Jimmy McMillan is a man of many talents and titles—karate expert, beard aficionado, stripper, action figure, Vietnam vet, viral star, and sole member of The Rent Is Too Damn High Party. Jimmy stopped by our offices this week with filmmakers Aaron Fisher-Cohen and Kristian Almgren to talk about their new documentary, Damn! The film charts McMillan's overnight rise from fringe party candidate to viral sensation after his unforgettable debut at the 2010 gubernatorial debate—but as most conversations with McMillan go, ours weaved off into tangents on everything from his love of Ronald Reagan to SNL's influence on him, his Israeli fanbase, his raunchy career as a porn star, and his unyielding belief in a youth revolution.

How did you guys first come across Jimmy?

Kristian: We'd heard about him kind of like every New Yorker had, here and there: "the rent is too damn high" has a bit of staying power. We watched the debate and that's when we were like, 'we gotta get in touch with this guy'. We'd just gotten back from a weekend long shoot, down in Maryland or something. We came back and saw the site, and I sent an e-mail to Aaron—half joking, half pretty serious, like, 'we have to film him for a day'. Twenty minutes later, we had plans to meet him the next day at Oprah's studio. We just followed him for a day and everything just clicked, and we got invited back the next day, and pretty soon we realized what was happening and what we had in our hands. It's pretty organic, pretty serendipitous.

Jimmy, did you initially have any reservations about accepting the project. Were you nervous at all?

Jimmy: Look at them. They're a bunch of crazy fucks, man. I like normal people around me, not people who try to come around here in a suit and a tie trying to impress me. They're young. I need to reach out to all the young people you know, because I need the young people, the independent voters. I was way ahead of them—I knew what I wanted around me before they even came around here. But, I left them alone, let them do their thing. The only thing that I regret not doing, not regret not doing, I had to keep a lot of my family life restricted. But, no look at them, they're young, they're alright. I feel comfortable with them. They can't do nothin' wrong. Even when we went to William Morris, and William Morris told us 'no cameras,' I knew the cameras were on. Nothing wrong, I don't give a fuck neither, I don't care neither, what's the problem man? What you wanna keep a secret for? Put it on tape. What you wanna say no cameras? Keep the damn cameras on.

So except for your family, everything was on the table, everything was available to you guys in terms of his life?

Jimmy: I told them, I wanted this story to get told, but not as much about me. I wanted to focus more on...let's talk about me a little bit, but let's talk about the people.

Kristian: Well, other than the access to his life, he was really cool about connecting us to some of the people in his life. Aaron had a really good idea and really pushed to meet Jimmy's karate teacher, and that was a great scene in the film that I'm sure a lot of people who don't know about Jimmy, who've just seen his viral video, think that 'I'm a karate expert' is coming out of left field, just something that's said. That was a perfect example of something where Jimmy was awesome enough to introduce us to the place that he trained, the family that trained him. I dig it as a scene in the film. It's a little snippet into his life. You think it's crazy at first, but there is legitimacy in this.

So you guys were very focused of that month, on the immediacy of what was going on, as opposed to trying to get into every aspect of his life?

Aaron: Yeah, it was more about the moment he was in, more about the phenomenon that was created than it was about the history of Jimmy. Even though I think that's important, I think where people come from is important, the bigger picture is how YouTube culture and politics all play into one another.

Kristian: Anyone who wants to do a documentary on Jimmy's history can do it today just as well as they could do it yesterday or a month from now. What we were involved with was unfolding in front of us and if we didn't do it then, it would just be someone telling a story, which has its own benefits.

What do you think are the positive or negative effects of being an overnight sensation?

Aaron: It probably varies for each person. When you're treated differently from one day to another I think that can be difficult. With YouTube and other outlets that enable one to go viral, you have the ability to reach people like you never could before. Ten years ago, even five years ago, I don't think this would have ever happened. We're in a place now where it can happen and it's pretty amazing how quickly it happens, but it's also amazing how quickly it can come to an end, or slow down.

Jimmy fits what I call the perfect 'viral storm', I think he understands it too. The way he looks, the way he talks, the way he acts, and having a simple five-word slogan. It's something that people can connect to emotionally, and that's where politics is going, for better or worse. People don't really want to hear someone talk for a long time about an issue, they wanna hear something that connects with them instantly.

Considering the way that Jimmy jumped into the media spotlight so quickly over the course of that month, do you think it's hard for someone like him to transcend being a viral celebrity, and to then being taken seriously as a political candidate?

Aaron: I think that's an individual thing, from person to person.

Do you think this notoriety will help your political ambitions, Jimmy?

Jimmy: Not in America. Israelis are taking me seriously. The Arab world is taking me seriously. But in America it's like no big deal. All my support right now comes from the European nation. I get more e-mails from London and Europe and all those places. But the Americans have fallen into voting for candidates who only address the accessories of a nation, not the necessities. So we have accessory candidates getting elected, talking about constitutional rights and values, not about what they're going to do to create one job, and as I say all the time, provide a roof over your head and money in your pocket. That's all I talk about. They don't know how to ask the economic question of how we're going to get this country together. Nobody's ever asking that.

That's a difficult question, because I haven't received a contribution...No, I did. I received $10 last month. People are not paying money. People are programmed to vote the way that they vote. Certain things they do let you know that they're not educated. When they say, "Oh you're a one-issue candidate, you're only about rent." When they say that, I know that the person who taught them in school is a dummy too, a moron. You have to understand that when you go to the store to buy coffee, coffee that was once 15 cents is now $1.15 because his rent went up. When you understand that rent, the reason that your coffee costs so much, because the property that they have that car dealership on is expensive, you're paying for it. America is not paying, but the European world seem to understand that.

I want the young people to overthrow the hold of their parents. The young people seem to get it. When a young person asks me a question about the environment, you must be talking to your stupid-ass parents. Because you have a place to stay. You're breathing every day. I mean I understand that you need air, don't get me wrong. I'll break wind and give you some air if you needed it. That's how funny I am. But when it comes to reality, what about, 'Do you have a job?' Be independent! Young people need to go away from the way their parents have voted and take this country over by voting all the old voters out of office. Inauguration day, January 3rd. When I looked at the TV, I thought the TV was leaning over. Everybody getting sworn in was so old! So this is serious. Way before I met Aaron and Kristian, I had a plan. My plan was to build this campaign around digital and social media. It worked. I don't have an office...Or I do.

The Brooklyn office?

Jimmy: No, it's right here. My cell phone. I work from my car.

Do you have much interaction with fans and supporters? Do you get fan mail? Do you talk to people on Twitter and Facebook?

Jimmy: Not now. Before I did, I did it all by myself. Every petition took me 15,000 signatures to get on the ballot to get me where I'm at. My name is on all of them. I've turned in about 25,000 petitions. Even though I signed a lot of petitions myself! [laughs] I didn't get where I am now by thinking, "I'm not going to get there." When all this started, I put a goal in my mind. My goal was $5 million. I know I can have the resources to reach out to everybody in America. I can get a bus and travel to speak to the people who want to see me everywhere in America. Even if somebody donated a bus to me—donate me a bus or something so I can travel the country! Give me a radio show! Put me on the air. Nobody's talking about this because they're thinking it's some kind of joke.

Only the young people, livin' with Mama. They're my biggest supporters. "Oh Mama's got a house!" Yeah, Mama died. Who gonna pay the mortgage? You're not working! "Oh, I never thought about that!" My job is to wake you young people up and let you all know that all the old people that I talk to, all they're talking about is what happened in 1930. I was on the Larry Elder's show day before yesterday: "Hello! You called me. You're not talking to me! You're not talking to me. You got the wrong person on the phone. I don't want to talk about 1930! Let's talk about 2011 and 2030 when you want to talk to me." So for the young people, I am your voice. Fifteen minutes of fame, it goes every time you go to pay your rent and you can't pay it. Gonna have to get a U-Haul. You got 15 minutes to get there before the door closes. That's 15 minutes of fame to me. If you don't get there in time they're gonna shut you out and you gotta move the next day.

Digital social media, YouTube...I'm hoping that young people see the magic in it. It's gone beyond a revolution or a movement. There's some magic happening in a dysfunctional world and country right now. It's happening, it's pulling the strings of magic. Will you all come with me and help make this happen? I don't have to be the President of the United States. Why don't you run, and I'll support you? I need you all to get involved. I want people to say, "if Jimmy can do it, I can do it." That's magic. Everything that I've said that has been recorded has come to pass. The debt ceiling. The debt ceiling was raised 20 times under the Reagen administration, seven times under the Bush administration and now it's happening under Barack. Twenty times under the Reagan administration—this is the domino effect, a continuous cycle. Don't people get it? Where's the economic expert? It seems to be I'm the only one. But I want you guys to take it over from here. I believe in myself and I believe in you guys.

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Aaron Fisher-Cohen, Jimmy McMillan, and Kristian Almgren (Tien Mao/Gothamist)

In a sense, are you saying you'd almost rather be more of an example for young people? You want to inspire people, rather than you yourself be elected to office? You kind of want to get other people involved and want to show, "This is how you do it."

Jimmy: I set an example of that, as you can remember. Someone asked me, "How do you feel about gay rights?" If you wanna marry a shoe, I'll marry you! I know what I'm doing. I don't care who passes gay rights, I don't care who gets credit for it. Whatever you want to do, you're in America! You have a constitutional right. You said it right. I'm just saying, all you young people: wake up! You're going to let some old people push you down through a family of debt and you're not saying anything? I'm just here to wake you up, you're right.

So when you finally saw the finished film, was there anything that surprised you about watching yourself, and viewing what happened during that month?

Jimmy: I laughed my ass off.

Aaron: I watched it with him for the first time and all I heard was hysterical laughing.

Jimmy: It reminded me of when I participated in a karate tournament at Long Island University in the early 80s. The first time I saw the videotape, there was a big guy doing flips and splits and kicking everybody's ass! And I wanted to get that videotape because I wanted to train just like that guy. And the guy said, "That's you!" I'd never seen myself on tape. "What? That's me? Well I'm bad!" But I'm a clown, I'm a human being. I want everybody who don't look like me, to look like themselves, to be themselves. Don't let anybody get into your personal business. Whatever you do in your personal life is nobody's business but yours. I want you all to understand that we are in a crisis, in an economic state of emergency that's affecting our lives. If you're not employed, you won't draw social security. I get social security, I get a pension from the Post Office, I get a pension from the Veterans Administration. I get three checks...five checks! I don't need none of this stuff myself. But why do I? Kids, man. Can't think about yourself. And that's where I am.

So now that the film is over, what's your relationship with Jimmy? Are you still working with him?

Aaron: No, we're not working with him. He came out to the Little Rock Film Fesitval, they flew us all out there. Came to the Brooklyn Film Festival. He's playing his part, taking interview. But no, we're not working on anything.

Kristian: If he needs advice about anything...he gave us a lot of access into his life. Obviously a lot of people have come and gone trying to help him do things and if he needs help we have no problem being available. But I don't think it's a professional thing. Like he said, we're young. It's easy for us to do things and to help him and help guide him in things. When he has 50-year-old lawyers from Midtown who are coming in, and Jimmy wants to play live somewhere, he's probably not going to know the best way to do it. It's easy to maintain a little bit of a relationship.

Jimmy: I see a broader picture than Kristian and Aaron both. The broader picture...they probably know, maybe not, I'm just saying...this is a foundation. Some people looking at a foundation say, "I like that." Talking about movies and stuff. They wrote a script, you see what I'm saying? This is the beginning of a foundation, having a celebrity, making this foundation here is going to take them further than they could even see. The process of me helping them open that door, somebody looking at me and thinking about the money they could generate because I'm loved by the world...it's a broader picture. When I look at Israel. Once again. [Aaron's] Jewish. It counts. There's a lot going on here right now. The door is open, I told Aaron and Kristian. Kristian first got the iTunes thing going.

I'm in position. When we leave here I'm going to write about the guy sitting at the table, sitting down and talking about these things. I write, I'm a writer. I'll write about this conversation we're having right now, sitting at a table. This is because I play my guitar [laughs] that's me! But the song on iTunes, even though it didn't go over too well the way we wanted it to, it's because a lot of promotion wasn't there on our part. I couldn't find anybody credible to promote it...it would have went over well. Could have put it as an advertisement on the radio station, big time guy, celebrity guy, got songs on iTunes. We could have sold it just like that! If we just didn't have that agent, who didn't come behind us trying to be slick. We had Channel 11. I took an agent with me up there and the agent sent everybody a letter the next day saying he wanted full control. You know what I told him? I don't get Channel 11, I don't get Channel 11. "You're not going to come in and disrupt the family, you wanna shut them up." He can't do what he wants to do unless he go through the internet. Come and let yourself in, fit in with the family, don't push these guys out. You're not in my house, it don't work like that. You come in and own everybody. But I like Channel 11, I watch it on TV.

During the craziness of the campaign, did you have any favorite moments? Things that stood out looking back at it?

Jimmy: Oh man. For two decades of doing this, I just wouldn't back away from "The Rent Is Too Damn High." I kept saying it over and over again, and they kept saying—all the TV shows and even on the debates —"Well we've got a hilarious candidate with a slogan, he's said it over 13 times, The Rent Is Too Damn High! Go ahead talk to him!" Called me wacky, "What a wacky debate!" The worst mayor we've had in the city of New York, Mayor Koch, called the debate wacky. They all call me wacky! He's wacky! They've never heard anything, the old people, they call it wacky. They've never heard nothing like this. Well guess what. They've got so many cartoons out now. I've got two of my favorite cartoons on RentIsTooDamnHigh.org. "Rent Is Too Damn High." I'm gonna throw a Rent-Is-Too-Damn-High-Party. This is new! They call me wacky. Because I talk about something that has become a cancer to this society, a failure, they call me wacky. And when they say that, I knew that the old people have got to go.

Do you resent being called wacky? Or people seeing you as an entertainer?

Jimmy: They're senile as shit, because they're old. The politicians who created this mess call me wacky, because if they were sitting at the table. They refused to change for these folks, they continue to talk about market value for them. They continue to talk about "Well you know, if the landlord bought the building, he's gotta raise the rent." They won't talk about the government that made it impossible for the landlord not to raise the rent—that's what government is there for —because they want to negotiate that because they're real estate brokers themselves, they own property. They're building on it. Every time they talk about an increase, they go to the bank and cash in. So it's for their own good, their conversations will be more different. They call me wacky. You know, every time they say wacky I know that, I look at these politicians, and I say, "moron."

Are there any politicians in particular you're talking about?

Jimmy: Ed Koch. Screwed the city up. Worst mayor of the city. When Giuliani became mayor he was so happy, he went after John Gotti. Giuliani was so happy, so busy trying to get John Gotti, when Giuliani became mayor he became a made man, read between the lines. When Bloomberg became mayor, Giuliani was replaced, he was no good. Now Bloomberg, we put him there, none of them could understand that they had a responsibility for the debt ceiling being where it is. So all of them have failed the people, and guess what? The people love them. We have some people who don't give a damn about real life. And I understand, but knowing what they did, all of them...I'm coming after all of them. I won't talk about them simply because the damage has already been done. McMillan don't know "politics." McMillan know "How To Fix." I'm in "How To Fix" mode. Not "politics" mode, "How To Fix" mode. And that's where we're at right now and I know we can do it.

Kristian: Is that a new slogan? I've never heard you say that.

Jimmy: Yeah, I've been using that, you've just never heard it. I'm in "How To Fix" mode. I'm not a politician, I'm a How-To-Fix'ian. They got us in this mess and I know how to get us out. Because the rent is too damn high, my rent is too damn low, and the deficit is too damn high. [laughs] All of it's crazy.

Besides that, are there any politicians you do admire? Or any that you would like to emulate?

Jimmy: Ronald Reagan. My man. People called it "Reaganomics," and when people say that, I know they didn't understand government. Even under the Reagan administration, the debt ceiling was raised 20 times, but Ronald Reagan had a way to tell you a joke [laughs].

So you admired his personality as much as anything?

Jimmy: He's an actor! He brought that stage humor to the political arena and they ate it up. The greatest actor in the world. So with Jimmy McMillan, it's a con. I love to joke but at the same time, I'm doing the same thing, I'm knocking the old people out of the way who screwed the nation up, and I'm picking up the young people. Replacing them. That's what I'm doing. But I'm doing it with humor, I'm embarrassing the hell out of them with a smile. My grandmother, my grandfather, your grandmother, your grandfather, they've been punked by the political system. Conservatives and progressives, all these things they put up, they've been punked. So now it's time for you all to replace the grandmas. That's what I'm doing.

How do you think Cuomo has done thus far as governor?

Jimmy: Got some toilet paper? He said I beat him. He couldn't do it when he got here. He only addresses the necessities of the Governor of the State of New York, he hasn't addressed the necessities that would help people needing to save on rent money, and reduce the costs. I told him that, he hasn't...I called him, actually, a couple times. I even wrote the President, "I can help!" They won't call me. Why? Look at me! So they won't invite me to help them out. He hasn't done anything. Passed a couple accessories bills. What about jobs? What about evictions? My landlord is trying to get me out. But I will publicly, because everybody's going through this and I needed him to see how I handle it. He hasn't done anything. He's just there. And the state. It's just like the table sitting here. That's the governor.

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Jimmy McMillan and Ben Yakas (Tien Mao/Gothamist)

For all of you guys, I'm curious: Jimmy is one side of the viral video coin, where it's worked in his favor, giving him lots of fans very quickly, promoting him on a large scale suddenly. On the other side of that is somebody like Anthony Weiner, whose online presence was his undoing. So one, what did you think of that scandal? And two, do you ever worry of something like that happening to you?

Jimmy: I used to be a stripper. It's on my Facebook page. I brought it out in the open. I got home tapes out there. Anybody want to watch me suck my own dick, go get the tape.

That's floating around out there?

Kristian: Wait, Jimmy, you've been in pornos? You've been in pornos.

Jimmy: Yeah I told you that when I got the script.

Aaron: You said you were a stripper, you never said you were in a porno sucking your own dick.

Jimmy: I made my own shit, man. You know? Because you know, you got to pay the rent. You get a job!

That's true, but in that sense, what did Anthony Weiner's crotch shot have to do with his job? It still brought him down.

Jimmy: Exactly. No, you don't know what you're doing. People depend on you, count on you, to make sure under the 14th Amendment that they...and you're fooling around and you don't know what to do and you make it worse.

So you weren't a fan of Weiner?

Jimmy: Anthony Weiner made a big mistake, he should never have quit. He quit under the necessity of his life, not the necessities of him being an elected official. Me being a stripper and me making tapes to sell them, the reason I made those porno tapes is because my daughter is deformed. The government refused to help me with my children. I went to war, I was exposed to Agent Orange, came back and had deformed children. They didn't tell us we were exposed to Agent Orange. We found out about it as veterans in 1970-something when the war was over, looking at Tom Brokaw on late night TV. So even now they don't help my children, my deformed child. So I said, 'Okay, you won't help my children?' I became a stripper and I thought I could make some money. I'd pole-dance hoping that it would help my daughter with the surgery and everything that she needs. You can see an American Tragedy through me.

That this government got me to be an American defender, serving my country. I should have been brought back in a body bag but I wasn't. So I had to go to the stage and take my clothes off...ladies come by and give you a dollar and then they ask you, "Excuse me can I have my change?" Those are the kinds of things that I was exposed to, that my government put me through. And they should be embarrassed, but what I was supposed to do to make ends meet in this country. It's a struggle to get here and now that I'm here, don't ask me what I did. What are you going to do? You can't afford a roof over your head, because you don't have a job. It's not about me! I've done a lot of crazy things.

But back to Anthony Weiner, he didn't violate his position as an elected official. He has a constitutional right, that was between him and his wife. What kind of country have we become where you put a naked picture on Facebook and you get brought down? I'm glad he got brought down, because if you can't protect your constitutional rights then you can't protect mine. That's just the way it is. I used to be with a team of doctors. I have a book out, called A Vet For Life. In my book—I'm gonna put it out there right now because it's in my book—I came home with a disease called priapism. I had to go to the emergency room and get blood drawn from my penis because I had a hard-on that lasted 12 -13 hours. It's true! It's all in my book! What I'm trying to say is that it's not about this American defender. I came home messed up. Shrapnel in my feet, I had to cut my little toe off. Shrapnel in my buttocks. Places where I had to have it removed. I was serving my country. But that's me. What about you?

Right. The focus, you're saying, shouldn't necessarily be on you and your past.

Jimmy: No. What Anthony Weiner did didn't hurt everybody. It hurt him and his personal ego. You gotta learn how to defend... this is why I'm putting it out here now. Don't call me on the TV program and ask me, because you'll get embarrassed. If you call me on TV and ask me about it, I'm going to say, "Where's your wife?" I don't play. Because we're here to talk about you and what we can do for your children.

Kristian: I think the Anthony Weiner thing showed two major things: one, the disconnect between how people treat new media and how people use it and how they don't know about it. I think that's kind of interesting. And also, and this is something the film brings up, what do we value in our politicians? What do we ask of them? How do we deal with modern day celebrity and politicians and power.

Jimmy: They love stuff like that.

Aaron: That kind of story, it can be blown out of proportion. It can be exciting. His name is Weiner!

Jimmy: Well, one more thing—what made me take the route I did, because I knew that the media never lets the truth get in front of a good story. When I realized that, I looked at myself in the mirror and said, "Oh this is gonna be a good story." [makes buzzing sounds like a razor]

That's when you first decided to change your beard style?

Jimmy: Get the camera! All eyes on me! I was sitting there looking at everybody else and I was thinking, "I want to be different on that stage. I wanna look like me." [bzzzz] Distinguished. Not only did I win Mustache of the Year Award, it was a look. When I sat on that stage, everybody in that arena at the debate, there were several people on stage...but guess who everyone was looking at? All...eyes...on...me. Even though I wasn't the one speaking, they were watching the kid. That was my plan. [laughs]

How come you're running for President, and not for mayor in the mayoral elections?

Jimmy: I thought about that, but I'm more worried about the information. Running for President now...they're not talking about the issues. I need to keep these issues at the forefront. I might just run for mayor, but I want Barack Obama to maintain the Presidency. I just want to shut these Republicans down—you're scaring the hell out of everybody! I want a young Republican to come up and run with the issues to get the country on the right track. I'm like a rabbit in a marathon, I want to get in here to set the pace. If the President can't keep up with me, he's going to lose. I'll say to him like I said it on national television, Barack Obama, I'll run for President of the United States. I have issues, they don't. You want to talk about Politics. The country is in a 14 trillion dollar debt and you're raising the debt ceiling and everyone's out of a job. Jimmy McMillan is over here, Barack Obama here, I'm talking How To Fix, he's talking Politics. I'm trying to get into the presidential debate, that's my uphill battle.

You want to be on national television?

Jimmy: Yeah, that's the only problem I'm having because I'm not Newt Gingrich. The young people don't pay attention to these folks. But you know what? That's not going to stop me from moving forward. And I just might run for Mayor the next election.

Would you guys consider working with him when he does run for elected office again? If he makes it that far?

Aaron: I personally would probably move on to another film project. I've got a couple different things in the works. One about this woman who has a public access show, named Cognac who has a public access show, I've started shooting. I think we ended up telling the story we wanted to tell. But we'll always have Jimmy's back.

Have you ever thought about leaving New York City Jimmy? Would you ever want to live anywhere else?

Jimmy: You gonna see a helicopter one day with a long rope, trying to snatch somebody up. It's gonna be me, hanging on to the pole. If you leave, don't run. I learned that when I was running from one woman to another. I ran for one who took a bath every night. I ran to another who didn't. Stop running! The people need help here and I know that I can provide some. If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere.

Do you have any favorite places in New York that you like to hang out in?

Jimmy: Not really. I used to be a bouncer, because of the danger I put my family in doing this kind of work, I worked at a strip club, took my clothes off. I hang out near St. Marks sometimes. I'm trying to play it cool now because all eyes on me, people kind of like what I do. For that reason, I won't cross that line.

How much time do you spend on your beard care?

Jimmy: I combed it before I came here.

Do you have to trim it every day, or do you let it grow out a little bit?

Jimmy: I look at Saturday Night Live...I try to get it that fluffy.

You're basing it on Saturday Night Live? On Keenan playing you?

Jimmy: I don't know if you guys know that, I got it fluffier because of Saturday Night Live. So I'm stealing some points from SNL. I also can't wait until Saturday Night Live invites me to the show. I do believe good things come to those who wait, and if I'm patient, one day I'll get that phone call, "We'd like to have you on the show." Something magical is happening.