What's wonderful about the Louisiana legislature is that its timing is awesome," says Lee Papa. He's just getting wound up. "Within months of Katrina, they were debating and passing an abortion ban that would go into effect only if Roe v. Wade was overturned, a bill that helps approximately nobody. Now, with the oil creeping onto the shore like a stoned Blob, they actually debated whether or not to allow concealed weapons in church. Again, just awesome.
"It's not just fiddling while Rome burns. It's using the flames to smoke crack."
It's observations like those — witty, angry, often as not profane — that put Papa in business as the Rude Pundit, which is also the name of the blog he launched in 2003 (rudepundit.blogspot.com). In the seven years since, Papa — by day, a drama professor at the College of Staten Island in New York — has become a regular on radio's syndicated Stephanie Miller Show (introduced by the Rivingtons' "Papa Oom-Mow-Mow"), issued his first comedy CD and performed a one-man show titled The Year of Living Rudely, which led The New York Times to dub the Pundit "a child of Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor and Hunter S. Thompson." (The paper also could have mentioned Sam Kinison, Lewis Black and Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi.) And this fall, Papa's first book, The Rude Pundit's Almanac, will be published.
Not bad for a man who moved to Cajun country at the age of 4 from Queens, N.Y., grew up in Lafayette, and studied at Tulane ("briefly") and the University of Southwestern Louisiana.
As a Carencro High School sophomore, Papa's contribution to the local science fair consisted of two dioramas: one representing creation, the other representing evolution. As he remembers it, a judge wanted him to reconcile the two concepts — "which is, you know, stupid," Papa remembers. "So I said, 'Well, I guess you could say that God created the Big Bang and sort of got things going,' and that pleased him to no end.
"Of course, being a cocky bastard, I added, 'But that's not what happened.'"
Though he may share the politics of a better known Cajun country pundit, James Carville, the resemblance stops there. Papa says his blog "probably (has)become a bit less profane, if only for the sake of not becoming boring. I mean, there's only so many sodomy jokes one can make." And Carville is unlikely, as Papa has, to recommend setting the CEO of BP on fire, or to tell his readers, "The entire 'I Want My Country Back' meme is such a lie because that crazy woman with that sign never had her country. And it ain't going back because what she wants to go back to never existed."
Papa's inspirations, he says, were the protest publications of the 1960s, "old-time muckrakers" and comedian-turned-pundit-turned-Sen. Al Franken. "When Franken's book Lies (and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them) came out, there was this uproar over how Franken was 'lowering the level of political discourse,'" Papa says. "I read it and found Franken thoughtful, reasonable, and vaguely profane at times.
"So I thought, 'That's not lowering political discourse. Let me show you what lowering political discourse is.'" Thus was born the Rude Pundit.
Papa came by his jaundiced eye for politics naturally; he lived in Louisiana until 1990 and has visited family and friends here many times since. "My memories are everything from taking public elementary school French classes," he says, "to celebrating the turn of the millennium at the Masonic Temple in New Orleans with Galactic playing, to wandering ruins after (Hurricanes) Andrew and Katrina."
The Rude Pundit was making verbal mincemeat out of the Bush-Cheney administration long before Katrina, but "Katrina was a game changer for my older brother," Papa says. "He had been a happy Rush-listening conservative who didn't give a damn about politics. But he took a trip with me to see the ruins of Slidell, of St. Bernard Parish and of the Lower 9th (Ward). We peeked inside mud-filled houses. We walked past boats in the middle of the street. We talked to grown men who broke down crying. And it made him give up on Bush.
"I'm not going to carpetbag my own reaction to Katrina because I didn't live it on a day-to-day basis," he adds. "But when I walked up to the barge that was in the middle of the street in the Lower 9th, it was staggering. And, really, there was no way to convey that to anyone who didn't stand there, but I felt it was my job to let my readers know that this was not how it was supposed to be."
BP, not surprisingly, is the current target of his rude punditry. On May 25, he wrote, "When (BP) managing director Robert Dudley says that 'there's nobody — nobody — who is more devastated by what has happened' than BP, well, what can one say to such touching human emotion other than 'We hope you get raped by alligators while the pelicans cheer.' For, see, if BP was honestly devastated by the oil gushing out of the hole in the ocean floor in any way other than its bottom line, then why the f— is it resisting or delaying anything asked of it?"
For Papa, it's personal. "I've had friends who work out on the rigs. The parents of friends growing up used to go seven-and-seven," he says. "When I was a kid, we would go down to Grand Isle and to the delta parishes for festivals or fishing. Again, I'm not gonna act like I'm debating whether to put my shrimp boat in dry dock and fire the crew. But it's heartbreaking, for so many reasons, not the least of which, as with the levees, it was preventable, but greed — simple greed — got in the way.
"Like Katrina, though, it's another catastrophe that's going to wreak havoc for years. This is the start. Wait until oil starts appearing in the Atchafalaya."
For those who think the mainstream media are liberal, reading a few entries by the Rude Pundit may be the verbal equivalent of knocking back a shot of gasoline; his invective regarding Ann Coulter and Dick Cheney is only suitable for a family newspaper published by the Manson family. Left though he may lean, however, Papa is no ideologue.
"If it was Bush who was letting BP run the show, the howls from the left would be deafening," he says. "Maybe by the time this interview comes out, things'll change, but the Obama administration, which has been active and involved since day one, needs to treat this like a terrorist attack, bringing everything it has to take care of such an emergency, shoving BP aside until they get the bill." (A few days later, on his blog, the Pundit wrote, "How do you think this plays out? That some f—ing miracle happens? That BP pays every dollar to every fisherman, every shrimper, every marsh tour boat operator, every business that has to cut back or shutter because of lost tourist dollars? That Congress will pass any regulations that have gums, let alone teeth? That President Obama will put on his Aquaman Underoos and dive down a mile to personally shove a cork into it? Hey, if we're gonna fantasize, we may as well have fun with it.")
Still, Papa is wary of being accused of carpetbagging — or carpetblogging — Louisiana's tragedies from his perch in New York. "If any of your readers want to respond with a 'Screw you. You don't live here anymore,' well, you're right," he says. "But my family's there, and your legislators' incompetence is helping them live amidst ignorance and pollution."
And speaking of ignorance, Mr. Pundit: Whatever happened at that science fair in Lafayette?
"I got second place. I think I lost to the volcano," Papa says, adding philosophically, "One always loses to the volcano."