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Kinky Friedman (1944-2024)

When I read Kinky Friedman's obituary the other day I felt like crying and laughing. Laughing because I laughed at the lyrics to many of his songs, including “They Ain't Makin' Jews Like Jesus Anymore,” which pokes fun at Jews and non-Jews alike. Also, because I found his many murder mysteries immensely entertaining and even humorous. Kinky could “crack wise” about murder, as one of his characters might say.

I felt like crying because “Kinky,” as I always called him, and not Richard as his parents named him, was only 79 when he died, a vastly talented performer who had not yet exhausted his seemingly limitless supply of creativity that took aim at the Lone Star State—where he lived most of his life —and other Texas-sized targets.

Kinky Friedman

I didn't know anything about Kinky until a day in 1975 when Abbie Hoffman — who was then a fugitive running from the law — bought two-dozen copies of his first album at a record store on Sunset Boulevard in LA, autographed them "Kinky Friedman" and handed them to strangers. I watched in awe. Kinky would not have minded Abbie's prank. The co-founder with Jerry Rubin of the Yippies, Abbie had appointed himself Friedman's chief publicist and number one fan. Eight-years older than Kinky, a loyal New Englander, a bar mitzvah boy and a Brandeis graduate, Abbie persuaded 1960s/1970s protesters to riot in the streets by telling them jokes. No one else on the left did that.

The two comedians appreciated the same Jewish performers — Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, and Sid Caesar— who kept Americans in stitches for decades. They also both boasted serious agendas. In the present day era of political correctness, where satirizing certain groups and individuals can prompt boos and rebuke, there are few if any comedians like Hoffman and Friedman. For both of them, there were no sacred cows. Everything and everyone was a valid target for ridicule: Texas, the Democratic Party, John Wayne and compulsory drug testing. But Kinky wasn’t clowning when he ran a summer camp for kids.

Nor was he clowning when he noted that he was the "bastard child of cowboys and Jews." Hoffman saw himself as the bastard child of the Jewish tradition carved out by Marx, Freud and Einstein, plus the all-American world of pool hall hustlers and door-to-door salesmen.

Behind his clownish act Abbie was bio-polar, and not surprisingly he committed suicide by taking an overdose of drugs washed down by Glenlivet. Not a funny way to exit the stage of history.

I heard Kinky live in the 1990s in San Francisco where he performed the songs that had made him famous. At the end of the evening he gave me a guitar pick inscribed with his name. We smoked cigars in a bar when bars were filled with smoke. "Come and visit me in Texas hill country," Kinky said. "I'll put you up and show you around." I did not take him up on his offer, though I took a deep dive into his murder mysteries — Kill Two Birds and Get Stoned and God Bless John Wayne — that feature a detective named Walter Snow who bears an uncanny resemblance to the author himself. People magazine noted that “Kinky Friedman is to the detective novel what Frank Zappa is to rock and roll: a gleeful gadfly who delights in offending purists." Abbie felt the same way about purists and yanking their collars.

Less protective of his persona than Abbie was of his Yippie identity, Kinky ran for governor of Texas and called for the legalization of street drugs, enforcement of illegal immigration, and an end to the probation of smoking in public. Hoffman and the Yippies ran a pig for president in 1968. Kinky received some votes; the pig none.

In an obituary in The New York Times, Clay Risen noted that it "could be hard to know when Mr. Friedman was joking and when he was serious." He might have used the very same words to describe Abbie Hoffman. Also, he might have observed that they don't make Jews like Kinky and Abbie anymore, not in America and not in Israel either.


  1. Norm Thurston July 6, 2024

    I will always remember his campaign promise to lower the speed limit to 54.95. A very funny guy.

  2. Allen Young July 6, 2024

    I love this essay appreciating both Kinky and Abbie. Very well done, my friend.

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