Gut Check: The Pleasures of P.J.

As you read this, I will be on a bus somewhere between PA and Ohio hawking a book. I can’t use the bus toilet (we aren’t allowed), which pretty much negates the principle of a bus toilet. Instead we use the Cracker Barrel Restroom, which happens to be the name of my next metal band.

But today, I write about P.J. O’Rourke, who appeared on my show Sunday night.

I write about him, because I don’t think he realizes who he actually is. P.J. might be the most influential writer of the modern age, but he neither acts like it, or really cares if it’s true, or not.

Can you think of anyone else who had a heavier impact? Seriously? He was really the first to inject non-liberal hilarity into political discourse, true. But more important, he was able to yank conservatives out of the hands of the humorless and shrill, and make such writing accessible to confused weirdos like me. He paved a way for freaks like me.

I try my best to camouflage my fanboy adulation around P.J., but the fact is–he changed my life. I idolized him. When my late and dearly missed mother first bought that National Lampoon for me in the mid-70’s– when I was sick as a dog, sitting out a day of fifth grade–it scared the crap out of me. Half of the humor flew over my tiny head, and there were tits–real honest-to-god tits in the magazine. I wasn’t ready for that. I guess my mom figured it was time. The girls in the mag were real and cute–making it more appealing than anything Hefner conjured up in his hyperbaric horny hell.

But i pored over every page, and I felt like I discovered a secret sage speaking directly to me. I wasn’t political (yet), but I understood dirty, silly humor–and later understood that dirty, silly humor was often–well, always–smarter than anything found in the New Yorker. P.J.’s targets were phonies. He was JD Salinger, more than JD Salinger ever was. He was a hippy who hated hippies. That’s the formula for winning. P.J.’s editorials were the first real voice of the post-hippie era. Without him, you wouldn’t have had Saturday Night Live or Animal House.

I met P.J. first at the Keyhole Tavern in Arlington. American Spectator assistant managing editor Andy Ferguson let me tag along for the drink at this armpit of a drinking hole. This was a huge thing for me, but I pretended otherwise. When P.J. showed up, I clammed up, more nervous than I expected. Star struck and feeling supremely insignificant at 21–I made a joke about the Keyhole–a rough looking joint known for it’s chili with onions and cheese. And the brawls.

I told P.J. that the tavern had a problem with knife fights. That there weren’t enough of them.

He chuckled, but maybe out of politeness–because the surprise turn of a sentence he had mastered–and I had simply stolen, for that moment.

I saw him maybe years later at a book party for the brilliant writer that is Ferguson. By then I was a rolling mess of health advice and binge drinking, working at the ab-laden homoerotic mega-mag Men’s Health. P.J. was hugely successful but invisible: selling smart books by the ton, but ignored mostly by the media who found his conservative humor weird, and threatening: like a hybrid beast you’d just shoot dead to be safe from infection.

Because he was infectious. His writing infected me. And while it’s easy to think you create much of your own ideas, on your own–it’s a lie. I am willing to bet nearly every single thought or idea that I have had in the last ten years, P.J. had 30 years ago.

He’s just too damn polite to call me on it.

If you don’t know him–you have your chance. Buy his new omnibus–an anthology of more good writing than you’d find in ten years of reading Proust.

You can find it here:

http://www.amazon.com/Thrown-Under-Omnibus-A-Reader/dp/080212366X

You’re welcome, America.


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