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One Tough Jew

“Is Kinky Friedman in there?” I ask at the back entrance of Lucy’s El Adobe, across the street from Paramount Studios.

“Go in and look for the cowboy with the black hat,” a woman holding the guest list for tonight’s “Fun-Raiser” says with a Texas twang.

I spot the black hat and Friedman — one-time country & western singer, now independent candidate for governor of Texas — on the other side of an adobe arch being filmed by a TV camera crew.

“We’re not that other station,” a bald camera operator volunteers.

“You mean Country Music Television?” I say, remembering that the network is following Friedman along the gubernatorial trail for Go Kinky, a reality TV show that will air in early 2006.

“That’s not us,” he says. He works for PBS.

Just then, a man with a shaved head walks in. It’s theater producer Alan Sacks.

“Do you know Kinky?” I ask.

“Yeah, I’ve known him for years,” says Sacks. “He was the best man at my wedding.”

“Are you from Texas?”

“No,” says Sacks. “Brooklyn.”

Then, before I can ask about the Brooklyn-Texas connection, Sacks says, “He’s just a tough Jew.”

Friedman is a tough Jew, a real Jewish cowboy, and the crowd seems to be filled with other cowboys and tough, street-smart Jews, many of them balding. Friedman, however, still looks quite hirsute at 61. His dark mustache and sideburns show no trace of gray, and the black, kinky hair that earned him his nickname may still exist under his ubiquitous black Stetson hat.

Decked out in black shirt, jacket and pants to match his hat, Friedman greets people from table to table. He holds a beer in one hand and a cigar in the other, oblivious to L.A.’s smoking laws. He’s never been afraid to be politically incorrect.

Once, Friedman composed a ballad about the Holocaust and had the temerity to title it “Ride ’em, Jewboy.” When asked years ago about the plight of Soviet Jews, he proposed gathering up all their foreskins in order to hatch future “dic-tators.”

Still, he has friends in the White House, the last two White Houses in fact. And as he stands behind a blond-wood lectern visible from two adjoining rooms, Friedman sounds less like a comedian than a no-nonsense reformer in the mold of John McCain, another tough hombre.

“Texas is on eBay. It belongs to the lobbyists and political parties,” says Friedman, pointing out that in the last election only 29 percent of Texans voted, compared to 58 percent of Iraqis who voted in their most recent election.

So, what does he propose to do for Texas?

One, open up Indian casinos and use the money to fund the schools, which are ranked last in the nation.

Two, close the border.

And three, start a Peace Corps for Texas. Friedman was in the Peace Corps himself back in the late 1960s.

Sometimes he slips back into the role of standup comic, uttering well-worn lines about how politicians should get “an honest job robbing banks” and how his education platform would “leave no teacher behind.” But he appears quite serious and reflective when he talks about illegal immigration. “I don’t want any more people dying in the back of cargo container trucks in Texas.”