By Andrew J. Rausch
Jozef K. Richards is a Milwaukee-based filmmaker and is the founder and owner of King’s Tower Productions, which distributes media through Amazon and YouTube. In 2011, he made his feature film debut with The Amateur Monster Movie. He directed his second film, The Wayward Sun, the following year. He is also the writer and producer of the religious satire series Holy Shit, which “takes aim at religious dogma, its lack of credibility, and pokes fun at the lesser-known absurdities of the Bible and similar religious texts, including many of those taken literally by some sects of the Christian faith.” The show often features skits starring atheist scholars and celebrity guests.
In 2015, Richards began work on a documentary titled Batman & Jesus. The film, made in association with Mythicist Milwaukee, will introduce the evidence both for and against the existence of Jesus. The forthcoming film, which will debut on September 30, 2017 at Milwaukee’s Pabst Theater, will include research, interviews, and vetting from numerous scholars, authors, historians, and popular secular voices including Dr. Robert M. Price, Dr. Richard Carrier, David Fitzgerald, Faisal Saeed Al Mutar, Allie Jackson, and hip-hop artist Killah Priest. The teaser trailer for the film debuted during the Reason Rally in 2016, where it played as the lead-in video for a Wu-Tang Clan concert.
Tell me about your background in regards to religion. Do you come from a religious home?
I was Catholic growing up. My family on both my mother and father’s sides were Catholic. I attended a Catholic grade school until I was in the sixth grade. A lot of my childhood was at a Catholic school, and then I stopped going. At that point, my family stopped attending church. They stopped going because they felt the community was sort of fake—people would act a certain way during the week and then think they’d be forgiven on Sunday so they could carry on. They just got tired of that.
I was 12 at the time, and I was fairly indoctrinated by the Catholic school. I thought, “I can’t stop going to church or I’ll go to hell. I have to keep going.” So I started riding my bike to church, and at that point, being that I was now going on my own accord, I started paying more attention. I was hearing things I had heard a dozen times before—they would repeat the same passages on the same days every year. I realized I had questions about many of the things they were telling me, such as the Trinity and “just what is the Holy Spirit?” I quickly found that they couldn’t really answer my questions, whether it was a priest or my Sunday school teacher. I got a lot of “that’s a mystery”-type of answers. So I thought I would read the Bible myself to see what was in there. Surely in those hundreds of pages this book would answer my questions. And it didn’t. What it did tell me was that it was all sort of absurd. Even at that age I thought it was absurd. I got as far as Noah’s ark and I just couldn’t believe any of it. At that point I guess I became an agnostic.
Since then I have declared myself an atheist, but yeah, my childhood was Catholic. I dove into it all pretty deep and finally decided it didn’t make any sense to me.
At what age did you start making films?
Those times sort of lined up. I had always written stories and plays and comics and drawings, ever since I was a small child. So that was sort of a lifelong interest of mine, but as far as making them into a movie, it wasn’t until I was about 12, which was pretty much the same time period where I stopped going to church. My friend had a video camera. He said, “Come over. A bunch of us are going to make a movie with my camera.” So I went over to his house and enjoyed that, and at the end of the day I said, “I write all these stories and plays. Why don’t we turn that into a movie?” Since then, I’ve been relentlessly doing that. More or less, my whole life has been about telling stories.
Your documentary Batman & Jesus has a rather interesting angle. Would you like to talk about that?
I came into contact with this group from Milwaukee called Mythicist Milwaukee. A family friend approached me because they were interested in making a documentary. So I went to hear what they had in mind. They basically just wanted to make a documentary that improved on the scholarship of Zeitgeist. And they said they would be able to get a budget. Since they didn’t really have much of an idea, I went home and worked on some ideas myself. I was just sort of writing down eye-catching titles, I guess. It was just sort of whatever came to my mind. I was writing down things like Oh, My God or Holy Shit—stuff like that. Then for some reason I thought of Batman & Jesus. I don’t know why I wrote that down, but as soon as I did I started thinking about what that might be.
These guys didn’t just want to remake Zeitgeist. They had more information because they had been turned on to these scholars like Richard Carrier, Robert Price, and David Fitzgerald, whom you might call mythicists. They had a mythicist perspective. I wasn’t very knowledgeable about that. I had seen Zeitgeist and I had seen The God Who Wasn’t There. I had opinions of my own. But I wasn’t really familiar with the word “mythicist,” which is the idea that religion is based in myth rather than fact. This sort of introduced the idea to me that Jesus may have been a myth.
And while I already considered the story of Jesus to be a myth, it had never occurred to me that the person Jesus was also a myth. I always assumed that he was a real person. Anything I had ever read in history class or on television, always seemed to be written with the assumption that this was a real person. It never occurred to me that it wasn’t. But when I listened to some of their lectures and read things they had written and listened to them debate and speak on the subject, I realized that there really wasn’t much evidence at all that Jesus was a real person. All of the so-called evidence came from the book that I considered to be a myth. This was a big moment for me. I had never thought of it that way, but I couldn’t form an argument that this was a real person. At the very least I have to say that I do not know; I have to be agnostic about whether or not this was a real person.
Suddenly I had another “a-ha!” moment with the title Batman & Jesus, which I thought was very striking. It sounds controversial and it wasn’t two names you were used to seeing together. It immediately gets your attention, which is what I wanted the title to do. But could I actually make a film behind this? So the approach is that Batman is a myth, as well. We know this because it’s modern and the history is readily available. There are people alive today who were alive when Batman was created. But it has a lot of messages in it and its meanings change over time. Suddenly all these parallels between Jesus and Batman started to come together for me. Jesus was also written by many different authors over a long period of time, with different versions and deviations that sort of made sense within the culture of the time.
So the movie is comparing the evolution of this archetype. I’m not comparing how similar the characters are. I mean, Superman would be more similar to Jesus in that respect. But the comparison is more so in the architecture of how this character came to be and how it grew into having such a large following. I think Batman and Jesus are two of the most well-known characters in the world. You could go almost anywhere in the world and people would know each of them. There really aren’t too many other characters you could say that about.
You have some interesting people involved with the film. Tell me about the people you’ve got in it and how you went about getting some of them.
I first started doing this in April of 2015. Robert Price, Richard Carrier, David Fitzgerald…these were people who sort of turned me on to this information. These were also people that Mythicist Milwaukee was approaching for interviews and lining up for conferences they were holding. Knowing that they were coming to town, I said, “Let’s interview them in the movie.” And the first conference that took place once I linked up with this group was with David Fitzgerald and Killah Priest, who is a Wu-Tang Clan affiliate. I said, “Let’s get him into the movie, too.” I’m a fan of the Wu-Tang Clan’s music and even though he’s not a scholar, I thought, let’s get some other people in here that are interesting to people in a different way. They were both willing to be in it. It was pretty simple. They also did a skit on a show I do called Holy Shit, which was one of the first titles I came up with when I was first approached to do this film. And they were really cool.
Then Richard Carrier came to town and we recorded with him. And then what happened was, there’s this event called Reason Rally. So Killah Priest was connected with us from the documentary and from coming to this conference, so we became sort of networked with the people running Reason Rally. So we talked to Killah Priest about getting other acts from Wu-Tang to perform. With Killah Priest’s help, we ended up lining up most of the key members of Wu-Tang Clan. They agreed to perform at Reason Rally. Because we were sort of tied to that, they agreed to play the trailer for Batman & Jesus before their performance. So that was great. It was very cool meeting these guys. I only got to meet most of them very briefly, but it was very cool to talk to them. The other people who were at Reason Rally—people like Bill Nye and Penn Jillette and Paul Provenza—were great, too. I kept seeing Paul Provenza all day because I had access to the green room where all of the guests were. I was able to chat with him quite a bit. I then chatted with him at some of the other events after the rally. Ultimately he said he would like to be a part of the movie, and very generously agreed to come film with us for free. He recorded some narration for the movie, and he recorded some skits with us. He was really one of the nicest people. No complaints. Lots of fun. He’s also a very well-connected person whose involvement with the project is very big.
I interviewed Aron Ra. He was really great. He had lots of great stories. He’s also very intelligent and has a huge wealth of knowledge. He’s really more of a showman than some of these straight-up scholars. Aron Ra is a lot more dramatic than they are. He brought a lot of flavor to things.
When you debuted the trailer for the film at Reason Rally, what kinds of reactions did you receive?
Well, they didn’t introduce it. They just started playing it, and I don’t know for sure if it was in the program. But I think at first people were sort of like, “What is this? I’m a little bit confused.” As it kept going, the reaction seemed to be, “Is this really a movie, or is this a joke?” And then when we’re in the Bat church and he’s singing the Batman theme, then everybody started to laugh. And then people started to get intrigued. We heard from a lot of people and we got a lot of great feedback on it. I think that’s probably the reaction from a lot of people—confusion, followed by laughter, followed by intrigue. [Laughs.] I think that will probably be the reaction to the movie as a whole.
Tell me about the Amazon series “Holy Shit,” which you produce and appear on.
“Holy Shit” is a web series that I make. I started making it in 2015, shortly after I started working on Batman & Jesus. The reason I started doing it was to begin to build some credibility of my own in the atheist community, to sort of gain some momentum going into Batman & Jesus. I wanted to make something I could be self-reliant upon. Out of everything I’ve ever made, it’s probably the one thing I’ve had my hands in just about every aspect of, from writing to performing to directing and editing. I can do it mostly by myself.
The show is that I count down absurd things in the Bible in a humorous, satirical way. Then we have cutaways to humorous skits to sort of emphasize some of the points that I’m making. We’ve done the “Top 10 Commandments in the Bible,” where I break down the commandments. I picked out what I believed to be 10 that were silly or offensive and made them into a list. I’ve done “Top 10 Fantasy Creatures.” “Top 10 Killers.” “Top 10 Christmas Traditions That Didn’t Originate With Christianity.” The show is really sort of me highlighting absurd things about our religious practices that are not necessarily at the forefront of peoples’ minds. It’s all in the Bible. I don’t use other sources. I’m purely just going off the Bible, with the exception of the Christmas episode. It’s fairly surprising information if you’re not aware of it.
Working on those are a lot of fun. I wish I could do more, but they’re just very time consuming.
Just for shits and giggles, if Batman and Jesus were to do battle, who would win and why?
[Laughs.] I haven’t thought of this before. I think that as intelligent as he may be, and as resourceful and wealthy as he may be, can Batman really compete with immortality and legions of angels that will come to do Jesus’ bidding? Much like Superman, Jesus is very overpowering, although I hear Batman more or less wins against Superman in the movie, so maybe there’s a way Batman can defeat Jesus. [Laughs again.] I don’t know what he would have to do to beat Jesus, but assuming they were both real and fighting, I have a hard time coming up with a way that Batman could defeat Jesus.
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