As an aspiring stand-up comic, Randy Credico played on Las Vegas stages trod by Don Rickles and Frank Sinatra, but at age 27 he blew the opportunity of a lifetime. During what could’ve been a career-making appearance on The Tonight Show, he took aim at the Reagan administration and compared UN Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick to Adolph Hitler’s beloved Eva Braun.
Apparently, Johnny Carson wasn’t amused and Credico was never asked back. But at 63, the left-wing satirist, activist, and past candidate for senator, governor, and mayor has found new life as a talk show host. Struggling progressive radio station WBAI is hoping the radical firebrand can reverse its fortunes, in part by bringing in unlikely voices like Roger Stone, the Trump ally who sells Bill Clinton rape whistles and is being sued by Democrats for voter intimidation.
“Sometimes I want to piss people off,” said the host of Randy Credico: Live on the Fly, which launched in March and airs 5pm on Tuesdays. “You’ve gotta increase the size of the audience because WBAI is dying. The old guard is no longer there and people today don’t just want to listen to Noam Chomsky.”
Stone’s guest spots may be surprising given that Credico supported Bernie Sanders in the primary and now plans to vote for Jill Stein. But this isn’t just trolling. “We’re on the same page on drugs,” Credico said of Stone, the notorious dirty trickster. “We both dislike Hillary [Clinton]. We’re both fans of Julian Assange.” (The WikiLeaks founder has also been a recent guest on the show.)
Reached at home in Florida, Stone said that he and Credico met in 2002 when billionaire Paychex founder Tom Golisano was running for New York governor on the Independence Party line. “He was interested in drug reform and Randy provided experts who showed the draconian effect of the Rockefeller laws,” Stone recalled.
Credico was one of the laws’ most vocal and “flamboyant” opponents, and Stone joined him in denouncing the war on drugs during a performance at the Yippie Museum’s cafe. In 2004, the state legislature passed a bill that reduced sentences that had ranged from 15 years to life for people convicted of drug crimes, many of them low-level, first-time offenders.
Stone said that Credico’s impersonation of his former boss, Richard Nixon, was “letter perfect, better than David Frye’s,” and he described Credico as “a fire-bringer. He knows what he believes in. There’s an overlap between libertarians and progressives. Neither are for endless foreign wars.”
Ironically, Credico’s uncanny impressions once led to a falling-out with Stone. In 2007, a man who sounded an awful lot like the Republican operative threatened the father of then governor Eliot Spitzer. After a recording of the expletive-laden voicemail emerged, a rumor circulated that the voice was actually that of Credico, doing a spot-on imitation of Stone.
Credico denied that rumor to us, and batted down another one as well. In May of this year, Stone raised eyebrows when he claimed that Credico planned to start a “Sanders Supporters for Trump” group.
“I said that as a joke,” Credico told me.
Not all of Credico’s guests are so controversial. Last Tuesday, seated in a cramped studio at WBAI, he spoke with Craig Murray, a Scottish former diplomat, author and whistleblower; Zack Fink, NY1 reporter on the Bridgegate trial; and Paul Provenza, co-producer of The Aristocrats, which WBAI was offering as a gift during its fundraising drive.
The financially challenged station, owned since 1960 by the Pacific Foundation in Berkeley, California, has relocated several times in recent years, has sharply reduced staff and is now operating on a “bare bones” budget with only six staff members, said host and engineer Reggie Johnson. Its current lineup includes Pacifica’s flagship program, “Democracy Now!”, as well as progressive shows like “The Earth Wants You!”, hosted by environmental and anti-consumerist activist Reverend Billy.
Credico has been an occasional contributor to WBAI since the 1980s. Berthold Reimers, the station’s longtime general manager, is hoping his turn as regular host– a “big change” for the station– will draw more listeners and help increase cash flow. “We are very dogmatic and he breaks that,” Reimers noted. “He brought in Roger Stone! That’s unprecedented and goes against what we do. I don’t like Roger Stone but I appreciate that we have a dissenting voice. We are a free-speech radio [station] and I don’t want to have people like me talking all the time. That’s boring.”
Reimers also acknowledged that Credico, who now lives in Brooklyn with friends, has a wealth of famous contacts (among those who appear in a documentary about him are Larry David, Lewis Black, and Nick Di Paolo) and plenty of provocative political views. “We know he has content and we want him to raise money at the same time,” he said. “We need the money.”
During his Oct. 25 show, Credico puffed on a vaporizer. He told me the vaping keeps him off cigars, which aren’t his only vice. Credico has admitted to having “battles with cocaine.” He says he gave up the drug “a long time ago,” but in 2014, he was arrested for allegedly menacing (with his umbrella) a uniformed NYPD cop who had detained a black man at a subway stop in the Bronx. A source told the Daily News that Credico was apparently drunk at the time.
Judging from his genial demeanor on the air, he appears to be Mr. Clean these days. “I’m okay as long as I stay sober,” he told me. “I’m always a drink away from the graveyard.”
When we spoke at WBAI, Credico was in a hurry to move a car and couldn’t stay long. He suggested checking out a 2004 documentary on his life and career, 60 Spins Around the Sun, directed by Laura Kightlinger and funded by actor Jack Black. It reports on his birth and childhood in Pomona, California (his father was a convicted safecracker who went on to manage a successful nightclub), his stints in Vegas, his arrival in New York, his organizing of street rallies and shouting matches outside courthouses, his support of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and his meeting with West Village civil liberties icon Bill Kunstler when he was looking for an attorney to represent Joey Heatherton, a girlfriend who was in legal trouble.
In 1997, Credico was appointed director of the William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice by Kunstler’s widow, Margaret Ratner Kunstler, also a prominent civil rights lawyer. He spent 12 years working for the educational service, visiting prisoners, attending hearings and advocating against the drug laws and mass incarceration of mostly people of color. He left it in 2010, around the time it apparently went out of business, and ran for U.S. Senate in an unsuccessful bid for the seat of Democratic incumbent Chuck Schumer.
“I couldn’t do fundraising anymore,” he said of his departure. “I’m not very good at it.” Still, he insisted that the Kunstler Fund is merely “on ice” and he’s planning more political actions against the prison system.
Credico lost two other bids in Democratic primaries when he ran for New York City mayor in 2013 and for governor in 2014.
Retired senator Tom Duane, whose district included Greenwich Village and the East Village, said of Credico’s political ambitions: “A boy can dream, can’t he? I don’t think he ever had the infrastructure to run a successful campaign, but he used his platforms while running to talk about the negative impact of the drug laws. His advocacy certainly made the issue part of the debate in the legislature.”
Duane, who served in that legislature from 1998 to 2012, said he was “very fond” of Credico and believes he has a “second, third and fourth life” as a comic and activist.
On Nov. 6, Credico will emcee the latest installment of his Credico Comedy Caucus series, a pre-election event at the Brooklyn Commons cafe, at the WBAI building on 388 Atlantic Avenue. Guests will include actress Rhonda Hansome, trumpeter Ritchie Vitale, and Raphael D’Lugoff, son of the late Art D’Lugoff, owner of the Village Gate. “This show is an appreciation to the listeners of WBAI for having to go through the formal process of this election,” Credico said.
During his standup set, Credico will probably touch on the Nov. 8 election, judging by his complaints about Clinton and Trump: “You have the two candidates stuffed down our throats like raw onions.”
Correction: This post was revised to correctly identify the home country of the Sandinistas and to correct the name of the company that Tom Golisano founded.