Paul Krassner Interviewed by Frank Moore
April 30, 1994, Berkeley, California

Download/listen to the interview


Paul: Ready when you are coach.
Frank: Why have not you gotten big?
Paul: (laughs) Well, big is relative. Sometimes people hear my name and they think I'm Paul Kantner from the Jefferson Airplane. And I wonder the same thing myself sometimes. I performed last week and somebody called me an unacknowledged Robin Williams. But I think it's, you know, on one hand it's because I haven't compromised ... and on the other hand it's because I'm lazy.
Frank: Me too!
Paul: Welcome to the club.
Frank: But I have worked hard not to get big.
Paul: Well, (laughs) I could handle getting big because I would like to reach a lot of people, but ... and it could happen. I'm ready to sell out. But I wouldn't sell out, they would buy in.
Frank: (laughs) Don't you reach a lot of p...?
Paul: P...? Do I reach a lot of p (laughs) or people? Yeah, well when The Realist was a magazine, it reached a hundred thousand people, and a million pass on ... now it's only a newsletter, it reaches 5,000 people and maybe several thousand pass on readership, and then with my book, it sold 15,000 copies and we published in paperback more. So, I think that I'll probably reach more people when I'm dead. (laughs)
Frank: Always.
Paul: Oh yeah...it's probably true of Abbie Hoffman and Richard Nixon.
(both laugh)
Frank: Why did Abbie (Hoffman) kill himself?
Paul: Abbie was clinical manic/depressive ... and he had injured his foot and was in a lot of pain and he was separated from his girlfriend, and he wanted to start a school for organizing but he didn't have the money and so ... I would like for him to have stayed alive, but nobody can judge the level of anybody else's pain, so I guess that was his final act of power to get rid of his pain, physical and emotional and you know it made me sad and angry but it was his choice.
Frank: How did you start the Yippies?
Paul: We wanted to protest the war in Vietnam and the yippies was just a name I made up to describe this phenomenon that already existed, it was the hippies and the political activists and at first they thought they were adversaries and the hippies thought that the political activists were just playing the game of the administration and the political activists thought the hippies were dropping out and not being responsible. But then they realized ah, that if a hippie was smoking a marijuana joint in the park, that was a political act of defying an unjust law. And the hippies saw that the political activists by protesting the war had the same value system and so they began to affect each other. So the political activists started to smoke dope and let their hair grow long and wear tie-dyed shirts and the hippies, instead of just staying in the park, went to anti-war rallies and civil rights' demonstrations. So it was happening already ... and sometimes you have to just give a name to something that's already going.
Frank: Yes.
Paul: Oh, you agree ... that was easy ... I agree with your agreement.
Frank: I always i n v e n t ...
Paul: Wait, what word am I dealing with here ...? Oh, invent ... yeah.
Frank: ... words.
Paul: The other word I invented was "soft-core" pornography because the Supreme Court said that hard-core pornography wasn't protected by the First Amendment. And so soft-core pornography meant, you know, they use it in TV commercials ... that's soft-core pornography ... it gives a man a soft-on. What words have you invented?
Frank: When I and Linda were in Annie Sprinkle's video on orgasm, she wanted us to do safe sex. (both laugh) But we have been in a relationship for 20 years.
Paul: Well, that's about as safe as you can get.
(both laugh)
Frank: Exactly. That was what I told Annie. But, (both laugh) she wanted to be politically correct.
Paul: (laughs) So some people fake orgasms, you'd have to fake safe sex.
Frank: Finally she said we could do soft-core.
(both laugh)
Paul: She stole my word.
Frank: What is that? (laughs)
Paul: Soft-core...?
Frank: But, we agreed.
(both laugh)
Paul: Well that was very agreeable of you ... anything to help out Annie. That's why we were late, we were having dinner with her (Annie) ... and you know, she likes to talk while she's eating.
Frank: I just did a review of her show.
Paul: Oh yeah? I assume you liked it.
Frank: The show, yes. Her (Annie), yes. But, the goddess, no.
Paul: That's very interesting, because, she talked about the goddess today and I thought a female god is just as unlikely as a male god. Excellent.
Frank: Exactly.
Paul: Oh, I'm glad you thought that, because I thought that today, and it's nice to have consensus on reality.
Frank: We all have both in us.
Paul: Oh, so you objected to her just doing only the female goddess?
Frank: The gender.
Paul: Well, you know, Robert Anton Wilson once wrote in The Realist that if people continue to refer to god as "he" then they should think of a giant penis in the sky.
Frank: So, now it is a cunt ...
Paul: (laughs)
Frank: ... in the sky.
Paul: That's right and that's why when we hear thunder it's just cock and cunt fucking in the sky ... that's what thunder is ... and lightening.
Frank: Annie is not a s e p e r i s ...
Paul: What word am I on ... wait, start again ... Annie is not a ...
Frank: Separatist.
Paul: Oh, no but she has great cleavage ... that's pretty separate.
Frank: But the separatists are using her ...
Paul: The separatists are using her? Oh, the separatists are using her ... yeah, you can't control what people do with what you put out. You know, if we didn't get misunderstood, you and me and her, we wouldn't be doing our job right. The separatists are using her ... for what?
Frank: To justify their trip.
Paul: Right. It's always that way. Everybody has their own agenda and it's true, it's true ... and they'll use us too. But that's ok. It's better than not being used at all.
Frank: Don't you build in bombs?
Paul: Don't I build in bombs? (laughs) Well, in a way. (both laugh) In a way ... don't I build in bombs? Yeah, to fool them. To fool them? Yes, it's like magic, sometimes, to divert their attention ... if that's what you mean? Or, it's like a lawyer will give seven objections when he only wants one or two, so he builds in a few bombs, if that's what you mean? And if I write something for a magazine, I may put something that I know they'll take out and they'll leave something else in. So if that's what you mean by a bomb, yes, I build them in.
(Frank laughs)
Frank: Me too.
Paul: Yes, we're the secret bombers.
Frank: Are people more serious now?
Paul: Some of them are, some of them aren't. I think they both happen at once ... and it's not separate either, it's two sides of the same coin, you know, serious and frivolous. And I think what people get serious about are their own hang-ups.
Frank: Maybe I mean fragile.
Paul: Oh, more fragile. In a way yeah, because of diseases and because of gangs, you know, fragile because ... it's like what kids in the ghetto have in common with kids in Bosnia at the age of 14 ... they are already planning their funerals. So, that is fragility at it's most heightened state. Yeah, because the quality of life is fragile, so people are more fragile. Yeah, that's an accurate word for it.
Frank: When I was growing up, I was dumb. I did not know I could not do things so I did them.
Paul: Oh, (laughs) yeah, me too. Right, and then they told you you couldn't do it, but it was too late, cause you already did.
Frank: But, now people think they cannot and they blame whatever.
Paul: They blame whatever? Well, yeah, that's the trend now, blame. That's one of the biggest things is blame. People blame their astrology chart ... people blame their childhood ... and the ultimate is people blame the victim ... it's the victim's fault for getting in my way.
Frank: So how can you do satire?
Paul: Well, you just report what's happening, and they think you're making it up. I have an article in the new Realist on a support group for people who drink their own urine. It's a real group! But people think I made it up. (both laugh) But it doesn't make any difference because it gets in their consciousness.
Frank: That was one of the things I loved about The Realist.
Paul: Me too.
Frank: You can not tell what is real. (laughs)
Paul: I know, sometimes I don't even know myself. Sometimes I'm not even sure if the page numbers are real. (laughs)
Frank: My dad got pissed at the LBJ ...
Paul: LBJ! (laughs)
Frank: ... fucking.
(both laugh)
Paul: Oh, well, a lot of people got pissed off at that. You know now Frank, that was in 1967, so this is ... 67 ... 77 ... 87 ... twenty what years .. .27 years and people still come up to me and tell me how that blew their minds. So, yeah, I can understand why he would get pissed, you know, it's no surprise.
Frank: And my mom thought it was real! (laughs)
Paul: Well, it was real. How do you know? A lot of people thought it was real. Sometimes only for five minutes, but that was good enough for me. (laughs) Because they thought Lyndon Johnson was ok for dropping napalm but they thought he was crazy when they read that, and that was the point ... so your mother was in good company. A lot of people thought it was real. But that meant that she thought that LBJ was capable of it.
Frank: And he was!
Paul: Oh, and he was capable of it ... yes, yes. (laughs)
Frank: I like playing with reality.
Paul: How do you play with reality? I mean, I do too, but everybody has their own way.
Frank: One trick is to say, "But, I may be lying."
Paul: I know, do you know the average person lies 25 times a day. But that includes the times we lie to ourselves.
(both laugh)
Frank: I do 48 hour performances ...
Paul: Forty-eight hours? Well, that's more than I do. If I do an hour and a half I'm satisfied. (laughs)
Frank: ...where I mix realities up.
Paul: Oh, yeah, well, look, if reality mixes us up, then it's only fair that we mix reality up ... tit for tat. (laughs)
Frank: Like Andy ...
Paul: Warhol?
Frank: ...Kauffman.
Paul: Oh, Andy Kauffman? Oh, the comedian? Oh, yeah, yeah ... he did that good. I remember him. He was just on the edge ... you know, you just watch it to see is he really going to go on with this? Yeah, he played with reality ... I like that.
Frank: And you were never quite sure.
Paul: It's true ... it's true ... he was on the edge ... he was on the edge. He may still be alive, that may be his ultimate playing with reality.
Frank: (laughs) That is what The Realist did.
Paul: Yeah, that was the purpose to find the left and right lobes of the brain and get between.
Frank: How did you get there?
Paul: Well, I started at Mad Magazine. My jacket has Alfred E. Newman on the back..."What, me worry?" But that was for teenagers and there was nothing for adults and I wanted something for me, cause I figured I wasn't the only one ... I wasn't the only martian on the block. And so it was kind of to find who else was out there. So we could have our own martian tribe. So, I was working for Lyle Stewart who had a newspaper called The Independent and it was anti-censorship. And so when I started The Realist it was a combination of the satire from Mad and the anti-censorship from The Independent.
Frank: But in Mad you knew it was not real.
Paul: Well, that's true, but I took it a step further because I also published serious stuff and if I labeled it, like Playboy labels something: satire, article, fiction ... And I wanted the readers to decide for themselves. I didn't want to take away the pleasure from them. Or I didn't want to take away the confusion from them either. (laughs)
Frank: Exactly.
Paul: Exactly.I know this board already now ... I can do it with my eyes closed. So, you didn't tell me a word that you invented.
Frank: Eroplay.
Paul: Eroplay? Oh, like erotic play. I like that, that's good ... ok. Well see, that will be in the dictionary some day ... after we're dead.
Frank: People are using it.
Paul: For what?
Frank: In their language.
Paul: Language? Eroplay?
Frank: It amazes me ...
Paul: Oh, yeah. I know.
Frank: ... how fast.
Paul: It's true. Cause everything is accelerating now. In the 60's when the word "black" replaced the "negro", they didn't do it right away. But now, when "african american" replaced "black", they did it quicker, cause everything's accelerating ... including "soft-core" and "eroplay".
(both laugh)
Frank: How did you get to edit Lenny...
Paul: ... Lenny Bruce's book? Well, Playboy Magazine serialized it and they knew that Lenny and I knew each other and he was writing it but ... they needed somebody to help structure it and to draw him out ... get questions answered. And so they asked me. And I jumped at the chance, because he was a rare individual and influenced comedians today who don't even know they were influenced by him. And he was attacked for the language he used, but he was really attacked because he used organized religion as a target. And that was really why they went after him.
Frank: Who ...
Paul: ... Lenny Bruce we're talking about ... oh ...
Frank: ... but, who went after him?
Paul: Well, the police ... if the police would go after him in San Francisco, then the police in Los Angeles would say we got to go after him, then the police in Chicago say well we got to go after him. Especially in Chicago where the church was big. When he was on trial in Chicago it was Ash Wednesday, and all the jurors and the judge and the prosecutor had the ash on their forehead there. It was very spooky.
Frank: I am playing dumb ...
Paul: Oh, well, I am dumb. I am playing dumb ... ok ...devil's advocate.
Frank: ... because lots of people don't know.
Paul: Oh, yeah, of course, that's right. Ok, well, when you play dumb, you're playing with reality again.
(both laugh)
Frank: They think he self-destructed.
Paul: Yeah, a lot of his friends thought that at the time. But, you know, it's just a matter of opinion. I think to be consistent with your principles is not self-destructive, but a lot of people thought he should compromise. And that would have been self-destructive.
Frank: They say he was not funny any more.
Paul: He got serious, but ... when I first interviewed Lenny I asked him, "What's the role of a comedian?" And he said, "To get a laugh every 15 to 25 seconds." But then later on, when he was reading from court transcripts and police records ... and I said to him, "Lenny, you're not getting a laugh every 15 to 25 seconds." (both laugh) And he said, "Yes, but I'm changing." And I said, "What do you mean?" He said, "Well, I'm not a comedian, I'm Lenny Bruce." So he knew that he had become a symbol of free speech. He was still funny, but he didn't get a laugh every 15 to 25 seconds. He was funny sardonic.
Frank: It is like when Mort (Sahl) went after JFK's killers.
Paul: That's true, yeah, he dropped out, Mort Sahl dropped out and worked for Jim Garrison as a researcher. And he wasn't funny then. And there were times when I got heavy into conspiracy and the readers would complain. And I said, "Sometimes you have to earn the right to be funny."
(both laugh)
Frank: Who is doing that today?
Paul: You mean besides me? (laughs)
Frank: And me!
(both laugh)
Paul: Just us. Nobody else. No, there's a few, there's a few ... there's a comedian named Jimmy Tingle who's good. There's Elaine Boosler, who's good. There's a few. But most of them talk about their first date or TV commercials or airplane food. They're like clones on a conveyor belt in a factory, most comedians. But there are a few good ones.
Frank: How about the black?
Paul: Yeah, there's a few. There's a guy named Franklin Ajai (sp) who's excellent. Who else ... ? A lot of the black comedians are very raunchy. But who else is good that I've seen ... ? Richard Pryor is kind of sick. Dick Gregory is making diet powder. (laughs) There are some new black comedians, but I think that Franklin Ajai and Paul Mooney are two of the best. I haven't seen them all. They have on HBO Def Comedy Jam, but they do such raunchy material that it makes me blush. (both laugh) And I support their right to do it, but sometimes you wonder if they don't have a larger vocabulary.
Frank: If they have a big picture ...
Paul: But they want to be successful, and so they don't always have the big picture. A few of them do, but they're afraid their audience ... they make a separation ... once again separation ... they make a separation between them and the audience. Whereas you and I don't. You know, we respect the audience, that they either get us or they don't.
Frank: That is what is wrong with Dennis Miller.
Paul: Dennis Miller? That's a good point because he likes to show off his references ... but he's better than a lot of others. He's ok ... he could be better but ...
Frank: But he is all over the place.
Paul: Yeah, I know, but so is pollution. (both laugh)
Frank: I mean in his act.
Paul: Oh yeah, yeah, because he'll pull out a reference from a TV show from 1940, and then from a musical group from 1990 ... yeah, but he means well ... but then so did Hitler.
Frank: That is what is scary.
Paul: Yeah, I know, but what would we do if we didn't have something to be scared about.
Frank: People who mean well can do more harm.
Paul: Oh yeah. Wasn't that a Barbra Streisand song ... "People who mean well can do more harm ..." (both laugh) Yeah, it's true, it's true, because they're self-righteous about it and they think that they're on a mission from god.
Frank: And people feel they are honest.
Paul: Yeah, well, that's what I said before ... that in the 25 lies a day that we tell, a lot of them are to ourselves. Because if you want to deceive other people, you have to deceive yourself first. That's a pre-requisite.
Frank: How about Bill Maher?
Paul: Oh, Bill Maher. I like him. I was on his show, Politically Incorrect. And he's an ex-Catholic who took acid. (Frank laughs) And so, he had Tim Leary on ... he has people on that other people don't. He's good. He's nice and irreverent. He's wrong on some positions, but, that's only because I disagree with him.
Frank: Yes, but he has a big picture.
Paul: Yeah, he does, he does. Do you watch his show ... do you get cable?
Frank: Yes.
Paul: Yeah, he has several writers but ... he's excellent. I've seen him do reports for Jay Leno from events. And he's very irreverent and very smart. He doesn't talk down to the listeners. Yeah, he's good ... I forgot to mention him. He's good.
Frank: What would you like to do that you have not done?
Paul: That I have not done? (both laugh) It's a big question. Ok ... write a novel. Fuck three girls at once. And be young again. Oh, I've done that already ... cancel that one. (Frank laughs) Have unlimited power. (laughs)
Frank: For what?
Paul: Just for the hell of it. You mean, the power? Oh, to make miracles. Somebody just asked Ram Dass what he thinks is the most important question of the twenty-first century. And he thought, and he thought, and he thought for a long while, then he said, "How can we get rid of greed?" So if I had unlimited power, I would just say, "Greed is out and compassion is in!" And then I'd get some fudge.
(both laugh)
Frank: One time I took my students to a drug conference and when I walked into the lobby Leary ran up and hugged me.
Paul: Yeah, that was one of the things about the 60's, that men could hug other men. Before that it was considered homosexual, instead of just love.
Frank: And then Dass ...
Paul: Ram Dass? Oh well, he had an extra hug.
Frank: ... hugged me. And (laughs) then the widow of Huxley ...
Paul: Huxley ... oh, Laura Huxley ... she's still around.
Frank: (laughs) ... hugged me.
Paul: It was a regular hug fest. A lot of hugging.
Frank: And during the intermission I was flapping my arms ...
Paul: (laughs) Arms? (claps and laughs)
Frank: ... and Leary started flapping his.
(both laugh)
Paul: Him too! (laughs) Yeah, that's good. He's a good mirror.
Frank: Was I on drugs or what?
Paul: Maybe, maybe not. Only you know for sure.
Frank: How could I tell? You're test did not work!
Paul: Well, it must have worked, if you thought you were dreaming ... if you were flapping your arms. (Frank laughs) At that point it doesn't make any difference. Reality was playing with you again. (Frank laughs) But in order to flap his arms he had to stop hugging you.
Frank: The two groupies did not know what was going on. (laughs)
Paul: I know, it's a secret language. When I performed at an island off Canada where I did the flapping my arms thing. And for two weeks after that everybody on the island was flapping their arms. It was good. I added that to the language. But nonverbal language.
Frank: What should I ask? (laughs)
Paul: Let me think. Am I optimistic or pessimistic?
Frank: Ok. Or a realist.
Paul: Realist? Well, because I'm a realist, I'm optimistic on Monday, Wednesday and Friday; I'm pessimistic on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, and Sunday I rest ... my case.
Frank: A realist is an idealist.
Paul: I know, but don't tell anybody!
Frank: Skeptic ...
Paul: Yeah, I'm a professional skeptic. I wish I could get paid to be a skeptic, cause that's what I do. (laughs)
Frank: Don't you?
Paul: What, get paid for being a skeptic? That's true I do, yeah. See how quickly my wish came true. (laughs)
Frank: I do. (laughs)
Paul: Get paid for being a skeptic? Welcome to the club. (laughs)
Frank: People think cynical is the same.
Paul: No. No. Cause a cynic is negative and a skeptic searches for the truth. It's a big difference.
Frank: Cynicism is a illness.
Paul: Right. And a cynic thinks there's no cure for this. (both laugh) Yeah, it's too bad but ... you know, people get their identity from any number of things, and some people get their identity from being cynical. And they go to a party and they're cynical. And then their personality freezes that way. Our mothers were right.
Frank: Is that what happened in the 80's?
Paul: Is that what happened in the 80's? Yeah, yeah, people ... yeah ... it was a combination of greed and cynicism and selfishness. It's all the same. Yeah, money became more important than people. But a lot of those same people now are getting more socially conscious. You know, some of the baby boomers had babies themselves, and when they saw hypodermic needles washing in from the ocean, they thought they better do something about it. So I think some of the greed has changed to social consciousness. But that may just be wishful thinking.
Frank: No.
Paul: No? It's not wishful thinking?
Frank: Because the people who come to my performances have changed.
Paul: Have changed? How have they changed?
Frank: Like in the 70's they had dreams about freedom. They wanted it. They may not have thought it was possible ...
Paul: Yeah, well, but, you know, it always starts with a dream.
Frank: In the 80's (laughs) they had not dreams and did not want it and why was I forcing them. (laughs)
Paul: (laughs) I give up. Why?
Frank: In the 90's they have not dreams, but when they find it, they want it.
Paul: Well, that's a hopeful sign. At least they think it's possible. Even if they stumble on it. When I travel around I meet a lot of young people who are the way we were in the 60's. Except they have less innocence. We were innocent.
Frank: What do you think of zines?
Paul: They're like the underground press was in the 60's. Because now there are the alternative papers but they're like a farm team for the mainstream. So they want to get discovered. In the 60's the underground press, like the zines now, were a form of personal revolution as opposed to the alternative papers, which are just a good career move.
Frank: (laughs) In a way you are the root.
Paul: Oh, in a way, but I had my roots ... it keeps going back ... to the cave people. (both laugh) When they were writing on the cave walls, there was somebody who was writing on a rock in the field. And that was the first underground paper.
Frank: I always get the criticism I am old-fashioned.
Paul: Old-fashioned? You old-fashioned?
Frank: They say I do 60's art. (laughs)
Paul: Well, so what? If you like it ... you have to do what comes from your insides.
Frank: I say I am more old-fashioned. I do cave (art).
(both laugh)
Paul: That's real old-fashioned (claps and laughs). That's right. Pre ... even before the caveman ... when you were a fish. (both laugh) Yes, right. I guess I'm old-fashioned too, then. Oh, our time has gone.
Frank: When did art become fashion?
Paul: Oh, well, you know, Abbie Hoffman said fashion is fascism. So, whenever people buy something, if they spend money on it, they think it must be art. Cause they don't want to waste their money. But, you know, art is ... true art is self-expression and that's very often out of fashion. And when we get in fashion, we better start worrying.
Frank: I have been doing what I am doing for 25 years.
Paul: How will you know when you're finished?
(both laugh)
Frank: Sometimes it is in fashion. Sometimes it is not.
Paul: Monday, Wednesday and Friday ... Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday ... !
Frank: I do the same thing. (laughs)
Paul: You don't change?
Frank: It evolves.
Paul: That's right.
Frank: But, they think I don't change.
Paul: Well, fuck 'em! That's what I say. Fuck 'em if they can't take a change.
Frank: And when I am in fashion, I have to work hard to not get big.
Paul: That's where we started.
(both laugh)
Frank: You always have inspired me.
Paul: Well, I'll tell you Frank, it's a two-way street cause you inspire me. So, let's continue to inspire each other.
Frank: How?
Paul: How? Because you work hard ... and you say what you mean ... and you communicate. It's difficult to communicate and you do it. And that's the most important thing ... that's what life is about is communication. And I respect it a lot. So, what else is there to do in life but communicate. You know, and you do it with passion and honesty. So that's inspiring.
Frank: That is a great end.
Paul: Better than death. (both laugh) Very nice interview. Excellent. I had a good time.

Download/listen to the interview


Back to TC(r)#5 Contents Page
This website was created and is maintained by New Possibilities Design
Copyright 1996-2014 Inter-Relations
Last modified October 18, 2014