"Art is suspect if it doesn’t jingle in our pockets. Dreamers are true activists. They take to the streets in their heads and raise a victory flag in their hearts."
Paul Fericano: Smart Smile Dreamer
Paul Fericano is editor/publisher of The Broadsider and Poor Souls Press, and editor and co-founder of the first parody news syndicate, Yossarian Universal News Service (1980). He is the instigator of the Howitzer Prize hoax (1982) and founder of Stoogism (1976), a mock-literary movement that mocked all literary movements.
His work has appeared in numerous publications since 1972, including The New York Quarterly, Poetry Now, The Atlantic Review, Mother Jones, The Realist, Free Lunch, Abbey, The Wormwood Review, Projector, Punch (London), and Krokodil (Moscow). His several books and chapbooks of poetry include, Commercial Break, Sinatra, Sinatra, Driving to Reno with Freud, and Loading the Revolver With Real Bullets. He is also the co-author (with Elio Ligi) of the political satire, The One Minute President (Stroessner Verlag, 1984).
Since 2003 Paul has been the director of SafeNet, a small nonprofit that focuses on healing and reconciliation issues regarding clerical sexual abuse.
Do you believe "Stoogism" has seen justice? That literature can confront the “prison” of the spirit and mind?
Absolutely. True poetic justice is our obsession to be connected to everyone and everything with little or no intention of communicating honestly. Reality TV is one indication that we are slowly slipping into the morass of our own frenzied non-existence. We happily immerse ourselves in the underwater wrecks of other people’s lives week after week. Many of us claim to be abhorred by this painful, public spectacle of self-conscious, self- revilement. And yet, we have no problem informing the rest of the world on Facebook that the sushi we ate last night gave us diarrhea. If literature is ever going to confront the prison of the spirit and the mind it has to do it through consequence and circumstance. Expanding the inconsequential and imploring the circumstantial are risky but necessary components of a sane presence. Accept what you don’t know and you embrace a genuine life free of mouthwash commercials, SUVs, and people eager to show you they aren’t wearing any underpants.
What do you learn about yourself from the literature and satire? What has it offered you?
Mostly that if you want to discover any bit of truth about yourself, or anything else for that matter, you have to summon the courage to make it up as you go along. I’ve also learned that a self-addressed-stamped-envelope is no guarantee you’ll get anything returned to you. When someone says you have to play by the rules hand them a copy of Henry Kissinger’s autobiography. When someone talks about being reasonable it’s safe to assume they’ve never read an issue of Poetry magazine. (Or, worse yet, they have.) Poets Dan Gerber and Barry Spacks, two men I consider “big brothers,” have wisely counseled me to “read what’s inside the box at least twice” and to be “fearless in the face of your own stupidity.”
What characterize the philosophy of "Stoogism"?
There’s the simple version and the complex version. Most prefer the simple version because it means they don’t have to get off their medication to understand it. The simple is that Stoogism is a mock-literary movement that satirizes the pretensions of all literary schools and everything literature and writing in the culture pretends to be (and usually is not). It was inspired by the absurdist humor of The Three Stooges and their two-reel comedies, the ones mostly made in the thirties (1934 – 41). The trio made millions laugh during the Great Depression with some of the wildest swipes at society on film. When you study these short films (18-22 minutes) from that period you clearly see a method to their slapstick madness. They were blessed with some very talented writers and directors at Columbia Pictures (Del Lord, Felix Adler, Clyde Bruckman, Charley Chase, Edward Ullman, Andrew Bennison) who clearly understood the suffering of the times and the need for people to escape not just into another world, but multiple worlds where sense and nonsense formed a seamless blanket under which you could huddle against the insanity.
Fans of poet and writer Tom Clark, whom I admire and respect (though I’ve never been able to figure out what he puts in his coffee), might have you believe that Clark was responsible for coining the word “stoogism” in 1979. It’s further indication of how misguided we are when we rely on information someone else wrote about us on Wikipedia. The truth is, the word “stoogism” was actually dreamed up in the summer of 1976 by fiction writer Greg Siliato and I during lunch at a tiny restaurant called “The Famous Frankfurter” in Millbrae, California (which is still there). We were the only patrons in the place that day and we ordered two foot-longs and two draft beers from the owner. No sooner had we placed our order and sat down when the same owner hollered out, “Who ordered two draft beers?” We thought it was a joke and ignored him. He hollered again, “Who ordered two draft beers?” We looked around the empty restaurant and Stoogism was born. Shortly after that I became a vegetarian.
The complex version of Stoogism is a lot more in keeping with the philosophy of impermanence and the rhythm of transitory objects. The Stoogist Manifesto, published in 1980, made it clear that given the choice between eating the pie of destiny and throwing it, the stoogist was compelled to choose the latter every time. Stoogism is a kind of spiritual practice in which writing in the real world (about the real world) is a kind of sacred act. If we believe the true nature of reality to be absurd, we’re inclined to acknowledge that any notion of reality and the facts produced to support it doesn’t make much sense, including any attempts to explain or understand it.
We’re simply ill-equipped to figure out what we’re incapable of comprehending. The human brain will evolve a million years before ever coming close. We can’t possibly understand even a fraction of the world we live in. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to probe the great mysteries of our time. (I, for one, would like to know how the Gideons get into all those hotel rooms.) And yet we’re expected to struggle each day of our lives to make sense of the mostly inconsequential blither and blabber of life. I believe our mistake might be that many of us are looking for the right answers when what we should be doing is asking the wrong questions. We’ll never be able to explain, for example, why so many poets in America suffer from severe depression caused by rejection slips from The New Yorker. Or why others weep uncontrollably whenever they hear Garrison Keillor’s voice on the radio reading a poem that isn’t theirs. It’s ludicrous when artificial standards for excellence are measured against their own superficialities. We accomplish varying degrees of success and failure on miniscule levels every day of our lives and then happily reduce everything to a sound byte or a so-called “learning experience” that pretty much resembles this paragraph and, of course, makes about as much sense to most people.
How do you describe Paul Fericano's poetry and projects?
I was influenced by the satiric writings of Joseph Heller (fiction), Paul Krassner (non-fiction) and Edward Field (poetry). All three taught me that popular culture as prime subject matter required a radical redrawing of boundaries. It was necessary and essential to be contemporary, for example, but it was also imperative to weave topicality into the fabric of one’s own history. I’m a private person, but I reveal a great deal about myself in my poetry and satires. I feel I’m lucky in the sense that I can endlessly mine my life for material without needing any outside writing prompts. I value and honor my working class roots and believe that blue collar poets and writers (for lack of a better term) are dangerously underestimated in a literary world that seems to revolve almost exclusively around an MFA sun.
My real education was not so much “street smarts” as it was “home smarts.” I was one of those kids who paid very close attention to what was going on in his own family and in the families around him. It was a microcosm for the rest of the planet. I was keenly aware of my place in the home and everyone else’s. Memory is selective and there are many lessons to be learned from going back. It’s not just your own past but that great collective past. It has less to do with dwelling there and everything to do with being present there. It’s a great portal into our highest joys and deepest sorrows. It’s no wonder so many keep the door locked. It can be a very painful and scary place to visit. My writing attempts to walk and speak directly to, from and through this experience of family and people coming together, breaking apart and struggling to come together again. And to view it all through a flipped lens. This is what informs a lot of my work.
My father was a manual laborer who did what it took to provide for his family. He fished, dug ditches, drove a truck, worked in a warehouse, sold fruits and vegetables off a truck, and even went door-to-door on weekends offering fresh eggs to neighbors just to make a few extra dollars. He was very good with his hands and could build anything. When he and my mother divorced it was very sad and very bad. He didn’t see his kids for years after that and he made some dumb choices, but he was no deadbeat. He always paid child support and made sure his check was in the mail at the end of the month. Whatever issues he had with my mother he tried to avoid causing his children any more suffering than they had already experienced. I never forgot that.
Projects I’m proud of include establishing my own publishing imprint in the early seventies, Poor Souls Press (formerly Scarecrow Books) and continuing it to this day; co-founding Yossarian Universal New Service (YU News) in 1980 with friend and writing partner (Elio) Ligi, and creating the first parody news syndicate at a time when virtually nobody was writing so-called “fake” news stories and distributing them to media outlets all over the world. I’m also proud of The One Minute President, a political satire Ligi and I published at the height of Ronald Reagan’s popularity in the eighties. Nobody was taking on his “management style” in a sharply comic way that projected what the future held in store for a country that blindly adopted the false philosophy of Reganism. The One Minute President was the most fun we had with the country during that time.
In 1977 I edited Stoogism Anthology, both a rare collection of satiric work by 47 writers, and a unique poetry and film tribute to The Three Stooges. It was an unexpected success in terms of gaining the respect of poets and writers from different schools who all sat around the big poetry table. Nothing before had been attempted, grafting poetry and film and satire. Ironically, the satiric notion of Stoogism as a movement was later embraced by others, including Allen Ginsberg who dubbed Stoogism “the only movement with a punch line.” Charles Bukowski called it “ass boggling,” and Pulitzer Prize winning poet Karl Shapiro simply wrote, “Stoogism is the poetry that makes us wake up and go to sleep.”
Other poets and writers I know and admire have adopted a certain “stoogist” attitude over the years. These include: Peter Cherches, A.D. Winans, David Shevin, Kurt Lipschutz, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Ronald Koertge, B.L. Kennedy, Leon Spiro, Steve Kowit, Javier Pacheco, lyn lifshin, Robert Scotellaro, John Bennett, Wanda Coleman, Art Beck, Philip Dacey, Laurel Speer, Richard Grayson, Billy Collins, Robert Peters, Martin Ott, Ann Menebroker, John F. Buckley, Don Skiles, Teresinka Pereira, Denise Duhamel, Gerald Locklin, Jose Antonio Burciaga and, of course, the great and powerful Ligi.
(Photo: Paul Fericano and A.D. Winans, Bird & Beckett Books, San Francisco, 2011)
Since the 70s – what has changed towards the best – for our civilization and culture and what has gone wrong?
When I look at the incredible amount of pain and suffering we needlessly inflict on ourselves and others all over the world it’s hard to think we’ve learned how to change anything for the best in forty or fifty years. I think whatever good we’ve been trying to achieve to make life a better place probably won’t manifest itself for years. And I think that’s being hopeful, not cynical. I’m an optimist. I believe people want to help each other and I believe healing helps us do that. Wounds are often re-opened for a reason.
My work with survivors of clerical sexual abuse over the last ten years (through the nonprofit SafeNet), has certainly demonstrated to me how important this is to those who were molested by men using God as both a shield and a threat. Wholeness is something you achieve by using all the broken pieces. To those who get it, who examine their lives truthfully and compassionately, the rest is gravy.
But I don’t kid myself. When I hear all this nonsense, for example, pouring from the mouths of Republican politicians in the American congress who are on a suicide mission to subvert and pervert the democratic process, I’m reminded that hatred and stupidity are not current crazes or some contemporary phenomena. We can survive the ignorance, selfishness and cruelty of know-nothings, and the current crop of throwbacks is no exception. Being compassionate doesn’t mean I’m anybody’s doormat.
What was the relation between music, satire, poetry and activism?
In 1981 I had editors telling me they wouldn’t publish my poems, “Sinatra, Sinatra” and “It’s Not Enough of Elvis” for fear of being sued or, worse yet, having their legs broken.
Writing a poem is subversive. Writing satire is treacherous. It’s good to plug into what we perceive to be the soundtrack of our lives but we should also be listening to the songs that define what matters. There’s a playlist of melodies out there we simply can’t download with the click of a button: birdsongs that burst in glorious gratitude for the beginning and the ending of each day; dreams of children who sleep on empty bellies; the humming of women everywhere who nurture everything. Art is suspect if it doesn’t jingle in our pockets. Dreamers are true activists. They take to the streets in their heads and raise a victory flag in their hearts. Those who complain that beauty is lost on those wearing earplugs or watching tiny screens should be careful not to fear what might hold up and what might not. The actor takes the stage not to read her lines but to bare her soul. Groucho Marx said it best: “If you can keep your pants when all about you are losing theirs and blaming you, you’re probably wearing a belt and suspenders.”
Do you believe that nowadays there’re things to change in any level? Are we in the turning point?
Moving forward is always difficult and that makes change itself a constant turning point. To me it’s already happened, is happening, and about to happen. It’s easier to accept change as something that just is. People talk about how painful change is but it’s just a golden opportunity to get things--and set things--right. You can either get in the way, get out of the way, or be the way. I didn’t make that up. Frankie Avalon did.
What would be your first decisions as president of USA?
Which is the most interesting period in your life?
What experiences make you a good poet, writer, and satirist?
Any experience I have that requires me to just shut up and listen.
"Happiness is living in uncertainty." P.F.
Photo by Kate Kelly
Which was the worst moment of your career and which was the best?
The worst moment in my career was yesterday when I realized for the umpteenth time that I didn’t have a career. The best moment in my career was today when I realized for the umpteenth time that I didn’t have a career.
How important was the music in your life? How does the music affect your mood and inspiration?
I was hooked very early on all types of music. I grew up in a very large Catholic, Italian-American family. My parents had twelve of us and it was tough getting things right in our house, including our names. But music was one thing we always seemed to get right. Besides our savage senses of humor, music was the other sticky stuff that bonded us to one another. In the late forties and fifties my father drove a truck for a record distributor that supplied the latest music albums to department stores and music shops throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. He’d usually come home with an armful of records that were discards because the covers were torn or soiled. We wouldn’t have been able to afford them otherwise. We had everything from classical and opera to jazz and blues and lots of pop and rock and roll. And some of the early 78 ragtime recordings. I mimicked and mimed a lot as a kid while we spun records in our basement. I learned how to “conduct” like Stravinksy, “sing” like Etta James and snarl like Elvis. And I did it all while acting like Jerry Lewis.
Why did you think that the blues and jazz continued to generate such a devoted following?
Music of the people. Songs of the common experience. We can all relate to heartache and suffering, even the fools who claim to be free of trouble and strife. And we can all kick up our heels, snap our fingers and groove to the sounds that come from that ancient and sacred place deep inside. The blues helps us remember where we came from and how we got here. Jazz helps us dream about where we’re going and how to get there. I think Oscar Homolka said that in a film I watched recently on Turner Classic Movies.
Do you know why the blues and jazz is connected to the Beat culture & what characterize the sound of Beats?
Bongo drums. It’s as good an explanation as any other. Bongos were a symbol of youth and rebellion incorporated into Beat culture where the bald tire of parody met the dirt road of reality. Beat was just a convenient label the media needed to assure the populace that it was safe for women and children to walk the streets. Hype was hip and vice versa. Ginsberg recognized this and wisely used it to the Beats advantage. The so-called “Beat sound” was a “happening sound” that popped and clicked. It was an “attitude sound.” Not everyone could sing the blues and play the harmonica, or shoot up and wail on the saxophone, or write poems and howl. But the bongo drum was different. I was six years old in 1957 and I specifically remember telling my parents I wanted Santa Claus to bring me bongo drums for Christmas. You didn’t have to be Gene Krupa to play them and practically anyone could learn to snap their fingers. My older brother and I used to draw goatees on our chins with our mother’s eyebrow pencil and then walk around the house with candy cigarettes dangling from our lips.
Are there any memories from Ginsberg, Bukowski, A.D. Winans, Micheline and Kaufman, which you’d like to share with us?
I first met Allen Ginsberg in 1981 at the American Library Association convention in San Francisco. I had an exhibitor’s table with my press at the time, Scarecrow Books, and Stoogsim Anthology was on display. Ginsberg dropped by with his entourage in tow and stopped at my table. He picked up a copy of Stoogism and started reading it. Then he smiled and asked what possessed me to put together such an outrageous anthology. I told him about a dream I had one night in 1975. I was sitting with Moe in a pew at old St. Mary’s Cathedral on California Street when he turned to me and said as clear as a bell: “This place is haunted.” (I didn’t know how right he was until years later.) As a kid I was a huge fan of the Three Stooges so I figured the dream was a message of some kind. Shortly after that the idea for Stoogism arose and the anthology was just part of a natural progression. Ginsberg seemed to appreciate this explanation. He even mentioned how he once dreamt of Harpo Marx speaking to him in Groucho’s voice. Then he reached into his pocket and paid for Stoogism Anthology with a crumpled five-dollar bill.
A.D. (Al) Winans and I have been good friends ever since we met in 1975 at the San Francisco International Book Fair where I was immediately won over by his satire, “Tales of Crazy John,” published by his own Second Coming Press. I remember laughing out loud and then continuing to laugh as I kept reading one poem after another. Up to that point I hadn’t experienced anything so fully and currently absurd that had spoken to me directly as did “Tales of Crazy John.” It was exhilarating. Al and I went on to hang out and collaborate on a number of projects and readings, including the 1980 Poets and Music Festival and a stint working together in the public schools. That effort produced a special issue of Second Coming Magazine devoted to the poetry of students we had worked with at Southwood and Westborough junior High Schools in South San Francisco. This was in 1976.
Much of what I learned about publishing during that time I owe to A.D. The small press scene had its share of unscrupulous characters who played politics like poker players with cards dropping from their sleeves. Al was part of a special group of small press poets and publishers who believed honesty, integrity and loyalty were not just words you wrote down on some grant proposal to impress the powers that be. Al lived by those words and still does. Along with others like Len Fulton, Leon Spiro, Paul Mariah, Todd Lawson, Alta, Terrence Ames, Rustie Cook, Paul Foreman and so many more, I got an early education in the right way to conduct business.
The only contact I ever had with Bukowski was when he sent me a postcard around 1980. It bore his return address in San Pedro and arrived unsolicited and out of the blue. I always assumed Bukowski heard about and maybe even saw a copy of Stoogism Anthology from poet Gerald Locklin (who appeared in the anthology and was a good friend of Bukowski’s), but I never got around to asking Gerry. The post card was great fun. Bukowski scribbled only two words on the back: “stoogism” and “ass-boggling.” Then he signed his name next to a small drawing of a face. I wrote him back and thanked him but never heard from Bukowski again.
Jack Micheline was a smart poet and deceptively funny. I enjoyed being around him but I saw him lose his patience a couple of times. He didn’t suffer fools gladly. Jack could read you the riot act one minute and give you his last dollar the next. He had a big heart and could often be very playful. When Al and I brought Jack into our classrooms as a visiting poet, the kids at first didn’t know what to make of him when he showed up with green hair. This was pretty wild for 1976. He didn’t say a word about it and just started reading his poetry. When he was finished and asked if there were any questions, a hand went up in the back and a boy asked, rather sheepishly, why Jack’s hair was green. Jack stared at the kid for a moment and then, pretending to be pissed, looked over at Al and me and demanded: “Why didn’t you assholes tell me my hair was green?” The kids loved him.
I met Bob Kaufman a couple of times. An amazing poet and a sweet, troubled soul. The most memorable encounter was in 1978 when I emceed a special benefit reading for Bob that A.D. Winans organized through the UC Extension Center in San Francisco. A.D. and Jack Micheline were to read first and then Kaufman was going to follow and close out the reading. As it got closer to his set Bob hadn’t shown up yet and there was some concern that he might not. He and (wife) Eileen finally arrived but Kaufman appeared disoriented and unsteady. I was instructed to walk Bob onstage to the podium, clip his microphone on his lapel and then stand next to him during the reading in case he needed assistance. While I was adjusting the mic I whispered and asked how he was feeling. Bob smiled and said, “You can sit down now and dig the show.” So I left the stage and Kaufman suddenly came to life, delivering a powerhouse reading.
(Paul Fericano and Bob Kaufman at Street Poets Reading UC Extension Center San Francisco 1978. Photo by Roger Langton)
You have come to know great personalities. Which meetings have held the biggest experiences for you?
Smoking a joint with Paul Krassner was probably the biggest deal. We were sitting in his car outside his printer’s shop in San Francisco one day and I kept saying to myself in disbelief: “I’m smoking a joint with Paul Krassner.” I think I still have the roach and the roach clip. Paul is the most important American writer of political and social satire of the last sixty years and one of the most generous. When Ligi and I launched YU News Service in 1980 Paul was one of the first to support and encourage what we were trying to do. I had the good fortune to hang out with him for a short time in the early eighties when he was in San Francisco and putting out the second incarnation of The Realist. He’s been a tower of inspiration to a whole generation of satirists and free thinkers. I’ve learned just as much from reading Krassner as I have from reading Voltaire and Swift.
Meeting and later corresponding with poet Richard Eberhart was also a big deal. A good and genuine person. I met him at a reception at Karl Shapiro’s house in Davis, California, in 1978, after a reading Shapiro hosted for him. Eberhart was another engaging writer I was blessed to meet. He was incredibly kind and encouraging. I remember after we spoke for a few minutes, he removed a fountain pen from his coat pocket and wrote down his address on a small scrap of paper and told me to send him some of my poems. He didn’t have to be so generous with a young poet like myself, but I discovered later that this was his true nature. It was Richard Eberhart who helped bring national attention to the Beats when he wrote in the New York Review of Books in 1956 that Ginsberg’s Howl was “the most remarkable poem of the young group.”
Meeting the towering poet Ann Menebroker was also a huge moment in my life. I was in high school in 1969 when I discovered a small chapbook of Annie’s poems in Cody’s bookstore in Berkeley on a field trip with my creative writing class. At the time I had no idea there were such things as chapbooks and I immediately fell in love with Annie’s poetry and the spirit and energy of the small press world. Years later, in 1976, I was one of the winners of a poetry competition sponsored by Margaret Wensrich’s little magazine, In A Nutshell in Sacramento and was invited to her house for a reception.
Sitting across from me on the couch was a woman who seemed to listen better than anyone I had ever met. When a couple of people referred to her as “Ann” I literally got chills and asked her, “Is your name Ann Menebroker?” That was the beginning of a dear friendship that continues to this day. Ann is one of those gifted poets who makes it look easy. When I think of the honesty in words I think of Ann Menebroker’s poetry.
Ann Menebroker and Paul Fericano at Readers Cafe Bookstore at Fort Mason, San Francisco for Charles Plymell reading, May 22, 2011.
How did Yossarian Universal News Service come about? Do you think it is, as it started out, or has it changed and is pointing in new directions?
Poet and satirist (Elio) Ligi and I launched Yossarian Universal News Service in 1980 as a response to Ronald Reagan’s election and as a reaction to the irrelevancy of a “free press” that was alarmingly selective about what constituted “news.” I first met Ligi when I was editing Stoogism Anthology in 1976. He remains for me the most wickedly funny writer I’ve ever known. His YU satires were brilliant and scary. They made you laugh while sprinting for cover. An early review of YU News Service appeared in SoHo Arts Weekly (New York). It called us both “literary terrorists armed with enough firepower to take out an entire editorial staff.” But whereas I was described as being “the sniper on the hill,” Ligi was characterized as “the guy who enters the building through the front door with two shotguns blazing and explosives strapped to his chest.”
As far as we could tell at the time, YU News Service was the first and only satiric news syndicate in the country. This was long before The Onion or The Daily Show and the hundreds of other satiric news sites that have since proliferated on the Web. The only other regular source of parody news (tagged “fake” news today by the very media YU was mocking) was Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update” segment.
YU News hit the ground running. We registered our organization as a legitimate news operation with Editor & Publisher in New York, issued our own press cards (which anyone could “apply” for by sending a photo and $10), began publishing hundreds of un-bylined news stories as authentic newswire copy, and sought paid media subscribers from hundreds of daily and weekly newspapers (domestic and foreign), magazines, college papers, alternative journals, small press magazines, radio stations, etc.). We sent our material to anyone who had a publication, including company newsletters, fan club bulletins, and even throwaway shopping circulars. This was all before the internet. By 1988 our subscribers topped more than 100 media outlets, including sources in England, Russia, France, Spain, Germany, Colombia, Nicaragua and El Salvador. Subscribers all received the same thirty-page quarterly “Briefbook” loaded with dozens of camera-ready news stories, features, columns and interviews ready to clip and paste for publication.
It was a huge struggle and a wild ride. We were virtually alone in this arena. Trying to interest publications to publish news-as-political-satire during the Reagan years was a supreme challenge. While everybody said they enjoyed a good joke, few could take one. (The Howitzer Prize hoax in 1982 convinced me of that.) Political humor was still reserved for comedy clubs and The Tonight Show. Most of YU News stories targeted the government and politics, but nothing and nobody was sacred. We reported that Allen Ginsberg died onstage (he inexplicably blew up) after performing with the New York punk band, Bozo Meets Godzilla. We did an interview with former CIA Director William Casey’s brain after he died. We did another interview with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in which Scalia became increasingly frustrated and answered all our questions in Italian. We kept this up regularly for eight years before Ligi and I burned ourselves out.
Our last dispatch in 1988 reported that both of us had been shot and killed under mysterious circumstances while trying to board a plane at San Francisco International Airport. After that YU issued sporadic news stories that purportedly emanated from secret, underground bureaus all across the globe. When George W. Bush stole the election in 2000 YU News resurfaced and began issuing regular weekly dispatches that reported on his every idiot move. Email was now available and thousands of individuals received the dispatches in their inboxes every Friday for a full year. These stories were later collected in two manuscripts, “I, Terrorist” and “The Year of the Lunkhead.”
When Ligi and I first started we had no way of tracking the hundreds of stories being mailed out. Since we didn’t request tear-sheets we never knew what was appearing where or when. We just kept cranking the stuff out. When The Los Angeles Times dubbed us “unbelievable news for unbelievable times” we used it on all our promotions and monthly “Free Dispatches.” In 1985 Herb Sargent, the head writer for Saturday Night Live (SNL), and A. Whitney Brown, a cast member and writer, both became YU subscribers and purchased YU press cards. They encouraged us to contact producer Lorne Michaels and, with Brown’s help, arranged for us to interview for two open writing positions with a particular eye on producing copy for “Weekend Update” (anchored at the time by Dennis Miller). That meeting in the Brill Building in Los Angeles qualified as one of the most bizarre and surreal experiences of my life.
Needless to say, Ligi and I didn’t get the job (no one ever notified us) and Michaels eventually rehired the writing team of Al Franken and Tom Davis. We heard later that Miller objected to our politics and the whole idea of our being hired. But SNL ended up “borrowing” three of our ideas from sketches we had written for the show on spec. From that point on Ligi and I simply added Saturday Night Live to our list of writing credits.
YU is now evolving online and continuing to promote the unknowable and unpredictable.
What is your “secret” DREAM and what is your nightmare?
My secret nightmare is that Jorie Graham is married to Dick Cheney.
Happiness is living in uncertainty.
What is your favorite motto?
“Fish is good brain food.”
If you could go back to the past what things would you do better and what things would you avoid doing again?
1) I would learn Italian and pretend I couldn’t speak English.
2) I would drive an automatic to my first driver’s test in 1967 and not a clutch.
3) I would start a lost-and-found department in the basement of the Catholic Church.
Which historical personalities would you like to meet? How you would spend a day with The Three Stooges? What would you say to Aristophanes? What would you like to ask Elvis Presley?
It would be great to hang out for a whole day with The Three Stooges but it would probably be spent in the emergency room.
If I could go back in time I’d choose to be in the Oval Office of the White House on December 21, 1970 when Elvis and Richard Nixon met for the first and only time.
I’d coax Elvis into letting Nixon try on his huge gold-buckled belt.
To Aristophanes I’d say: “Quickly, bring me a flagon for heavy drinking so that I may hurl it at Donald Trumpus.” Only I wouldn’t say it myself. I’d hire a chorus to sing it for me.
What are you missing most nowadays from 70s San Francisco’s bohemian era?
Watching businessmen disguised as hippies in long-hair wigs hang out in the Haight, anxious to score some weed and free love. Those were the good old days.
What are the lines that connect the legacy of Romanticism, Ezra's generation, with the Beats and continue to your generation and beyond?
The best lines are these:
“Poetry begins to atrophy when it gets too far from music.” – Ezra Pound
“Streets paved with opal sadness, / Lead me counterclockwise, to pockets of joy, /
And jazz.” – Bob Kaufman
“I was unwanted then and I'm unwanted now/
Ah guess ah'll go up echo mountain and crah.” – Edward Field
“Irreverence is our only sacred cow.” – Paul Krassner
“When I was in high school I really thought all poets were dead because all the poets we read were dead.” – Denise Duhamel
“I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn’t it.” – Groucho Marx
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