November 26, 2012
Vol. 28 , No. 06
Who’s to Say? A Life Lived on the Edge
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 28, 2012
When Paul Krassner, the founder and editor of The Realist, was called the father of the underground press in America, he demanded a paternity test. But Krassner is not merely irreverent. For more than half a century, he has not only tested but often defined the limits of public discourse and imprinted his style of irreverence on the American social and political landscape. The New York Times once described Krassner as "an expert at ferreting out hypocrisy from the more solemn crannies of American culture."
Kurt Vonnegut recounted "I told Krassner that his writings made me hopeful. He found this an odd compliment to offer a satirist. I explained that he made supposedly funny matters seem ridiculous, and that this inspired many of his readers to decide for themselves what was ridiculous and what was not. Know that there were people doing that . . .made me optimistic."
As editor of The Realist in the sixties and seventies, Krassner approached journalism not as an objective observer but as a participant in many of the stories he covered. His brand of "new journalism" was particularly fresh. He wrote about the antiwar movement while he was an active member of it. He wrote about the psychedlic revolution and passed the acid tests with flying colors. Later Krassner joined novelist Ken Kesey to edit "The Last Supplement to the Whole Earth Catalogue" and participated with Bill Murray and William Burroughs in "The Poetic Hoo Ha Festivals". He walks with a cane because of a beating he suffered at the hands of San Francisco police during the riot following the voluntary-manslaughter verdict in the trial of Dan White, who had assassinated Mayor George Moscone and City Supervisor Harvey Milk.
In 1967 Krassner cofounded (with Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin) the Yippies, a countercultural political party that led theatrical demonstrations outside the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. His friends John Lennon and Yoko Ono financed a 1972 issue of The Realist that exposed the Watergate break-in before journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein did so in the mainstream press. At the height of the Vietnam War, Krassner was on an FBI list of radicals to be rounded up in the event of a national emergency. His FBI files indicate that after Life magazine published a favorable profile of him, the FBI sent a letter to the editor, complaining: “To classify Krassner as a social rebel is far too cute. He’s a nut, a raving, unconfined nut.”
“The FBI was right,” George Carlin later wrote, “This man is dangerous – and funny; and necessary.” Lewis Black has said "Paul Krassner is an activist, a philosopher, a lunatic, a saint, but most of all he is funny."
In 2004 Krassner received an American Civil Liberties Union Upton Sinclair Award for his dedication to freedom of expression. His articles have been published in Rolling Stone, Playboy, Penthouse, Mother Jones, the Nation, the New York Press, National Lampoon, the Village Voice, the Los Angeles Times, and Funny Times. He is the only person in the world ever to win awards from both Playboy (for satire) and the Feminist Party Media Workshop (for journalism). The Realist printed its last issue in 2001.
Krassner has released six comedy albums and authored numerous books, including his autobiography, Confessions of a Raving, Unconfined Nut: Misadventures in the Counter-Culture (Touchstone) — which has recently been updated for a new edition — and his most recent collection, Who’s to Say What’s Obscene? Politics, Culture, and Comedy in America Today, was published by City Lights Books.