By Ian S. Port
By Tony Ware
By Emma Silvers
By Gary Moskowitz
By Alee Karim
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
By Derek Opperman
Over rice and meat cubes at an Upper Haight skewer joint,
Zach Slow revisits the story he's now told to the BBC, MTV, Yahoo, Current TV, the Chronicle, and numerous other publications over the last eight months. It's the one about the most expensive "date" he's taken in 27 years of bachelorhood. The tale about the pint-sized woman he brought to a yacht on June 9, plied with expensive booze, limoed to the airport, and flew down to Los Angeles first-class to hang with the next day (at her invitation, and no funny business), only to find out later that this mouthy little firecracker was talking shit about him and his friend Andrew Bancroft to anyone who asked (including, for example, Spinmagazine). So when the female in question returned to San Francisco last week, Slow and his buddy,
MC Jelly Donut (aka Bancroft, who works with local sketch comedians Killing My Lobster), visited her on the job Mezzanine's stage and challenged her to a battle of wits. After all, this $10,000 date was none other than buzzed-about Brit Lady Sovereign, and droll comebacks are the spry hip-hop supernova's supposed specialty. In the end, though, the Sov wasn't having the chants of "Jelly Donut" at her show, throwing a drink on the costumed fried confection, spitting on him, and kicking him out of her performance (proof of which is readily available on YouTube). As Jelly D says at the end of his hilarious YouTube account, "I was just playin'; she had to bring saliva into this."
"The original idea was to see if I could make something completely ridiculous and crazy happen," says Slow, picking at a soggy slab of asparagus. "It was more of a social experiment, like, 'How weird is our society that people are going to give a stranger $10,000 to go out with a crazy rapper?'" He's talking about the other angle to this tiny tabloid war: Slow raised the dough to hang with Lady Sovereign on his Web site, www. helpmegetrandomwithladysovereign.com (which details his cash-rich match-up), through word of mouth. In just 30 days last May,Slow's plea for fundraising reverberated around the world, bringing in donations totaling 10 grand from sympathizers in eight countries. But all that's in the past now, and although Slow says MTV made attempts to set up a Jelly D vs. Lady Sov battle last week, he acknowledges the expiration date of this playground scuffle. This blip of a controversy is just one thread in his web of ideas.
Slow is a Salt Lake City native raised by a family of therapists (his uncle, Jack Canfield, penned the successful "Chicken Soup for the Soul" series of self-help books). He grew up on punk and hardcore acts, and stumbled onto Lady Sovereign at Coachella, never seriously considering her music, much less the possibility of a romantic interest; instead, he imagined the power of a fun-for-all stunt. As he repeats numerous times during our chat, his curiosity is less with being a celebrity's "plus one" than with the reactions that grow out of this superficial bond. "What's interesting to me is that I put [my ideas] out there and this huge conversation develops," he says. "You see how people spin it. You see how [Lady Sovereign's] people spin it. I get hundreds of e-mails saying, 'You've inspired me to follow my dreams,' and I get e-mails saying, 'Fuck you, this money could be used in such a better way.'"
After years of planning more underground, spontaneous happenings (roving zombie parties in S.F. bars, public movie nights with MCs), his brainstorming hit pay dirt last year with the double punch of the Sovereign story and the humorous Claymation spoofs he and Bancroft made in December of R. Kelly's "Trapped in the Closet" saga. Called Trapped in the CLAUSet, the videos, available at www.myspace.com/zachslow, turn the warped R&B tryst into a scandal involving Santa and the missus, an elf, Rudolf, and Jesus. Like his Sovereign site, the page went national: The video garnered more than a million hits, and now Slow and Bancroft are pitching VH1 on a Claymation show "heavy on comedy but still pretty offensive and edgy," he says, "but that also has a lot of songs, like musicals filled in with live action completely ridiculous stuff like Andrew freestyling dressed as a doughnut."
Slow seems to have a creative energy that belies his last name. The New School dropout lectures at colleges around the country, fields offers to write chapters for upcoming books, and considers ideas for a book of his own. He's also trying to turn his passion for Andy Kaufman, Pee-wee Herman, and Borat into a career of "just having as much fun as fucking possible and making the shit I want to do."
To that end, he's teaching a class on sparking trends this semester at Miami Ad School's local campus, which should add to the long line of cultural zeitgeist makers residing here ("Every person is going to try and create a cultural trend," he says, "and I'm actually competing against them. I thought it would be more [interesting] to have my head at the chopping block, too.")