MovieWeb is in the Battle Zone with Tommy the Clown as he talks about the new documentary film, Rize
Krumping may be a style of dance you've never heard of. If so, you're not alone. When I first heard about the new film, Rize, I was as clueless as the rest of you. But after seeing the documentary last week, my eyes were opened way up. The film, which is beautifully produced and directed by David LaChapelle, takes you inside one of the most dangerous parts of the country - South Central Los Angeles. You're exposed to Clown dancing from none other than Tommy the Clown, the originator of the phase. I was able to meet Tommy, as well as one of his protege's, Larry. They might joke about dancing, but believe me, these people take it very seriously:
What's the strangest thing about being where you are right now?
Tommy: (laughter) What's the strangest? (pause) It's, it's, I don't know; I'm just so happy, so excited. Lotta tape recorders. (laughter) It's like a scare tactic.
You're on the cover of LA Weekly, you're doing the press day. What's the chances of that? Did you dream of this, did you fathom this?
Tommy: I knew, I knew when I started this back in 1992, I was going to strive at something that I loved to do. And I didn't care what the outcome was; I wanted it to be something successful, I wanted to move forward. But I didn't know; everyone used to say ‘He wants something, he needs something…somebody should, somebody should.' And I could always hear it, but working it and doing everything on my own. Working at the offices and all the craziness, it's like I never knew, I would always pray. People would ask me what my goal was in the next five years. I know I was going to be throwing some parties. I was just going to try to be the oldest clown, the oldest clown to ever live, or something. Cause I didn't know it was going to turn out to be a movie and yeah, whew (laughing with Larry). It's amazing!
In the movie, the Battle Zone took place two years ago?
Tommy: 2003, yeah.
Have there been two since then or is it a yearly thing?
Tommy: Well, we do it every month now, it's on a smaller scale. After losing up everything, I said I'm not doing this on my own – big show like The [Great Western] Forum when people just take money out your house and try to borrow up some money and get stuff done and they steal it. I said I'm going to do it smaller. Debbie Allen let us use her place on a smaller scale; it's like 800 kids, once a month, the third Saturday of every month. We started with about 1500 kids, we don't even advertise this and now it's only about 800 kids. I'm waiting to do the big one again, but I can't do it on my own. I'm just waiting to see how we're going to do it, when and where we're going to do it.
Tommy, what happened after the break-in? How did all that resolve? The film left us hanging. Did you get your stuff back, or what?
Tommy: (laughter) When I found out they broke in, I started crying; I was sad, it was so...I knew when they told me the house was shattered, I was at the Forum and I was like ‘Oh my gosh.' Ever since then, I kept strong, you know I stayed strong. I lost the house and everything, that's when I moved into an apartment. And that's where I'm at; I still live in the same apartment. And my hope is still up and I got G-d in my life and He's my inspiration in knowing that no matter what you go through, you can rise. I love the title of the movie; you can rise no matter what. It's funny cause Larry say you needed to get out of there, it's hard to get out of the hood. It's not like we're rich, it's nothing like that. So all the clowns, everyone can just live and stay. Cause I'm not a person who wants to be up in all a house somewhere. You know, I'm a family type; I got one son and that's it. All these kids that I train, some of my staff, these are my kids and that's how I look at it.
What was your reaction when you saw the Bushmen and the guys doing the same thing here, cause I asked Miss Prissy and Larry the same thing.
Tommy: You mean when I saw the Bushmen?
Yeah, when they compare what you're doing with the Bushmen or the Africans.
Tommy: Oh, ok. (laughter) When I saw that, that blew me away. Cause we didn't know we was doing that same type of style. You know from back in the days, this is something that's been implanted in us.
- In the blood -
Tommy: Yeah, in the blood. I didn't know, I didn't know that; when I saw that on film, the way David [LaChapelle] saw that, I was like oh my gosh and that really shocked me. I said, man, it's not like who's schooling you. I didn't take that class or nothing like that. I mean, I know my African, I know this is African, but I saw that man, I almost went crazy. You know I was like ‘Wow!'
Larry: I used to walk around naked as a baby and I didn't know where it came from until I saw the movie. (lots of laughter)
How were initially approached for him to make a documentary film about this and were you reluctant at all to have it potentially co-opted, you know taken away from you in the way that the dancing has expanded beyond you just being the figure.
Tommy: You said?
I mean, how were you approached and was there any reluctance for David to document this material.
Tommy: Oh, no. David came in, he heard about the dance and everything. He directed towards me, cause I'd been doing it for years and he just came in. I was like, cause I'd been saying he should do this cause I've been promised stuff and a lot's been taken from us. And they come in and see what's buzzin' inside the hood and take that element and do something that you ain't even no more needed. David came in and documented and was real; he treated it like a child, like it was his kid. He was more excited about what he was doing on this project than his paid projects and stuff like that. And I saw the love he had for us, and he'd always say ‘Tommy.' And everything he'd say would come to pass. The heart he has for us, cause he's in Hollywood and we in the hood and he doesn't have to come here and kick it with us and be on the type of level where we at, and it's like he came and did that and I was like ‘that's bomb!'
Larry, what was your reaction to the whole thing, you know, as you're seeing it, what Tommy was going through and the whole surroundings? What was your feeling?
Larry: Um, Tommy used to have us on payroll and after that happened I knew it was something else. I used to stick in there because I knew the situation. And I wasn't just doing this because I was getting paid, you know, dancing for Tommy – I did it cause I loved it and I stuck in there and we did these parties together. You know, when one cried we all cried; when one smiled, we all smiled. Y'all know what I'm trying to say so it's like our surroundings, it's hard to live out there in Inglewood and Watts, Compton, you know it's hard. You know, we worked hard, you know, a lot of people talked about us, and everything, whatever, and I was getting paid and whatever. But we knew the situation so I didn't let it get to me; I knew what I was doing and that was making people happy and smiling and laughing and being around this guy. My dad never really staying in the house with me, so I never really had a man stay this close to me. He kept me laughing, we both Capricorns; I'm January 9th, he's January 14th, and we like clicked. We laugh about the same thing, we goofy; he's like a big kid. You know, he could be 40 or 40,000, we just laugh, I just have fun with him. And even when I'm not around him, I still talk to him. And he's one of those people who can just brighten your day up. You know when you talk to an older person, you expect them to be like ‘Don't do this.' He's serious, but he'll throw a joke in out of no-where and have you crying, so he's inspirational to me, Dad. (laughter)
How does it feel for both of you, that you're not just doing parties anymore, you know, you're national, Steve Harvey, The Apollo. I was talking to someone in Baltimore who knew who you were because of that. What's that like for both of you knowing that it's not just going to be in that small area anymore, it's going to be nationwide and possibly world wide?
Tommy: It's exciting to, uh, it's very exciting to know that doors have a possibility of opening to certain situations. What I've been trying to do with the shows I created, the Battle Zone, I want it on tour so other kids can share this experience. It's been in California all this time and to see it's been going around into different states, different cities, stuff like that, and countries. We've been to London, Taiwan, it's amazing to know that this is something that can spread, the lessons spread. Cause we've been doing it for years and we still doing it, putting smiles, doing these birthday parties for these kids.
I always tell people, you can tell a lot when you go out of the US to travel; what have your experiences been like?
Tommy: What was our experience like? When we went to London and Taiwan, I've never been out of the United States; I was like the accent, when they first called, I was like man, I can't even understand what they're saying. (laughter) And it was frustrating me so I let my…And so we got out there and they got the London accent, and when we got to Taiwan, the boys had interpreters so that worked out. But it was amazing, they bused us to go train these kids. And when we did the big show, and people was so sucked in to what we were doing, it was very exciting, the motivation was there, these fans are going crazy. The type of spirit we're leaving behind with these kids; cause it's like no matter what you go through in life, especially if you're not even the greatest dancer to got to London and these different places. I had a guy who was at a screening we was at who came from London that seen us, he met me, he probably seen the moves. It's just so exciting how these kids look.
Larry: We even had adults come and cry, ‘We don't believe it' We don't even believe it. We didn't even realize it was so big until we saw people react to it, towards it. It's a wonderful thing people cry and come to you, ‘You gave me inspiration to think that I can do anything, you know I have children in my class, and they this and they that, I love ‘em so much, I feel so bad.' You know, I want a tissue. (laughter)
Tommy: We went to these cities, they got this school teacher, it's like they've been wanting to do something to make another alternative for their kids, cause their kids need it too.
What's the real difference between the style you created and the classic hip-hop dance style like popping, locking, and be-boing?
Tommy: Our's is a form of freestyle, it's aggressive throughout the Battle Zones, it's a lot of energy, especially when you're inside the middle of a Krump session. It's like a spirit, a motivation you get amongst each other, like when we have birthday parties and we pump you up and you do some spectacular moves and people go like ‘Woah!' I personally don't watch, you know, choreographed, pop-knockin' or any of that other type stuff. It was just something I was going with by starting out as a clown and creating these smiles, it just went crazy. Kids wanted to do it; that's why I kept it. You know, when I did shows, I always had these judges that would judge the freestyle form and so everyone could freestyle their own way. And that energy, the Krump come in when you put that energy in. You know, you tell ‘em to go out there and do the best you can.
Larry: Hip hop dancing is more like choreography and it's more made up and you have to learn it. This, this Krump and Clowning you can't learn, it's just in you, the music moves you, you know. It's raw and organic, you know, it's like whatever comes out of you, you make it up tempo with the rhythm, you know, and it just comes out. Kind of like I need to pay my bill, (with dance included) ‘Pay my bill, pay my bill' (laughter). You know, it's out of the blue, it's a blessing. It's like when you hear any song, you know, you get that feeling and you be driving and I know you've seen people drive up next to you and they're like ‘Are you crazy or something,' but you feeling something. You're like ‘Man, don't try to mess with me.'
But there is popping in your style?
Larry: Yeah, you could throw the ‘cabbage patch' in there, we don't care. You could pop while you're doing the ‘cabbage patch' (with dance included). (laughter)
Tommy: The one thing about like you say ‘popping.' When you see the energy it brings, it make your popping style more effective, cause you're like..You're doing the Krump stuff; I saw someone battle a Krumper and a ‘popper.' And when that Krumper came out and got in his face and did his thing, it made that ‘popper' be like ‘Well you didn't say nothing like that,' it made him get in his face. It makes you create moves you think you doing and the people behind you are like ‘Woah!' That raises your energy and your spirits, it's amazing.
Larry: Yeah, I broke my hand trying that. We was at a Vanity Fair shoot, a little retarted, and everyone was all pumped up, you know, Dragon, Lucy, everyone was getting off, getting ‘buck.' And you know me, I'm just a regular fire; I'm like I can do this too. I get out there and I see a wall, and I don't know what made me do it, but… (lots of laughter) I socked that wall, and when I socked the wall, I didn't want the camera to see I was hurt (laughter) and when they said cut, I said ‘shhhhh!' (lots of laughter) Man, I went to the doctor, man, that was the worst feeling ever. Man, these fingers were broke, my fingers were swollen so bad, they were like, man what's wrong? Whew, I'll never sock anything again. (laughter)
In the movie, your groups and the Krumper groups seem very antagonistic and don't get along very well, is that the truth, or are you guys more friendly than you lead on?
Tommy: No, that's the Battle Zone, that's the purpose of Battle Zone. We love each other, it's just when you go to Battle Zone, when you get on stage, you're enemies. I tried to portray each group like it seems like you don't like each other. You don't see in this movie, but it's b-rolled, that's when it's being rolled. It's like you've got a group coming out, we're talking mess. You know, the Cartooners, the Krumpers, it's all so and so and so and so, ‘y'all all going down.' They don't show that; you want to create that sense that. I like to create that WWF-type. I used to watch ‘The Rock' do his thing, and I used to think, ‘Man, if I could do that.' And if I could create our shows like in that form, you know with the ring and stuff like that. So, no, the love is there and that's why afterwards, you see us giving hugs. And so when he won, he stood up and said ‘He got me, I knew he was going to do that move, I knew he was going to sit up.' Cause you were practicing outside and when you get home make sure you practice and say, ‘Man, I'll get him at the session.
On that note, can you kind of describe how Krumping became out of Clowning and when did you first realize there was a branching out?
Tommy: Um, Krumping came out of Clowning. After I created the Battle Zone, it was the most intense show ever where these Clowns can battle against each other. Then it came to be when everybody wasn't allowed to be Clowns and do birthday parties. In our academy, they started battling and I started to see this guy, and they were like getting Krump. And that where the word came out of no where, like ‘he's getting krump.' And then, uh, some guys who was on my team went off and instead of doing birthday parties, they started creating Krump sessions. And you don't have to go to birthday parties, you just do it in your homes, in your backyards, and you can do it anywhere. It's like, you know, you can't take that style of dance to a kid's birthday party and just let that go. You just can't go out there and blow the whistle and a whole bunch of intense dancing is in your face and the kids trying to figure it out. And the parents come out and are like ‘What's going on?' So it's like, that's how it is, how you can bring the Krump session, you can bring the guys, you can take off your shirt, and release energy and release what you're going through. And you can do that; you can go home, you're tired, and think what are the positive things I need to start doing in my life so that's the difference. And with the Clowning, it's a more, you know, you get to keep a smile. It's more tame, you got the..You can still do the Krump dancing, show the different moves, but if you're smiling with it, you're happy out there. If you're a kid, you're thinking ‘I can do that.' And you get the kid out there like when you circle up, you circle up and let that kid dance and you pump that kid up, it motivates the kid and it brings inspiration, it brings joy.
Larry: (in a soft voice) It brings smile where there was no smile, and laughter where there was no laughter.
When the promotion for this film is over, what's next for you both? Are you going to use the fame from this to go to music videos or go Hollywood?
Tommy: Me personally, I'm older than the cats. In the movie, I ain't got time to do videos, I never did it. But that's cool, you want Tommy the Clown in your video, you want me to drive up, whatever, as Tommy the Clown, cause I motivate different dancers out there. Cause I've got Santa clown groups. I want a clown's, Tommy the Clown's place where we can send, we can hire these kids in different neighborhoods where they don't have an alternative and you can train them up in the academy and you can send them out to do parties and doing Krump sessions and make people what they want to see. They're like ‘Man, Tommy, you still doing birthday parties, they're still for all ages. Come to your parties, get the grown-ups out there. I've got a segment where we have the adults line up, get the adults up, where everyone's still dancing; and that's my goal, and then the Battle Zone, take the Battle Zone show on tour. That's a competition you can't get away from; that's something, they didn't show this in the movie, but we also have the ‘Grandma – Grandpa' match where they come up and they go at it. You see grandma and grandpa going at it, you know, and it's so amazing and I go crazy when I see that type of stuff. You know, that's a couple goals as far as my concerns, take the Battle Zone on tour and I want to show Pee Wee Herman and Mr. Rogers Neighborhood and Sesame Street how to do Tommy the Clown. It's a show with a clown with a twist, going to birthday parties. Imagine a show where you can have your birthday party on the Tommy the Clown show. These is things I've been working on, just been having the most colorful place; I like to keep my eyes colorful, joy and we all need it.
Larry: Me, I plan on sticking with Tommy and his upcoming events, you know, being around him, you know, getting to do that. You know, cause I'm from Watts, and we got these rats and roaches. (laughter) With me I'm looking forward (laughter) I'm looking forward to my comedy, my comedy, my acting skills, and stuff. I'm looking forward to being on the big screen, you know, using my talents that he helped me bring out that I didn't know I had.
Tommy: (about Larry) This dude is so funny!
Larry: (continues) I didn't even know I had; you know I do voice overs, and I didn't know, I didn't even know I knew how to do it. Just sticking with him, he helps you, stuff just comes out of no where, you know.
(Larry in a baby voice): And then I know how to talk like this. Well, I'd be talking to kids like this and they'd be smiling because the like the way I talk cause I sound like the children. (lots of laughter)
Larry: So there's just a lot of stuff that I pray to G-d that it happens. So, you know, I'm going to stick with this man; he just, you know, whatever comes up, comes up.
Tommy: You know I coached Larry, man, that dude ain't acting, we don't know. You have to understand, this is something that we just used to doing, like whatever blessings come, you know, it's a blessing from G-d. He said he going to bless us and I know that. Ezekiel blessed the kingdom, and that's what we've done and added. So that's, that's why I strive, that's my motivation, you know, I don't know what's going to come, just, just, just live holy, live right, and continue to be an inspiration. When the movie get out and people see it. It's not just our neighborhoods that's going through the gangs and going through all this type of turmoil; it's other cities and other states and other towns. See, I ain't been out this part so I don't know. Most y'all people been out there so you know that; I mean, they tell me that's how it is.
Larry: I'm still shocked, I'm shocked; I'm shocked at this press, I am shocked. I ain't seen so many microphones and tape recorders. (laughter) That's when someone stands up and says ‘You got punk'd!' (laughter) It's a dream, you know, it's a dream. I still can't believe, and I'll go through problems at my house still, but I still try to smile, be happy, you know. Just cause I'm out and the just cause the Lord got stuff out there for me, just to come out and talk to y'all this morning is one of the most beautifulest things I'd done today. (laughter)
Tommy: (laughing) That don't make no sense!
Are your rates going up?
Tommy: You mean for parties? It's funny you say that because its...
Like, have you negotiated?
Tommy: Yeah, I do! (laughter) You know, people want to book us in different cities and what we charge for parties. You know, I got a crew of clowns about 8, 9, 10, I used to have more than that come for $300. I tried to get this show at Disney one time, but it didn't work out. I tried to get them a show, and they said ‘What are y'all just broke, or something.' No, cause I charge that and I try to spread it out for everybody and it's like the people in the hood, they want you for your party, but they can't afford it. So it's like, I gotta see how; it's kind of like is it a goal to train Tommy the Clowns, now ain't nobody going to be me, but it's something they need to share the experience. So it's like I'm working on a lot of different things, and I don't know how that's going to go.
So $300 and I get you?
Tommy: Well, yeah, cause (laughter) I might be in the conference or something. No, man, that's like my crew in Los Angeles.
And that's you?
Tommy: Yeah, man, that's me and the group, my crew. But it might go up, $3000. (laughter)
You said about the 'Grandma – Grandpa' battle scenes, what else wasn't in the movie that you were sad, or regret that wasn't included.
Tommy: The movie, it portray, it portray everything. It show how I started, it show how it evolved, the Battle Zone. That's my main thing, that's a show I put together on my own. Then we got, 2000…when did we shoot that, 2003, I'd been doing that since 2000. That Battle Zone you got, we did one that was 16,000 people and a turnaway crowd, and that one, that one was like…
At the Forum?
Tommy: Yeah, at the Forum, ones at Southwest College and places where like back in the days. Yeah, it's portrayed good, I've got how'd he get it, how'd he do it. I don't know what to say.
Larry: I was like Michael Jackson that night, I'll never forget it.
Tommy: It's also not about dancing, it's about a message in there, how people can rise up above all that negativity as they go through it. You know, it might not be dancing, it can be something else, but, you know, just stick to it and make sure you can see you create things too.
Rize opens in New York and Los Angeles on June 24th, and other cities soon after that. It's rated PG-13.