Big Think Interview With John Buffalo Mailer
Mailer was a founding member of Back House Productions, a theater production company in New York. His play "Crazy Eyes" had its World Premiere in Athens, Greece, in March 2005. From 2003 to 2004 he served as the Executive Editor of High Times magazine. He has lectured at the University of Notre Dame, Wesleyan, and the University of Athens.
John Buffalo Mailer: John Buffalo Mailer. I’m an actor, writer and producer, and\r\njournalist.\r\n\r\n
Question: How did you\r\nstudy for your role in “Wall Street 2”?\r\n\r\n
John Buffalo Mailer: It was a fairly extensive rehearsal\r\nprocess. I took trips out to Long\r\nIsland, kind of just got the feel of the town that we had set my character\r\ncoming from, voice lessons, learning the floor, learning the actual trade of\r\nWall Street traders. It was kind\r\nof an incredible process. So Shia\r\n[LeBouf] and myself and several other people, we just spent as many hours as we\r\ncould shadowing different traders on the floor kind of finding where it stands\r\ntoday, how it’s different from the first Wall Street, how it’s the same. It was an amazing ride. I’ll tell you that.\r\n\r\n
Question: How has Wall\r\nStreet culture changed since the original film came out?\r\n\r\n
John Buffalo Mailer: Well the numbers are bigger for one\r\nthing. It’s much more global. It’s less centric to whatever area\r\nyou’re in. You know, some floors\r\nyou go in and when the bell rings it’s silent and all you see are the computer\r\nscreens starting to light up as people do different trades. It used to be kind of like a big bang\r\nwould start off the day. A company\r\nthat was I think the one I learned the most from, just in terms of my own character\r\nand the kind of firm he worked in, was John Thomas Financial. And there it’s\r\nlike, you know, warriors in an arena getting ready for battle. Thomas Belesis just fires these guys up\r\nlike there is no tomorrow, and I absolutely got addicted to that optimism and\r\nadrenaline and that “We’re going to do it, we’re going to do it, buddy” kind of\r\nattitude that he had, so you know it runs the full spectrum. His firm is much more like what it used\r\nto be in terms of warriors on a mission. \r\nI think now it’s a lot more relaxed. You see a lot of sneakers and jeans at places depending on\r\nwhich firm you’re talking to.\r\n\r\n
Question: What surprised\r\nyou about Wall Street culture?\r\n\r\n
John Buffalo Mailer: I had a lot of preconceived notions\r\ngoing in. It wasn’t an industry\r\nthat I really respected much. My\r\nfeeling was kind of like look, you’re not making anything. You’re taking money from one place,\r\nputting it in another and taking your cut and that’s just not really kind of\r\nsoul-satisfying at the end of the day, but what I learned is, on a larger scale\r\nis how much the Wall Street industry funnels and fuels so many others and we\r\nwould not have a lot of medical research without it. We would not have, you know, educational programs without\r\nit. There is a lot of good that these\r\nguys do, and to lump all traders into a category is as insane as lumping any\r\ngroup of people into one category. \r\nYou’re going to find the good people and bad all around. I had a lot of fun with those\r\nguys. The laughter is unlike most\r\nsettings you’ll find. The level of\r\nintensity, the adrenaline, the stakes are incredible. I mean it is addictive. I can understand why people end up spending 23 or 24 hours a\r\nday hitting it.\r\n\r\n
Question: Is Wall Street\r\nfundamentally at odds with Main Street?\r\n\r\n
John Buffalo Mailer: No, not at all. Not at all. I mean I think one of the larger problems going on right now\r\nis, debate has replaced discussion. \r\nAs I say you can’t lump Wall Street into one category. That doesn’t mean anything. Every firm has a different attitude and\r\ndoes different things and puts their cherries in certain places and their money\r\nin others. Some are vicious,\r\nnasty, I will cut you down at all costs to make a buck, some have a much higher\r\nmoral standard. My hope is that\r\nthe film will actually serve as a way for us to bridge that gap between Wall\r\nStreet and Main Street. Certainly\r\nthat’s dealt with in the film of how it does affect everybody, so, you know, I\r\nalways find that when you can create a movie or a play or a book that gives\r\nsomebody a safe theoretical place to discuss what is really going on in the day\r\nit tends to forward discussion, so that would be my hope coming out of the\r\nfilm.
Question: What first drew\r\nyou to the theater?\r\n\r\n
John Buffalo Mailer: You know I grew up in an artistic\r\nfamily where everyone was doing something in one field of the arts or\r\nanother. I was I think 12\r\nyears old when I did my first acting at the Actor’s Studio and, you know,\r\nJames Dean once said that the only reason to become and actor is because you\r\nhave to. I think that you know\r\nfrom a young age if that is a certain rush that you’re going to need to satisfy\r\nyou and to make you feel fulfilled—and if you don’t then you shouldn’t do\r\nit. It’s just too brutal of a\r\nbusiness most of the time. So I\r\nthink that at the ripe old age of 12 I figured out, you know, I kind of like\r\nthis thing. I like talking to\r\nthese people.\r\n\r\n
Question: How is working\r\non a play different from working on a film?\r\n\r\n
John Buffalo Mailer: Man, it’s apples and oranges. You can’t really beat movies. It’s a fun gig. I mean it’s nice to have a trailer and\r\nmakeup and you know an entire army that is basically all there for the same\r\npurpose, which is make the best film we can. Yeah, when you’re on an Oliver Stone set everybody brings\r\ntheir A game. Everybody brings\r\ntheir A game, from the top to the bottom and in between. In terms of theater you know there is\r\nno way to really duplicate that rush you get when you take an audience that is\r\nlive and right there in front of you through the journey of a great play and\r\nyou go through these emotions so that they can experience them without having\r\nto go through them themselves. \r\nIt’s a certain kind of human compact that obviously you lose as soon as\r\nthere is a screen and a camera there, so I think we’ll always have\r\ntheater. I think theater will\r\nalways be a powerful force because we need that human touch, particularly as we\r\nspend more and more time with machines, cell phones, computers we start to lose\r\nour humanity. I mean the price of\r\nour technology may very well end up being our humanity, so I think you got to\r\nhave that balance. Personally I\r\ntry to do one for one if I can. Do\r\na movie, do a play, do a movie, do a play—while at the same time writing and\r\nbeing in that cycle. Those two\r\nfields are very… Writing and acting are almost diametrically opposed in terms\r\nof being an actor it’s in your interest to be in shape and to be healthy and to\r\nhave a strong voice and to be flexible. \r\nAs a writer you’re sitting in this position for hours on end. You get up and you can’t put your\r\nshoulder down. It’s not a healthy\r\nexistence so to speak and it’s probably not healthy for the person that lives\r\nwith you either, but you do the best you can.\r\n\r\n
Question: What theatrical\r\nwork are you proudest of?\r\n\r\n
John Buffalo Mailer: You know I’m probably most proud of the\r\nplays that I’ve written just because as the playwright, you know, you’re\r\nGod. You get to do everything. You don’t make any money hardly at all,\r\nbut you really get to kind of control the scene. As a screenwriter you’re the towel boy in the\r\nwhorehouse. I mean you know\r\nyou’re lucky if you’re invited to set. \r\nIt’s kind of like here is the blueprint, go and that’s you know there\r\nhas been some debate as to whether or not a film should be by the director or\r\nby the screenwriter or by both. \r\nThe screenwriter lost out on that. \r\nDirectors win. In theater\r\nit is absolutely the opposite, but you know I’m proud of all the… Well, of most of the theater acting\r\nthat I’ve done. The thing is, to\r\ntry to talk about a performance that will never be seen again, that was only\r\nlived by the people there, it’s kind of like telling somebody about your dream. You know if they love you they’ll\r\nlisten and smile, but they can’t really get it, so there is a certain infinite\r\nquality to film that is nice. You\r\ndo the work and you know it’s always going to be there. The flip side is if you do bad work\r\nit’s always going to be there.\r\n\r\n
Question: What are your\r\ngoals as an actor and playwright?\r\n\r\n
John Buffalo Mailer: You know, I just I love telling stories\r\nand as long as I can make my living doing that in all the different mediums\r\nthat I have been lucky enough to, that’s enough for me. Really it’s, you know, there's different\r\nscales of stories. Sometimes you\r\nwant to tell one that 20, 30, 40, 50 million people will want to see and\r\nhear. Sometimes you do one that\r\nyou know 150 will want to see on one night. As long as you’re telling the right story for the right\r\naudience and they’re getting something out of it it’s essentially the same\r\nfeeling to me. Obviously there is\r\nyou know the economic necessity of paying your bills and how do you do\r\nthat. Ten years ago when I\r\nstarted out I was kind of told I was insane for trying to pursue multiple fields\r\nat once because in five years everyone who just did one would have five times\r\nthe resume I would if I was lucky, but I took that gamble because I just my gut\r\ntold me it was the right thing to do and you know as an actor there is so much\r\ndowntime you want to fill it with something else and as a writer you know\r\nsometimes you’re doing a passion project, sometimes it’s a paid gig, sometimes\r\nthere is nothing, so you can do a journalistic piece. At this point I think the shift starting about 2008, a lot\r\nof factors as well I’m sure, but whatever the reasons, 2008 it felt as though\r\nthe combination of distribution models starting to tighten and the publishing\r\nand film and music industries having to revolutionize themselves to catch up,\r\nand understand how this is going to work in the new millennium has made it a\r\nlot easier to pursue multi-platform careers. It’s much easier to hire one person who can do three or four\r\ndifferent things than one specialist in that field, which as I think about the\r\ncollege graduating classes and high school classes that are coming up now\r\nthey’re in a unique position. I\r\nmean they’re entering one of the toughest economies of all time. At the same time if they’re willing to\r\nwork really hard the ability they have to learn something much faster than we\r\never did before is there and it’s really a question of are you willing to put\r\nin the effort and go that extra mile. Because if you are I think there's\r\nactually more opportunities out there.\r\n\r\n
Question: What was it\r\nlike growing up as Norman Mailer’s son?\r\n\r\n
John Buffalo Mailer:\r\nIt’s always an interesting question of what was it like as Norman Mailer’s son\r\nbecause I could easily turn it back and say what’s it like not to. I don’t really have a comparison aside\r\nfrom friends of mine and discussions, but I think I do have a gauge of some of\r\nthe differences that it would be, because I didn’t always realize my dad was\r\nNorman Mailer. I always knew he\r\nwas Dad, and then I forget the exact age when it dawned on me that, you know,\r\nhe is actually someone who affects the public consciousness of the time. It was amazing. I mean he was a rock star and brilliant\r\nand kind and funny and generous and scary when he needed to be and, you know,\r\nhard as a father. I mean he\r\nexpected a lot from us and he really pushed us and you know one of his favorite\r\nlines was, “If you think I’m being hard on you, wait until life hits you\r\nbecause life is a hell of a lot tougher than I am.” And I took everything he said to heart. He taught me how to write, which was\r\nscary and intimidating and hard, but ultimately one of the biggest gifts I\r\ncould have ever asked for.\r\n\r\n
There is one moment that actually comes to mind when you\r\nthink of the kind of crystallizing factor. You know I kind of lived a utopian existence until I was\r\nabout 20, 21 when my mom got sick with cancer and it was bad. It was very scary and at the time I was\r\ndoing my first screenplay and I was on deadline and was alone with my father in\r\nMassachusetts. She was recovering\r\nin the hospital. We were going\r\nback and forth and she wasn’t going to be able to come home for a few days, but\r\nwe knew about the longer road ahead and the chemo and the radiation and all of\r\nthat and at a certain point I said to my dad. I said, “Pop, you know, I don’t how I’m going to work. I\r\ndon’t know how I can get this done. You know, I got to hand this script in and\r\nI can’t think about anything but Mom.” \r\nHe said, “Well, you know, now is the time when you’re going to learn what\r\nit means to compartmentalize.” And\r\nthose words really had an impact on me and have enabled me through the last 10\r\nyears of more surgeries than I care to remember and more scary times than I\r\nwish my mother had ever had to go through. Those words enabled me to actually continue to do my job and\r\nto get my work done, which is so important if you… I mean for all those who\r\nhave kind of helped someone heal through a sickness you know it’s just so\r\nimportant to be able bring exciting news to the table and to be able to get\r\ntheir minds off of the fact that they’re sick and to do that you got to work\r\nyour ass off and have some successes and bring in some things, so those words I\r\nmean I could pick a million different instances with my dad, but that one\r\nmoment when he you know he didn’t say, “I understand.” “Go lay down and cry.” “Go do this.” He said, “No, be a man.” “Stand up, compartmentalize.” “Get your work done.” \r\nAnd that is really what it means to be a man is to take on all the\r\nemotional pain and work through what you got to work through with the people\r\nyou love while at the same time getting your business done. And it’s tough. I\r\nthink that most children when they grow up they kind of realize that the things\r\nthey didn’t like about their parents or didn’t understand about them they get\r\nnow and that you know every year you get more responsibilities. You get more overhead. You get more things you got to take\r\ncare off. It’s hard to keep a\r\nchipper, open, happy attitude about it all the time and you shouldn’t because\r\npart of it is preparing your kids for when they’re going to take over the reins\r\nand do it, so I was just incredibly thankful of that particular moment.\r\n\r\n
Question: What did your\r\nfather teach you about writing?\r\n\r\n
John Buffalo Mailer: Oh, wow. Well he probably taught me everything I know, aside from\r\ndialogue, which I think I get from my mom a lot more. He certainly didn’t teach me everything he knew, but you\r\nknow he has got this book out called "The Spooky Art," which is essentially an\r\nadvanced book on writing and it’s not… \r\nYou know it’s not ABC, but it’s for people who feel that bug and know\r\nthat they’re writers and are willing to put in that time alone. Pretty much the vast majority of what\r\nhe taught me you can find in that book. \r\nYou know some basic things of "Don’t say something twice. Find the right way to say it. Don’t use words you don’t need. Don’t use adjectives to describe\r\nsomething." There is some basic\r\nstuff in there. The nuance of a\r\ncharacter and the journey and what it means to write a novel. You know these\r\nare deep philosophical conversations that you can’t really put a button\r\non.
Work ethic is one of the\r\nbiggest things he taught me. That\r\nman worked like every day, every day, 9 to 5, well 9 to 9 in his case, but he\r\nwould treat it as if it was a 9 to 5 job. \r\nHe would clock in. He would\r\nput in his hours. That is how you\r\ncan write those you know incredibly long books that unfortunately there is not\r\nmuch market for anymore, but that is also how you can explore an idea on a\r\ndeeper level than we get in our media surface these days. It’s tough.\r\n\r\n
I mean, just on a little side note with that one of the\r\nreasons I’m so happy to be doing this show is because one of the virtues of the\r\nInternet is that now for those who want it you can get into something that is\r\ndeeper than what you have in 35 seconds or a minute on whichever pundit show\r\nyou’re doing, which are essentially designed to reinforce what people already\r\nthink and not make them question anything. Noam Chomsky is, in some ways, a victim of this new\r\nmillennium we live in because you can’t pull a sound bite from that guy and\r\nunderstand what he is talking about. \r\nYou have to hear the whole paragraph. You have to hear the whole page. You’ve got to hear the whole conversation if you really want\r\nto understand it and that could change your life. But it’s almost as though\r\nwe’ve been duped into believing we don’t have 25 minutes to have something\r\nchange our life. We don’t have\r\n2. You know, we’re tweeting. We’re running around. We’re 15 words or less. You know that to me I don’t think there\r\nis any conspiracy or master plan behind it, but it does echo "Nineteen\r\nEighty-Four" and you combine that with you know the amount of medications that\r\ndoctors are prescribing for people and suddenly we’re in "Brave New World" and\r\nit’s this bizarre combination of events that I don’t think was planned. I don’t think is any kind of plot on\r\nanyone’s part. It’s just that our\r\nsystem is gearing us this way and we need to address that. We need to address that publicly in a\r\nway that is productive, in a way that actually gives people tangible things\r\nthey can do to stop the insanity of being available every moment, things like\r\nthat.\r\n\r\n
Question: Your father was\r\noften accused of having no sense of humor. Was this true?\r\n\r\n
John Buffalo Mailer: Oh, my God. I mean, if anything his problem was that he didn’t realize\r\nthat humor will not translate in sound bites and quotes and so oftentimes he\r\nwould say something you know just off the cuff that was silly and funny and\r\nridiculous and everyone there would laugh like you wouldn’t believe and then it\r\nwould end up in print the next day and, you know, something crazy like, “Norman\r\nMailer said women should be kept in cages.” You know, things like that. It was just, he loved women so much. I mean probably more than anything in\r\nthe world he loved women. He got\r\nput into a position where he was kind of seen as the anti-feminist, although he\r\nwas for the feminist movement. He\r\njust didn’t want people to get consumed with the idea that this was going to\r\nbe much better. He said, “Look, women\r\nshould be treated equally and fairly.” \r\nThere is no question about it, but there was a certain kind of\r\ntotalitarian element I think when the movement was starting off. There were so many different factions\r\nand that’s I think what he was taking issue with was the idea of, look, you can’t\r\ngo from male dominance to female dominance and expect anything to be\r\nbetter. We’re all shits, ultimately,\r\nand we’ve got to do the best we can together.\r\n\r\n
So you know those who were lucky enough to know my dad know\r\nthat he was one of the funniest guys who ever lived. I mean he had this great… Or I thought it was great. I shouldn’t preface it by saying it was great, but he had\r\nthis joke he used to tell whenever he would start a lecture. He would flip the jokes around. He had one he would do for a year or\r\nso, but basically he said that it was about karma and reincarnation and he\r\nsaid, “You know, so I die\r\nand I go up to the gates and I see Gabriel.” And he says, “Oh, Mr. Mailer, we’re so happy to see you.\r\nWe’ve been expecting you for a while and we ask this of all of our new\r\nrecipients. What would you like to be reincarnated as? It’s a question we ask\r\neverybody because we see that you’re on the list for reincarnation.” And he says, “Well, you know, I’d like\r\nto be a black athlete, honestly. That’s, you know, put me…Start me in a ghetto.\r\nDo whatever. I’ll work my way up, but I would really, you know, I’ve been kind\r\nof this little Jewish guy all my life and I’ve, you know, done what I’ve done,\r\nbut that’s what I really want to be.” \r\nAnd Gabriel says, “Well I hate to tell you this Mr. Mailer, but black\r\nathletes are the most oversubscribed-to reincarnation requests we have. It’s a\r\nlist that goes miles long. I can’t tell you the chances are good, but let me\r\nsee what we have you down for and then we can work from there.” And he looks and he goes, “Well we have\r\nyou down for cockroach, but you’re going to be the fastest cockroach on the\r\nblock.” And that was my dad’s\r\nsense of, you know, laughing at himself, laughing at existence, the universe,\r\nall of it and not being too serious about what we do with because at the end of\r\nthe day if you’re here it’s a blessing. \r\nIt’s you know life is hard. \r\nLife is hard for everybody at some point, but it’s those who are able to\r\nlaugh at it and laugh with it and roll with it that ultimately I think live the\r\nfulfilling lives that we’re all trying to do. You know, and big step there is to not take yourself too\r\nseriously from the start.\r\n\r\n
Question: Who is carrying\r\non your father's legacy?\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n
John Buffalo Mailer:\r\nThere’s several people out there who I feel are doing their part in that\r\nway. I would say the only one\r\nperson I know of who kind of combines the elements that my father brought to\r\nthe table in terms of affecting the public discourse would be Oliver\r\nStone. His combination of academic\r\nbrilliance and real life experience and just understanding people I think is\r\nwhat makes him such a great storyteller, but also he cares. He is interested. He meets somebody and he listens to\r\nthem. He has some questions. He wants to know what they’re about. And\r\nas a result I think his worldview is much more complex and whole and most of\r\nthe other… I don’t know if we even\r\nhave a category of public intellectual anymore, but he would be in that\r\ncategory. He would be out\r\nthere. The reason… One of the things that sets him apart\r\nthough is he is commercial. He is\r\nmainstream. He makes big movies\r\nand he is one of the last guys that can make big movies that actually have\r\nsomething to say, that you know challenge the audience in a way while\r\nentertaining them.
But there's, you know, there's a lot of people out there who are doing it. I don’t know if it’s possible for\r\nanyone to really have that level of a voice anymore because our media is so\r\ndiluted and parsed out. You know\r\npeople kind of go for the news and information that they want as opposed to\r\npicking up a paper and seeing what catches their eye. It’s a very stark difference and, you know, it’s there is a\r\nfew stories that end up going wide and everybody hears about them, but they’re\r\nusually salacious celebrity stuff that is not about substance or it’s the\r\nlatest disaster and it’s kind of covered in a way that is just trying to get\r\neyeballs on the screen. It’s not,\r\nyou know. I mean I think that\r\nAnderson Cooper does a great job of staying with stories and pushing them. New Orleans he really… He was there and he pushed it past the\r\npoint where his producers were saying, “Listen, you've got to stop because people\r\nare tuning out now. You know, we’re on to another disaster.” You\r\nknow, what do you worry about, Haiti, Chile, Turkey? What? You know\r\nwhere do you put your attention and your focus? So for one person to really be able to cover all that ground\r\nwould be tough. Also I think that\r\nyou know you have experts in fields who spend their life studying one\r\nthing. When an event goes on like\r\nthat chances are they’re going to want that specific expert who has done it to\r\nbe on the show talking about it, not a writer or an artist of any sort, which I\r\nthink is a mistake because you know we don’t have… I mean we have them, but there is certainly not you know in\r\nstrong force public philosophers anymore. \r\nThe only way you’re going to get that kind of metaphorical larger take\r\non what is actually happening and what it means to us and what it’s going to\r\nmean in a few years is to talk to people whose job it is to take life and turn\r\nit into stories and create it and frame it. So it’s a tough role to fill. I think that one of the things that my dad was grappling\r\nwith towards the end was how that shift had happened now and he would go on a\r\nbook tour and do his shows and it would be you know fulfilling and good, but he\r\nwouldn’t have the same impact that he used to and it wasn’t because people were\r\nless interested. It’s just because\r\npeople are distracted by the million different sources of entertainment and\r\ninformation in front of them at any given time.\r\n\r\n
Question: If California legalizes marijuana, will the rest of the nation follow?
John Buffalo Mailer: You know, there's a lot of forces opposed to it, so I don’t want to put the cart before the horse. It’s looking like it’s going the legalization route, which, you know, a lot of people thought it needs to for a long time outside of recreational and medicinal use, just for crime reasons. You know, we’re pumping our prisons full of petty weed offenses and it’s, you know, partially to feed that industry, but it’s not good. It’s not good for society and you know people go in there as a minor criminal and come out as a real criminal. You know, it seems to be the sense that once you throw guys in prison they’re not going to come out. No, they’re going to come out and, you know, what kind of beast have you created from that process? So, you know, we in 2004 when we were running High Times we took it in a very political direction and it was like a night and day transformation, probably too radical, honestly, in terms of the timing of the business mechanics of it, but you know, we were… We had one of the original pot-smugglers-turned-outlaw-rider who had started the magazine there and he was a wild man, Richard Stratton, and myself and Annie Nocenti, and we just said hey, we’ve got a chance to really do what we want to do with this magazine, and the response was great. I've got to say that people, you know, were tickled to be reading High Times. Do you take it out on the train? Do you not? Things like that, but overall they were saying there is no other national magazine that we can get this kind of information from because essentially High Times is a mom and pop national magazine. There is no corporate structure that you have to answer to. You know, so it’s why I think it will always be around. It’s been around for over 30 years now.
So hopefully we played a small part in elevating the argument about legalization, making it less, “Hey man, stay off my weed,” to "Listen, we shouldn’t be putting people in jail for this. This is a civil liberty issue. You know, do what you want to your body when you’re alone, as long as you’re not hurting anyone else," and try to take that tack on it. I think that probably the NORML organization and Ethan Nadelmann are most responsible for what has been going on. But, you know, having a mother who has had cancer and fought through it and at times used cannabis to you know fight off nausea and whatnot. I mean it’s not really her thing, but there were times when she needed it and the idea that you can’t have it because it’s an illegal drug, but OxyContin is legal. That’s you know that’s just insane to a level that I think most people understand.
Now, what’s against legalization in a practical sense? You’ve got the oil industry. You’ve got the cotton industry. You’ve got the paper industry. You’ve got alcohol and tobacco to a certain extent. All of these industries are affected adversely by this. There is a story—I don’t know if it’s true, but it made sense to me—that William Randolph Hearst actually back in the ‘30s I guess had just purchased whole fields and fields and fields of trees to print his paper on and at the same time a couple of college kids figured out how to take a hemp plant and turn it into newspaper and it was actually a better quality of paper. It was cheaper and if you plant hemp in a field it revitalizes the soil. You can grow food in a dirt lot if you do enough harvest of hemp and Hearst said, “This is going to put me out of business. I just spent all my money on these trees.” So that is why he started that campaign linking hemp and marijuana together, calling it "the devil’s harvest" and all that. Again you know I read this story when I was at High Times. It seemed like a legitimate source. Who knows if it’s true or not, but it makes sense and that is the kind of thing you’re up against. I think that the reason why pot is illegal is much more because of hemp than it is for any societal reasons or stigma.
Question: Is there a sound economic argument for legalization?
John Buffalo Mailer: Absolutely there is. I mean, listen, we could be taxing it and making a bundle off of it. You know, no, I don’t pretend to know the specifics of the economics of it to say how much we’ll be getting, but there is money to be made there that is not being made because it’s illegal. Now, granted, there is a lot of money that is being made because it’s illegal and those people you would have to contend with as well, who are certainly not for it becoming legal. You know, and then there's also just socially, personally. There is something naughty about pot. There is something that is rebellious and outlawish and a kind of, you know, a finger in the eye of the government saying, hey, you can’t tell me what to do. That would be gone. I remember talking to my dad about it in a book we did together called "The Big Empty." He was saying like, “Oh, no, no, as soon as it’s legalized it will be ruined.” “The corporations will get their hands on it. You’ll have, you know, pot with vitamin C and, you know, 'Viagratized High Toke.'" You know different things like that. That it won’t be, you know, they’ll put chemicals into it. It won’t be that pure plant that it is now. He may have a good point there. Although I think that if you look at places like Amsterdam and places where pot is very legal they do well with it. There is nothing taken away from it and crime is very low and all that.\r\n\r\n
Question: What's it like\r\nto work at High Times?\r\n\r\n
John Buffalo Mailer:\r\nI’ll put it to you this way. As\r\nwild as you think it is, as wild as you imagine it is—it’s even wilder. Like it is a crazy Willy Wonka-land\r\nenvironment to be running a magazine out of, and truth be told, if what we were\r\ntrying to pull off were to work I think I was the wrong guy for it because I was\r\n25 years old. I was sent in first\r\nto kind of assess the staff and the team and see who could stay and who could\r\ngo with the shakeup. And, you know, I’m a nicer guy than I should be in a lot of\r\ninstances, but I couldn’t look at that, you know, 55-year-old advertising\r\ndirector with the long ratty grey hair who would forget his teeth oftentimes\r\ncoming in and like, you know, I said, “Who are you?” And he's like, “Oh, I’m your ad man.” I thought, "Oh, we’re fucked." And I\r\ncouldn’t look at that guy and know that if I fired him he was going to lose\r\ncustody of his kid and probably wouldn’t be able to get another job anywhere\r\nelse because he had been there for so long. That’s not something I wanted on my conscience, not\r\nsomething that I felt like doing and I wasn’t willing to sacrifice that for the\r\ngreater good of the magazine. If\r\nit was going to work we should have fired everybody and brought in six people\r\nthat had the same vision, knew what they were doing and could do it. Instead I tried to kind of like get\r\neveryone behind it and it worked... half. \r\nIt half-worked. Half the\r\npeople were just too paranoid and scared of losing their jobs and so were kind\r\nof, you know, putting on the happy face and the stuff going on behind one’s back\r\nwas insane.\r\n\r\n
You know, I ended up walking away from that place with an\r\nappreciation for the education that I’ve been given. I mean essentially I got paid for a year or two to really learn\r\nmagazine publishing from top to bottom and inside and out and that has helped\r\nme a lot. We were also a little\r\nahead of our time because while we took a huge hit on advertising… We couldn’t, you know. There was cultural advertising we\r\ncouldn’t have in with the new direction of the magazine and didn’t really have\r\nthe time or abilities to fill that in. \r\nWe doubled the Web traffic and that was my sign. That was kind of what I was using as my\r\nargument to say, "Hey, give it another few years. This is going to work." Because back then they didn’t really\r\nunderstand what that meant and they didn’t really see how quickly everything is\r\nmoving to the Web and how essentially print magazines are going to be\r\ncollector’s items before we know it. \r\nAs each generation comes up that doesn’t have the habits for paper it’s\r\njust easier and cheaper to get your stuff online. You know, people go to what they’re used to. Certainly our generation, you know, we’ll\r\nalways want to have a magazine in our hands. We like that, but they didn’t see the value in that\r\nnecessarily and you know they may have been right for all I know because it was\r\nanother few years until really ad revenue starts to move to the websites. So you know so at the end of the day it\r\nwas an experiment. It was\r\nsomething that hopefully sparked a few people to do similar things down the\r\nroad and will keep a certain flavor of magazine publishing alive. I have to say at the end of the day I\r\nam glad not to be spending all day, every day in the High Times office, you\r\nknow, covering this particular angle of life.\r\n\r\n
Question: What harshes\r\nyour mellow?\r\n\r\n
John Buffalo Mailer: What harshes my mellow? Well I just had a movie that was set\r\nand ready to go with amazing stars and an amazing director and an amazing\r\nproducer and everyone and, because of a technicality unfortunately the whole\r\nthing just fell apart. That\r\nharshed my mellow a little bit. \r\nBut again, you know if you’re going to go into the movie business it is\r\nso full of heartbreak and you get so close and it doesn’t happen and then once\r\nin a while it works out and it is the fantasy, like it is that dream. So riding the highs and lows of it\r\nyou got to have an iron constitution and you got to be able to do what David\r\nDinkins actually one said—who, you know, who was a mayor of New York back in the early '90s, late '80s, and had a rough time. \r\nYou know, one day after another it was something and actually my father\r\nwas talking to him and he said, “So you know, Mr. Dinkins, how do you navigate\r\nit all?” And he said, “Well you\r\nknow some days are good, some days are bad, but anytime there is a bad day I\r\nknow the next day is going to be good and vice versa, so you just can’t put too\r\nmuch stock in that moment.” I\r\nthink that ultimately when life is not tragedy it should be a party and if\r\nyou’ve faced the real stuff, if you’ve faced the ones closest to you being at\r\ndeath’s door, passing on, you know, not to let the small stuff really harsh\r\nyour mellow, as you put it.
Recorded March 30, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen
A conversation with the actor, writer, producer, and journalist.
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