Eccentric's Corner: Kinky Friedman

Kinky Friedman

Profession: Humorist, politician

Claim to Eccentricity: No one knows when to take him seriously.

Kinky Friedman's life would make a great novel, so it's no shock that he's written 17 detective novels starring himself. After studying psychology and spending two years in the Peace Corps in Borneo, he formed a country band—Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys—that was celebrated for their satirical and socially progressive songs ("They Ain't Makin' Jews Like Jesus Anymore"). Kinky left the stage but kept his cigar and hat, wrote his books, and became a columnist for Texas Monthly. Then he ran for governor of Texas, winning over 12 percent of the vote as an independent in 2006. Now the Kinkster stays busy with his column, an animal shelter he started, and a cigar company he recently launched. He speaks One-Liner nearly fluently—creating a disarming but unyielding facade that seems at odds with the authenticity he lays claim to. And for a self-styled rebel, he cares quite a bit about his legacy. But you can't help waiting for the next punch line.

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Will you run for governor in 2010?

It's looking very much like if I were to run in the Democratic primary, and if I can get all the libertarians and rural Texans to come back to the Democrats, we can win. Being independent is a great, spiritual thing to do, but in a big state, you've gotta be a Crip or a Blood.

You're disdainful of politicians.

Will Rogers said he liked hanging out with politicians because they're the greatest comedians. Every time they told a joke, it turned into a law and every time they made a law, it turned into a joke.

What's the ideal relationship between politics and comedy?

Well, having been in both, in politics you don't tell the truth; being a comedian you do tell the truth. I think our politically correct climate is a killer. You crack a joke and it's YouTubed and people are taking it out of context. That's what political correctness has done to the country.

Is that what you mean by the "wussification" of Texas?

Yeah, it's the weakening of fibers—spiritual, moral, physical. Wussification is taking the Ten Commandments out of the public schools. We should put them back and call them the Ten Suggestions. And smoking regulations—we've got all these hall monitors turning the country into a condo association.

What were you hoping to accomplish by running in 2006?

It was a bit of a lark at first, but sometimes you get on these journeys and more meaning accrues to the pilgrimage. We were really the only campaign that was just about ideas. I would say it took us a year and a half to demonstrate that it wasn't a joke or a publicity stunt.

Is it hard to be taken seriously?

Always. That's the way it was with Jesus.

You see yourself as Christ-like?

Sometimes. I'm a skinny Jewish guy, and I don't have a wife or a home or a job, and I basically travel around the countryside with my friends irritating people. But that's as far as the comparison goes. A good way to imitate Christ is to get rid of the death penalty in Texas. If I run, that will be the main reason. We don't DNA death row inmates. And even if they're guilty, we shouldn't sink to their level. That's not what being a Christian is. I will tell the evangelical vote, "I hate for you to hear this from a Jew, but that's who you heard it from the first time."

You've said that in some ways you've never grown up.

I'm still pretty immature. I give away a lot of money to animals and people and slot machines. And I don't do very many practical things, and I have a lot of fun. I seek to be misunderstood.

Why?

All great people are misunderstood. I spoke to some high school journalists recently who understood me, but the media are a bunch of people with personal agendas they're unaware of.

Do you detect an agenda in my questions?

No, but they're mildly irritating because they're of a probing, psychological nature. I think truth is better delivered obliquely, in a joke or song or a work of fiction. That's why Bob Dylan never tells you what "Mr. Tambourine Man" means.

How similar are you to the protagonist in your novels?

Very. My life is a work of fiction. There's a fine line between fiction and nonfiction, and I believe I snorted it in 1976.

What does that mean? You're playing a character?

I'm not playing anything. But I identify strongly with literary characters. As far as being a writer, I would say my definition of an artist is a person who is ahead of his time and behind in his rent. If you can do that and not try to paint your masterpiece—try to write accidentally if you can—you've got a chance. Another big thing is trying to avoid happiness. It's a very bad thing for a writer. Particularly if you're humorous.

Do you spend a lot of time maintaining your image?

If I'm successful in Texas, it's because people like me. It's not because I hire a PR firm, and it's not a Paris Hilton kind of fame—that is, one without merit. It's more of a legendary kind of thing. I'm kind of like an outlaw. I like to be outside the country club, looking in. That's a good place for an artist. That's a good place for a person. There's two kinds of people who wear cowboy hats: cowboys and assholes.

And which are you?

I believe I'm a good person going through life trying to be an asshole, whereas many people are assholes passing themselves off as good people. First of all, an asshole doesn't know he's an asshole. And I know very well when I'm being one.

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