The weird American reality has spawned a line of great satirists: Mark Twain, H.L. Mencken, Dorothy Parker, Paul Krassner, Molly Ivins, to name just a very few who have shredded the veneer of sanctimony from many a pillar of culture and politics. In that same vein thrives Carol Denney, with roots in West Virginia, but for more than five decades a proud and prominent Berkeley troublemaker. Her bio would be an ample vita for four people: musician, artist, activist, and writer, but she wraps all of that into one slender frame.
Since the founding hours of People’s Park, Denney has been wielding the pen as a dart gun whenever targets popped up. In the mid 90s she began firing regular salvos monthly. At first she edited Hard Times — “It’s Free, and its’ Funny” — and then, under the nom de plume Grace Underpressure, she morphed that broadsheet into Pepper Spray Times.
She distributed the first issue dressed as a cop at a Berkeley City Council meeting where police use of pepper spray on demonstrators was at issue. Over the years she fought numerous battles to get the broadsheet and supporting flyers into public spaces. She’s been publishing Pepper Spray Times each and every month, and continues to do so (you can subscribe).
Her broadsheet resembles The Onion, except it’s funnier and hits harder. It reminds some readers of the Harvard Lampoon, but she’s coming from the street, not from an ivory tower. It has some of the same merciless slashery as Paul Krassner’s The Realist, but its mostly clean; you could count the number of sexual references over 25 years on one hand. There’s also a dimension of plain silliness that’s uniquely Denney: squirrels, trees, pumpkins, embryos, fish, scooters and other normally silent ones are all making hilarious statements through spokescreatures.
Now the full array of Hard Times and Pepper Spray Times is out in book format. Every extant issue of both broadsheets with introductions can be in your hand in paperback format, or on your screen as Kindle editions, under the title Pepper Spray Paradise.
All the print volumes are in letter size format: 8.5 x 11. The complete works come to 950 pages split into two volumes. Volume 1 covers 1995 through 2012 in 550 pages; Volume 2 from 2013 through November 2020, in 400 pages. Each volume contains an index of names — are you in it? — and topics.
The broadsheet is based in Berkeley and hits all the Berkeley issues, but Denney’s scope is far broader: national, global, and astronomical happenings are all in her crosshairs. It’s abundantly illustrated, with comics, photos, and sketches that are as funny as the texts. The pages flow by easy like the old Whole Earth Catalog (remember that?)
If the collected works are too much for you or your wallet, there is a sampler, titled Pepper Spray Picnic, at a slender 250 pages sans index. All three volumes can also be had as Kindle e-books, albeit without index, but with full color illustrations.
Ask your local bookstore to stock the paperbacks! Until then, you can get them delivered rapidly to your mailbox via you-know-who.com:
- Pepper Spray Paradise Volume 1 (complete works with index)
- Pepper Spray Paradise Volume 2 (complete works with index)
- Pepper Spray Picnic (the sampler)
The Kindle editions are an option at the same web links. There you can also peek inside the books. Or, right here, you can