Monday, July 22, 2019

An Interview with Paul Krassner - Part Seven


Kliph Nesteroff: You appeared on The Merv Griffin Show high on mescaline. The episode also featured comedian Jackie Vernon.

Paul Krassner: Oh, yes. I had very long hair. Otto Preminger was also on the show. At one point Jackie Vernon said, "Why don't you take a bath?" I was caught off guard. I was used to cops saying that, but this was a syndicated television show. 


I paused to think of an answer that was appropriate and Otto Preminger interrupted. He said, "That's the worst thing! That's like Nazi Germany where they stereotype people!" And they went to commercial. 


So it was much better coming from him than me. That was an interesting moment. George Carlin and I had a Monday morning quarterback session about it. He said, "You know, you could have said, 'You're right Jackie, I'll leave right now and take a bath." Aikido. Take the negative energy and turn it into something that takes the edge off.

Kliph Nesteroff: Right.

Paul Krassner: There was another show where Jesse White was on with me. At one point Jesse White started saying stuff that seemed anti-African-American.


Kliph Nesteroff: Jesse White the character actor... the Maytag repairman...


Paul Krassner: That's the one. I forget what he said, but I said, "You're a Jesse White supremacist!" Years later Michael O'Donoghue invited me to stop by Saturday Night Live where he was a writer. He was trying to pitch me to Lorne Michaels as a writer. He introduced me and I was in the room waiting for something and John Belushi ran into the room. He goes, "Hey! I never read anything you ever wrote, but I saw you put Jesse White where he belongs!" He shook my hand and he ran out.


Kliph Nesteroff: Joey Bishop always expressed contempt for Lenny Bruce. Who else of the older comedy generation had a contemptuous attitude toward your generation?

Paul Krassner: Milton Berle spoke at a comedy convention in Las Vegas. I covered it for the Los Angeles Times. I was going to ask him a question and he saw my press card on my jacket. The LA Times had just written a critical article about Berle. So Berle started saying something to me, "You want a question for that fucking paper?" 


So, he was hostile at the paper, although not at me, so maybe you wouldn't count that. You know, there were threats. At one point I was performing in New York at a jazz club and I was doing a bit whether the Virgin Mary was concerned with missing her period. This drunk in the audience came at me with clenched fists. 


I was holding the microphone stand between us as he approached. "I'm Catholic! I don't like what you're saying about the holy mother!" I said, "Before you attack, don't you think you should consult a priest?" The audience laughed and so he settled down. But you're asking about something different. 


You know, there were some older guys who admired Lenny Bruce, but wouldn't publicly say it. Of course, Lenny influenced people like David Steinberg and George Carlin. It was gratifying to learn Carlin was a fan of The Realist. He said the writing influenced him to be himself and take a chance. 


And he has inspired so many people, more than I ever could. It's gratifying that there is a continuity of that spirit. Lewis Black said he was influenced by The Realist. Sounds like boasting, but this is what he told me, and it is gratifying.


Kliph Nesteroff: How about some names related to Lenny Bruce. Marvin Worth.

Paul Krassner: Marvin Worth had been a producer with The Steve Allen Show. He told me they weren't even going to show the sketch that I had written for them. It was about psychiatry and he told me, "Steve is going to a psychiatrist. He's not going to do this."


Kliph Nesteroff: Marvin Worth later produced the Lenny Bruce film starring Dustin Hoffman.

Paul Krassner: That film... Dustin Hoffman called me. "I'm going to play Lenny. How do you think I should do it?" I said, "Don't rush through anything. Lenny liked to savor the implications of what he was saying." I saw the movie and he rushed through everything. He probably saw footage of Lenny during the persecution when he was talking fast and mumbling. But he never got across that thing where Lenny would be thinking - or act like he was thinking of a new idea right there. One time Lenny told the audience, "Please don't applaud, it breaks my rhythm." Can you imagine any other comedian saying, "Please don't applaud."


Kliph Nesteroff: It's impossible to recreate comedy successfully. Conan O'Brien once said that comedy about comedy never works. Movies like Punchline with Tom Hanks or Mr. Saturday Night with Billy Crystal just can't successfully convey it. They show the fake audience laughing, but at home you're not laughing. Its easy to show a comedian character bombing, its impossible to convincingly portray them as killing.

Paul Krassner: It's true. 


Kliph Nesteroff: Have you ever heard of a film called Dirtymouth? It was a Lenny Bruce biopic in 1970 before the Hoffman film. It featured a guy named Frankie Man who used to sell pot to Lenny.

Paul Krassner: Frankie Man doesn't ring a bell. I didn't meet those guys. They were way older and knew Lenny long before I met him. 


Kliph Nesteroff: Shecky Greene and Lenny were close at one point.

Paul Krassner: Yes, he had this whole coterie of guys like that. Buddy Hackett was another. There were people in his life that I didn't know.  I never met any of those friends. I know Jackie Gayle was a good friend and when Lenny was really down and out it was Jackie Gayle who got him some gigs. So there was a kind of loyalty and camaraderie.


Kliph Nesteroff: When was the last time you saw Lenny Bruce?

Paul Krassner: It's hard to know. It was either early 1966 or late 1965. He sent me a letter with a doodle he did of Jesus nailed to the crucifix with a speech balloon that said, "Where the hell is the ACLU?" 


Kliph Nesteroff: How about Sally Marr...

Paul Krassner: Sally was great. She was one of the biggest influences on Lenny. For a while I was trying to track down who sold Lenny the heroin that he died from. It was pure.

Kliph Nesteroff: I thought it was a morphine overdose.

Paul Krassner: I don't even know. I have a streak of naivete when it comes to those types of drugs. I was having lunch with Sally Marr and Lenny's step-father. It turned out he was the one who gave it to him. Sally had such compassion. She said, "Don't feel bad, Tony. Lenny would have done the same for you." So that ended my search.


Kliph Nesteroff: What was your search related to? Did you believe there was foul play?

Paul Krassner: Yeah, I didn't think so, but there were people that thought he was killed, so I wanted to find out. I didn't think so myself. Other people thought it was suicide because his house had just been foreclosed and he couldn't get work. He had a toilet in his garden that he was trying to grow flowers in. He told his girlfriend Maury Haydn, who changed her named to Lotus Weinstock, "I think I'm going to die this year." She said, "If I buy you raisin cookies will you change your mind?" 


He was very death oriented so there were those who thought he committed suicide. The tea was still boiling on the stove and his electric typewriter was still on and had stopped mid-word. The word was 'constitution' and it was only as far as C-O-N-S-T. The machine was still humming, it was still on. It would be hard to imagine Lenny going out without leaving a note or anything. 


My friends Abbie Hoffman and Phil Ochs both committed suicide and neither left a note. Maybe when you're in that much pain you don't leave a note. I thought the overdose was because it was cleaner than other morphine or other heroin. Now I realize I don't know which it was. I've heard both.

Kliph Nesteroff: Albert Goldman's Lenny Bruce biography from the seventies was very sensationalist.

Paul Krassner: Albert Goldman wanted to interview me about some other project he was working on, but I refused to help him.


Kliph Nesteroff: A lot of the people you published in The Realist appeared on the television show That Was the Week That Was. It was the first televised satire program in the United States. At various times it featured Steve Allen, Woody Allen, Henry Morgan, Buck Henry, Dick Gregory...

Paul Krassner: Yes, it kind of inspired Not Necessarily News. I watched it religiously. I never forgave David Frost for ordering every copy of The Realist and then never paying for it. But I was glued to that show because there was so little of that on TV. Dick Gregory and I were good friends. He told me I was the only white person he let in his house. I guess that was a compliment. 


I watched TV with his daughters and they were laughing at the commercial for Clairol that asked, "Is it true blondes have more fun?" He visited me at my home in New York. On the side of the building there was a huge billboard for the Gold Dust Twins. He saw that and said, "They should chop the whole side of the building off and put it in a museum." We were in protest marches together. 


When Abbie and Anita Hoffman and I planned to go to Chicago for the Democratic National Convention in 1968, we were on acid at the time. I called Jerry Rubin to tell him we wanted to set up at meeting to discuss Chicago. I called Dick Gregory. He said to me, "I'm going to run for president. Do you think Bob Dylan would be a good running mate?" I said, "I would vote for him, but I don't think he would be at all interested." 


Kliph Nesteroff: In one of your impolite interviews, you talk about how Mort Sahl did not participate in any Civil Rights marches, but that Woody Allen participated in the 1963 March on Washington.

Paul Krassner: All the comedians I interviewed were controversial and that was the excuse for having them in The Realist. Woody Allen was not thought of as controversial, but he said the most controversial thing of anyone. I was asking him about the Buddhist monks who immolated themselves. I don't remember the exact wording but it was something like, "I wouldn't do a thing like that. I would join Planned Parenthood or the ACLU. If you're going to kill yourself, you should take somebody with you." I'm paraphrasing very poorly.


Kliph Nesteroff: I heard that while you were busy interviewing Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce was busy sleeping with your wife.

Paul Krassner: Ah, yeah, that's true. I deliberately didn't mention that in my chapter on Lenny because I didn't want to taint what happened to him. He wouldn't cop to it when I confronted him about it. I said, "Well, maybe Mike Nichols will know." He was following his own philosophy. You don't own people. You don't own your spouse. I was hurt by it. She told me about it. As empathetic as I could be, I forgave him. It may have been a betrayal of our friendship, but I had to get past it.


Kliph Nesteroff: How about a woman named Sandy Good who was involved with the counterculture sketch troupe the Committee before she ended up in the Charles Manson cult.

Paul Krassner: When I was doing research on the Manson Family, I flew to LA from San Francisco. There were three of them living in an apartment. I took some tabs of acid with me. Sandy Good was there, Squeaky Fromme, and the third I forget. Sandy Good saw me perform with the Committee but she was not part of the troupe. When people asked her about Charles Manson, she compared him to Lenny Bruce and myself. It was the most bizarre compliment I have ever got. 


Kliph Nesteroff: There was another cult at that time. The Mel Lyman family.

Paul Krassner: Yeah, he published a thing called the Avatar. Squeaky Fromme told me that they had a plan. Mel Lyman and his group were going to free Charles Manson from jail using a helicopter. They tried to get Squeaky Fromme to become part of their group, but she didn't trust them. 


There's an episode of The Dick Cavett Show with Mark Frechette and Daria Halprin. They were both in the Mel Lyman cult and acted like zombies. There was a guy named Michael Kinder. He was the editor of the college paper at the University of Michigan. He became part of the cult and considered Mel Lyman his God. He worshiped him and was afraid of him because he'd get punished by him. Don West was the assistant to the head of CBS and he was also in with the Mel Lyman cult.


Kliph Nesteroff: Mark Frechette accompanied Abbie Hoffman to the taping of The Merv Griffin Show where Abbie wore an American flag shirt and they blacked it out, censored his clothing. He was accused of desecrating the flag. Today they sell that shit at Wal-Mart. 

Paul Krassner: Griffin later said he regretted. He might not even have known that they [the censor] were going to do that.


Kliph Nesteroff: They had a bar across the screen so you couldn't see Abbie from the neck down. Merv Griffin said in his memoir that they cut to a commercial and it was an ad with Roy Rogers endorsing some car dealership and he was wearing an American flag shirt.

Paul Krassner: I didn't know that! On that same show?

Kliph Nesteroff: That's what Merv Griffin said in his book.

Paul Krassner: Oh, wow. That's great. Reeks of irony.

An Interview with Paul Krassner - Part Six


Kliph Nesteroff: You once appeared on the Tonight Show while you were high on LSD. Orson Bean was the guest host.

Paul Krassner: That was just my thing. I had psychedelic macho. I testified at the Chicago Conspiracy Trial high on acid too. Abbie Hoffman stopped speaking to me for ten months because of that. In retrospect, I was, if nothing else, showing off to myself. "I can handle this and they won't even know!" 


I'm on the Tonight Show on acid and Orson Bean asks me, "Have you taken LSD?" It was a coincidence. He meant in a general sense. But I had this thought, "Oh, no, he can tell!" I kept staring at Ed McMahon because his face was melting into his chest. 


There was a core of reality and I turned back to Orson. I should note, Orson Bean and I were old friends. He had a framed cover of The Realist hanging in his dressing room. He was in a play called Subways are for Sleeping. The cover showed a cartoon by Richard Guindon. I forget the chronology, but Orson and I were already friends. 


He was at my wedding. He founded a school based on a school in England called Summerhill. The essence was that learning can be fun and should be fun. When he hosted the Tonight Show he had the power to book who he wanted. He booked the director of that school, A.S. Neill. Orson then stared the Fifteenth Street School in New York. My daughter Holly went there. 


Orson loved The Realist and he loved Lenny Bruce, so that was the background of his inviting me on the Tonight Show. He asked me about [the famous Realist piece] The Parts That Were Left Out of the Kennedy Book. We had to describe presidential necrophilia without saying what it was on the air. 


Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Paul Krassner: Anyway, Orson said, "You've taken LSD, haven't you?" I said, "Yes." And the audience booed.  

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)


A friend of mine booked me on The Mike Douglas Show. And for that I took a pot brownie. It takes as much as four hours to come on. So I ate it at Grand Central Station. It took four hours to get to Philadelphia where they did the show.


The producer of The Mike Douglas Show show later became the producer on The Dick Cavett Show. She wanted me to come on, but Cavett said, "No, he's too unpredictable." I thought he would have liked a guest who was unpredictable, but apparently not. 

Kliph Nesteroff: It is strange that you would be booked on The Joe Pyne Show and the Tonight Show and The Mike Douglas Show, yet Dick Cavett turns you down.



Paul Krassner: Yes! That was ironic. They did explain to me that it could have been because he already had Jerry Rubin on. Jerry Rubin...

Kliph Nesteroff: He always ruined it for everybody.

Paul Krassner: (laughs) In a way! He and Abbie [Hoffman]. When I met Abbie we were on an acid trip talking about Lenny Bruce. 


When he heard that I had known Lenny and edited his autobiography How to Talk Dirty and Influence People, he said, "Lenny was my God! Ah!" 


Whereas Jerry Rubin listened to Lenny Bruce albums before he went out to speak. Abbie was spontaneous. Jerry was forced. And that came through. 


I remember at one rally Jerry said, "Richard Nixon is an asshole!" I thought, "Yeah, but that's just name calling. What about the issues?" San Francisco had an annual event with comedy outdoors with dozens of comedians performing in Golden Gate Park. My wife and I were there and this one comic got up and said, "Isn't Ronald Reagan an asshole?" The audience cheers. He goes, "Oh? You like the political stuff, huh?" That became a running gag with my wife and me. "Oh, you like the political stuff, huh?"


Kliph Nesteroff: It's not political satire just because you mention Nixon's name. 

Paul Krassner: Right. Johnny Carson didn't mention any political stuff at all until Nixon. One time I was performing in New York. There were two FBI guys in the audience taking notes. I pointed them out and said, "Am I talking too fast for you guys? I don't want you to get writer's cramp." 


Kliph Nesteroff: David Steinberg says he was heckled for several months whenever he did Nixon material. He later recognized the faces of his hecklers on TV during the Watergate hearings.

Paul Krassner: A revelation, Kliph. Well, since I was publishing satire and wasn't breaking any laws, they couldn't bust me. My FBI file had a letter to the editor of Life magazine complaining about their favorable article on me. 


It was the New York office that wrote this poison pen letter. It wasn't on FBI stationary. It was a guy who called himself Howard Rassmussen, not his real name, from Brooklyn College, School of General Studies. It was skillful with details and verisimilitude. It said, "To call Krassner a social rebel is too cute. He is nothing but a raving, unconfined nut." My parents were horrified, but I thought it was funny and used it as the title of my autobiography.


Kliph Nesteroff: Did you get the sense that Jerry Rubin was not earnest in his politics? Was he just a counterculture conformist who later turned into a Ronald Regan conformist?

Paul Krassner: Well, it's like asking if Larry Flynt was a pornographer or did he truly believe in the First Amendment. But it's an excellent observation because you're right. 


I think Kurt Vonnegut came up with this phrase. "You become what you pretend to be." Jerry Rubin had been a sports reporter in Cincinnati. When he came to Berkeley he would hang around and take notes, so they thought he was a spy. But a spy wouldn't be that blatant about it. That was his style. He wanted to understand. 


He was one of the organizers of the first Teach-In on the Berkeley campus. This was during the Vietnam War. He called me to be an emcee. He also wanted me to put him in touch with Norman Mailer. I suggested Phil Ochs to sing between speakers. He hadn't heard of Phil Ochs, but he took him. And Ochs resonated with that audience. 


As a result of his Berkeley thing, Dave Dellinger, a peace activist on the East Coast, invited Jerry Rubin to organize the demonstrations at the Pentagon in October 1967. A friend of mine introduced Abbie to Jerry and that's how that clique began to form. 


Abbie would say things like, "Kill your parents." Then Jerry would start using it. I objected to it even though I knew it was a metaphor like, "Oh, you're killin' me!" But I knew it would be taken literally by the public. He started using that and the National Inquirer put on the cover: "Yippie Jerry Rubin Advises Young People to Kill Parents." 


There was jealousy from Abbie. He said, "We're all a united front" and then was pissed when Jerry got all the credit. Anyway, the point is that when Jerry became a [stock] marketer, people would criticize him. Abbie would defend him. 


He said, "You can criticize him after you can lie down between the tracks going to Oakland," which was the route where they shipped soldiers from Oakland as they sent them off to Vietnam. He would do that. I would never lie between the tracks. If it wasn't genuine, then he certainly put on a good show.

Kliph Nesteroff: When I watch Jerry Rubin on something like the Phil Donahue Show, he is so obnoxious that it sorta sabotages the anti-war cause... making dissenters unsympathetic...



Paul Krassner: I agree. And it's why I couldn't get on The Dick Cavett Show. That's an excellent analysis.

Kliph Nesteroff: You did mushrooms for your appearance on The Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder. This doesn't seem like the ideal setting for a psilocybin trip... or maybe it is, I don't know...

Paul Krassner: That one started off on an awkward note. 


The mushrooms... it was heavy... I think it was 1978 and right after the Jonestown Kool-Aid thing. A week later Harvey Milk was killed. Tom Snyder's first question to me was, "You were in San Francisco. What the heck is going on there? First guys taking the Kool-Aid and then a guy shoots the mayor? What's going on there? What the heck is going on there?" 


I remember saying in a sing-songy voice, "Our city is more violent than your-orrrs!" He turned to his producer Andrew Friendly, Fred Friendly's son, as if to say, "Why did you book this flake?" 


Then I said it might have been a CIA thing in Jonestown. There was a lot of suspicion about that. He said, "Oh, so you're paranoid, huh? You're paranoid." So, yeah. The mushrooms... it started in an uncomfortable spot. 


When I started to make him laugh, then it was okay. He was speaking and his laughter turned into Dan Aykroyd doing an impression of him! His laughter appeared visually to me like notes on a sheet of music, "HA ha HA ha HA ha ha ha ha HA." 


Abbie Hoffman was on the lam at the time and he told me he'd be somewhere watching. He had gone underground. He was a fugitive. At the end of the interview I said, "Today is Abbie Hoffman's birthday. He's watching somewhere." I looked in the camera, "Happy Birthday, Abbie." Tom Snyder said, "Do you think you could get him on the show?"