Paul Krassner, 4/9/32 – 7/21/19: American Satirist

Photograph Source: Heidi De Vries from Berkeley, CA – CC BY 2.0

By Jonah Raskin

Source: CounterPunch

“He’s gone. Feel free to spread the word,” Michael Simmons said in an email that went out to a few dozen or so of the usual suspects, including Wavy Gravy, Judy Gumbo, Larry (Ratzo) Sloman, Jim Fouratt, Rex Weiner, Aron Kay, Kate Coleman, Jeffrey St. Clair, and Barbara Garson, some of whom had been Yippies, Zippies and their fellow travelers.

“He” who was now gone at the age of 87, was Paul Krassner, who took up where Lenny Bruce left off, edited The Realist, reinvigorated satire, defended free speech at every opportunity and who lived at the end of his life in Desert Hot Springs, California in part because of the climate and also because he could afford to live there.

Before long there will be hefty biographies of Paul that describe his birth and his childhood in Brooklyn, his days and nights in Chicago during the infamous Conspiracy Trial, his provocative piece about LBJ and the Kennedy Assassination, and his performances as a standup comedian who seemed to find less and less to laugh about, and more and more to fret about in a world gone awry. The atomic bomb and nuclear paranoia was something Krassner could laugh about; not so Putin, Trump, the plutocrats and the kleptocrats of the twenty-first century.

Before the formal obituaries that are sure to show up in all the major U.S. newspapers, and before the pundits weigh-in on the significance of Krassner, it might make sense to say here that Paul was irascible and cantankerous, true to his core beliefs and that there were zero sacred cows in his universe, at least at the beginning of his career.

I met him in 1970. Soon afterward, he published in The Realist a piece I wrote about Eldridge Cleaver, Timothy Leary and their wives, but not before he’d turned it from something tame into something irreverent.

Over the years, I saw him in New York and in San Francisco. From 2015 to 2018, I interviewed Paul several times and published most of our conversations in print and online. In 2018, I collected all of them in a booklet titled Paul Krassner Speaks: From Lenny Bruce and Obama to Hebdo. 

Here are a few of the things he had to say:

“Satire has a truth embedded in the laughter and it can serve to wake people up from their cultural brainwashing.”

“Free speech demands a sense of responsibility.”

“I think every child is born with innocent irreverence, but it’s cancelled by the osmosis of cultural repression.”

“What I’d like to forget and can’t is that there are so many prisoners serving time, as Lenny Bruce said, ‘for smoking flowers.’”

“My slogan for The Realist used to be ‘Irreverence is our only sacred cow,’ but I’ve had second thoughts. Irreverence has become an industry and can become irreverence for its own sake. Mean-spirited stereotypes in the guise of satire.”

Thanks, Paul.


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1 Response to Paul Krassner, 4/9/32 – 7/21/19: American Satirist

  1. EarthGround Media says:

    Krassner was a fine editor and a great advisor.

    Exemplar. Like Geronimo Stilton, but with human-sized gonads. A bit feral-crazy but that was his stock and trade.
    MAD Mad world.

    He lost his pension and his vote by dying in California. How crazy of him. Oh well. He’s with President Reagan now in a universal heaven that accepts drugstore cowboys and dimestore. ..every body’s dancin
    Those late John Garfield Blues.
    Is John Prine still alive?
    The Realist informs me still.
    We owe him a debt of…wait.
    I can read CBC for free. True.
    I have to buy Krassner’s books.
    One could steal them online.
    Comment is free at CBC. Unpaid interns produce the content. We all win. State news with moderated local commentary:

    “He said the man’s partner was devastated.”

    I would leave that sentence out and let the reeling neighbour’s own real words stand as directly quoted. Sad story. My condolences to the family.

    I am particular with editing. Devastation is surely implied.
    CBC has not to stress it so.

    The tragedy would be blamed on the wee folk located in that geographic area once upon a time.

    I do not know why the comment section is open. No one is on this CBC space with condolences yet; the story does not link to an official site for that purpose.

    I don’t know what to say. It is confusing to me as a reader. As a writer I am self-censoring my criticism of CBC’s approving the allowing of comments.

    Did the family request the comments be open or something?

    I don’t know him.

    He died well considering how most of his generation went.

    (Think about it. The wars. The cancer. The AIDS. Gross. Also, shark attacks. Snakes on planes. Degenerative brain disease. Bad car accidents. This man fell and drowned or dropped dead into a dry well? Not too bad. Compared to how some people have to die, on that show, 1000 was to die, rember that show? Crazy.)

    He died like he was a character of an Irish wonder tale. He probably lived an interesting life. Lots of people do. Better to pass away down a well with your rubber boots on snug at home than in a bed, in Toronto, with the arse out of your gown.

    CBC could cancel it’s comment section by now. Especially if we cannot comment on energy news but only devastations as this one.

    I wish I could not ever comment but I am paid to comment. I have to.

    No one tells me not to tell that I get money from Russia to disrupt news. They don’t tell me what to write or which stories to target. Go nuts they said. I did.

    I get paid by the character.

    CBC has a maximum character limit. I try to fill that limit.

    Sometimes I get tired. Mostly I complete the maximum.

    I have 60 characters left.

    They had to reel him up out of the well??

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