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 that. 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.

Apparently Jackie Gleason worked for the FBI. I don't know exactly what he did. Later they were mad at him about something petty. 

It is amazing. They were scared of comedians! One thing the FBI did... they told the Mafia about Dick Gregory. They told them that Dick Gregory was talking them in his act and that he should be neutralized.

Kliph Nesteroff: Wow.

Paul Krassner: So, it got to that point. The New York bureau said it must not be made public. They were going to print up this flyer and it "should not be traced back to the bureau." Hoover even had Helen Keller on his list. Really! It shows you how paranoid they are. 


Kevin K. said...

I saw that Merv episode with Abbie Hoffman. Before the interview, some guy -- the show's producer? -- explained what they were about to see, and why they visually censored it. As I recall, Abbie came out wearing a coat; when he removed it, the entire screen went black. Whenever the camera was on someone else -- I'm pretty sure Zsa Zsa Gabor was there -- you would see them. But Abbie was totally blacked out. Totally ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the political/sociocultural threat of stand-up comedians: About Freddy Prinze, who was dating Kitty Bruce, Lenny's daughter, in which tabloids at the time stated was a "dangerous development" for his
rising celebrity: a bold and daring line of dialogue from the Oscar-winning motion picture "Fame" (1980) in which a young aspiring Puerto Rican stand up comic, a teenager who idolizes the late Prinze's career and is attempting to become his successor, contemplates his 1977 suicide:"Those motherfuckers were going to get him. They wanted his ass. They were going to nail his ass".