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aspect of The Independent, and the entertainment aspect of Mad–because there was a gap in the media for me.
Ironically, it was a leap of faith since I was an atheist. But it was a leap of faith for me that I couldn’t be the only one. And the readers grew by malthusian fashion. Steve Allen was the first subscriber. He subscribed for a bunch of people, including Lenny Bruce, who subscribed for a bunch of other people. So it had this aspect of sharing because it was unique. I had no role models to look to, so I had to make up it up as I went along. But what the readership had in common was a transcendent–even of being liberal democratic. One of the subscribers was Karl Hess, who was a speech writer for Barry Goldwater. It certainly transcended walks of life–subscribers ranged from laborers to professionals–as well as gender and age. What they had in common was a sense of irreverence. So, essentially, I considered the readers my peers. I just happened to be in a position to try and articulate their consciousness.
David: Do you think comedy and satire can be used as tools to help educate people and increase political awareness?
Paul: Sure, because when you make an audience laugh their defenses are down. It’s no matter that they come from disparate backgrounds. At that moment that they’re all laughing at what you said, they’re united–and they’re united in accepting a truth that the humor points out. At it’s best, humor is a vehicle for truth. People don’t like to be lectured at. When they laugh, and their defenses are down, this means that they have less resistance to a truth then they may have had before.
David: Why do you think it’s important to blur the line between psychological dualities like reality and fantasy, or tragedy and absurdity?
Paul: I think that each of those dualities are two sides of the same coin. There’s an old saying that comedy is tragedy plus time. And if there is a line between them, that line is blurring–because time is accelerating in terms of the rate of information rising from the underground. For example, graffiti like “watch out for the secret war in Peru” took maybe ten, fifteen, even twenty years, to rise to mainstream awareness. But now, because of technology, and the fierce competition, it takes a much shorter time. So print reporters check the internet, and news and information comes out much faster than before–so that the line has been blurred because of that.
Not only is there less time now between the tragedy and comedy, but I’ve seen it happen simultaneously. An example would be when the Branch Dividian headquarters were on fire in Waco. Jay Leno did a joke on The Tonight Show, where he said that there were two kinds of Branch Dividians–regular and crispy. And the fire was still going on at that time. That’s why when 9/11 happened everybody was saying, is it too soon to funny? “How much time will it take?” Larry King asked, “a month? Six months?” It was as if there were timetable.
I performed around three weeks after 9/11 in San Francisco. It was going to be a rally for a couple of referendums on environmental issues for the election. Ralph Nader was supposed to do this, but then he was morphed into an antiwar leader when he spoke. And of course there was a connection between energy sources and the impending attack on Afghanistan. But that was an audience which really had already been self-selected. So I could do controversial material and have it accepted easier with that particular audience.
David: How have some of your satirical writings turned out to be prophetic?
Paul: Oh many things have come true. I did a piece for The Nation, I think, maybe eight ten years ago, on growth in fear stocks, like for example, the security industry and security guards would be much bigger. And, of course, that’s come true. It’s happened quite often. I remember when Don Johnson was on Miami Vice, and he had this five day growth of beard, as a kind of trademark. So I had predicted that special razors would be manufactured that could do that, and they were. So it’s the same information that was seen differently by myself and an entrepreneur–who thought, ah yeah that’s not a bad idea. It was the same idea of course, but they perceived it as a way to make money, and I perceived it as a way to make a comment on a possible cultural trend.
David: Why do you refer yourself an “investigative satirist”?
Paul: Oh, because when I’m preparing to write a satire I research it as if I were writing a serious article. The more information and details you have the more verisimilitude you can give to something. It’s kind of a seduction, so that people get a certain pleasure from trying to discern for themselves whether something is a truth or a satirical extension of a truth. And that happened to me today, in reading a column in the LA Times about some the dolls that were now available, like the Jessica Lynch Doll. I wasn’t sure if the writer was making it up, or if it really exists, because it’s possible. That’s somethng I learned from interviewing Joseph Heller about Catch 22. He talked about satire. You have to write it so that it’s possible. It doesn’t have to be probable. The circumstances make it probable.
I discovered this after Slow Bicycle Race was published, which includes a piece that I wrote called “The Parts Left Out of the Kennedy Book”. Recently, I met a 25 year old female musician who, not knowing that I had written it, told me about that story, which involved an act of presidential necrophilia, which she believed to be true true–because what’s happened in recent years, in the White House and elsewere, makes it more credible, whether or not this actually happened. It’s like ancient history, with characters in mind. When I’ve spoken at campuses, professors of literature tell me that a lot of their students thought that Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” was literally true. And they come to him, asking how did they get them Irish babies to the starved Brits? So younger people have a different consciousness from us, in terms of what they think is not only possible, but probable.
David: How did you meet Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, and how did it come about that you co-founded the Yippies with them?
Paul: I met Jerry Rubin in 1965 when he invited me to MC a Vietnam teach-in on the Berkeley campus. I suggested to him that we should have something more than just speeches, and I recommended radical folksinger Phil Ochs. Jerry hadn’t heard of Oaks, but he took my word for it. Oaks was like the mortar between the bricks, tying together ideas with songs, which had a certain incisiveness and satire.
Abbie I met in New York. We were both living on the Lower East Side at the time. Bob Fass, from radio station WBAI, used to organize these things to help the community, and I saw Abbie at some of those meetings. But I didn’t really get to know him until a demonstration was going to be held on Flag Day, a parade celebrating the military, going down Fifth Avenue, and we were in Central Park, figuring out what we were going to do–because people were hostile to antiwar protesters at that point. And I remember Abbie just saying, “we’re huddling here like we’re in a fucking concentration camp! Let’s go to that fucking parade!” And you could see born leadership qualities there. So everybody decided, yeah, what are we doing here in the park? Let’s just go to Fifth Avenue.
Abbie and I went to have soup after that. We talked about religion more than politics actually. I being a nonbeliever, and Abbie being a believer. He told me about how one version of The Bible says how Jesus asks God, why has thou forsaken me? And on another occasion Jesus says, forgive them for they know not what they do. So Abbie questioned his professors at Brandice about that, and they said, well, you got to understand, The Bible was written by a lot of people. Another time we talked about Di Laurentiis’ film version of The Ten Commandments, which we had just seen. We were talking about Abraham, and how he had prepared to slay his son because God told him to, as a test or something. I called this blind obedience. And Abbie said, “no, it was revolutionary trust”.
So our friendship developed. He and his wife Anita, and me and a girlfriend, we all took acid together. We went to movies together. We went on vacation to one of the Keys off the coast of Florida. We saw what was going on by the little black and white TV set we had there, which we watched on acid. Lyndon Johnson was in purple and orange. By that time Jerry Rubin had moved to New York. Dave Dellinger had asked him to come in and help organize the Pentagon demonstrations in October of 1967. But we decided that we had to go to Chicago the next summer to protest the Democratic Convention–to have an alternative counter-convention. It