Patricia Marx interviews humorist Art Buchwald on his recent book "I Chose Capital Punishment" and his comic approach. Buchwald sees satire as a weapon, defining his humor as inherently anti-establishment, fueled by truth and indignation. Throughout the interview, Buchwald provides social and political commentary on current events and issues, such as the Bobby Baker scandal and women's rights.
WNYC archives id: 56176
Title: Patricia Marx Interviews: Art Buchwald
Last Updated: 2016-06-28 8:20PM
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This is the question marks. My guest today is a man who's been called the most comic
American since Mark Twain. He's Mr I thought called a columnist for The New York Herald
Tribune and all three of the recent book I chose capital
punishment to Buffalo Did you always right as you do now.
Well in a sense I did I never wrote too seriously.
You know they say
that your own words usually have a happy childhood and
I guess in my case that might be true. So an early age
I sort of had a kind of a different outlook on things than most
other kids did and I profited from it or make use
it in what we do have a different attitude.
Well I saw things I explained I was a force to child and
I was one of the outs and I failed all the other kids were named. And I made
up my mind early in life that I was an
out on the outside looking
man. And therefore I just thought of everything I did
of guy looking at other people rather than
and. It worked because
I found I could get attention. Early in life as as a
child by making other people
laugh so that really the same kind of thing as of your writing I mean I
was always Yeah I was always making fun of the teacher
or the teacher was the establishment as a time I think to
me I think I've always been against the
establishment whatever it is and I think most humorous should be against the
establishment who's ever who's ever in power who's
ever whichever's the right thing to do you know you should
be against Why.
Because I have feeling that we get. A little too serious about our
establishments and we've taken too seriously and you have to
keep putting pens in these balloons to bring people down to
earth and it's the job of the omer is
to stick the pen. Into the
balloon and do. Well.
Lee I usually do better by examples and I recently wrote a column
Barry Goldwater wanted to sell the T.V. A and I
thought it was a good idea as I said I think I'll buy it for my son. So I went
down to the government office here and asked if I could buy the T.V. and they said it wasn't
for sale yet because they have to wait after the election.
But they did offer to sell me the Grand Coulee
Dam and I didn't want that and then they offered me a family
car and I said it was a little too far from home for the kid. So then they offered
to sell me the capital and I said no that was too near the
corm were all the Bobby Baker stuff has been going on and we
finally settled on a Naval Academy in
Annapolis and I bought him that for Christmas but the boy I'm trying
as. You get something as ridiculous
as go or saying he wants to sell T.V. and then you
just make it more ridiculous. So you take a dream is true and then you go from
there everything every all
my articles have a germ of truth. They have
to what is indignation the source of inspiration for the articles.
Well I say hostility is a form of human and one of the big formal you know we're
getting hostility. And I guess indignation would fit in with the still of a
angry at a lot of things are going on and I get angry at the stupidity said I see
around me and forcefully I'm able to get these out of my system
and what is supposed to be the most way and also a lot of. People feel the same way
I do but they're not able to say it the way I do
so they get they get their charge out of it through.
The tone of your article there was no hostile.
No it's not. Stuff I try to make it kind and the
underlying thing there is truth and not beauty
And then another example I could cite would be the UNICEF thing on how I
now I was over the friend's house and he got a call from a woman who said Do
you know that your eight year old son is out collecting money for a
communist organization because he was around with one of these little cartons for
UNICEF collecting money for children's fund and my friend
said That's terrible he says I don't go out and break
windows and spoke garbage on the lawns but I didn't think he'd go that far as to collect
money for a Children's Fund. So the whole article was this guy thanking
the lady for calling him
and saying his son was a terrible boy for going around doing those terrible
things but I had a lot when I wrote that when I originally heard of the call I got so
mad at this woman who is who you know kids
are stopping from throwing rocks and breaking land they don't something
constructive and yet these creeps around the country think
it's it's against.
The rules to if you're collecting money for an organization that are for children all over the
world. Are there any particular things that get you most angry or is it. These kind
of idiocies wherever they
are well mostly idiocies wherever they
are not actually the big
things that I get angry. But I never like
to let on that I'm angry. For example the negro question.
I get angry at that I feel that nobody is
doing or very few people are doing the right thing by this integration saying.
And it made me think what's going on today in several parts of America
we used to say to the Germans when they were killing all these Jewish
people. Didn't you know what was going on
didn't you know and all the. People said no we didn't know where in America
we seem to be you know what's going on but we don't seem to be doing too much about
it and but I got to be funny about
it I did a column not too long ago
as have been segregated because while US was asked that question governor
once was asked is having was segregated and he thought it
was and I
thought. I thought
it was and I thought that's why it was in heaven because the white people would have to do their
own laundry and do all the menial jobs that the Negroes have to do. There wouldn't be much of
and so I do I must admit I am and I agree
man on the surface I try
to put on a front. Are you a reformer.
Well. Or is a form of reform. I don't I want to
be reformed. I do know that in the UNICEF article I did have
a lot of
people you know I just made things so ridiculous
that I may have helped a little UNICEF that
I have in the mail from the people that man indicated I
may have helped.
So yes that guy's a weapon. Everything's a weapon and you
try to use it as best you can and just say enough I
mean is Michael years behind the Iron Curtain a
lot and there's a pick on one which is very critical of the American government and I'm
delighted that they use these pieces because. Shows that we do have freedom of
expression over here and we can do it I know when I was in Russia.
this crocodile a human magazine and they had just printed my face
bad me attacking Haggerty and I got a attacking
me. An article I
wrote and they said I was very funny and I said to them
Well can you follow the tiger show and they said well why would
we attack cruise ship when he came to Washington from Paris. You were warned that
it's all right to make fun of the French but is a different thing making fun of the Americans now do you have any
difficulty with this.
Not too much. I receive a lot more mail here than I
do and here because the blare seem to care more about things and you can step
on toes. Very easily and every organization under
the sun has a lobbying organization you can attack the church you can
attack dentists you can attack
this without hearing from a lobbyist or some public relations guy you know saying what we
And so you do find everybody is very sensitive here. In
the interest of personal to the interests. But I do at the same
time I've discovered that people are very grateful for you and
up a newspaper since I've been the United States more than I have in Europe because people
were delighted to read about Europe but it was still a very low
rated audience compared to what I've got and it's not easy to write but there's not too
many people don't it's I'm grateful for that.
How do you find Washington you find it very provincial
after well it was up until a Bobby Baker scandal. Now it sounds the
real swinging place. You have to pass
it is very provincial places. I've always told people I
find Washington's fun in the daytime and a real bore and I find
Paris was fine with. I mean fun at night.
Why didn't you come to New York.
I don't know your age is just it's too hard to pin
down anything in New York.
Is that fun at night. Yeah it is fun at night the Charlie arc is the doing it's in the
case the subject matter New York just didn't seem to lend
itself as much as Washington to what I want to do which was that is it
difficult to appeal to such a wide audience.
I was amazed myself because when I wrote some parents I was well printed
abroad and when I moved to Washington I said to several editors of different
papers abroad. I guess you'll be dropping to come and I said No I'm much more interested
in Washington and we are in Paris. So Washington is of interest all over the world.
Everybody wants know what's going on
and if you keep the subject matter fairly open
to local people understand it it doesn't seem to be too much of
a problem but the thing is I don't have
to go after sources I don't need source of news
sources and I don't have to have lunches with people I don't
have to be at the White
House I don't have to be up on the Hill talking to people. Therefore I don't have to
cultivate all these people and that's what prevents me from
being on the end everything in Washington is done with a
reason and the people are conflict cultivating the press comes of a surprise as
a politician cultivate the press and I've been able to identify as I really don't need.
I do EVERY don't
need these people I make everything out what it does.
Well what Bobby Baker is and I opened up a whole
can of beans in this town and probably in the United States and I
don't think there would have been a Bobby Baker scanners that hadn't been a perfume a scandal.
So I think we owe it to Mr Professional know not to miss performer but to that. Scandal.
What made this one a little more.
Interesting you think ice is
good I think it will be before it's finished
because there's a lot of sex involved in Washington
a lot a lobbyist here a lot of call girls. Things
that nobody ever talked about here was
suddenly the Bobby Baker scandal has opened up a can of beans and you're going to
discover like there is an area to
have a certain amount of vice and no way talks about it until
scandal puts it out in the open and everybody goes back again and everybody gets very
indignant about it and then I go back
to the way it was
before you think there's any more vice here and there is anywhere else.
No but the trouble is the government's located here. And you
have license powers and you have lice in London and the reason it was a big scandal in London is that there was
government people involved and Downey had a reason why it's such a big scandal is because
it's government people involved in nobody knows
what roles all these people played
in getting government contracts and spending taxpayers' money plus
the fascination that everybody has with the scandal
and you have to I have a fascination
about reading about it I don't have too much about writing about it but I am
fascinated reading about a good scandal.
What do you think of the investigations which ones get well in the Bobby
investigation because they haven't come to any
conclusions I have a feeling that they are trying to stay away from all of the moral stuff and stick
with the business side of the body because saying and whether their
sex scandal part will
get involved. We don't know.
You see what happened in prosumer case is that Ward was tried.
If you recall for something I forget what
was heard during the regular perjury. And that
suddenly gave everybody a chance to question all these witnesses like Christine
Keeler now at the moment you don't have any
criminal charges against anybody Baker is involved in
a suit a civil so concerning
the serve you.
Vending Machine Company.
So there wouldn't be a real chance to call a lot of witnesses
unless somebody committed perjury or somebody to make it a crime that they wanted to
get hanged somebody for and so you may not
have the scandal that you did have an approximate case unless one person in
all these different areas gets gets
tried you think there's too much indignation involved with this.
Well I always feel
like there is a tremendous amount of indignation shown by Americans
about anything to do with scandal.
I was talking to a friend of mine you have a date is maybe a very farfetched
added to the mind but I say every day all of the United States some wife is stealing
some has been to some has been standing some life.
Nobody in the community gets too upset about the you know it's just the nature of gossip
but then somehow I was in Washington and everybody
said very outrageous and indignant about it and I think it's
fairly hypocritical. I think it is an awful lot of stuff going
on in the United States and having lived in Europe there's an awful lot of stuff going
on in the
world and the only people that I do dislike or the hypocrites
who who you know who skirts on
to clean themselves but like to go and fingers somebody else.
How do you feel about expense
accounts mine. I think everyone else.
I believe in my heart and I believe in spending.
You know when you get into expense accounts are you referring to the tax five
expense account thing.
Well the recent criticism of expense accounts say New York City with the
entertainment and restaurants
and not that expensive
because. I think people should be allowed to spend a lot of money brings
employment and helps people and you want to luxury.
This country's going downhill because we're losing all the luxury things because people just don't have the money
to spend anymore.
And I and I think expense accounts are one of the things that have least given us
good restaurants and given as good places to go and
everything and it's a luxury class and I'm not against him I think
we should have expense accounts your four lectures. I sure am.
What about materialism that Americans are always criticised by Europeans for the
by not materialistic. Yes
well unfortunately. I would say
that the Americans could be criticized for materialism but I'm for say
the Europeans are going right
along with us now and doing everything that we've
done credit cards. You know. Charge accounts.
bars hamburgers a lot and everywhere where they've opened these places they've had
big successes with them and they shows a deer appears want the same things we do which
is kind of tragic I guess but I don't I wouldn't call it American materialism I'd call
it well materialism. It just
is it boils down to the fact that if your wife as a choice
is scrubbing clothes with her hands and putting my washing
machine. She wants the washing machine and this is what materialism
is there somebody goes out to lunch and they don't want to spend two hours at lunchtime or they'd rather
spend fifteen minutes eating a hamburger and then shopping the other
the rest of the time. Well that's materialism to in a sense.
So I don't think. Materialism
is because of America's problem I think is the world's problem.
What about conformity. They say Americans are conformist.
I would say so I
think. We don't like to be a
little different than anybody and I try to be non-conformist in
my writing and I think that's was it appeals to people is it I do
it tactic conformities of
things but yet and in those communities in suburbia
and boy you don't like to get online too far you just don't have any neighbors and you
strange how do you live.
I've been I don't live in suburbia here but I've
been out Momo friends' homes and it's scary.
I'd rather live in a big city.
Are you a political activist you can take
partisan politicians and now
on I probably would lean towards a Democrat if anybody because they're less
boring than the Republicans but I don't.
Striking fighter for because I don't see
too much difference in the parties I think the Democrats have some of the worst
people in the United
States in the party and the Republicans have some of the
best and so I don't think
one party is any better than the I think these are good people and bad people both parties and I
just can't seem to take a stand as far as one political party against the
other which before there's been a lot of talk in America about the salmon in the
state and that women should get out of the hole and get involved in work.
What do you think about this.
Well. Hile now I
think you know I think women should stand
if they want to run for president that's one thing but.
But I and they want to go up in a spaceship to the moon I think they should be
allowed to go but otherwise I think they should be allowed to stay in the home.
The cello in
a marker is very very critical I just
realized is that to say little girls all the way up to a high
school and college
that they have a role to play and they're very important and they're supposed to have all
these opportunities that men have and everything. Said after they get finished college or
high school they get married and they wind up in
a house and have to do all the chores and all the cooking and everything and every woman is supposed
to do and they find this is not very satisfying after they've been
told that there's so many great things waiting for him at the end of the rainbow.
So they become very dissatisfied with their life and very dissatisfied with their husbands
and very dissatisfied
with what we consider love
quotes and the movie version of their life is certainly not the one that
they're living and that's what I think is a many divorces.
What's the remedy not to teach women
anything I would teach him teach him that they're going to
be mothers and I thought they were going to be winds and it's good to
know a lot about books and a lot about things but at the end of the road
no matter what your day Jim I would warn him that
this their life
is going to be
just a housewife and a mother. And that's the way it
is and if they don't want to they can be something else
but I think we
don't we don't want to kids what they're in for when they get mad we just you know we
just prepare them for something that they have no that they're not going to
do is this is a worldwide movement to let me just in Paris.
It's much less in the
Latin countries because women are still kept down quite a bit. It's coming slowly.
But still a man's world and in Italy and Spain and
France and women don't seem to mind the row have a good
time but she's an American and she
was actually a career girl before I married her and she she she's good.
She doesn't like the real thing oust wife and mother.
How did you like being described in your column that she hopes she
says she has a mind she knows where bread is buttered.
This book called A couple of questions about your own personal tastes who have been your
heroes Ring Lardner was are you Margaret the largest worker
in mind Bob bench these were Jim Their
most humorous writers.
I was very impressed when I was a kid by
Steinbeck you don't mention Twain.
I know because I read Tom Sawyer and
Huckleberry Finn but I'm one of the few guys that had much more fun out of ten right in
both Star Kingdom.
I'm a nerd. As far as Twain goes but then again
I might say I'm an expert on human. I don't you don't get much
snow about eight or nine years ago I stopped reading all humans because
I discovered every good idea in the world has been done already by somebody else. And when
I read these guys I wouldn't do
it myself so I stopped reading them and now I don't feel guilty about any idea because I think it's
mine because from a very wise.
Yeah you can get shattered by. Other people's stuff
that every good idea in the world
has been done by somebody and better. What would have you done if you didn't do
this I am though I did I went to the universe's California fine
going to Europe by my one of them how I was writing.
What do you think you'll go from here when you leave capital punishment.
Well I made up my mind I kept my apartment in Paris. So I might go back to Paris and. And.
Stay there but I am I when I am I stay here too. It depends if
I'm not mentioned in the Bobby Baker scandal. Stay
here to vote but I'd like to close the interview with you reading a piece from your recent book
I kill is capital
punishment Alright well one of the things that
people always seem to enjoy that I wrote had to do with the
both fighting and marriage and
I said everyone read something different into a ball fight usually both fighting
is associated with
death but I went to a fight and Dax with a recently divorced friend who insisted
both fighting has more to do with marriage than anything else to me he said it
complete drama of wedlock how that I ask him. Let
us start at the beginning before us we see the beautifully dressed
Matador he represents the bride slim confident completely in
charge of the situation now luck the ball has just come into
the ring he is the groom he is magnificent.
But the wilted confused and sorry he is there
the crowd is cheering. Why because it is a wedding
day and people always cheer at weddings.
Now the ball is snorting and charging. But the matador always the
case she is playing with him making him think he has the upper hand.
But what the matador is really doing is finding out the balls weaknesses and
also making him use up all his energy. What's happening now.
I asked him trying to look at the bull fight through his
eyes. The trumpets have sounded the wedding ceremony is over and now
the marriage begins in earnest First come the picture Dawes they represent
the wife's relatives.
The bowl of Sirius but the peccadilloes keep stabbing him in the neck and shoulders
and pretty soon the bull can hardly lift. Zines I see what you're driving at
I said Now come the bandolero
those who represent the wife's friends. They also are there to
weaken the bull's muscles and make him bleed some
more by this time he can keep its head up. This is the
final act watch carefully the matador wife is no longer playing with
the ball. Now she is serious she holds the right
cloth and like a full the bull makes a pass at it then he makes
another he never charges the matador only the claw the
bull doesn't know it but he's wearing
himself out. He's in pretty desperate condition anyway after what the relatives
and friends have done to him but he is angry and this is a last gasp
part. The more the matador makes a full of the bull the more the crowd
cheers the crowd is always on the side of the wife just like in real
life I said we are ready for the moment of truth. The boy
heard the world and untied looks of the man
adore the matador stand in front of him and now she plunges a sword
deep into his car. The Bulls staggered for several minutes in shock and
then collapses the marriage is finished and the matador wife
is presented with the
bull's ears and tail which he holds up in the ring to
everyone what do the ears and tail represent. I have my friend.
He looked at me with the saddest eyes I had ever seen
and replied alimony. Thank you Mr