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John Buffalo Mailer

John Buffalo Mailer is an author, actor, playwright, and producer, as well as the youngest child of novelist Norman Mailer. In 2005 he co-wrote the novel "The Big Empty" with his[…]

A conversation with the actor, writer, producer, and journalist.

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John Buffalo Mailer:  John Buffalo Mailer.  I’m an actor, writer and producer, andrnjournalist. 

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Question: How did yournstudy for your role in “Wall Street 2”?

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John Buffalo Mailer:  It was a fairly extensive rehearsalrnprocess.  I took trips out to LongrnIsland, kind of just got the feel of the town that we had set my characterrncoming from, voice lessons, learning the floor, learning the actual trade ofrnWall Street traders.  It was kindrnof an incredible process.  So Shiarn[LeBouf] and myself and several other people, we just spent as many hours as werncould shadowing different traders on the floor kind of finding where it standsrntoday, how it’s different from the first Wall Street, how it’s the same.  It was an amazing ride.  I’ll tell you that.

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Question: How has WallrnStreet culture changed since the original film came out?

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John Buffalo Mailer:  Well the numbers are bigger for onernthing.  It’s much more global.  It’s less centric to whatever arearnyou’re in.  You know, some floorsrnyou go in and when the bell rings it’s silent and all you see are the computerrnscreens starting to light up as people do different trades.  It used to be kind of like a big bangrnwould start off the day.  A companyrnthat was I think the one I learned the most from, just in terms of my own characterrnand the kind of firm he worked in, was John Thomas Financial. And there it’srnlike, you know, warriors in an arena getting ready for battle.  Thomas Belesis just fires these guys uprnlike there is no tomorrow, and I absolutely got addicted to that optimism andrnadrenaline and that “We’re going to do it, we’re going to do it, buddy” kind ofrnattitude that he had, so you know it runs the full spectrum.  His firm is much more like what it usedrnto be in terms of warriors on a mission. rnI think now it’s a lot more relaxed.  You see a lot of sneakers and jeans at places depending onrnwhich firm you’re talking to.

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Question: What surprisedrnyou about Wall Street culture?

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John Buffalo Mailer:  I had a lot of preconceived notionsrngoing in.  It wasn’t an industryrnthat I really respected much.  Myrnfeeling was kind of like look, you’re not making anything.  You’re taking money from one place,rnputting it in another and taking your cut and that’s just not really kind ofrnsoul-satisfying at the end of the day, but what I learned is, on a larger scalernis how much the Wall Street industry funnels and fuels so many others and wernwould not have a lot of medical research without it.  We would not have, you know, educational programs withoutrnit.  There is a lot of good that thesernguys do, and to lump all traders into a category is as insane as lumping anyrngroup of people into one category. rnYou’re going to find the good people and bad all around.  I had a lot of fun with thosernguys.  The laughter is unlike mostrnsettings you’ll find.  The level ofrnintensity, the adrenaline, the stakes are incredible.  I mean it is addictive.  I can understand why people end up spending 23 or 24 hours arnday hitting it.

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Question: Is Wall Streetrnfundamentally at odds with Main Street?

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John Buffalo Mailer:  No, not at all.  Not at all.  I mean I think one of the larger problems going on right nowrnis, debate has replaced discussion. rnAs I say you can’t lump Wall Street into one category.  That doesn’t mean anything.  Every firm has a different attitude andrndoes different things and puts their cherries in certain places and their moneyrnin others.  Some are vicious,rnnasty, I will cut you down at all costs to make a buck, some have a much higherrnmoral standard.  My hope is thatrnthe film will actually serve as a way for us to bridge that gap between WallrnStreet and Main Street.  Certainlyrnthat’s dealt with in the film of how it does affect everybody, so, you know, Irnalways find that when you can create a movie or a play or a book that givesrnsomebody a safe theoretical place to discuss what is really going on in the dayrnit tends to forward discussion, so that would be my hope coming out of thernfilm.

Question: What first drewrnyou to the theater?

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John Buffalo Mailer:  You know I grew up in an artisticrnfamily where everyone was doing something in one field of the arts orrnanother.  I was I think 12rnyears old when I did my first acting at the Actor’s Studio and, you know,rnJames Dean once said that the only reason to become and actor is because yournhave to.  I think that you knowrnfrom a young age if that is a certain rush that you’re going to need to satisfyrnyou and to make you feel fulfilled—and if you don’t then you shouldn’t dornit.  It’s just too brutal of arnbusiness most of the time.  So Irnthink that at the ripe old age of 12 I figured out, you know, I kind of likernthis thing.  I like talking tornthese people.

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Question: How is workingrnon a play different from working on a film?

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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 andrnmakeup and you know an entire army that is basically all there for the samernpurpose, which is make the best film we can.  Yeah, when you’re on an Oliver Stone set everybody bringsrntheir A game.  Everybody bringsrntheir A game, from the top to the bottom and in between.  In terms of theater you know there isrnno way to really duplicate that rush you get when you take an audience that isrnlive and right there in front of you through the journey of a great play andrnyou go through these emotions so that they can experience them without havingrnto go through them themselves. rnIt’s a certain kind of human compact that obviously you lose as soon asrnthere is a screen and a camera there, so I think we’ll always haverntheater.  I think theater willrnalways be a powerful force because we need that human touch, particularly as wernspend more and more time with machines, cell phones, computers we start to losernour humanity.  I mean the price ofrnour technology may very well end up being our humanity, so I think you got tornhave that balance.  Personally Irntry to do one for one if I can.  Dorna movie, do a play, do a movie, do a play—while at the same time writing andrnbeing in that cycle.  Those twornfields are very… Writing and acting are almost diametrically opposed in termsrnof being an actor it’s in your interest to be in shape and to be healthy and tornhave a strong voice and to be flexible. rnAs a writer you’re sitting in this position for hours on end.  You get up and you can’t put yourrnshoulder down.  It’s not a healthyrnexistence so to speak and it’s probably not healthy for the person that livesrnwith you either, but you do the best you can.

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Question: What theatricalrnwork are you proudest of?

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John Buffalo Mailer:  You know I’m probably most proud of thernplays that I’ve written just because as the playwright, you know, you’rernGod.  You get to do everything.  You don’t make any money hardly at all,rnbut you really get to kind of control the scene.  As a screenwriter you’re the towel boy in thernwhorehouse.   I mean you knowrnyou’re lucky if you’re invited to set. rnIt’s kind of like here is the blueprint, go and that’s you know therernhas been some debate as to whether or not a film should be by the director orrnby the screenwriter or by both. rnThe screenwriter lost out on that. rnDirectors win.  In theaterrnit is absolutely the opposite, but you know I’m proud of all the…  Well, of most of the theater actingrnthat I’ve done.  The thing is, torntry to talk about a performance that will never be seen again, that was onlyrnlived by the people there, it’s kind of like telling somebody about your dream.  You know if they love you they’llrnlisten and smile, but they can’t really get it, so there is a certain infiniternquality to film that is nice.  Yourndo the work and you know it’s always going to be there.  The flip side is if you do bad workrnit’s always going to be there.

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Question: What are yourrngoals as an actor and playwright?

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John Buffalo Mailer:  You know, I just I love telling storiesrnand as long as I can make my living doing that in all the different mediumsrnthat I have been lucky enough to, that’s enough for me.  Really it’s, you know, there's differentrnscales of stories.  Sometimes yournwant to tell one that 20, 30, 40, 50 million people will want to see andrnhear.  Sometimes you do one thatrnyou know 150 will want to see on one night.  As long as you’re telling the right story for the rightrnaudience and they’re getting something out of it it’s essentially the samernfeeling to me.  Obviously there isrnyou know the economic necessity of paying your bills and how do you dornthat.   Ten years ago when Irnstarted out I was kind of told I was insane for trying to pursue multiple fieldsrnat once because in five years everyone who just did one would have five timesrnthe resume I would if I was lucky, but I took that gamble because I just my gutrntold me it was the right thing to do and you know as an actor there is so muchrndowntime you want to fill it with something else and as a writer you knowrnsometimes you’re doing a passion project, sometimes it’s a paid gig, sometimesrnthere is nothing, so you can do a journalistic piece.  At this point I think the shift starting about 2008, a lotrnof factors as well I’m sure, but whatever the reasons, 2008 it felt as thoughrnthe combination of distribution models starting to tighten and the publishingrnand film and music industries having to revolutionize themselves to catch up,rnand understand how this is going to work in the new millennium has made it arnlot easier to pursue multi-platform careers.  It’s much easier to hire one person who can do three or fourrndifferent things than one specialist in that field, which as I think about therncollege graduating classes and high school classes that are coming up nowrnthey’re in a unique position.  Irnmean they’re entering one of the toughest economies of all time.  At the same time if they’re willing tornwork really hard the ability they have to learn something much faster than wernever did before is there and it’s really a question of are you willing to putrnin the effort and go that extra mile. Because if you are I think there'srnactually more opportunities out there.

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Question: What was itrnlike growing up as Norman Mailer’s son?

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John Buffalo Mailer:rnIt’s always an interesting question of what was it like as Norman Mailer’s sonrnbecause I could easily turn it back and say what’s it like not to.  I don’t really have a comparison asidernfrom friends of mine and discussions, but I think I do have a gauge of some ofrnthe differences that it would be, because I didn’t always realize my dad wasrnNorman Mailer.  I always knew hernwas Dad, and then I forget the exact age when it dawned on me that, you know,rnhe is actually someone who affects the public consciousness of the time.  It was amazing.  I mean he was a rock star and brilliantrnand kind and funny and generous and scary when he needed to be and, you know,rnhard as a father.  I mean hernexpected a lot from us and he really pushed us and you know one of his favoriternlines was, “If you think I’m being hard on you, wait until life hits yournbecause 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 wasrnscary and intimidating and hard, but ultimately one of the biggest gifts Irncould have ever asked for. 

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There is one moment that actually comes to mind when yournthink of the kind of crystallizing factor.  You know I kind of lived a utopian existence until I wasrnabout 20, 21 when my mom got sick with cancer and it was bad.  It was very scary and at the time I wasrndoing my first screenplay and I was on deadline and was alone with my father inrnMassachusetts.  She was recoveringrnin the hospital.  We were goingrnback and forth and she wasn’t going to be able to come home for a few days, butrnwe knew about the longer road ahead and the chemo and the radiation and all ofrnthat and at a certain point I said to my dad.  I said, “Pop, you know, I don’t how I’m going to work. Irndon’t know how I can get this done. You know, I got to hand this script in andrnI can’t think about anything but Mom.” rnHe said, “Well, you know, now is the time when you’re going to learn whatrnit means to compartmentalize.”  Andrnthose words really had an impact on me and have enabled me through the last 10rnyears of more surgeries than I care to remember and more scary times than Irnwish my mother had ever had to go through.  Those words enabled me to actually continue to do my job andrnto get my work done, which is so important if you… I mean for all those whornhave kind of helped someone heal through a sickness you know it’s just sornimportant to be able bring exciting news to the table and to be able to getrntheir minds off of the fact that they’re sick and to do that you got to workrnyour ass off and have some successes and bring in some things, so those words Irnmean I could pick a million different instances with my dad, but that onernmoment 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.” rnAnd that is really what it means to be a man is to take on all thernemotional pain and work through what you got to work through with the peoplernyou love while at the same time getting your business done. And it’s tough. Irnthink that most children when they grow up they kind of realize that the thingsrnthey didn’t like about their parents or didn’t understand about them they getrnnow and that you know every year you get more responsibilities.  You get more overhead.  You get more things you got to takerncare off.  It’s hard to keep arnchipper, open, happy attitude about it all the time and you shouldn’t becausernpart of it is preparing your kids for when they’re going to take over the reinsrnand do it, so I was just incredibly thankful of that particular moment. 

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Question: What did yourrnfather teach you about writing?

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John Buffalo Mailer:  Oh, wow.  Well he probably taught me everything I know, aside fromrndialogue, which I think I get from my mom a lot more.  He certainly didn’t teach me everything he knew, but yournknow he has got this book out called "The Spooky Art," which is essentially anrnadvanced book on writing and it’s not… rnYou know it’s not ABC, but it’s for people who feel that bug and knowrnthat they’re writers and are willing to put in that time alone.  Pretty much the vast majority of whatrnhe taught me you can find in that book. rnYou 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 describernsomething.There is some basicrnstuff in there.  The nuance of arncharacter and the journey and what it means to write a novel. You know thesernare deep philosophical conversations that you can’t really put a buttonrnon. 

Work ethic is one of thernbiggest things he taught me.  Thatrnman worked like every day, every day, 9 to 5, well 9 to 9 in his case, but hernwould treat it as if it was a 9 to 5 job. rnHe would clock in.  He wouldrnput in his hours.  That is how yourncan write those you know incredibly long books that unfortunately there is notrnmuch market for anymore, but that is also how you can explore an idea on arndeeper level than we get in our media surface these days.  It’s tough. 

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I mean, just on a little side note with that one of thernreasons I’m so happy to be doing this show is because one of the virtues of thernInternet is that now for those who want it you can get into something that isrndeeper than what you have in 35 seconds or a minute on whichever pundit showrnyou’re doing, which are essentially designed to reinforce what people alreadyrnthink and not make them question anything.   Noam Chomsky is, in some ways, a victim of this newrnmillennium we live in because you can’t pull a sound bite from that guy andrnunderstand what he is talking about. rnYou have to hear the whole paragraph.  You have to hear the whole page.  You’ve got to hear the whole conversation if you really wantrnto understand it and that could change your life.  But it’s almost as thoughrnwe’ve been duped into believing we don’t have 25 minutes to have somethingrnchange our life.  We don’t havern2.  You know, we’re tweeting.  We’re running around.  We’re 15 words or less.  You know that to me I don’t think therernis any conspiracy or master plan behind it, but it does echo "NineteenrnEighty-Four" and you combine that with you know the amount of medications thatrndoctors are prescribing for people and suddenly we’re in "Brave New World" andrnit’s this bizarre combination of events that I don’t think was planned.  I don’t think is any kind of plot onrnanyone’s part.  It’s just that ourrnsystem is gearing us this way and we need to address that.  We need to address that publicly in arnway that is productive, in a way that actually gives people tangible thingsrnthey can do to stop the insanity of being available every moment, things likernthat.

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Question: Your father wasrnoften accused of having no sense of humor. Was this true?

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John Buffalo Mailer:  Oh, my God.  I mean, if anything his problem was that he didn’t realizernthat humor will not translate in sound bites and quotes and so oftentimes hernwould say something you know just off the cuff that was silly and funny andrnridiculous and everyone there would laugh like you wouldn’t believe and then itrnwould end up in print the next day and, you know, something crazy like, “NormanrnMailer 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 inrnthe world he loved women.  He gotrnput into a position where he was kind of seen as the anti-feminist, although hernwas for the feminist movement.  Hernjust didn’t want people to get consumed with the idea that this was going tornbe much better.  He said, “Look, womenrnshould be treated equally and fairly.” rnThere is no question about it, but there was a certain kind ofrntotalitarian element I think when the movement was starting off.  There were so many different factionsrnand that’s I think what he was taking issue with was the idea of, look, you can’trngo from male dominance to female dominance and expect anything to bernbetter.  We’re all shits, ultimately,rnand we’ve got to do the best we can together. 

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So you know those who were lucky enough to know my dad knowrnthat 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 hadrnthis 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 orrnso, but basically he said that it was about karma and reincarnation and hernsaid,   “You know, so I diernand I go up to the gates and I see Gabriel.”  And he says, “Oh, Mr. Mailer, we’re so happy to see you.rnWe’ve been expecting you for a while and we ask this of all of our newrnrecipients. What would you like to be reincarnated as? It’s a question we askrneverybody because we see that you’re on the list for reincarnation.”  And he says, “Well, you know, I’d likernto be a black athlete, honestly. That’s, you know, put me…Start me in a ghetto.rnDo whatever. I’ll work my way up, but I would really, you know, I’ve been kindrnof this little Jewish guy all my life and I’ve, you know, done what I’ve done,rnbut that’s what I really want to be.” rnAnd Gabriel says, “Well I hate to tell you this Mr. Mailer, but blackrnathletes are the most oversubscribed-to reincarnation requests we have. It’s arnlist that goes miles long. I can’t tell you the chances are good, but let mernsee what we have you down for and then we can work from there.”  And he looks and he goes, “Well we havernyou down for cockroach, but you’re going to be the fastest cockroach on thernblock.”  And that was my dad’srnsense of, you know, laughing at himself, laughing at existence, the universe,rnall of it and not being too serious about what we do with because at the end ofrnthe day if you’re here it’s a blessing. rnIt’s you know life is hard. rnLife is hard for everybody at some point, but it’s those who are able tornlaugh at it and laugh with it and roll with it that ultimately I think live thernfulfilling lives that we’re all trying to do.  You know, and big step there is to not take yourself toornseriously from the start.

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Question: Who is carryingrnon your father's legacy?

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John Buffalo Mailer:rnThere’s several people out there who I feel are doing their part in thatrnway.  I would say the only onernperson I know of who kind of combines the elements that my father brought tornthe table in terms of affecting the public discourse would be OliverrnStone.  His combination of academicrnbrilliance and real life experience and just understanding people I think isrnwhat makes him such a great storyteller, but also he cares.  He is interested.  He meets somebody and he listens tornthem.  He has some questions.  He wants to know what they’re about. Andrnas a result I think his worldview is much more complex and whole and most ofrnthe other…  I don’t know if we evenrnhave a category of public intellectual anymore, but he would be in thatrncategory.  He would be outrnthere.  The reason…  One of the things that sets him apartrnthough is he is commercial.  He isrnmainstream.  He makes big moviesrnand he is one of the last guys that can make big movies that actually havernsomething to say, that you know challenge the audience in a way whilernentertaining 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 forrnanyone to really have that level of a voice anymore because our media is sorndiluted and parsed out.  You knowrnpeople kind of go for the news and information that they want as opposed tornpicking up a paper and seeing what catches their eye.  It’s a very stark difference and, you know, it’s there is arnfew stories that end up going wide and everybody hears about them, but they’rernusually salacious celebrity stuff that is not about substance or it’s thernlatest disaster and it’s kind of covered in a way that is just trying to getrneyeballs on the screen.  It’s not,rnyou know.  I mean I think thatrnAnderson Cooper does a great job of staying with stories and pushing them.  New Orleans he really…  He was there and he pushed it past thernpoint where his producers were saying, “Listen, you've got to stop because peoplernare tuning out now. You know, we’re on to another disaster.”  Yournknow, what do you worry about, Haiti, Chile, Turkey?  What?  You knowrnwhere do you put your attention and your focus?  So for one person to really be able to cover all that groundrnwould be tough.  Also I think thatrnyou know you have experts in fields who spend their life studying onernthing.  When an event goes on likernthat chances are they’re going to want that specific expert who has done it tornbe on the show talking about it, not a writer or an artist of any sort, which Irnthink is a mistake because you know we don’t have…  I mean we have them, but there is certainly not you know inrnstrong force public philosophers anymore. rnThe only way you’re going to get that kind of metaphorical larger takernon what is actually happening and what it means to us and what it’s going tornmean in a few years is to talk to people whose job it is to take life and turnrnit 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 grapplingrnwith towards the end was how that shift had happened now and he would go on arnbook tour and do his shows and it would be you know fulfilling and good, but hernwouldn’t have the same impact that he used to and it wasn’t because people werernless interested.  It’s just becausernpeople are distracted by the million different sources of entertainment andrninformation in front of them at any given time.

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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.

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Question: What's it likernto work at High Times?

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John Buffalo Mailer:rnI’ll put it to you this way.  Asrnwild as you think it is, as wild as you imagine it is—it’s even wilder.  Like it is a crazy Willy Wonka-landrnenvironment to be running a magazine out of, and truth be told, if what we wererntrying to pull off were to work I think I was the wrong guy for it because I wasrn25 years old.  I was sent in firstrnto kind of assess the staff and the team and see who could stay and who couldrngo with the shakeup. And, you know, I’m a nicer guy than I should be in a lot ofrninstances, but I couldn’t look at that, you know, 55-year-old advertisingrndirector with the long ratty grey hair who would forget his teeth oftentimesrncoming 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 Irncouldn’t look at that guy and know that if I fired him he was going to loserncustody of his kid and probably wouldn’t be able to get another job anywherernelse because he had been there for so long.  That’s not something I wanted on my conscience, notrnsomething that I felt like doing and I wasn’t willing to sacrifice that for therngreater good of the magazine.  Ifrnit was going to work we should have fired everybody and brought in six peoplernthat had the same vision, knew what they were doing and could do it.  Instead I tried to kind of like getrneveryone behind it and it worked... half. rnIt half-worked.  Half thernpeople were just too paranoid and scared of losing their jobs and so were kindrnof, you know, putting on the happy face and the stuff going on behind one’s backrnwas insane. 

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You know, I ended up walking away from that place with anrnappreciation for the education that I’ve been given.  I mean essentially I got paid for a year or two to really learnrnmagazine publishing from top to bottom and inside and out and that has helpedrnme a lot.  We were also a littlernahead of our time because while we took a huge hit on advertising…  We couldn’t, you know.  There was cultural advertising werncouldn’t have in with the new direction of the magazine and didn’t really havernthe time or abilities to fill that in. rnWe doubled the Web traffic and that was my sign.  That was kind of what I was using as myrnargument to say, "Hey, give it another few years.This is going to work." Because back then they didn’t reallyrnunderstand what that meant and they didn’t really see how quickly everything isrnmoving to the Web and how essentially print magazines are going to berncollector’s items before we know it. rnAs each generation comes up that doesn’t have the habits for paper it’srnjust easier and cheaper to get your stuff online.  You know, people go to what they’re used to.  Certainly our generation, you know, we’llrnalways want to have a magazine in our hands.  We like that, but they didn’t see the value in thatrnnecessarily and you know they may have been right for all I know because it wasrnanother few years until really ad revenue starts to move to the websites.  So you know so at the end of the day itrnwas an experiment.  It wasrnsomething that hopefully sparked a few people to do similar things down thernroad and will keep a certain flavor of magazine publishing alive.  I have to say at the end of the day Irnam glad not to be spending all day, every day in the High Times office, yournknow, covering this particular angle of life.

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Question: What harshesrnyour mellow?

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John Buffalo Mailer:  What harshes my mellow?  Well I just had a movie that was setrnand ready to go with amazing stars and an amazing director and an amazingrnproducer and everyone and, because of a technicality unfortunately the wholernthing just fell apart.  Thatrnharshed my mellow a little bit. rnBut again, you know if you’re going to go into the movie business it isrnso full of heartbreak and you get so close and it doesn’t happen and then oncernin a while it works out and it is the fantasy, like it is that dream.  So riding the highs and lows of itrnyou got to have an iron constitution and you got to be able to do what DavidrnDinkins 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. rnYou know, one day after another it was something and actually my fatherrnwas talking to him and he said, “So you know, Mr. Dinkins, how do you navigaternit all?”  And he said, “Well yournknow some days are good, some days are bad, but anytime there is a bad day Irnknow the next day is going to be good and vice versa, so you just can’t put toornmuch stock in that moment.”  Irnthink that ultimately when life is not tragedy it should be a party and ifrnyou’ve faced the real stuff, if you’ve faced the ones closest to you being atrndeath’s door, passing on, you know, not to let the small stuff really harshrnyour mellow, as you put it.

Recorded March 30, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen

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