For nearly 30 years, a mysterious guy from Colorado has created a massive body of recorded telephone conversations that deserve far better than to be called “prank phone calls.” Longmont Potion Castle is more of a running absurdist art project that explores the psyche of everyone from unsuspecting homeowners to Orange Julius employees to Alex Trebek. The fan base for LPC is small but dearly dedicated: I’ve been listening to (and writing about) his calls since the ’90s, and I can have entire conversations in Longmont quotes with fellow fans.
Though Longmont Potion Castle has some well known admirers in the entertainment world—from Jimmy Eat World to Rainn Wilson—it always seemed destined for deep underground status. The calls are too weird to catch people’s ears quickly; it takes a few minutes to find the hypnotic rhythms of a man pretending to be an insistent UPS driver who’s determined to bring you your centipedes. If this all sounds headier than prank calls might possibly be, maybe it is. But there’s almost nothing in the world that makes me laugh harder than Longmont Potion Castle.
And now, after years of obscurity, there’s going to be a movie. Not a documentary, exactly, but Where In The Hell Is The Lavender House won’t be a narrative feature, either. If it can capture the energy of its creator in any meaningful way, it should be fantastic. The filmmakers, who produced a doc about black metal recently, are launching an IndieGoGo campaign today to help fund the project. Rainn Wilson will serve as executive producer. I’ll be giving them some money.
I spoke to the unnamed caller recently; I missed his first call, and when I tried him back, I got a message saying the number didn’t exist. (He called back.) We talked about the film, his history, and Alex Trebek, who has been on the receiving end of dozens of LPC calls over the years—and who’s exceedingly polite about it. Below, our conversation; below that, the campaign video for the doc. He never once threatened to hit me with a tennis racket.
The A.V. Club: How did the documentary come together?
Longmont Potion Castle: Frankly, the Rolling Stone interview I did a few months ago really brought out a lot of correspondence from people all over the place. These Canadian guys wanted to do a movie, and they were really, really normal to deal with. Everything made sense, and they have a good attitude, and they’re not a spaz or anything. I shouldn’t say that. These types of offers have happened to me before, and I didn’t know what type of capability or legitimacy they had, it wasn’t very clear. But these guys were up for it, and so I was in agreement. It seemed to be the perfect time. I said in that interview that after 30 years, I’d like to do something big, to kind of celebrate it. This would be perfect timing for that.
AVC: So is it a documentary, or something else?
LPC: I think it’s important to have there be some lack of clarity in talking to people about it. There’s gonna be a documentary in there for sure, with interviews and people. But there’s other layers where it’s weird and confusing. But somewhere in the middle it turns into a real documentary where it gets realistic. And there will be people, hopefully including yourself, who will be interviewed. So it’s all different layers. It’s kind of both.
AVC: Do you want your real story out there? You’ve been so secretive with your identity over the years.
LPC: I’d like to keep some things hidden. I really just wanted to do something big after 30 years. I’ve made a lot of albums and made little videos. It seemed like the time to do something, but I don’t want to be on camera and do really straightforward things. I’m not interested in that kind of approach. Again, these guys jibe with me on a personal level. They’re into metal, and they’re into music. They’re into doing things filming-wise, on a guerilla level. I don’t want to get too explicit. I don’t know how much people would care.
AVC: Is it more important for the person you’re calling to be engaged, or is it more important for you to be on a roll, comedically?
LPC: If it all comes together at once, that’s a keeper. Sometimes I’m tired or don’t say anything that good, but the other person enlivens the recording. And sometimes the opposite is true. As long as the end result is entertaining to me, hopefully people agree. Sometimes it all comes together. There’s a 33-minute track on the new one [the upcoming Longmont Potion Castle 13, out in January], I don’t think any of that is dull. Both sides are rarin’ to go.
AVC: Are you concerned that you won’t be able to get celebrities on the phone after there’s a documentary? Will Alex Trebek finally find out who you are, and he won’t play along anymore?
LPC: I would love for Alex to participate in this movie. In the back of my mind, I’ve resigned myself to not call him anymore. I’ve been talking to him now for years. I’ve done a lot with that. But if he agrees to participate, I will officially promise not to call him anymore.
AVC: He might want to solve the mystery!
LPC: Stranger things occur all the time. They were thoughtful conversations. They weren’t gross, or too weird. Just a little weird. Maybe he’ll look back fondly on them. He never changed his number, it’s easy to find. Maybe he’s up for it!”