5 Jan

Greg Proops is “The Smartest Man in the World.”

He has been – and continues to be – many other things in addition. Comedian, actor, well-dressed, well-read, husband, high … he is massive and he contains multitudes.

For us, he is nothing less than an inspiration in creativity, in thought, in the promotion of peace and love, and – not insignificantly – in being really fucking cool. 

For over a year now, we have subscribed to his podcast (or Proopcast, should you prefer), unambiguously titled “The Smartest Man in the World.” To say that we have enjoyed this podcast would be an understatement the likes of which Mr. Proops would not touch with a ten-foot kitten. Week after glorious week, Proops offers his thoughts, his answers, his simultaneously silly and serious stories of life, love, Jewish baseball players and every other disastrous and/or wonderful thing in the world.

Did we mention the podcast is absolutely hilarious, too? We should mention that.

This past year, Rolling Stone described “The Smartest Man in the World” thusly:

“Here he is, though, in front of a live audience each week, bravely recording some of the boldest comedy on the podcasting frontier right now. Proops proved himself a keen improviser on ‘Whose Line Is It, Anyway?’ over a decade ago, but his performance there only hinted at how nimble he is here, guiding seemingly steam-of-consciousness thoughts about current events right into jokes that appear handcrafted and fussed over. He may get political at times, but he’s more Lenny Bruce than Bill Maher: occasionally not funny, but never boring.”

This may be the most – per chance, the only! – spot-on thing published in Rolling Stone in the past forty years. Truth is, “The Smartest Man in the World” is indescribable. And for some indescribable reason, Mr. Proops blessed us with some of his time in order to answer our ridiculous questions.

We’d love to hear some of your thoughts on your stated two favorite genres of music. First up, glam. What was your first introduction to glam and what was your initial reaction? What is it that makes glam such an unquestionable fun and vibrant form some 40 years past its initial explosion? Can there be a true glam band – by your definition – in the current day? Can there even be one after the death of Marc Bolan?

I heard it when I was a teen. I was introduced to Ian Hunter by a friend. I also loved David Bowie and had his hits album, “Changes,” and listened to it constantly. Glam is fun for the irreverence, open sexual attitudes, the campness of the guys and the undeniable roots rock of the music. Lady Gaga is a version of glam, as is Goldfrapp. Rock is not a place for glam anymore. Straight white men hate disco and glam because it includes women and queers.

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Switching gears to your other stated musical preference, which artist or album best captures what you love about funk? Is it possible that funk is perhaps the most misunderstood genre of them all, and why? Is your answer influenced at all by the notion that any of the three members of The Police – one of your stated least favorite bands of all time – would be more likely to describe a section of one of their songs as “a bit funk” over “a bit glam”?

Too many to mention … Johnny “Guitar” Watson, The Brothers Johnson, George Duke, Chaka Khan, Tower of Power, The Time, Ohio Players, Heatwave … it never ends. Without James Brown, George Clinton and Sly Stone, we have nothing. The Police have never gotten near a funk riff. Thank funk.

We feel it’s appropriate to ask you your opinion writ large on both psychedelic music and psychedelic experience in general, given that you are originally from San Francisco and have met at least one Beatle. What images or sounds appear in your minds eye when you think of psychedelic music?

I think of Grace Slick and her tough approach to psychedelic. The San Francisco bands – the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane – were semi-nasty outfits, full of tough guys and drug addicts. Psychedelia is often seen as benign, but I think Blue Cheer and Moby Grape might re-write that notion. I like the butterflies and rainbows part a lot. The soft fun of the music is in the poetry.

What impact did your youth in The Bay Area have on your opinion of psychedelic music? Speaking of a 1967 visit to Haight-Ashbury, no less an authority than George Harrison said, “You know, I went to Haight-Ashbury, expecting it to be this brilliant place, and it was just full of horrible, spotty, dropout kids on drugs.”

George was rich and out of touch at that point. The Haight was always full of homeless and gangsters.

Given the eminent shagability of the aforementioned Harrison, what album would you be most likely to play for Mr. Harrison on an imaginary dinner date?

Well, he loved The Band … so maybe “Music From Big Pink.”

Download “All You Need Is Tug” by Greg Proops

Given the original definition of a psychedelic experience being “characterized by the striking perception of aspects of one’s mind previously unknown, or by the creative exuberance of the mind liberated from its ostensibly ordinary fetters,” what has been the most psychedelic live music performance you’ve ever seen? Can you recall ever going to see a performance with exceedingly low expectations only to find yourself truly transformed?

I took acid and saw The Tubes on New Years Eve, 1977, and lost my shit. They are a glammy, theatrical band and the constant changing of costumes and motifs really turned me on. I saw the Grateful Dead and the unity of the crowd was inspiring. Everyone was there for one reason and that is amazing.

Do you feel that one can truly be transformed by music? Can one be truly transformed by the spoken word and, if so, when was the last time it happened to you?

I am always being influenced by music and the spoken word. I listen to stand up and read books and speeches by Lincoln and Martin Luther King … Vaclav Havel and Aung San Suu Kyi’s words are inspiring. I listen to Bill Hicks and Carlin when I want to know it is okay to hold a different opinion.

Again, we feel it’s appropriate to ask you about the powerful nature of words, given the transformative words you share on “The Smartest Man In the World.” In fact, we find ourselves admiring greatly not only your own words, but also the words of others that you choose to share, from Martin Luther King, Jr., to Charles Bukowski. What has been the biggest surprise to you in regard to sharing your thoughts – and thoughts you admire – via the podcast? What is the downside, if any?

That people do respond to hearing Gil Scott-Heron for the first time, or even The Beatles. I think poetry is in everything. I seek to bring that to others. There is no downside.

In his remarkable book “The Harvard Psychedelic Club,” author Don Lattin quotes Phil Slater – who, as a graduate student at Harvard, administered LSD to students in government-sanctioned research in the early 1950’s and later became a bestselling author with “The Pursuit of Lonliness: American Culture at the Breaking Point” – as saying the following:

“What [Timothy] Leary did more than anything else was activate conservative anxiety in America. The way he phrased the rejection of the status quo fit the hippies and the political left, and he did it in a way that scared people hugely. While all the hippies and feminists and the radicals and the civil rights people argued about which was the most important way to go, the only people who really understood that it was all one thing was the right wing.”

Your thoughts?

Yipes. Well, the right only wants to crush and dominate. The rest of us have too many agendas. The media is a lapdog to monied interests and the government and the corporations want us all to be willing slaves. Drugs and enlightenment and free thought are never an easy sell in a counrty where we listen to people talking about how the Lord slected them and whatnot.

What’s next for Greg Proops?

More podcast and hopefully a comedy video.

Subscribe to “The Smartest Man in the World” on iTunes

Visit Greg Proops on Tumblr


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