The Funny, Feminist Side of Norman Mailer

Question: Your father was\r\noften accused of having no sense of humor. Was this true?

\r\n\r\n

John Buffalo Mailer: \r\n Oh, my God.  I mean, if anything his \r\nproblem was that he didn’t realize\r\nthat humor will not translate in sound bites and quotes and so \r\noftentimes he\r\nwould say something, you know, just off the cuff that was silly and funny \r\nand\r\nridiculous and everyone there would laugh like you wouldn’t believe and \r\nthen it\r\nwould end up in print the next day and, you know, something crazy like, \r\n“Norman\r\nMailer said women should be kept in cages.”  You \r\nknow, things like that.  It was just, he loved \r\nwomen so much.  I mean probably more than anything\r\n in\r\nthe world he loved women.  He got\r\nput into a position where he was kind of seen as the anti-feminist, \r\nalthough he\r\nwas for the feminist movement.  He\r\njust didn’t want people to get consumed with the idea that this was \r\ngoing 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, \r\nyou 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 \r\ndad know\r\nthat he was one of the funniest guys who ever lived.  I\r\n mean he had this great…  Or I thought it was \r\ngreat.  I shouldn’t preface it by saying it was \r\ngreat, but he had\r\nthis joke he used to tell whenever he would start a lecture.  He would flip the jokes around.  He\r\n had one he would do for a year or\r\nso, but basically he said that it was about karma and reincarnation and \r\nhe\r\nsaid,   “You know, so I die\r\nand I go up to the gates and I see Gabriel.”  And \r\nhe 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 \r\nwe 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 \r\nghetto.\r\nDo whatever. I’ll work my way up, but I would really, you know, I’ve \r\nbeen kind\r\nof this little Jewish guy all my life and I’ve, you know, done what I’ve\r\n 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 \r\nblack\r\nathletes are the most oversubscribed-to reincarnation requests we have. \r\nIt’s a\r\nlist that goes miles long. I can’t tell you the chances are good, but \r\nlet 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 \r\nthe\r\nblock.”  And that was my dad’s\r\nsense of, you know, laughing at himself, laughing at existence, the \r\nuniverse,\r\nall of it and not being too serious about what we do with because at the\r\n 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 \r\nable to\r\nlaugh at it and laugh with it and roll with it that ultimately I think \r\nlive the\r\nfulfilling lives that we’re all trying to do.  You\r\n know, and big step there is to not take yourself too\r\nseriously from the start.

Recorded March 30, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen

The novelist was often portrayed in the media as a humorless misogynist. His son knew a different side of the man.

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