Paul Krassner is ‘a nut, a raving, unconfined nut.’ Or said an FBI report on the counterculture comedian. Whether or not this description is entirely accurate is uncertain, although Krassner clearly enjoys the notoriety it bestows upon him, as evidenced in the title of his autobiography, Confessions of a Raving, Unconfined Nut: Misadventures in the Counter-Culture.
To be fair, the man portrays himself as mad and crazy and offbeat. Hell, he’s a former Prankster and professional comedian. Such attributes are quite a boost for people in these circles.
But when I stumbled across his website when researching Neal Cassady’s ventures into the next counterculture, I found his e-mail address and asked him for a very brief interview. Did I get any sarcastic or madcap replies? Nope, he was polite and helpful and a perfect gent. Very normal for the man that founded the Youth International Party and The Realist, and who has constantly shocked and entertained the world.
Krassner was a violin prodigy as a child, and a manic jokester as an adult, and in between he was privy to many of the legendary moments that made up the counterculture saga.
When Life magazine published a positive review of Krassner’s comedy, they were immediately sent angry letter by the FBI, from which the quote that inspired the title of his autobiography was lifted.
He worked on early issues of Mad magazine, published the notorious ‘Disneyland Memorial’ Orgy poster, and wrote the article that suggested Lyndon Johnson molested Kennedy’s corpse aboard Air Force One. He edited his friend Lenny Bruce’s autobiography, has received numerous awards for comedian and activism and remains a prolific writer even today.
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How influenced were you by the Beat Generation?
It was reassuring to see it as a counterculture movement even before the word was invented. I identified with their spirit of irreverence toward authority. And I liked the individuals I met, such as Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso, whose lives were as poetic as their writing. I think there’s always been a counterculture, from the Bohemians to the Beats to the Hippies to the Yippies to the Punks to the Hip-Hop. It probably started during cave-dwelling days; while the adults were drawing on the walls of their caves, the kids were out in the field making their marks on boulders.
How did humour come into the development of countercultures – from Beat to Pranksters to Hippies?
Humor seems to be part of an innate tradition. It can be a means of revealing the truth and waking up people while having fun in the process. For me, viewing reality through the prism of absurdity has become a way of life. Humor can relieve tension, unite people from disparate backgrounds, and medical research has shown that laughter can serve as an aid to healing, physically & psychologically.
How did drugs come into this development of countercultures?
Drugs–like meditation, Zen practice, fasting, pick a discipline, any discipline–is a way of connecting the conscious with the subconscious–and when they are illegal, trying them is a way of breaking through government propaganda. The Partnership For a Drug-Free America was founded and funded by the pharmaceutical, alcohol
and tobacco industries. Why buy Prozac when you can grow marijuana?
Do you consider yourself a descendent of the Beat Generation?
I was sort of a missing link: too young to be a beatnik and too old to be a hippie. I never labeled myself so that I could be an objective observer, even of those whose philosophy and outsider roles I could empathize with. In the first issue of my satirical magazine, The Realist, launched in 1958, I published a parody of Jack Kerouac’s “On
the Road,” figuring it was important for beats to laugh at themselves.
Were you ‘on the bus’ with Neal Cassady in your Prankster days?
I was too busy editing The Realist, but they all read it on the bus. I became close friends with Ken Kesey–in 1971 we co-edited The Last Supplement to the Whole Earth Catalog–and (after Cassady had died) I went on the bus for a reunion trip and got to know other original pranksters plus their offspring.
Was Neal really a great driver?
I was told stories about his er um proactive driving skills, and I heard tapes of his non-stop rapping.
What was your favourite Beat book back then? And what is your favourite Beat book now?
Terry Southern and Hunter Thompson back then. “Deer Hunting With Jesus” by Joe Bageant currently.
Paul Krassner’s books are available via his website: www.paulkrassner.com
This interview was conducted on 22nd May, 1988 at the Caffé Trieste in San Francisco...
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