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Comedians on Acid: Hippie madness at the end of the 60s


 
Last week we posted our interview with Kliph Nesteroff about his marvelous new book The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels, and the History of American Comedy, which is now available for purchase.

It’s a winner, folks. Simply put, Kliph has carved out an area of research and made it almost entirely his own—I refer to the development of the world of professional stand-up comedy in the decades before Richard Pryor, George Carlin, or even Lenny Bruce. (Not to worry, he also covers everything up to Louis CK too.) Kliph has made it his business to acquaint himself personally with many of the surviving old-school stand ups from the 1950s and also with the bounties of Variety’s archives.

The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels, and the History of American Comedy is about the Chitlin Circuit and vaudeville and the Mob and drugs and everything else, in other words, the seamy underbelly of the comedy world. This book will be a staple of comedy book lists for decades to come and is a must for every comedy nerd.

Here’s an exclusive exceprt from The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels, and the History of American Comedy.

Chapter Nine: Hippie Madness at Decade’s End

Marijuana and LSD were huge influences on comedy at the end of the 1960s. It was not uncommon for talk show guests to show up high. George Carlin said he took “a perverse delight in knowing that I never did a television show without being stoned.” Paul Krassner dropped acid before a Tonight Show appearance with guest host Orson Bean. Krassner was immersed in his trip when he walked through the curtain. “I kept staring at Ed McMahon because his face was melting into his chest. Orson asked me, ‘Have you taken LSD?’ He meant in a general sense, but I had this thought, ‘Oh, no, he can tell!’”

Phyllis Diller encapsulated the older generation’s ignorance of counterculture elements when a reporter asked her if she would remarry. She responded, “What kind of LSD have you been smoking?” Such cluelessness was common as Hollywood’s gatekeepers struggled to relate to the new hippie demographic. Television shows like Dragnet and My Three Sons portrayed counterculture protestors as morons. Carl Reiner’s son Rob was cast in several sitcoms play-ing such roles. “I did three Gomer Pyles, played a hippie in a couple of them. Did a Beverly Hillbillies, played a hippie in that. I was like the resident Hollywood hippie at the time. I had long hair and they needed somebody. In one of the Gomer Pyle episodes I actually sang ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ with Gomer.”
 

 
Veteran filmmaker Otto Preminger gave LSD the Hollywood treatment in 1968 with a motion picture called Skidoo. Preminger contacted Rob Reiner to help write dialogue for the hippie characters in his film. “Preminger was a very interesting, liberal guy and he took acid early on,” says Carl Gottlieb. “He wanted to meet The Committee. So we all trooped down to his offices with Rob Reiner.” Reiner said, “I went in and turned out some pages for hippies so that they would say ‘groovy’ in the right place.”

Groucho Marx was cast in Skidoo as an LSD dealer named God. It was surprising he agreed to it, as he was contemptuous of the new social mores (“That Midnight Cowboy. It’s about a stud and a pimp. I hated that movie”). Marx may have hated the counterculture, but he was hip to many of its elements. He subscribed to Paul Krassner’s paper The Realist, which featured articles about the drug culture. Krassner says, “Groucho was concerned about the script of Skidoo because it pretty much advocated LSD, which he had never tried but he was curious. Moreover, he felt a certain responsibility to his young audience not to steer them wrong, so could I possibly get him some pure stuff and would I care to accompany him on a trip.”

Groucho Marx high on LSD? Some who knew Groucho question the story. “It’s a fucking lie,” says producer George Schlatter. “Groucho never took acid. He didn’t need acid. Everyone else needed acid!” Carl Gottlieb agrees. “I doubt that story, because my contact with Groucho was around the same time. He was pretty infirm. The acid that was around in those days was the Owsley acid—Windowpane. It was brain-breaking.”

“Well, that was the reason Groucho asked me,” Krassner responds. “I have a letter from Lionel Olay, a popular magazine writer. He had interviewed Groucho and Groucho told him he was very curious about LSD. He read The Realist and about my taking trips. Bill Targ, my editor at Putnam, was a friend of Groucho. The writer of the movie Skidoo, Bill Cannon, introduced me to him. Groucho and I had lunch. He asked me if I could get him some LSD. Groucho was not going to go around boasting about this. It was just to prepare for the movie Skidoo. I accompanied him on his trip. We used the home of an actress in Beverly Hills. Phil Ochs drove me there. It was Owsley acid. Three hundred micrograms.”

Skidoo entered production with a cast that seemed plucked from Hollywood Squares. It included Frankie Avalon, Carol Channing, Frank Gorshin, Peter Lawford, Cesar Romero, Mickey Rooney, Arnold Stang and Jackie Gleason. It had a soundtrack by Harry Nilsson and an unforgettable scene in which Gleason, high on psychedelics, is haunted by the disembodied head of Groucho Marx.

Robert Evans, the head of Paramount, was not happy with it. “It was a zero on every level,” said Evans after the screening. “The guy [Preminger] cost us a fuckin’ fortune. His new entry belongs in the sewer, not on the screen. He’s such a prick; he gets his nuts off seeing us sink.”
 

Cheech and Chong’s best-selling ‘Big Bambu’ album came with a gigantic rolling paper. For obvious reasons, these rolling papers are rare today…

Several comedians considered their psychedelic trips important, life-changing experiences. “Pot fueled Cheech & Chong during our heyday,” said Tommy Chong. “Pot and to some extent acid. It had changed our world and it put me on a path to artistic and financial success. The spiritual effects and the revelations never leave. The secrets that LSD revealed to me changed my life forever.”

George Carlin felt the same. “I know exactly when I first did acid—it was in October 1969 while I was playing a major, now long-defunct jazz club in Chicago called Mister Kelly’s. Next to my [note-book] record of that booking, which was otherwise uneventful, is written in a trembling hand the word ‘acid.’ Actually in the course of a two-week gig I did acid multiple times, maybe five, maybe ten. Fuck the drug war. Dropping acid was a profound turning point for me, a seminal experience. I make no apologies for it. More people should do acid.”

Chris Rush was another comedian who came into being with the counterculture. Psychedelics informed his act. “When I took lysergic acid diethylamide I started rapping comedy: full, polished conceptual chunks. It just flowed through me, and I was a stream-of-consciousness comedian. I started doing it for fun in loft buildings and I started doing some clubs. This guy Mark Meyers from Atlantic Records came to see me. He said, ‘This guy talks like George Carlin.’ Bingo, I had a record deal.” His album First Rush sold half a million copies in the early 1970s, mostly to pot-smoking college kids. “They’d get high with twenty of their friends and put the album on.”

Comedy and the counterculture coupled with the new technology of FM radio. During the early 1960s FM radio was mostly used to simulcast aurally superior versions of AM sister stations. In 1967 the FCC passed an ordinance that ended such simulcasts. It forced FM to devise original programming. In order to fill mass spaces of airtime in a pinch, young disc jockeys turned to playing entire sides of LPs rather than just one song. Soon FM was a place where hippie rawkers and their long jams received maximum exposure. Likewise, comedians who aligned themselves with the counterculture found entire sides of their comedy records being played on FM. College-aged kids tuning in to hear their favorite hippie music were turned on to the comedians being played on the same stations—and those comics saw their ticket sales increase enormously.
 

 
Amid the FM scene emerged an audio comedy troupe called the Firesign Theatre. Phil Austin, David Ossman, Phil Proctor and Peter Bergman met at the newly minted Los Angeles FM station KPFK. They worked in various executive positions and eventually left for KRLA and improvised drug-influenced comedy on the show Radio Free Oz. Surf music producer and KRLA employee Gary Usher used his industry connections to secure the boys a deal with Columbia Records. “I’d see The Byrds at Columbia Studios when we were all recording,” said Phil Proctor. “We didn’t realize how much history we were observing or even making. There was very easy access. People were very friendly and the music brought everybody together. Pot brought everybody together. It was a very sociable scene, you know, hot and cold running girls all the time…We were using the Columbia studio where The Byrds recorded, [but] also the radio studio where Fred Allen had been.”

The Firesign Theatre, George Carlin and Cheech & Chong owed their vast success to FM. The radio stations were listened to by thousands of impressionable college students. “FM radio helped expose the records, and that led to our ability to headline shows on college campuses,” said Proctor. “We were asked to go on the road with the Maharishi.”

Comedian Jimmie Walker says FM radio was a platform for comedians who never would have been accepted in traditional circles. “They would never have gotten on Carson or anything like that. Lou Adler from A&M Records came up with these guys from Vancouver—Cheech & Chong. There was a new thing called FM and Lou said, ‘I’m going to make an album with these guys.’ These guys started selling out colleges, and we were stunned. Nobody was doing that. FM changed everything. It changed the face of comedy.”

Jack Margolis, a comedy writer who once wrote for Jay Ward cartoons, composed the seminal counterculture comedy record of the time. A Child’s Garden of Grass was based on his satirical paperback of the same name, the first in-depth comedic look at the effects of marijuana. Released by Elektra, the same label that had Jim Morrison and the Doors, A Child’s Garden of Grass had its advertising turned down by every major magazine, was denied a spot on the shelves of Wallichs Music City in Hollywood and was banned in Washington State. An FCC ruling that forbade “drug lyrics” kept program managers from playing it. Despite the kibosh, it sold four hundred thousand copies. Its only real advertising came from a large billboard on Sunset Boulevard across from the Whisky a Go Go. It is impossible to calculate the number of joints that were rolled on its gatefold surface.
 

 
The longhairs dominated radio. Cinema was maturing rapidly. Battles against censorship were being won on both literary and nightclub fronts. But television, beyond its odd spontaneous talk show moment, appeared unaffected by the times. “There was a real revolution happening in other media,” said comedy writer Rosie Shuster. “There were all these Jack Nicholson movies coming out that reflected that sensibility of the sixties. In music there was Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, the Stones and the Beatles. But television was still stuck in some time warp that was more like the fifties.

”Comedians appearing on The Tonight Show still had to adhere to a traditional dress code. “For a long time the rule on Johnny Carson was tie and jacket,” says Robert Klein. “I came on without one once and Johnny didn’t say anything, but it came down through [Tonight Show producer] Freddy de Cordova: ‘Tie and jacket!’ ”

THE COMEDIANS copyright © 2015 by Kliph Nesteroff; used with the permission of the publisher, Grove Press, an imprint of Grove Atlantic, Inc.

Below, the extended trailer for Otto Preminger’s ‘Skidoo’ featuring Dr. Timothy Leary, Sammy Davis Jr. and more…

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels, and the History of American Comedy

Posted by Martin Schneider
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11.04.2015
01:45 pm
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Paul Krassner: I dropped acid with Groucho Marx
05.04.2015
10:49 am
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Paul Krassner has lived a remarkable life, with singular experiences including publishing The Realist, acting as editor of Hustler, becoming a “one-man underground railroad of abortion referrals,” testifying at the Chicago 7 trial while tripping on acid, co-founding the Yippies, and so forth.

Not the least of his adventures was the time he acted as “sort of a guide for Groucho Marx” for Groucho’s first acid trip.

As he wrote in the February 1981 issue of High Times, “We ingested those little white tabs one afternoon at the home of an actress in Beverly Hills.” At the end of the anecdote, Groucho says that he is looking forward to playing “God” in Skidoo, the legendary cult movie from 1968 directed by Otto Preminger in which Groucho smokes pot, so the timing of this acid story must have been late 1967 or early 1968. Wikipedia asserts that Groucho took acid to “prepare” for Skidoo, but Krassner’s article definitely does not say that. In fact, Krassner’s article is something of a mishmash, covering 3-4 different stories, and he doesn’t really explain anything about what led to his acid trip with Groucho. Here’s a little bit of what they did do, though:
 

We had long periods of silence and of listening to music. I was accustomed to playing rock ‘n’ roll while tripping, but the record collection here was all classical and Broadway show albums. After we heard the Bach “Cantata No. 7” Groucho said, “I may be Jewish, but I was seeing the most beautiful visions of Gothic cathedrals. Do you think Bach knew he was doing that?”

Later, we were listening to the score of a musical comedy Fanny. There was one song called “Welcome Home,” where the lyrics go something like, “Welcome home, says the clock,” and the chair says, “Welcome home,” and so do various other pieces of furniture. Groucho started acting out each line as if he were actually being greeted by the duck, the chair and so forth. He was like a child, charmed by his own ability to respond to the music that way.

 
He also says, remarkably, that “the acid with which Ram Dass, in his final moments as Dick Alpert, failed to get his guru higher was the same acid that I had the honor of taking with Groucho Marx.”

There’s a lot more in the article, so read the full thing here.

Interestingly, in his account Krassner mentions the tour buses of Haight-Ashbury hippiedom of the late 1960s, which DM covered just a couple of weeks ago.

It’s not acid, but here’s a little clip from Skidoo with Groucho smoking reefer:
 

 
Hat tip: Showbiz Imagery and Chicanery

Posted by Martin Schneider
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05.04.2015
10:49 am
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‘Psychedelic Sex’: The revealing retro coffee table book of trippy titillation
02.16.2015
01:59 pm
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Taschen has released a titillating title called Psychedelic Sex written and compiled by Yippie co-founder and Realist publisher Paul Krassner with self-proclaimed obsessive collector, Eric Gotland. The racy retro collection is edited by Dian Hanson whose job title at Taschen appears actually to be “Sexy Book Editor.” Nice! Hanson produced a ton of men’s magazines from Juggs to Legshow between 1976 and 2001 and is also responsible for other Taschen titles like The Little Book of Big Penis and The Big Butt Book 3D, so obviously you might want to get your hands on Psychadelic Sex. The addition of Paul Krassner’s penchant for countercultural hilarity makes this kind of a must have in my humble opinion.

From Taschen’s website:

In a brief golden span between 1967 and 1972, the sexual revolution collided with recreational drug exploration to create “psychedelic sex.” While the baby boomers blew their minds and danced naked in the streets, men’s magazine publishers attempted to visually recreate the wonders of LSD, project them on a canvas of nubile hippie flesh, and dish it up to men dying for a taste of free love.

Way Out, Groovie, Where It’s At—each magazine title vied to convince the straight audience it offered the most authentic flower power sex trip, complete with mind-bending graphics and all-natural hippie hotties. Along the way hippies joined in the production, since what could be groovier than earning bread in your birthday suit?

At its height, psychedelic sex encompassed posters, tabloids, comics, and newsstand magazines, but the most far-out examples of all were the glossy magazines from California, center of both hippie culture and the budding American porn industry. It’s these sexy, silly reminders of peace, love, and pudenda we celebrate in Psychedelic Sex.

Do I really need to tell you that these images (except maybe the one of the book cover) probably aren’t safe for work?  I’m assuming the little winking smiley faces are added by Taschen for the website and don’t actually show up when you buy the book.
 
Article Cover - Psychedelic Sex
 
Psychedelic Sex1
Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama and friends.
 
Drugged and Liked It
 
More after the jump…
 

READ ON
Posted by Jason Schafer
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02.16.2015
01:59 pm
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Richard Pryor’s ‘Dynamite Chicken’ is a raunchy, NSFW time capsule of the hippie era


 
Sorting out who is and who isn’t in the 1971 “comedy” movie Dynamite Chicken, written and directed by Ernest Pintoff, is no easy matter. The montage-heavy movie relies so much on found footage that it’s accurate to say that John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Lenny Bruce, Malcolm X, Humphrey Bogart, and Richard Nixon “appear” in the movie even if they were scarcely aware of it or, in some cases, were long since deceased at the time. Not to put too fine a point on it, the makers of the movie were verging pretty close to fraud here.

Richard Pryor they definitely had, as well as a lot of countercultural figures like Paul Krassner, Tuli Kupferberg, Joan Baez, Sha-Na-Na, Peter Max, and a comedy troupe called Ace Trucking Co. that featured a young Fred Willard. The movie’s a bit like Kentucky Fried Movie, only far more political in intent; it’s chock-a-block with skits, snippets of musical performance, political debate, a strip-tease or two, and whatever else popped into the noggins of the filmmakers at the time. There’s tons of quick-cutting montage of newspaper clippings and just a ton of random footage.
 

 
The full title,  “Dynamite Chicken: A Contemporary Probe and Commentary of the Mores and Maladies of Our Age … with Schtick, Bits, Pieces, Girls, Some Hamburger, a Little Hair, a Lady, Some Fellas, Some Religious Stuff, and a Lot of Other Things,” is an accurate reflection of what the movie is like. The emphasis here is squarely on free expression; the movie starts with a scroll explaining, in a way we today associate more with Lenny Bruce, that Richard Pryor had been witnessed “in the late ‘60’s” by a policewoman saying the words “bullshit, shit, motherfucker, penis, asshole” during a public performance. The distance between “free expression” and “annoying the audience for the sake of it” is pretty small, and in addition to some salubrious footage of women in various states of disrobe, we also get a pointless and somewhat sickening exegesis of a comic book about slicing women in two with a buzzsaw. Early on, I had been thinking that Chicken Dynamite is an almost perfect cinematic equivalent of SCREW Magazine, when who should materialize on the screen but Al Goldstein and Jim Buckley themselves.

Andy Warhol was one of the few luminaries who apparently did consent to be filmed, for a short sequence in which Ondine reads aloud from Warhol’s book a: A Novel while Warhol looks on. John and Yoko weren’t involved; their bit is just a statement about peace from the Montreal Bed-In a couple years earlier. The link to National Lampoon, mostly a spiritual one, is made explicit with a clip of Michael O’Donoghue, then one of the chief writers at the magazine, in a spoof of a cigarette commercial. There’s a bit towards the end in which Ron Carey (known to me primarily as a bit player on Barney Miller) dresses up as a priest and does some soft-shoe in front of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral on 5th Ave., scored to Lionel Goldbart’s “God Loves Rock and Roll” that is pretty delightful.

The footage with Pryor was shot outdoors in a single day; Pryor riffs on a bunch of raunchy material while messing with a basketball somewhere in the projects. At this point in Pryor’s career, the similarities with Dave Chappelle were (in hindsight) particularly strong. After Pryor became a big movie star in the early 1980s, he apparently became annoyed with his association with Chicken Dynamite, as he successfully sued to bar “the distributors of the film ... from emphasizing his role in the film,” according to an issue of Jet from December 1982.
 

 
In the end, Chicken Dynamite was probably a little bit dated even when it came out. It’s a movie made by people who are waaaaay too “serious” to be funny, for the most part. It’s the kind of movie that even if you are “enjoying” it, you might choose to turn it off before reach the end of its 75-minute running time, just because it wears you out. Still, some parts are pretty entertaining, and it’s worth a look for those who missed the era and those who didn’t.
 

 

Posted by Martin Schneider
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02.04.2015
02:33 pm
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Cognitive Dissonance: Paul Krassner’s ‘Fuck Communism’ banner, 1963
10.10.2014
01:54 pm
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Fuck Communism
 
Paul Krassner started his trailblazing periodical of radical countercultural satire, The Realist, in 1959 as a reaction to what he saw as a lack of humorous political commentary targeting the sometimes ridiculous, often ominous issues of the day.  His intention was to create sort of an adult MAD magazine, a publication to which he was frequent contributor.  The Realist became one of the most celebrated underground publications of all time and, with the exception of a hiatus between 1974 and 1985, remained in print until 2001.

Krassner himself was not only the driving force behind the The Realist but was also a child violin prodigy, a founding member of the YIPPIES, a stand-up comedian and an all-around pretty damned funny guy. If you’re not familiar with Krassner’s sense of humor, you could find worst places to start than The Realist’s “FUCK COMMUNISM” poster published in 1963.

The poster in question designed by long-time MAD magazine art director and Realist contributor John Francis Putnam was meant to be not only hilarious, but also a linguistic conundrum to the knee-jerk set.  You know “Better dead than red and all, but the F-word is just so filthy.” 

Here’s Kurt Vonnegut addressing the poster in his forward to Krassner’s 1996 collection entitled The Winner of the Slow Bicycle Race: The Satirical Writings of Paul Krassner:

Paul Krassner …  in 1963 created a miracle of compressed intelligence nearly as admirable for potent simplicity, in my opinion, as Einstein’s e=mc2.  With the Vietnam War going on, and with its critics discounted and scorned by the government and the mass media, Krassner put on sale a red, white and blue poster that said FUCK COMMUNISM.

At the beginning of the 1960s, FUCK was believed to be so full of bad magic as to be unprintable. COMMUNISM was to millions the name of the most loathsome evil imaginable.  To call an American a communist was like calling somebody a Jew in Nazi Germany.  By having FUCK and COMMUNISM fight it out in a single sentence, Krassner wasn’t merely being funny as heck.  He was demonstrating how preposterous it was for so many people to be responding to both words with such cockamamie Pavlovian fear and alarm.

 
Realist Krassner Interview
 
A FUCK COMMUNISM bumper sticker was also released. Krassner said if anyone had a problem with it, the critic should be told to “Go back to Russia, you Commie lover.”

You can find the entire Realist Archive Project, a veritable treasure trove/rabbit hole of underground press glory, here. The site indicates that “The Mothers of the American Revolution,” listed as a contact at the bottom right of the poster, was a fictitious organization deployed by writers at The Realist when they needed to get in touch with individuals that wouldn’t otherwise respond to somebody affiliated with the controversial rag. 

Now in his 80’s, Krassner is currently working on his first novel about a performer modeled after Lenny Bruce. His new book is Patty Hearst & The Twinkie Murders: A Tale of Two Trials.

In the clip below, we find Krassner in an interview with pioneering conservative TV talk show host, Joe Pyne—Bill O’Reilly’s “papa bear” as it were—in 1967. Pyne berates Krassner about his persistent use of the “filthiest four-letter word in the English language,” Krassner’s deep respect for Lenny Bruce, and a front-page headline in The Realist that asks what kind of deodorant Lyndon Johnson wears.  Pyne is beside himself with disgust. Despite the annoying text overlay on the video, it gives a great sense of the kind of visceral hatred that Krassner could inspire amongst those who just couldn’t get down with his unrelenting irreverence.
 

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Paul Krassner wins PEN lifetime achievement award
Paul Krassner: How a satirical editor became a one man underground railroad of abortion referrals

Posted by Jason Schafer
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10.10.2014
01:54 pm
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Shocking Pink: ‘Back Issues: The Hustler Magazine Story’


 
Subversion. Such a tasty word tied the fine art of discovering the hidden in unlikely places. The finest treasures are always the ones you have to sift and work for. It’s one of the best perks of delving into any type of fringe entertainment that resides completely outside the county line of respectability. Fewer publications wear that description like a well tailored latex suit better than Hustler Magazine. Even to this day, people have a strong reaction to the name Hustler. Visions of crude cartoons, anatomical close-ups of assorted labia majora and minora and an overall commitment to bad taste in general usually comes to mind. Of course all of these are correct assertions but even better is that in addition to the obvious there is much more beneath the surface and for that, thank goodness for Michael Lee Nirenberg and his fantastic documentary, Back Issues: The Hustler Magazine Story.

Unlike your typical documentary, Back Issues is a double story. It begins partially as Nirenberg’s own journey, with his father Bill, who was the magazine’s art director during its golden era of the late 70’s and off and on during the early to mid 80’s. The film opens with the two talking about one of Hustler’s more ridiculous covers, featuring a glammed out blonde and one very excited German Shepherd. Their interaction is humorous and revealing in a sweet-but-non-treacly sort of way.
 
Mount Rushmore of Smut Magazines
 
The other journey is that of the magazine itself. Founded by nightclub owner Larry Flynt in 1974, Hustler was originally a mini newsprint publication. It soon was expanded into a full fledged, glossy magazine. Dirty! Dirty! Dirty! author Mike Edison talks about the Mount Rushmore of the skin rag publishers which includes the staid Hugh Hefner, the vasaline-covered-lens loving Bob Guccione, the original subversive ground breaker Al Goldstein and the man himself, Larry Flynt.

The film delves into the origins of Hustler, which could not have taken root without Al Goldstein and his own equally infamous, legendary magazine, Screw. We’re talking right down from the latter’s “Shit List,” which begat Flynt’s “Asshole of the Month” column. There are some great interviews here with Goldstein, shot over a year before he passed in December 2013 and adult film star, Ron Jeremy, who jokes about “the Slime Pack,” which consisted of Flynt, Goldstein and himself.
 
Bill Nirenberg, Dennis Hopper & Larry Flynt
Dennis Hopper, Hustler’s Bill Nirenberg and Larry Flynt

One of the strongest qualities about Hustler was that it was a blue collar magazine with a strong intellectual streak that could border on surreal. Among the many quotable gems of Chairman Flynt is “I’d rather have ten truck drivers reading Hustler than one college professor.” What a perfect thumb up the bum of the bourgeoisie pretensions of magazines like Playboy. Even with that or maybe because of that attitude, Hustler still managed to get interviews and contributions with writers ranging from Charles Bukowski to Norman Mailer (whose finest work will forever be getting one-upped via hammer and insane LSD-laced brilliance courtesy of Rip Torn), among others.
 
Larry Flynt
 
Hustler got a taste of its first big infamy when they published nude paparazzi style pics of Jackie Onassis. (Screw, naturally, had published them first a few months before.) But that was only the beginning, as the film delves into the assorted trials and tribulations of both the magazine and its founder, ranging from assorted and legally important 1st Amendment fights, religious conversions, involving Larry having the entire staff watch the Oscar-winning documentary Marjoe detailing the activities of huckster traveling preacher and future character actor Marjoe Gortner, presidential campaigns and of course, the assassination attempt on Larry’s life that left him paralyzed. In one impressive and disturbing coup, the film interviews white supremacist, serial killer and the man who attempted to murder Larry, Joseph Paul Franklin. Franklin, who was later on executed in November 2013 and was in fact, never even convicted for trying to murder Flynt, talks about being incensed by an interracial pictorial in the magazine. This may surprise you, but Franklin is every bit as creepy and damaged as one would expect! Central casting couldn’t have picked someone to fit the multiple-murderer/racist/bent-case better than him.
 
Paul Krassner
 
The film then goes into the Paul Krassner years. A founding member of the Yippie movement who also got to work with the great and equally anti-establishment Lenny Bruce, Krassner was a fascinating, if not always popular fit for the magazine. Some of the most infamous covers came out during his tenure, including the crucified Easter bunny and the eternally misinterpreted “woman in the meat grinder” issue. Nirenberg goes into perfect detail about this particular issue, revealing the actual intent behind it. In a way, it perfectly represents the magazine. Crude irreverence inter-spliced with brutal social commentary, with the balls-out equal opportunity offensive attitude always putting the magazine at risk for misinterpretation.
 
Huster Infamous June 1978
 
One of the best things about Back Issues is that it highlights perfectly that there were no dummies at this magazine. Quite the reverse. Bill Nirenberg, Krassner, Dwayne “Chester the Molester” Tinsley, Stephen Sayadian, whom while not in the film, did work on the Thing Fish-themed spread for Frank Zappa (with 80s punk porn process Lois Ayres) and directed such legendary surrealistic skin flicks like Cafe Flesh and Dr. Caligari, and of course, at the helm, Larry and Althea Flynt. This is just the tip of the iceberg but the strong undercurrent of creative brilliance, working class ethos and a healthy disrespect for authority all shine sweet and strong in Back Issues. Even the soundtrack, which is a beyond stellar compilation of punk songs from legends like The Circle Jerks and The Adolescents, reflects the beautifully anarchic nature of Hustler and its merry band of smart misfits.

Featuring great interviews, spectacular editing and pulsating with plenty of heart, humor, piss and vinegar, Back Issues is a fine and very much needed documentary. In a cultural climate that is more conservative now than back when Hustler was still a little newspaper from a stripclub owner, we need to be reminded of the people that took a chance, that offended and that cared enough to never bullshit us. That is the heart-core of Back Issues.
 

Posted by Heather Drain
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05.21.2014
12:24 pm
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Paul Krassner: How a satirical editor became a one man underground railroad of abortion referrals
02.07.2013
12:33 pm
Topics:
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Paul Krassner, Tuli Kupferberg and unidentified woman. Photo by Paskal / The Rag Blog.

Iconic American satirist Paul Krassner is writing a series of six monthly columns for AlterNet and the first is a damned good read.

In the rather blandly titled, “‘60s Icon Paul Krassner Reveals His Early History,” Krassner, a guy I admire, revere and consider both a hero and a friend, tells the amazing story of how an interview with an anonymous illegal abortion provider that he published in The Realist in 1962 led to desperate women calling him for advice—effectively seeing him become an “underground railroad” of abortion referrals and eventually facing legal troubles himself.

The Q&A that ran in The Realist with Dr. Robert Spencer, a humane doctor known to his grateful patients as “The Saint"and who charged between $5 and $100 to perform the surgeries, was revealing of the harsh reality of illegal abortion in America, pre-Roe v. Wade and the hypocrisy of the times. Ministers’ daughters, FBI agents, even priests came to Dr. Spencer’s clinic with the housekeepers they’d knocked-up. 5,000 women died every year back then, killed by criminal butchers who charged as much as $1,500.

After that issue was published, I began to get phone calls from frightened women. They were all in desperate search of a safe abortion doctor. It was preposterous that they should have to seek out the editor of a satirical magazine, but their quest so far had been futile, and they simply didn’t know where else to turn.

With Dr. Spencer’s permission, I referred them to him. At first there were only a few calls each week, then several every day. I had never intended to become an underground abortion referral service, but it wasn’t going to stop just because in the next issue of The Realist I would publish an interview with somebody else.

A few years later, state police raided Dr. Spencer’s clinic and arrested him. He remained out of jail only by the grace of political pressure from those he’d helped. He was finally forced to retire from his practice, but I continued mine, referring callers to other physicians that he had recommended. Occasionally a patient would offer me money, but I never accepted it. And whenever a doctor offered me a kickback, I refused, but I also insisted that he give a discount for the same amount to those patients I referred to him.

Eventually, I was subpoenaed by district attorneys in two cities to appear before grand juries investigating criminal charges against abortion doctors. On both occasions I refused to testify, and each time the D.A. tried to frighten me into cooperating with the threat of arrest.

In Liberty, New York, my name had been extorted from a patient who was threatened with arrest. The D.A. told me that the doctor had confessed everything and they got it all on tape. He gave me until two o’clock that afternoon to change my mind about testifying, or else the police would come to take me away.

“I’d better call my lawyer,” I told him.

In 1970 Paul Krassner even sued New York State as the sole plaintiff in the first lawsuit seeking to declare the abortion laws unconstitutional. Eventually several women’s groups joined the suit and the state legislature repealed criminal sanctions against abortion. This happened before the Supreme Court decision in Roe vs. Wade.

Being the imp of perversity that he was, and still is, for a short time in the late 1970s, Paul Krassner, probably the most feminist guy of the 1960s, became the editor of Hustler magazine during the time when Larry Flynt was going through his “born again” Christian phase…

A new expanded edition of Paul Krassner’s autobiography Confessions of a Raving, Unconfined Nut: Misadventures in the Counterculture is available directly from the author.

Below, a 2009 interview that I conducted with the great Paul Krassner:
 

Posted by Richard Metzger
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02.07.2013
12:33 pm
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Happy Birthday Paul Krassner: Father of the underground press turns 80 today!
04.09.2012
01:05 pm
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Paul Krassner, Tuli Kupferberg of The Fugs and an unidentified woman. Photo by Paskal / The Rag Blog

“I predict that in time Paul Krassner will wind up as the only live Lenny Bruce.”—Groucho Marx, 1971

A very happy birthday to the great Paul Krassner! The father of the underground press (although he demanded a paternity test), editor of The Realist, Yippie co-founder and inspiration to two generations of rabble-rousers, turns 80 today.

You know when someone bullshits an old guy and says that they’re “80 years young!” or some nonsense like that? Well, that kind of line isn’t BS when discussing the perpetually youthful Mr. Krassner. Truly, Paul is the youngest 80-year-old I know. It’s an honor to be his friend.

Here’s an excerpt from Paul’s description of tripping on LSD while on the witness stand at the Chicago 7 trial:

I was scheduled to testify at the Conspiracy Trial in January, 1970. On the evening before, Abbie coached me with a chronology of Yippie meetings, but trying to memorize all those dates and places made me nervous. It was like being unprepared for an important history exam. And Abbie gave me mixed messages. On one hand, he told me, “There’s nothing you can do to help us, you can only harm us.” On the other hand, he told me, “I want you to give the judge a heart attack.” I assured him, “I’ll do my best.” I didn’t sleep much that night.

I had brought a stash of LSD with me, but things were too tense for an acid party. Instead, I decided to take a tab of acid before I took the witness stand—- call me a sentimental fool—- but it wasn’t merely to enhance the experience. I had a more functional reason. My purpose was twofold. I knew that if I ingested 300 micrograms of LSD after eating a big meal, I was very likely to throw up in court. That would be my theatrical statement on the injustice of the trial. Also, I wouldn’t need to memorize so much information that way. I had to psych myself up, to imagine it actually happening. The prosecutor would ask, “Now where did this meeting take place?” And I would go “Waughhhhhppp!” They couldn’t charge me with contempt of court because they wouldn’t know I had done it on purpose. The judge would say, “Bailiff, get him out of here!” But just as he was dragging me away, I would get one more projectile off, onto the judge’s podium—- “Waughhhhhppp!” And, although there would be no photographic record of this incident because cameras weren’t allowed, courtroom artists would capture my vomit with green and gold charcoal crayons for the eleven o’clock news.

Next day at lunch, while the others were passing around a chunk of hash, I took out a tab of LSD. Abbie said, “What’s that, acid? I don’t think that’s a good idea.” Jerry said, “I think he should do it.” I swallowed it despite what both of them said. The acid really began to hit while I was waiting in the witness room. A few volunteers were watching film footage of Dave Dellinger pleading with a crowd at the convention: “Stay calm! Stay calm! ” I said, “Boy, when the jury sees this, it’ll really be clear that Dave was doing anything but trying to start a riot.” The volunteers laughed. “Are you kidding?” said one. “They’re never gonna allow that to be admitted as evidence.” Then suddenly I was thrust into the middle of a Looney Toons cartoon. It happened at the precise moment that I was escorted into the court by Tom Hayden and Jerry Rubin—- or, as I perceived them, Tom and Jerry. The furniture started dancing merrily.

Judge Julius Hoffman looked exactly like Elmer Fudd. I expected him to proclaim, “Let’s get them pesky wadicals!” The court clerk looked exactly like Goofy. It didn’t matter that a Disney character was making a guest appearance in a Looney Toons cartoon—- one learns to accept such discrepancies in a dreamlike state. Now I was being instructed by Goofy to raise my right hand and place my left hand on a Bible that was positively vibrating. “Do you hereby swear,” asked Goofy, “that the testimony you are about to give in the cause now on trial before this court and jury shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?” The truth for me was that LSD—- or any other catalyst for getting in closer touch with your subconscious; whether it be meditation, Zen, yoga—- served as a reminder that choices are being made every moment. So naturally I assumed that Goofy was offering me a choice. “No,” I replied.

Although I hadn’t planned to say that, I realized it was a first in American jurisprudence. Ordinarily, the more heinous a crime the more eagerly will a defendant take the oath. However, my refusal to swear on the Bible was a leap of faith. Everything was swirling around in pastel colors, but there was still a core of reality I was able to grasp, and somehow I managed to flash back to a civics class in junior high school when we had studied the Bill of Rights in general and the First Amendment in particular. Now I found myself passing that lesson on to Goofy. “I believe in the constitutional provision for the separation of church and state, so I will choose to affirm to tell the truth.”

Paul Krassner was given PEN Oakland’s Reginald Lockett Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010. He is now working on his first novel.

My Acid Trip with Groucho by Paul Krassner

Below, Wally Wood’s infamous drawing for the Disney Memorial Orgy, a centerfold that appeared in The Realist after Uncle Walt died.
 
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Posted by Richard Metzger
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04.09.2012
01:05 pm
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An intimate video of Timothy Leary being interviewed by Paul Krassner in September of 1995

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Two of the planet’s most dangerous minds, Timothy Leary and Paul Krassner, meet in a video shot by Nancy Cain, Paul’s wife, a few months before Leary’s death.

There is an aura of sadness (perhaps mine) laced with much humor and hope in this intimate video. Understandably wistful and distracted at times (he’s dying), Leary becomes most alive when talking about death. He seems to be genuinely excited about exploring the psychedelic possibilities of the final frontier (or is it?), the ultimate out-of-body experience, THE death trip. In these moments you see the fearless shaman who always embraced expanding his realities, regardless of public outcry or legal persecution. And it is both moving and inspiring.

In an e-mail message to Dangerous Minds, Nancy reminisced about Leary and that day in September of 1995:

Paul and Timothy had been friends since the early days at Millbrook when the famous LSD experiments took place. Now that Timothy had inoperable prostate cancer that was moving into his bones, we stopped by more often to visit him at his home up Laurel Canyon. Even though he was not well, Timothy was ever the perfect host. On the afternoon of this interview I had tagged along, and Paul and Tim were happy to have me record what would probably be one of the last times they would be together. Paul interviewed Tim. I could feel the sweetness and the warmth that they felt for each other. The back and forth and banter was wonderful. Tim’s remarks about technology and the future still seem fresh and innovative today.

Among other visits with Tim in Laurel Canyon, I recall one Sunday afternoon with guests Ed Moses, the painter, Harry Dean Stanton, the actor, and Aline Getty, the heiress (by marriage). Aline was currently touring with Timothy, doing college gigs. They had a traveling psychedelic video show and gave a talk on the subject of death. They were both near it. Death, that is. Aline had AIDS and Tim had senility (so he said). They did a flashy good show, which I had seen at Chapman College in Orange County. That afternoon Aline was playing us the videotape that she and Tim shot the previous week when they were busted at the airport in Dallas for smoking a cigarette inside the terminal. They set the whole thing up (perhaps more of an art event, I thought), arriving in a silver stretch limo and video of them looking around the airport for a police officer to light up in front of. The nice young cop said, “Oh, please go outside to smoke—don’t do this—you give me no choice.” So Aline and Tim were busted and carted off to a place where the camcorder couldn’t go. They were the first, I think, to get popped for any nicotine-related crime, other than Connie Francis (smoking on an actual airplane). I think it was quite satisfying for them. Especially for Aline. Tim, after all, had already had some rather more astonishingly terrifying adventures, including escaping from prison and being a fugitive.

On an afternoon not long before he died, I recall Tim asking each of his guests to join him in a balloonful of nitrous oxide. At first I said no, but Timothy pointed out, “Why not?” He shuffled over to his closet carrying a gigantic wrench, pulled back the sliding door and revealed the hugest tank of nitrous I had ever seen.

During the political conventions in 1972 in Miami, there was a lot of nitrous. We had what they called E-tanks full of the gas. Hudson Marquez, of TVTV, scored it by posing as a whipped-cream artist. Nitrous is used to propel whipped cream, which I hadn’t known until then. An E-tank of nitrous, which is the size you see at the dentist’s office, is heavy but it can be carried. The tank in Timothy Leary’s closet would need to be moved on a dolly. Anyway, Timmy took his wrench to the thing and expertly filled the first balloon. “Here ya go. Take it back over to the bed so you can fall back if you like. But wait till we all get there so we can do it together.” We had our twenty seconds that day.

On the day Timothy Leary died, Friday May 31, 1996, on Channel 9 they said it happened a few moments after midnight. The news crew interviewed a friend who was standing out on Timothy’s driveway. She said that he suddenly sat up in his bed and said, “Why?” Then a moment later, “Why not?” He seemed excited and he died. Channel 9 then showed a recent clip of Timothy standing outside a club on Hollywood Boulevard wearing a jazzy black and white sport jacket. On TV, Timothy was disregarding the reporter altogether and looking directly into the camera. “Don’t ask me anything,” Timothy was saying. “Think for yourself.” Then he added, “And question authority!”

We’re pleased to share Nancy Cain’s video of Paul Krassner interviewing Timothy Leary (October 22, 1920 – May 31, 1996) on September 5, 1995 in its entirety.

For insight on the cultural impact of video read Nancy’s fascinatingly informative “Video Days.”

Paul Krassner’s homepage is a motherlode of wit, insight, provocation and counterculture history. Indispensable.
 

 
Previously on Dangerous Minds: Richard Metzger interviews Paul Krassner.

Posted by Marc Campbell
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01.20.2011
07:47 pm
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Paul Krassner wins PEN lifetime achievement award
12.15.2010
11:03 am
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Congratulations to Dangerous Minds pal, the great Paul Krassner, who was given the PEN Oakland’s Reginald Lockett Lifetime Achievement Award this weekend. From the Berkeley Daily Planet:

PEN Oakland director and poet Gerald Nicosia introduced Paul Krassner as founder of The Realist, cofounder of the Yippies, confederate and editor for Lenny Bruce, and the author of a half-dozen books. Nicosia added a little-known note from Krassner’s long counter-cultural resume (which includes the accolade, “Court Jester to the Revolution”). During a stint as a radio DJ in New York, Krassner got into trouble for broadcasting advice on safe and professional abortion services. Krassner’s advocacy drew the attention of the authorities and resulted in a New York court trial. This trial, Nicosia noted, eventual lead to the historic Supreme Court ruling, Roe versus Wade, which legalized the choice option for America’s women.

Krassner was the crowd’s favorite. The applause that erupted as he hobbled toward the podium quickly gave way to a standing ovation (and what better way to salute a stand-up comic?). Despite turning 78 in April, Krassner still radiates the same boyish exuberance that has endeared him to readers and cabaret crowds for more than five decades. Krassner’s only concession to age would appear to be the sturdy cane he leans on, but his bum leg is not a sign of aging — it’s the legacy of a police beating he sustained in the Sixties.

As the author of “Confessions of a Raving, Unconfined Nut” and other counter-culture classics, Krassner admitted some embarrassment at receiving the honor. “After spending most of my life as an iconoclast,” he said, he found it strange that he has come to be “treated as an icon.” But he expressed his deep appreciation for one aspect of the award. “I’m thankful that his plaque is not being awarded posthumously.” Krassner spoke about his current project: “Writing my first, long-awaited (at least by me) novel.” He related how he had complained to a friend that writing a novel is such an intense, creative process. “Why is it so hard?” his friend asked. “You’ve spent your whole life making thing up.” “Yes,” Krassner replied, “but that was journalism!”

 

 
Thank you, Michael Simmons!

Posted by Richard Metzger
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12.15.2010
11:03 am
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Paul Krassner: Stand-up comedy fundraiser for Peace & Freedom Party in Los Angeles
09.27.2010
10:16 am
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Nice to hear that Dangerous Minds pal, “raving, unconfined nut” and legendary countercultural figure, Paul Krassner, will be receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award from prestigious writer’s organization PEN, on Saturday afternoon, December 11, at the Oakland Public Library in Oakland, CA. Knowing Paul, I’m sure he’s is as thrilled as he is amused by this wonderful recognition.

Also, if you happen to be lucky enough to live in Los Angeles, then next Sunday, you are in for a treat. Michael Simmons, writing in the LA Weekly:

Paul Krassner has led a remarkable life: Lenny Bruce’s collaborator, editor of The Realist , co-founder of the Yippies, stand-up agitator and investigative satirist. All of it is chronicled in his autobiography, 1993’s Confessions of a Raving, Unconfined Nut: Misadventures in the Counter-Culture, an essential bible for troublemakers and recommended reading for those seeking aid, comfort and laughs amid our glut of bad news. Krassner never endeared himself to the powers-that-be and the book’s title designation was courtesy of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. As George Carlin said, “The FBI was right: This man is dangerous—and funny, and necessary.” An expanded Confessions… is being published in paperback this October and will be available by Kindle and Nook as an eBook from New World Digital later this year. (One can see Paul reading sections on paulkrassner.com.)

As a combination book launch and benefit for candidates for the Peace & Freedom Party, Krassner will perform tonight with comics Marc Maron, Rick Overton, Ann Randolph, Jimmy Dore, Kelly Carlin, Gary Gordon, Jann Karam and MC Paul Lyons. The Peace and Freedom Party was founded in 1967, the same year as the Yippies, and are fielding candidates on the California ballot in November for U.S. and State Senate and Congress. If you want your vote to stand for justice without corporate pursestrings attached, voting for Peace and Freedom folk is a choice—not one endorsed by the L.A. Weekly , but a choice nonetheless.

Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 Second St.; Santa Monica CA, October 3rd, reception starts at 6pm.

Below, a fun interview I did with Paul Krassner in the Summer of 2009. I always enjoy seeing Paul (and his lovely wife, Nancy) immensely:
 

Posted by Richard Metzger
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09.27.2010
10:16 am
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Paul Krassner: Who’s To Say What’s Obscene?
08.03.2009
11:47 am
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Satirist, counter culture icon and all around iconoclast, Paul Krassner, author of the new collection, Who’s to Say What’s Obscene?: Politics, Culture, and Comedy in America Today. Topics include the definition of obscenity in today’s America, the Obama presidency and what it means for political satire, Jon Stewart and The Daily Show’s influence on younger people, the state of the “underground press” today and a lot more. Recorded at Mahalo Studios, special thanks to Jason Calacanis and Alex Miller. Cut live by Alex Miller and edited by Bradley Novicoff. Floor manager Darren Dodge. Produced by Bradley Novicoff and Tara McGinley

 

READ ON
Posted by Richard Metzger
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08.03.2009
11:47 am
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