Paul Krassner is our 'Satirist-Laureate'
By Harvey Wasserman
November 24, 2009
It's time our national government at last enshrines its most critical
artistic need, that of "Satirist-Laureate." The first nod must go to
the man who has pioneered the idiom in modern America -- Paul Krassner.
Since the days of Lenny Bruce, Krassner (a good friend, but no
relation) has been poking brilliant fun at every sacred horse's ass
in American politics and culture.
He also remains our cutting edge critic on censorship and its
pornographic twin. His two recent books slash to the core of the
utter hypocrisy of the government sticking its nose in what we read
and write, think and smoke.
Krassner is the godfather of The Realist, the longest running
periodical purely devoted to pushing the limits of what may and may
not be rendered into print in this country. His infamously horrific
description of what Lyndon Johnson may or may not have done to John
F. Kennedy's corpse remains the unsurpassed definition of bad taste
and over-the-top satire. The fact that there are still those who
believe it to be a true literal description of what actually
transpired remains the ultimate monument to both credulity and the
lingering effects of illicit psychotropics.
The Realist's publication of the now-iconic Wallace Wood centerfold
portraying our previously iconic Disney characters engaged in various
obscene acts also crossed the line between legend and libel. Don't
these characters have lawyers?
When he folded The Realist a few years ago, Paul exhibited a
typically Oprahtic (no relation) sense of good timing, quitting while
he was well ahead to concentrate on books and performance art. Paul's
autobiography, soon to be reissued for Kindle, reminds us that he
coined the term "Yippie!" to describe the thousands of young cultural
and political radicals who would descend on Chicago for the 1968
Democratic Convention. In the ensuing conspiracy trial, he was the
only witness (that we know of) who testified while under the influence of LSD.
Krassner's true genius has been to remain current, relevant and
cutting. In his various CDs ("The Zen Bastard Rides Again," etc.),
especially good for playing while driving long distances, he is
laugh-out-loud funny. Paul's friendly, low-key delivery style belie
an inner mensch SCREAMING at official uptightness.
His more recent In Praise of Indecency and Who's to Say What's
Obscene? are packed with insane anecdotes, including the devastating
tale of the totalitarian censorship that destroyed Lenny Bruce. Those
would be gut-wrenchingly funny if they weren't so tragic in their
outcome. Today, of course -- except for his extraordinary brilliance
-- what Bruce said and how he said it would be considered mild in
your average nightclub.
But after all these years nobody beats Paul's unerring instinct for
irony and the absurd. Krassner's beat goes from cops fighting each
other to cover the sex censorship beat, to drug laws that uniformly
imprison the innocent to gays in Congress oppressing gays who aren't.
When speaking in public he will "flap his wings." If he doesn't fly,
he knows he's not dreaming.
When you read Paul's books, crazy as they seem to be, you need to
recall your inner Yogi Berra, who reminds you it's all true because
"you can't make this stuff up."
Paul Krassner put the "class" in iconoclast, the "mensch" in the
unmentionable. Read Paul's stuff as soon as you can, while there's
still time to laugh.