spent three days shooting a phony trailer for a nonexistent movie called Alferd Packer: The Musical. Included in the ensemble was Matt Stone, with whom Parker would go on to create South Park.

Once the Alferd Packer promo was finished, those who worked on it weren’t sure if they could turn this concept into a feature-length picture. Fortunately, the trailer was a huge hit. “People thought it was really funny,” Parker told The Denver Post, “so we went around … and said, ‘So do you want to invest?’” Thanks (for the most part) to donations from a few CU grads with wealthy parents, Parker and his co-stars amassed a $100,000 budget.

2. LIANE THE HORSE WAS NAMED AFTER TREY PARKER’S EX-FIANCÉE.

At age 21, Parker was all set to marry his high school sweetheart. “We had plane tickets, the dress was bought, the church was paid for,” Parker shared on the DVD commentary. Then, about a month before the wedding, he caught his bride-to-be with another man. Devastated, Parker broke off the engagement and came up with an unusual way to get even. “I really wrote this movie for her,” he said.

A major character in Cannibal is Liane, Packer’s beloved horse, who leaves him for another rider. The two-timing equine was named after Parker’s former fiancée. Some artistic license was taken here, as there’s no proof that the real Packer ever owned a horse named Liane—or that he ever wistfully sang about being on top of her.

3. AN AVANT-GARDE LEGEND WAS CAST IN A MINOR ROLE.

World-renowned for his experimental filmmaking, the late Stan Brakhage taught off and on at the University of Colorado, where he met Parker and Stone. The two convinced him to appear in Cannibal! as George Noon’s father, who gets about two minutes’ worth of screen time.

4. PARKER’S DAD WAS IN IT, TOO.

Just like Stan Marsh’s dad in South Park, Trey Parker’s father, Randy, is a geologist. In Cannibal! The Musical, he portrays the Breckenridge judge who sentences Packer (played by Trey) to death.

5. “SHPADOINKLE” WAS MEANT AS A FILLER WORD.

In addition to penning the Cannibal! script, Parker also wrote the film’s musical numbers. The first of these is “Shpadoinkle Day,” an offbeat tribute to “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! Parker knew that the first verse had to include a positive, three-syllable word, but couldn’t think of any that fit. So he used the made-up term “Shpadoinkle” to plug the gap until he could come up with an alternative. However, the creative team liked “shpadoinkle” so much that it stayed put and became one of Cannibal’s running jokes.

6. THEY SHOT IN THE COURTROOM IN WHICH PACKER WAS ACTUALLY TRIED.

On April 6, 1883, Packer was put on trial at the Hinsdale County Courthouse in Lake City, Colorado. Over the next few days, he admitted to dining on two of his dead travel companions—one of whom he supposedly killed in self-defense (the other died of natural causes). Packer was found guilty of murder, but avoided the hangman’s noose by fighting for a second trial, which took place 30 miles away in Gunnison. This time, he was charged with five counts of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to 40 years in prison. However, while Packer languished behind bars, public opinion slowly turned in the cannibal’s favor. Under near-constant pressure from The Denver Post, Governor Charles S. Thomas pardoned Packer in 1901.

More than 90 years later, Parker filmed the trial scenes of Cannibal! The Musical at the still-standing Hinsdale County Courthouse. About halfway through the movie, the judge delivers a big speech in which he sentences Packer to death. His on-screen monologue was copied word-for-word from the court transcript of that 1883 Lake City trial.

7. AS THE MINERS SING “THAT’S ALL I’M ASKING FOR,” YOU CAN SEE PARKER MOUTH THE WORD “CUT.”

It goes by fast, but you can see Parker call "cut" to end the shot at the 3:06 mark in the clip above.

8. PARKER USED A PSEUDONYM FOR THE OPENING CREDITS.

Parker billed himself as "Juan Schwartz" in the cast of Cannibal because, according to the movie's website, "Trey doesn't like seeing one person's name plastered all over a movie's credits." Since he is properly credited as writer and director, he likely felt the additional acting credit was a bit too much. Incidentally, Packer called himself “John Shwartze” while evading the law before his arrest.

9. A FEW SONGS WERE DELETED.

The original cut of Cannibal! The Musical ran for two and a half hours, but thanks to some major-league editing, the runtime was reduced to a breezy 93 minutes. “There were fights about that from the get-go, but I give credit to Trey for being the toughest critic,” producer Jason McHugh told MovieMaker Magazine. “He had the maturity to know that a musical comedy about cannibals can’t be two and a half hours long.”

In the streamlining process, two musical numbers got the axe. The first was a quick little dirge called “Don’t Be Stupid,” wherein some nameless miners tell Packer’s group to postpone their journey until springtime. The other was “I’m Shatterproof,” a rap/funk song that Packer, hardened by his recent ordeals, delivers during a bar fight. Also deleted was a reprise of “When I Was On Top of You.”

10. COMEDY CENTRAL WOULDN’T BROADCAST IT.

Cannibal! was distributed by Troma Entertainment, an independent production company best known for creating The Toxic Avenger series. When South Park began to emerge as a major player on cable TV, Troma’s co-founder, Lloyd Kaufman, assumed that Comedy Central would jump at the chance to air some of Parker and Stone’s earlier work. Instead, the channel flatly refused to air Cannibal.

Kaufman was sent a rejection letter from Comedy Central, which read: “Thank you for submitting and re-submitting Cannibal! The Musical, but it is simply not up to our standards for broadcasting.” Troma forwarded a copy of this dispatch to Parker. Today, it’s prominently displayed in his office—at Comedy Central!

11. IT HAS BEEN TURNED INTO A STAGE MUSICAL ON MANY OCCASIONS.

Can’t get tickets to The Book of Mormon? Perhaps you can catch a live reenactment of Cannibal! The Musical instead. Since 1998, the movie has been seen more than 60 stage adaptations. There’s no “official” version of the theatrical show. As such, acting troupes that might be interested in performing Cannibal! have to write their own scripts based on the original movie. 

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