Funny Times, June 2010

They haven’t posted the cover for this month’s Funny Times online yet, so I’ve put up this Keith Knight cartoon with a link to the magazine’s homepage. 

Jon Winokur’s “Curmudgeon” quotes Emile Capouya on the high school teacher’s mission: “A high school teacher, after all, is a person deputized by the rest of us to explain to the young what sort of world they are living in, and to defend, if possible, the part their elders are playing in it.”  That’s one of many reasons I rejoice in not being a high school teacher. 

Matt Bors wonders what people really mean when they say “teach the controversy.” 

Zippy the Pinhead wishes he could to travel back in time to the year 1885.  He changes his mind when a disembodied head with a neatly waxed mustache announces that in that year, “schoolchildren were routinely flogged, pigs ran loose in th’ streets, and heroin was sold over the counter as ‘cough medicine.'”  In related news, I now wish I could travel back in time to 1885.   

Click on the image to the left to see a genuinely funny installment of This Modern World from April.   

Lloyd Dangle’s Troubletown calls on the state of Virginia to “Let Confederate History Month be the festival of self-loathing it should be.”  I hold no brief for the Confederate States of America or for Virginia’s official commemoration of it, but I’m decidedly against all festivals of self-loathing.  For one thing, self-loathing usually seems to be a form of narcissism.  That same cartoon shows how that is.  Dangle depicts a bunch of yahoos waving Confederate flags and exclaiming “We used to own human slaves.”  Well, they didn’t, did they.  Perhaps their great-great-great-grandparents owned human slaves, but a great-great-great-grandparent is after all a very distant relative.  Beating yourself up over the misdeeds of someone so remote is merely a way of keeping attention focused on oneself rather than others.  If your ancestors created a system that continues to privilege you and to do injustice to groups of which you are not a member, staging a festival of self-loathing may be the very worst thing you can do.  Your privilege puts you in the spotlight, your self-loathing just keeps you there.

Funny Times, May 2010

It’s always been my habit to go to ground during the summers, so it isn’t much of a surprise that I’ve fallen behind in my “Periodicals Notes.”  Not that anyone has complained, but I’ll be catching up a bit over the next few days.  First up is May’s Funny Times

There’s an installment of Lloyd Dangle’s Troubletown that I thought was hilarious when it first appeared back in February.  It’s about the political movement known as the “teabaggers,” Americans of a rightward bent who have been vocal about their opposition to the Obama administration.  Dangle is mystified that the teabaggers have been the object of so much publicity.  My favorite line from the comic is “600 people showed up for their convention.  That’s almost as many as the Sheboygan High School science fair!” 

Matt Bors has a good comic about privacy, I was reminded of it by this recent xkcd

Jon Winokur’s “Curmudgeon” compiles quotes about money, including this from Brigid Brophy: “Whenever people say, ‘We mustn’t be sentimental,’ you can take it they are about to do something cruel.  And if they add, ‘We must be realistic,’ they mean they are going to make money out of it.”  Not exactly laugh-out-loud funny, but she does have a point.  So did Mary Gordon, when she wrote: “The use of money is the purest act of faith; no anchorite who has followed a vision into the desert has acted on an idea as far-fetched as our belief that if we put a dollar in a machine we will be drinking a Diet Coke in a minute.”  Andrea Dworkin is a name you don’t expect to encounter in a humor column, but she’s here: “Money talks, but it speaks with a male voice.”  Given Dworkin’s personal history as a woman who was once forced into sex work to escape an abusive partner, I can’t imagine laughing at that line, but I can certainly take it seriously.

Some would say that laughter is the ultimate form of seriousness.  If so, Dave Maleckar’s “Hundred Word Rant” may have hit on a way to take sex work seriously.  Arguing that people who like to cook should not open restaurants, he concludes thus: “You probably like sex, too.  You may be very good at it.  That doesn’t mean you should start doing it for money.”

Predictability and humor

Some things in life are very predictable, other things are not at all predictable.  When something that we had expected to be unpredictable turns out to be very predictable, sometimes we laugh.  Lenore Skenazy’s column “Obama, Haiti, and Lard” in the March 2010 Funny Times points out that some stories in the news have endings that are a lot easier to guess than the people who decide what goes on the front page want you to think.  For example, what effect will the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti have on attitudes toward that country in the USA?  Well, we know the answer to that already.  At first we’ll all be very concerned and agree that we should stay focused on Haiti.  “Except that the next time the media actually DO focus on Haiti, it’ll be in late December, when they put out their ‘Biggest Stories of 2010’ lists, at which point we’ll think ‘The earthquake!  Wow!  Was it really THIS year?”  That cycle of shock, compassion, fatigue, and nostalgia is as predictable as what American school systems will ultimately do with the  information they are gathering from the standardized tests they’re always giving students.  They will decide to “NOT use standardized tests.  They’ll use student pantomimes or clay figurines or something, but not standardized tests, which will be shown to be not only inaccurate but harmful.” 

The same issue contains a couple of columns and lots of cartoons about Scott Brown, recently elected by Massachusetts as America’s newest and nakedest Republican US Senator.  In addition to the front cover, reproduced above, there’s the back cover, on which Jen Sorenson illustrates the way in which Brown’s victory was utterly predictable.  In one of his cartoons, Matt Bors suggests that Edward Kennedy should have been able to predict that a Republican might succeed him if he died in office.     

Dave Maleckar’s 100 Word Rant opens: “Let’s skip right past the hybrid and electric cars and start believing in magical ones.  The only way to make a green automobile is with a coat of paint.”  The point seems to be the only reason we think the auto industry might surprise us with an environmentally sound product is that we are dominated by wishful thinking.  Look at the facts, and you can predict that their future products  will be as unsustainable as their past ones. 

Curmudgeon has some funny lines about the rottenness of the human race in general.  Mark Twain defined “Man” as “A creature made at the end of the week’s work, when God was tired.”  Oscar Wilde was a bit less charitable to the Almighty, sharing his suspicion “that God in creating man somewhat overestimated His ability.”  The same thought has been phrased in secular terms; Nietzsche said that “The Earth has a skin and that skin has diseases; one of its diseases is called Man.”  I think Edward O. Wilson’s quote qualifies as secular, though he does sound like a Calvinist preacher declaiming on the Utter Depravity of Man: “If all mankind were to disappear, the  world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago.  If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.”  Holbrook Jackson wondered why Nature gave rise to us.  “Was it to show that She is big enough to make mistakes, or was it pure ignorance?”  Samuel Johnson declared “I hate mankind, for I think myself one of the best of them, and I know how bad I am.”

Funny Times, February 2010

Bruce Cameron tackles that hardy perennial of comedy, English cookery.  His funniest line: “Or how about my friend’s bottle of ‘brown sauce’?  Only the Brits would think ‘brown’ was a flavor.”  Suggests a whole nation of synesthesiacs

Jon Winokur’s “Curmudgeon” collects remarks about the afterlife.  A. Whitney Brown (someday he hopes to be the Whitney Brown) has said that “At an early age I decided that living a life of pious misery in the hope of going to heaven when it’s over is a lot like keeping your eyes shut all through a movie in the hopes of getting your money back at the end.”  Susan Ertz noted that “Millions long for immortality who do not know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.”  Heinrich Heine must have enjoyed his life immensely; his view was that “It must require an inordinate share of vanity and presumption, too, after enjoying so much that is good and beautiful here on earth, to ask the Lord for immortality in addition to it all.” 

Andy Borowitz seems to be unhappy with the direction the health-care debate in the US Congress is taking.  He tells us that, under “CompromiseCare,” “people with no coverage will be allowed to keep their current plan”; “Medicare will be extended to 55 year olds as soon as they turn 65”; “A patient will be considered ‘pre-existing’ if he or she exists”; and “Patients will have access to natural remedies, such as death.”     

Lenore Skenazy ran a contest for updated nursery rhymes; of the entries she prints here, my favorite is from Patty Vespereny of Saint Louis, Missouri:

Little Miss Muffet sat on her tuffet, eating her curds and whey.

Along came a spider and sat down beside her and discussed his lactose intolerance all day.

Funny Times, January 2010

Jon Winokur’s “Curmudgeon” this month collects quotes on the theme of Washington, DC.  Ada Louise Huxtable’s line, “Washington is an endless series of mock palaces clearly built for clerks” catches a point I’ve often wanted to make.  The official part of Washington isn’t really a city at all, but something more like a theme park.  “Governmentland,” you might call it.  It isn’t particularly dignified for a country like the USA to have such an inherently silly place as its capital city.  I’ve often thought they should have left the capital in New York.  That way the federal government would be just one of many big enterprises in town, not the dominant thing as it is in DC.  Officials would be reminded that their doings are not in fact the center of the uiniverse.  Another quote in the column, Richard Goodwin’s remark that “People come to Washington believing it’s the center of power.  I know I did.  It was only much later that I learned that Washington is a steering wheel that’s not connected to the engine,” can’t have applied to New York when George Washington was sworn in as president there, or to Philadelphia earlier.  There was too much else going on for the political classes to delude themselves into a grossly exaggerated idea of their own importance.   

Many of the quotes Winokur collects are surprising.  For example, I would never have guessed that the remark “Washington isn’t a city, it’s an abstraction” came from Dylan Thomas.  It’s a good line, Thomas just isn’t someone I think of as a commentator on the US political scene.  Nor would I have thought of Peggy Noonan if you’d asked me to guess who came up with the line “The voters think Washington is a whorehouse and every four years they get a chance to elect a new piano player.”  It sounds like something Clare Booth Luce would have said when memories of this photo were still fresh in the public’s mind.  Elliott Richardson was sufficiently full of himself that he couldn’t come up with an effective response when Massachusetts State Senate president Billy Bulger mocked his campaign for governor with the line “Vote for Elliott Richardson.  He’s better than you.”  Still, it did take me aback to see that he had such a superior attitude that he would allow himself to say that “Washington is a city of cocker spaniels.  It’s a city of people who are more interested in being petted and admired, loved, than rendering the exercise of power.”  Personally, I’d choose love over “rendering the exercise of power” any day, but I guess that just shows that I’m not up to Elliott Richardson’s standards.  One line that I would have been able to identify is from Gore Vidal: “I date the end of the old republic and the birth of the empire to the invention, in the late 1930s, of air conditioning.  Before air conditioning, Washington was deserted from mid-June to September.  But after air conditioning and the Second World War arrived, more or less at the same time, Congress sits and sits while the presidents- or at least their staffs- never stop making mischief.”    

Elsewhere in the issue, there is a column of excerpts from Aaron Karo’s; my favorite of these is “No, Microsoft Word, my name is not spelled wrong.”  There are a couple of good cartoons about the health care debate, including this one from Tom Tomorrow and this one from Lloyd Dangle’s Troubletown.

Funny Times, November 2009

funny times november 2009The highlights from recent editions of Chuck Shepherd’s News of the Weird include a story from the  30 August collection about an alternative lifestyle catching on in Japan.    Some Japanese men and a few Japanese women have taken to carrying dolls around with them and identifying these dolls as their significant others.   One man “said he would like to marry a real, 3-D woman, ‘but look at me.  How can someone who carries this doll around get married?”  The 6 September collection included this story under the heading “can’t possibly be true”:

The August issue of Gourmet magazine highlighted the apparently high quality of sushi prepared and sold at a BP gas station near the intersection of Ridgeway and Poplar in Memphis, Tenn. A sushi chef works on-site and reportedly sells 300 orders a day. [Commercial-Appeal (Memphis), 7-23-09]

This issue includes some jokes that are old, but genuinely funny.  For example, “Planet Proctor” includes these old warhorses:

“If you try to fail and you succeed… which have you done?”

“The Tao does not speak.  The Tao does not blame.  The Tao does not take sides.  The Tao has no expectations.  The Tao asks nothing of others.  The Tao is not Jewish.” 

Jon Winokur’s “Curmudgeon” column preserves some funny lines this month as well.  From William “Blackie” Sherrod, “”If you bet on a horse, that’s gambling.  If you bet you can make three spades, that’s entertainment.  If you bet cotton will go up three points, that’s business.  See the difference?”  From C. Wright Mills, “Nobody talks more of free enterprise and competition and of the best man winning than than the man who inherited his father’s store or farm.”  From Ambrose Bierce, “Finance is the art or science of manging revenues and resources for the best advantage of the manager.”  Bierce’s point is made more emphatically by Fred Schwed: “A out-of-town visitor was being shown the wonders of New York’s financial district.  When the party arrived at the Battery, one of his guides indicated some handsome ships riding at anchor.  He said ‘Look, those are the bankers’ yachts.  And over there are the brokers’ yachts.’  The naïve customer asked ‘Where are the customers’ yachts?” 

M. D. Rosenberg makes some points.  For example: “Whenever someone says, “I’m not book smart, but I’m street smart,” all I hear is, “I’m not real smart, but I’m imaginary smart.”  And something I’d never thought of: “I wonder if cops ever get pissed off at the fact that everyone they drive behind obeys the speed limit.”  Also a question that I’ve been trying to answer for the last few decades, “How the hell are you supposed to fold a fitted sheet?”  I’ve seen it done- I saw my mother fold a fitted sheet neatly, so that it looked like it did when it first came out of the package.  That was in 1977.  She hasn’t done it since, and I’ve never come close.   


The Funny Times, October 2009

funny times october 2009Two items in this one I wanted to note.  The first is from John Walsh, a column about his former sister-in-law Jo.  When Jo divorced Walsh’s brother, she wanted to drop the name Walsh, but did not want to go back to her maiden name.  So she sat down with her teenaged sons and thought up a new name.  What she settled on was “Jo Sohneronne,” pronounced “Jo’s on her own.”  When Jo went to get new ID forms, each clerk she approached told her she’d have to change her name legally before they could issue her identification.  When she asked to see the regulation that said she could not put the name “Jo Sohneronne” on her bank account, Social Security card, or driver’s license without a court order, the clerks were unable to produce any such regulation.  So, she made the change successfully. 

I wish I’d read Walsh’s piece several months ago.  When Mrs Acilius and I got married this spring, she was excited about adding my last name to her name.  She was going to keep the three names her parents gave her, but use my last name as her new last name and her old middle and last names as two middle names.  So, if her given name had been Michelle LaVaughan Robinson, she would have become  Michelle LaVaughan Robinson Acilius, and would have signed herself Michelle L. R. Acilius.  The clerk at the Social Security office told her she couldn’t do that.  She could hyphenate, the clerk said, but she couldn’t  have two middle names.  Why not, asked the missus.  “A lot of brides weren’t using their names the way they were supposed to,” the clerk replied.  Mrs Acilius asked me what she should do.  I said what I always say, which is that I don’t tell her what to do.  She decided to keep her middle name and drop her maiden name.  That satisfied the clerk, but Mrs Acilius has been regretting it bitterly ever since. 

The second item was from the 26 July edition of Chuck Shepherd’s “News of the Weird.”

Until Mayor Sharon McShurley changed the protocol this year, fire stations in Muncie, Ind., had been delivering reports to department headquarters downtown by dropping them off in fire engines. McShurley ordered the department to learn how to send reports by e-mail. [Star Press (Muncie), 6-25-09]

I called someone I know who lives in Muncie, Indiana and mentioned this item to him.  He was not only unsurprised that his hometown featured something called “News of the Weird,” but was surprised that a digest under that title could appear week after week and mention Muncie only occasionally.   The town has come up since then; the digest for the week of 2 August reported on a Muncie brawler who started his fights by stealing his opponent’s false teeth out of their mouths.

The Funny Times, August 2009

Layout 1Ray Lesser’s “Your Inner Fish” includes these two memorable paragraphs:

In his book Your Inner Fish, [Professor Neil] Shubin describes many of the recent amazing discoveries in paleontology and genetic research to explain human origins and evolution. We quite literally contain the entire tree of life inside our bodies. He says humans are the fish equivalent of a Volkswagen Beetle souped up to race 150 mph. “Take the body plan of a fish, dress it up to be a mammal, then tweak and twist that mammal until it walks on two legs, talks, thinks, and has superfine control of its fingers — and you have a recipe for problems.”

The difficulty of engineering a fish to walk on two legs has resulted in many a sore knee and sprained ankle, not to mention closets full of poorly fitting shoes. The strange loops and detours our nerves and veins have to take to get around various organs lead to other common annoyances such as hiccups and hernias. Four of the leading causes of death in humans — heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and stroke — are mostly due to having at our core a body that was designed to swim around all day, rather than sit on its keister surfing the Internet, or drive truckloads of sardines from L.A. to Indianapolis. Fish don?t get hemorrhoids, either.

Jon Winokur’s “Curmudgeon” column collects quotes on boredom.  My favorite is from Henry Kissinger, “The nice thing about being a celebrity is that when you bore people, they think it’s their fault.”  Norman Mailer and Bertrand Russell are not as far apart as one might suppose; Russell said, “Boredom is a vital problem for the moralist, since at least half the sins of mankind are caused by it.”  Mailer said, “”The war between being and nothingness is the underlying illness of the twentieth century.  Boredom slays more of existence than war.”  These two are not far from an author Winokur leaves out, Blaise Pascal, who famously attributed most of the trouble in the world to people’s inability to sit quietly in their rooms.  Frank Moore Colby said, “Every improvement in communication makes the bore more terrible.”  Nancy Astor said, “The penalty for success is to be bored by the people who used to snub you.”  Rochefoucauld said, “We often forgive those who bore us, but we cannot forgive those whom we bore.”

Harper’s Index reports that in April of this year, 27 percent of the respondents to a poll identified as Republicans, while another poll in the same month reported that 20 percent of respondents agreed the “Socialism is better than capitalism.”  So perhaps we should put the GOP on the same footing as socialists.

The Funny Times, May 2009


None of the good cartoons this time are pastable; the magazine’s website doesn’t even have the current cover up.  But there are some good one-liners.  From Jason Love’s column: “Remember that you are totally unique just like everyone else”; “The best part about gay men is that they aren’t always trying to prove that they’re not gay”; “Live each day like it’s your second-to-last.  That way you can fall asleep at night”; and (recommended by Mrs Acilius) “Men are hit by lightning four times more often than women, proof that God is improving Her aim.” 

Curmudgeon has a couple of good one-liners, too.  Robert Benchley, told that drinking is “slow poison”:  “So who’s in a hurry?”  Homer Simpson’s toast: “Here’s to alcohol, the cause of- and solution to- all life’s problems.”  Denis Leary: “I would never do crack.  I would never do a drug named after a part of my own ass, okay?”

The Funny Times, April 2009

funny-times-april-2009Since that one guy stopped being US president – what was his name?  You remember him, he had a Texas accent and a constant cocaine sniffle.  Anyway, since he went away the Funny Times seems to have been devoting more space to old and possibly corny jokes.  

These  examples come from Planet Proctor.  Here’s a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt:

I had a rose named after me and was very flattered.  But I was not pleased to read the description in the catalogue: ‘No good in a bed, but fine against a wall.’

This was presented as a true story: 

A teacher designed a study testing the senses of first graders using a bowl of Lifesavers to identify flavors by color: red for cherry, yellow for lemon, green for lime, and orange for- orange.  Finally the teacher gave them all HONEY Lifesavers, but after popping them into their eager little mouths, none of the children could identify the taste; so she said, “I’ll give you all a clue.  This is what your mother may sometimes call your father.”  One little girl looked up in horror, spit out her Lifesaver, and yelled “Oh my God!  They’re assholes!”