BOB GARFIELD: Thirty years ago, an epistolary madman named Lazlo Toth burst onto the scene with the Lazlo Letters, a collection of actual correspondence between a fictional middle American and the real leaders of political and corporate America. Now, Lazlo is back, with a new collection titled "Bush to Bush," documentary evidence that snail mail as a communications medium isn't dead just yet. Joining me now is Lazlo's creator, comedian Don Novello, familiar to many as his other alter ego, Father Guido Sarducci. Don, welcome to the Big Show.
DON NOVELLO: Nice to be here.
BOB GARFIELD: Okay, so you've got this character -- a kind of obtuse but extremely energetic super-patriot who was plucked from the corps of Nixon's "Silent Majority" and he has lots of ridiculous ideas, and a very funny name.
DON NOVELLO: Yes.
BOB GARFIELD: But the name is not an invented one. Lazlo Toth was the Australian geologist who took a hammer to Michelangelo's Pieta--
DON NOVELLO: Right.
BOB GARFIELD: -- in St. Peter's in, in 1972, and while declaring "I am Jesus Christ."
DON NOVELLO: You know what though, too -- he wore a tuxedo. [LAUGHTER] He wore a tuxedo to attack the Pieta. Something else, you know?
BOB GARFIELD: Okay, but why Lazlo Toth? Why, of all names to expropriate, did you choose him?
DON NOVELLO: Well, now looking as an overview, it's kind of interesting, because he was attacking the establishment in a way, you know? Why I did it to begin with was because his name was in the news. You know? But then it just changed, you know, and I made him into this right wing American.
BOB GARFIELD: All right, now the original collection--
DON NOVELLO: Yeah--
BOB GARFIELD:-- ridiculed the America right or wrong sensibility, while at the same time having its way with the "man," the big institutions of the political and corporate establishment. But the new collection which, by the way, is hilarious, seems to pull back from what originally inspired you. Am I imagining that?
DON NOVELLO: You know, I didn't want to stay with that one note, that stand by our flag and that, you know? And so it really changed. The character changed. You know people look at this and they say where do you stand? They can't figure out if you're Republican or Democrat? And where I stand was, I'm just for the underdog, and, and for the truth. You know? I just see these as, you know, putting out ideas. I saw something-- they had this poll, probably Fox, you know. It says "Do you think the war is going to last a month or more than a month?" You know? Thirty eight percent said less than a month. Sixty percent said more than a month. Two percent said I don't know. And this was call-in. You know? And I always thought who's going to call in and say I don't know? You know? [LAUGHTER] I mean-- you know, somebody's saying there [SHOUTING] "Honey, what do you think?" He says "I don't know." Says [SHOUTING] "Call in. Tell them what you think." You know? I don't know. [LAUGHTER] But the truth is, those are the people out-- who does know, you know, if the war is going to last a month or more? It's only what they tell us, you know? So I'm for the "I don't know's," and I think whenever they take these polls, say I don't know, you know? And together we'll become the "I don't know" majority. You know?
BOB GARFIELD: Before we go any farther, for the uninitiated, would you please read one of your favorite letters?
DON NOVELLO: You know, I'd, I'd love to read the letter to the Queen Mom.
BOB GARFIELD: God rest her soul.
DON NOVELLO:Yeah. God rest her soul. Yeah. Queen Mother, a hundred years old, and they had this big party, and it was in People magazine. Pictures. And I wrote to her. I said [READING] "Dear Queen Mom, I have this to say. Of all the people at the party, from the pictures, you look like you were having the most merry old time of everybody. I'll bet there's one title nobody ever gave you. Designated Driver. Am I right?" [LAUGHTER] "I learned a long time ago that gin is not a summertime drink. Have you ever tried absinthe? That's what Toulouse Lautrec used to drink. You probably knew him. That's why I mention it."
BOB GARFIELD: You mentioned that Lazlo is an idea man, and he is, and they -- some of them are really stupid ideas.
DON NOVELLO: Yeah.
BOB GARFIELD: Tell me about the inter-species TV dinners.
DON NOVELLO:You know, that's kind of a stupid idea. It's-- well-- [LAUGHTER] you know, I -- it's - if you're like me, you know, you have a cat, and you feed the cat --the dog eats it. You know, cause cats eat slow. The dog eats real fast. You're eating; he wants more of yours. And this is a TV dinner that contains all three entrees for the three different species, and you eat together. [LAUGHTER]
BOB GARFIELD: Who did you send that idea to?
DON NOVELLO: To Swanson's, to their Salisbury Steak Dinner Team.
BOB GARFIELD: What was the response from Swanson to your idea?
DON NOVELLO:They don't consider ideas from outside sources. [LAUGHS] You know. Sometimes they write back and they say like, we've already thought of this. I, that's what I wanted, you know, from them.
BOB GARFIELD: So is this it for Lazlo?
DON NOVELLO:Yeah, I've done it 30 years. I think that's enough. You know, I've written to five U.S. presidents. No, five presidents of McDonald's, and seven U.S. presidents. I also wrote to Donald Rumsfeld. I gave him some ideas. I said hey, here's some ideas for you, at your next press conference. You know, he always answers his own questions, you know? Here's what I said he should say. [READING] "Has Osama and other top Talibans managed to sneak over the border to Pakistan? It's possible. There must be 50 ways to leave Afghanistan. Hop on a mule, Abdul. [LAUGHTER] Dress as a maiden, bin Laden. Have your wives pull you in a sled, Akmed. Give the border guards, moolah, Mullah." Well, Don Rumsfeld never-- never wrote back, but-- I know he meant to. But General Meyers did, you know. I, and I wrote him, I said "My dentist is from Afghanistan, and he has relatives there, and his aunt wrote him that one of the good things about the war is that meat is much more plentiful. And she wanted to know, is it okay to eat goats that have been killed by missiles or bombs. And he wrote back, General Meyers, and he talked about the-- how the food shortage is getting better. He didn't talk about the goats specifically.
BOB GARFIELD: Well, Don Novello, thank you very much.
DON NOVELLO: Thank you very much.
BOB GARFIELD:Don Novello is the alter ego of Lazlo Toth. The latest collection of the Lazlo Toth letters is called "From Bush to Bush" and has just hit the bookstore shelves. [CLIP: PAUL SIMON'S 50 WAYS TO LEAVE YOUR LOVER] 58:00
BOB GARFIELD: That's it for this week's show. On the Media was produced by Janeen Price, Katya Rogers, Megan Ryan and Tony Field; [THEME MUSIC UP AND UNDER] engineered by Dylan Keefe and Rob Christiansen, and edited-- by Brooke. We had help from Dave Goldberg. Our webmaster is Amy Pearl.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Arun Rath is our senior producer and Dean Cappello our executive producer. Bassist/composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. This is On the Media from NPR. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. [MUSIC TAG] 58:30 [FUNDING CREDITS] ************