HBO Documentary Films presents a new endeavor called Me @ the Zoo that focuses on the world of Internet celebrity. After Chris Crocker cried, "Leave Britney Alone" on YouTube, his life changed completely and turned the bullied teen into a household name.
The doc follows Crocker's humble beginnings in Tennessee, posting web videos on Myspace and YouTube, to becoming a performance artist. This intimate portrait of a person who learns to escape small-town life through a computer is not only riveting but teaches a lesson we can all learn.
Windy City Times: Hi, Chris. I just watched the movie and I was glued to my television.
Chris Crocker: So it is fresh on your mind.
WCT: Exactly. Did you see it yet?
Chris Crocker: I only saw a rough cut one other time, but I really loved it.
WCT: How does it feel looking back at the old videos?
Chris Crocker: I feel like I'm a punk-rock bitch! I think that is the beauty of constant self-surveillance and documenting every part of my life. I had forgotten that 70 percent of that stuff I filmed even existed. I will be able to look back at this when I am 40 and think how cool it is.
WCT: What part of Tennessee are you from?
Chris Crocker: Bristol. It is northeast right on the border of Virginia.
WCT: It looked like a very small town.
Chris Crocker: The only other thing that it is known for besides me is the racetrack.
WCT: You showed tough times, from being bullied at school to coming home and being cyberbullied.
Chris Crocker: I was bullied at school; then, videos were my outlet to feel empowered from them. Then, the bullying continued online. All obstacles that were against me I made to my advantage. Keep throwing the hate at me. It's like Fiona Apple sang: 'I'm an extraordinary machine." I am going to turn it into something positive.
WCT: When did you first fall for Britney?
Chris Crocker: I first started connecting with Britney on her first CD. It was a trend back in the day with Teen Magazineto design your room or lockers with pictures of your favorite pop artist.
I continued to do that, even after Britney was cool to be liked. I related to her music and when there were rumors about her having fake breasts, I related to her. I liked her from an early age, probably third grade.
I loved the video "Sometimes"; it was right when she got her fake breasts. I was really intrigued by it.
WCT: I think you hit the nail on the head when you compared Britney to your mother, so there was some emotional connection there.
Chris Crocker: I was being silly about why I connected with her, but they are both ethereal and free-spirited. I was living as a teenager and, maybe subconsciously, I missed my mother. I connected the pieces when I filmed the documentary. There was a lot that I discovered while filming. I never stopped to think why I was making videos. I was on autopilot.
WCT: So you changed during the filming?
Chris Crocker: It is a very different experience being in control of the content that I put out there and selecting what I want people to see and then giving up access to my story to let them do it. They came into my house so it was a very vulnerable experience.
WCT: It looked like you would get your own television show at one point, but it fell through.
Chris Crocker: There were a few factors as to why it fell through. It is not explored too much in the documentary but I was assigned to two different production companies. The first one was getting a lot of death threats and people were boycotting them. They just dropped me from having a reality show.
The second production company was World of Wonder, who does RuPaul's Drag Race. We filmed a pilot for four months then got an offer from Logo, but it wasn't enough money. It was more about making videos for their website and maybe get a show on air if there was enough traffic. We had already filmed the pilot so, for me, it was ass-backwards. There was no money it and so I refused it. I burned a lot of bridges.
WCT: Do you still want to do music, like your "Freak of Nature" single?
Chris Crocker: I put out an EP that went to number two on the electro charts. I have still been putting out singles this whole past yeareven three or four from last summer. My last single came out a couple of months ago and I have sold almost 100,000 songs. It is going good even with no label. I wouldn't have a car if it weren't for my music!
WCT: That's funny.
Chris Crocker: I say it jokingly but it really has been a blessing for me.
WCT: Are you still in Tennessee or did you move?
Chris Crocker: I'm like a gypsy right now because I bounce from New York to L.A., but I still live in Tennessee.
WCT: Are you excited about your mother and grandmother seeing this movie?
Chris Crocker: My mother has seen it. She attended the screening in New York City. I thought it was brave of her to watch it in front of hundreds of people. My grandmother just ordered HBO at home, so she is excited.
WCT: What are your plans for the future with being transgender?
Chris Crocker: I am very comfortable with my penis, to be very frank about the anatomy of the situation. My gender identity is enormously different as compared to my transgender friends, who feel stuck in the wrong body.
I might just have a trans spirit. I feel like I can tap into both female and male parts of myself. I don't feel the need to undergo surgery or anything because, number one, I'm a top. I feel I can dress up if I still feel that urge to throw on a wig and lipstick. That is a spiritual experience for me because I am embodying a certain feeling. I am content with my anatomy.
WCT: How is life for you since the documentary was filmed?
Chris Crocker: Everything this year is coming full circle. I have made some really solid connections. People finally see what I do as an art form and not necessarily as a joke. They finally see the whole story and getting the context of what I do.
I would like to go into acting, maybe later this year. There have been a lot of opportunities that I have been taking under consideration right now. I am not trying to jump into anything but I have had some really good offers that I am excited to pursue.
WCT: Have you every heard from Britney Spears herself?
Chris Crocker: I have heard things. When Sam Lufti was her manager, he went to me on MySpace and told me that I was disrespectful because I flashed the paparazzi one time. I would be very outlandish when I was around the paparazzi, regardless of how sincere I was in the "Leave Britney Alone" video. I was milking the 15 minutes of fame for all that it was worth, so I acted like a fame-obsessed weirdo.
Her manager thought I was disrespectful and mocking the crotch shot. That is the most I have heard from her team but I think there is a restraining order against him now, anyway.
Thank God for the documentary it shows all sides to me from my humor to my sincerity.
Find out why everybody loves or hates Chris when Me @ the Zoo debuts Monday, June 25, on HBO at 8 p.m. with reruns on June 25, July 1 and July 3. Visit www.hbogo.com for more information.