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When I met P.J. O’Rourke for the first time in the late 80s at the American Spectator’s offices, I was an assistant, and he showed up to see the important people (Bob, Wlady, Andy) and we headed to the Keyhole Inn, a few blocks away. I tagged along because I was a fanboy, maybe 21.
I had read his amazing National Lampoon through high school. And later, his essays in “Amspec.” I think I may have read Republican Party Reptile before that, but my timing could be off.
But the idea that one could be a conservative without “acting” conservative, was me all over. I had spiky hair, wore leather jackets, adorned with clash and Sex Pistol buttons. But I read National Review and books by Helmut Schoeck.
P.J. said I fit in, when others didn’t.
So the first time I met him was at the offices — and we walked to the bar over the road and across the street.
All I remember was that I was very nervous and he was very gracious. I believe he was used to this sort of thing — people ascribe mystical talents to people they adore, and it’s not exactly realistic. So he got it.
He made a joke about the dive, the Keyhole — being a place for knife fights. And I said that you get thrown out if you don’t have them. I am fairly certain that’s how the joke went.
But after that I never really said a damn thing. It’s a wise thing — when you’re before your heroes, the less said the better. Let them talk. So instead I drank cheap beer and had their trademark Keyhole chili over rice. I never thought I would get to his stature as a writer, because understandably I had no clue.
O’Rourke did my show maybe five years ago. This was a big deal for me. He was a primary inspiration for me — steering me to become what I am now… in that you could be anarchic, libertine and libertarian, vote to cut taxes but do drugs — and still be a Republican. I didn’t wear khakis or blazers, unless I had to.
I was a hardcore punk rock muscle head. P.J. made it so that the so-called Party was welcome for people like me who looked like they belonged on the other side. He made the Republican Party inviting to rebels who felt the current rebellion was clichéd, and well, conformist.
When I was working on my monologue in the Green Room on a computer before the show, for the Gutfeld show, I realized I had to change something…not a big edit, but a small important one…and PJ came over, and his suggestion easily solved the problem.
He took the time, looked at the copy, and made an effortless but also thoughtful suggestion that smoothed out the rough spot.
It was easy work for an old pro. I felt I got to feel something unique, briefly. Like when a pro-race car driver takes your car for a spin.
And yes, I don’t remember the change. All I know is, that one exchange in a goofy work environment told me everything I needed to know about his editorial gifts. There was no ego involved in the exchange.
Ego was never a thing among great editors — because they are supposed to be great invisible helpers. Santa, who’s also an elf. They just want you to do better. And that’s what he did. He helped me. The show went great.
It’s kinda scary to think of the impact he had on me. When I was a teen, his NatLamp issues were both hilarious and dangerous. They introduced me to topless women. I had not seen them before.
He really invented “Animal House,” even if he didn’t write it. He showed you how you can either be Dean Wormer, or Bluto. Or something in-between. He changed my life.
I would run into him here and there, and thought how easy it was for me to glide around him, now that I found my place in this media wilderness.
Sometimes I forgot that if it weren’t for him, who knows where I would be. But that’s probably overstating it.
I’d be fine. But no P.J.