The novelist was often portrayed in the media as a humorless misogynist. His son knew a different side of the man.
Question: Your father wasrnoften accused of having no sense of humor. Was this true?rnrn
John Buffalo Mailer: rn Oh, my God. I mean, if anything his rnproblem was that he didn’t realizernthat humor will not translate in sound bites and quotes and so rnoftentimes hernwould say something, you know, just off the cuff that was silly and funny rnandrnridiculous and everyone there would laugh like you wouldn’t believe and rnthen itrnwould end up in print the next day and, you know, something crazy like, rn“NormanrnMailer said women should be kept in cages.” You rnknow, things like that. It was just, he loved rnwomen so much. I mean probably more than anythingrn inrnthe world he loved women. He gotrnput into a position where he was kind of seen as the anti-feminist, rnalthough hernwas for the feminist movement. Hernjust didn’t want people to get consumed with the idea that this was rngoing 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, rnyou 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.rnrn
So you know those who were lucky enough to know my rndad knowrnthat he was one of the funniest guys who ever lived. Irn mean he had this great… Or I thought it was rngreat. I shouldn’t preface it by saying it was rngreat, but he hadrnthis joke he used to tell whenever he would start a lecture. He would flip the jokes around. Hern had one he would do for a year orrnso, but basically he said that it was about karma and reincarnation and rnhernsaid, “You know, so I diernand I go up to the gates and I see Gabriel.” And rnhe 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 rnwe 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 rnghetto.rnDo whatever. I’ll work my way up, but I would really, you know, I’ve rnbeen kindrnof this little Jewish guy all my life and I’ve, you know, done what I’vern done,rnbut that’s what I really want to be.” rnAnd Gabriel says, “Well I hate to tell you this Mr. Mailer, but rnblackrnathletes are the most oversubscribed-to reincarnation requests we have. rnIt’s arnlist that goes miles long. I can’t tell you the chances are good, but rnlet 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 rnthernblock.” And that was my dad’srnsense of, you know, laughing at himself, laughing at existence, the rnuniverse,rnall of it and not being too serious about what we do with because at thern 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 rnable tornlaugh at it and laugh with it and roll with it that ultimately I think rnlive thernfulfilling lives that we’re all trying to do. Yourn know, and big step there is to not take yourself toornseriously from the start.
Recorded March 30, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen