[Cambridge Chronicle; Thursday May 6, 1999]
'Trenchcoat' comedy shows canceled in mix-up
by Lisa Kocian, Chronicle Staff
There is a fine line between censorship and public protection.
A performance by a comedy troupe called Church of the SubGenius was
canceled twice last week, at two different Cambridge venues, after it
falsely was linked with the now infamous Trenchcoat Mafia.
A Friday "revival," as their performances are called, was canceled
first at the Middle East restaurant in Central Square and then at Old
Cambridge Baptist Church.
It all started when City Councillor Ken Reeves got a phone call
directing him to an Internet site, purportedly belonging to a group
connected with the Trenchcoat Mafia and schedule to perform at the
Middle East. he passed the information along to the Central Square
"I guess what we try to do is point out the logic inconsistencies in
extremists and crackpots and the intolerant in general," said Rev. Ivan
Stang, president of the SubGenius Foundation and a Dallas resident in
town for the performance.
"I found it pretty ironic to be faced with this in Cambridge," he
said. "Dallas got over it a few years ago."
The group's business manager, Rev. Steve Bevilacqua, described a
performance as a "fanatical attack against fanaticism."
"The Church of the SubGenius promises eternal salvation or your money
back," he said.
Bevilacqua said he understood Reeves' confusion.
"I feel Ken Reeves did his job of informing the clubs and the police
and everybody involved of a potential problem," he said.
So how did a comedy troupe making fun of hate groups become linked
with the Littleton shootings? The Web site that Reeves was referred to
is called the "Holocaustal Home Page" and belongs to a SubGenius
performer, not the group itself.
It's a joke, but out of context, it's just confusing.
So when Reeves read in the mission statement, "The extermination of
the normals with extreme prejudice," he decided it was worth a closer
"I know well that there is something called free speech and I know
well that there is something called public safety," he said Monday at
the City Council meeting.
Reeves informed the police commissioner and city officials so they
could investigate, he said.
"Extra salvation" is promised on the Web site to anyone who comes to
a show wearing a black trenchcoat.
"You'd have to be sick to take the Church of the SubGenius
seriously," said Stang.
He was frustrated, he said, when Reeves, after meeting with SubGenius
members, read to the City Council from the Web pages "out of context."
Stang pointed out that Reeves read "nitrous oxide gas chambers" but
left out the text immediately following in parentheses "where
inhabitants literally laugh to death."
Ann Pastreich, church administrator at the Old Cambridge Baptist
Church, canceled the SubGenius show after receiving five complaints.
The decision was made Friday about three hours before showtime
because she said she could not inform church members of the
controversial nature of the performance and could not find appropriate
security on such short notice.
"The church's policy in renting to groups is we will give priority to
requests from persons or groups who are excluded from other space at any
price," said Pastreich.
The policy still stands and she offered to book SubGenius at a later
date, she said, when there would be more time to inform church members.
SubGenius gave a truncated performance outside the church Friday with
help from the Cambridge Police, who shined their headlights on the
"The police were really friendly," said Stang.
The group has performed in Cambridge twice before Friday's
abbreviated performance and Bevilacqua said he things they will again.
"I think the hysteria of us being a potential hate group has been
eradicated," he said.
SubGenius has been around since 1980 and has had 10,000 members over
the years, according to Stang.