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.
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.