That’s not funny.

Humor, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. (How’s that for a banal lede? I’m going for something more or less guaranteed to put every reader to sleep, because I want you all asleep by the time I realize I haven’t figured this out at all.)

Anyway, in all the Lileksian blather of the past few days, there was one comment that drew me up short every time: He’s hilarious! He’s the only reason I even get that paper; how foolish they’d be to drop him. I consider myself a person with a rich sense of humor, and I simply can’t wrap my mind around that one. It took me back to the Lileks Daily Quirk archive; surely I was missing something. Here’s Tuesday’s offering, paragraph one:

I like Pepto-Bismol. There. I said it. When I have a gut full of battery acid and barbed-wire shards, I reach for the big pink bottle, and I glug it straight. You feel it descending on your stomach lining, like a curtain falling on a bad play. It never seems to cure anything, but it’s a comfort; I always have a bottle in reserve, and it’s Maximum Strength, too, baby. Sure, it’s overkill, but once they admitted the existence of Maximum Strength, Regular was off the table. I think Maximum was like their private reserve, something they bottled for popes and astronauts. Now we all have access, and I’m not going back.

I see what he’s going for here, but it’s not working for me. If the newspaper offered this as a morning day-brightener, something to put a spring in my step as I head out the door, well, sorry. It has the flop-sweaty smell of bad standup. That the paper supposedly compensated the man who wrote this to the tune of $92,000 a year — now that’s funny, but probably not in the way they intended.

But it’s unfair to judge a man by one column. Let’s try another, from the day before:

Today’s Helpful Hint: how to customize your tissue boxes. Why? you ask. For heaven’s sake, does everything have to be customized? Must we have wi-fi enabled toilet-paper spindles that download tunes so you can customize the sound when someone rolls off a dozen squares? Maybe next year. For now, consider this: There hasn’t been much innovation in the tissue world since Kleenex invented the interfolded pop-up tissue in 1928. Imagine the reaction the first time someone pulled up a tissue and another took its place. My stars! First radio, then Lindbergh, now this! An age of marvels! At some point they added lotion, for those who want their specs to look like they’ve been rubbed with Crisco. (Kleenex does not recommend using their tissues for eyeglasses cleaning, incidentally. File that under “Don’t put Q-tips in your ear canals.”)

Better than the Pepto-Bismol effort, but still — not laughing, nor even smiling. Kleenex boxes — what’s up with that?

This isn’t a pile-on for poor, soon-to-be-bought-out Lileks. The problem isn’t him; it’s newspapers. Newspapers can be very entertaining to read — I have laughed myself to tears reading them more often than I can count — but they’re very seldom funny on purpose.

An example: One day the morning paper in Fort Wayne ran a story about a dog that went on an incredible journey. He belonged to some extended family of mutants who lost him at a rest stop somewhere around Chicago. They were en route to Wisconsin, the whole clan traveling in an overloaded car with no brakes. They knew there were no brakes, but they all really wanted to go to Wisconsin, and didn’t think such details should hold them back. So they got on the road — U.S. 30, for God’s sake, with no brakes — and somehow coasted to a stop at this rest area, and everyone got out to pee, and the dog got loose. They looked all over for him, but couldn’t find him, so they headed off to Wisconsin in the brakeless car, had their visit, and came back. They stopped somewhere, and whaddaya know, there’s the dog, still hanging around after several days. So they took him home and called the newspaper. The story had great quotes from Linda Mae and Pop-pop and so on, and then there was the photo — the whole family of Cletuses gathered around the dog. One of my colleagues drew a little balloon coming out of its mouth: I thought I’d gotten away from these goobers. I thought this story was hysterical, although my retelling isn’t, but if you had been there, you’d have laughed, too. (The picture had a lot to do with it.)

That’s the kind of humor the newspaper does best. They shouldn’t monkey with success.

For a long time, they didn’t. The designated humor columns were utterly lame, some geezer spinning one-liners or puns. Many editors hate writers who try to be funny, especially if they’re sarcastic about it, because there’s always a contingent of readers who simply won’t get it, and can get really pissy, complaining about it. One of the Milwaukee papers was so freaked by its humor columnist that it ran a tagline at the bottom: A satirical column of personal opinion. This was funny, but again, not in the way the editors intended. In most newspapers, the only place to be legitimately funny was on the comics page, and you know how often we all crack up over “Beetle Bailey.”

One guy changed all this. Dave Barry, of course. I still remember the utter thrill of reading his early columns in the Miami Herald’s great, now-defunct Sunday magazine, Tropic. They were so daffy and original. It was such a treat to read something in the paper that made you laugh out loud from joy. He was syndicated almost immediately. Here’s an early story about how his column went over: He was writing about physical fitness, and had two paragraphs that ran something like this:

“Once upon a time, American presidents were giant waddling tubs of lard like BLANK and BLANK. (RESEARCH: PLEASE INSERT THE NAMES OF TWO FAT PRESIDENTS.)” Later on, he wrote, “An exercise routine without a plan is like a tractor without a BLANK. (RESEARCH: PLEASE INSERT AN IMPORTANT TRACTOR PART HERE.)” The blanks didn’t have anything to do with the column, unless he was making some joke about laziness, but were the sort of wild meta-tangent he liked to take. This was funny enough, but even more amusing was the Columbus Dispatch copy editor who inserted “William Howard Taft” and “Grover Cleveland” in the first two blanks and “motor” in the third, taking out the RESEARCH notes. The editor of the section met Barry at a conference shortly after this, told him about it, and said Barry nearly peed his pants laughing over it.

For many, many years, Barry set the bar for newspaper humor. The first profiles of him that ran, in the early ’80s, pointed out that while he was funny in person, he was also kind of an angry guy, too. This was no surprise; the roots of humor are in pain, as any Jewish comic could tell you. My favorite pieces by Barry remain a few that didn’t run in the usual places — one about his mother’s suicide, another about taking his little boy to the first day of kindergarten, and a rip-roarer long-form essay about South Florida weirdness. The first two were terribly sad but beautifully written, and the Florida essay had few jokes in it, but was hilarious simply for its statements of fact, like how strange it is when your kid comes home from school and reports a classmate brought a machine gun to Show and Tell. Barry understands that nothing is as funny as reality, that car full of goobers and their luckless dog; it’s no accident one of his catch phrases is “I am not making this up.”

(What’s your favorite Barry niche? Mine is Mr. Language Person. I love his rule of apostrophe usage — “to let the reader know an S is coming, e.g. ‘Try our hot dog’s.'”)

Even Barry has his bad days, though. There was a long time when I stopped laughing, and then he got a lot better, and then he took a year off, and then he more or less retired from journalism, and no, I don’t blame him. Comedy, as they say, is hard. And he only wrote once a week. Which brings us back to Lileks, who writes five or six times a week. No wonder he’s not funny. Groucho Marx couldn’t be funny on a schedule like that. He’s a fine writer, but the gruel doesn’t get much thinner than I Go Shopping for Sunglasses:

I found a store that sold clip-ons, and yea, there was much rejoicing. They were cheap and poorly polarized, which gave certain objects a peculiar pattern; when I looked in the rearview mirror, the polarized surface of the back window looked as though it was covered with a giant ultraviolet waffle. I didn’t care. Twenty bucks. But I lost them. Keep in mind that I do not lose things, aside from important financial documents needed around the middle of April. It’s possible I mailed the clip-ons to the IRS. They’ll probably send them back in 2009. Without interest.

So who’s funny now? For my money, Gene Weingarten in the WashPost, known to insiders as The Man Who Discovered Dave Barry, is the only competition. In fact, I think he’s far funnier, and here’s why: He can be mean, and he doesn’t mind showing it. One of my favorites was when he called up PR people and said he’d promote their clients in the Washington Post, in return for the revelation of an embarrassing personal secret. And they did it! “My husband left me for a younger woman,” said one, which was followed by a boilerplate recitation of the merits of some sofa pillow she was repping. Wondering how much more abuse the president can take, he suggested an upcoming weather report:

It’ll be warm tomorrow in Washington, high in the 60s, with clear skies except maybe over the White House, where, anytime now, with any sort of luck, we’re going to see the wrathful, purifying fire of a justly outraged God. Over to you, Christina, for a look at the traffic.

If you’re going to be funny, you have to be fearless. Newspapers have their backs against the wall, and live in fear of offending even a single subscriber. And so too much newspaper humor ventures a weak joke, and then adds an immediate apology: Of course I’m not seriously suggesting we draft the Bush twins, only that… Jon Carroll, for my money the best five-day-a-week columnist in this or any country, explains the roots of humor as well as anyone, and underlines the need to be fearless. He’s also fearless about making fun of himself, which is why he’s as good at being funny as he is at being serious, and he is devastating at both.

Here’s a funny experiment to try at home — Google “humor columnist.” Hit No. 1: Sheila Moss, freelancer, “a columnist for Smyrna AM, a supplement to the Murfreesboro Daily News Journal and Nashville Tennessean.” At the top of her menu, “A Night at the Opry,” which begins:

The other night I went to the Grand Ole Opry and took my grandson. I feel that children need to be exposed to performing arts in real life, not just on television. Of course, the first thing he did when found out the Opry was live on television was to call his dad and tell him to look for him in the audience. So much for the importance of reality to an eight-year-old.

Hit No. 2, Tom Purcell. Read him in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Washington Times, the Jewish World Review and hear him on the Rush Limbaugh show. Uh-oh. Most of his stuff online is pretty old; let’s enjoy an excerpt from a piece called “The Silver-Tongued Devil”:

As the president extricates himself from his latest tangle, I’m convinced of something I’ve suspected for a long time: Clinton is the devil.

My suspicions were bolstered a year ago when New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd arrived at the same conclusion. But when I watched Clinton dance through his State of the Union Address, I became sure of it. Clinton is Satan, the prince of darkness, Beelzebub himself.

David Leonhardt bills himself as “the Happy Guy.” From “A Bad Hairdresser Day,” let’s read together:

“Hey everybody!” Hairdresser Lady called out. “It’s The Happy Guy.”

“Don’t try buttering me up, Hairdresser Lady,” I warned. “It’s not going to work.”

“What’s not going to work?” she demanded.

“You can’t cover up your gross incompetence with a ‘Hey everybody’ cheer.”

“Gross incompetence?”

“That’s right. Just look at my head. Go ahead, take a real close look.”

“Why, it’s a family of sparrows. What a lovely nest,” she grinned.

“No, over here.”

“My, my. If it isn’t a bald spot,” she giggled. “Should I give it a shine?”

Maybe you can see the problem. There’s just something about newspaper humor columnists that isn’t funny.

(I should pause at this late point and address the three of you who are still reading: I was not a humor columnist, but I tried to be funny lots of times, and failed pretty spectacularly, too. Once I wrote 650 words about Demi Moore’s boob job. It won an award for humor writing. I recently ran across it in some housecleaning, reread it and thought, Nope, not funny.)

I wish it were different, but this is another case of the internet ruining just everything. How can any humor columnist compete with The Onion? How can an editorial cartoonist, with one measly hand-drawn panel, compete with The Poor Man’s Keyboard Kommando Komix? An editorial writer may think he’s wielding a rapier of wit, but I guarantee you he can’t compete with Alicublog. (Note: You can substitute bloggers who line up with your own political views, if you like.)

And now, 8 million words later, what have we learned by plowing through this sludge of a blog entry? How about this: I am reminded of an old, old New Yorker cartoon, back when they were multi-panel. A guy sits writing at a typewriter, chuckling to himself. His wife enters the room with a flyswatter, and he asks her to read over what he’s written; he doesn’t want to be guilty of “too much levity.” She reads while he sits smirking, hands it back, stone-faced, and says, “No, I don’t think it’s too funny at all.”

Only one bit of bloggage today: The plight of the residents of tiny Lakeville, Mich., victims of a rule-obsessed postmaster. The DetNews story is very funny, but yes, understated. Funniest single fact: Lakeville has a lake called Lakeville Lake.

Posted at 8:00 am in Media |

47 responses to “That’s not funny.”

  1. 4dbirds said on May 9, 2007 at 9:05 am

    I guess I’m one of the three who slogged through your entry today. I don’t know squat about the newspaper business but I love reading your insider’s take on it.

    I have a ‘lost’ animal story also. I have a cat who once got away from me while I was taking her to the vet. Several days later she showed up at our back door somehow making it back home over five unfamiliar miles. Once an ‘in and out’ cat, after that experience, she never left the house again.

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  2. Connie said on May 9, 2007 at 9:17 am

    Mike Royko often had me snorting with laughter. Now he was funny, and definitely missed.

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  3. Peter said on May 9, 2007 at 9:30 am

    HELLO, what about Jon Carroll? You link to him all the time, and he can be pee in your pants funny.

    As for Royko, he, like Dave B and Warren Z. had his dark angry side, but the bigger fault is that he had a long sad decline. In all fairness, though, he was best when he just pointed out the absurdities of local government, and Clinton and W would have been a gold mine for this guy.

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  4. nancy said on May 9, 2007 at 9:33 am

    Peter, you skimmed — I did mention J.C. How could I not?

    However, I didn’t make him a centerpiece because he’s not a “humor columnist,” per se. He writes about everything. Whereas Lileks, Barry, Weingarten et al are billed as teh funny.

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  5. Jim said on May 9, 2007 at 9:52 am

    Don’t forget Lewis Grizzard. He was great. Humor is difficult — not every column is a jewel.

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  6. Dorothy said on May 9, 2007 at 9:59 am

    Well I read the entire entry, and I didn’t consider it “slogging”! I enjoyed it and even realized that you DID mention Jon Carroll.

    I am no expert by any means, and of course I’m partial to my old hometown, but the Pittsburgh Post Gazette has Reg Henry, Peter Leo and Samantha Bennett who amuse me from time to time. Here’s Reg’s entry today:

    Regionial references might go over the heads of yins (that’s a Pittsburghism for “you” or “all of you”), but the rest won’t. I actually did a play with Samantha before I moved away. She’s a nice gal. I believe she wrote once about meeting Dave Barry, her idol, in person.

    Jim – my husband is a huge Grizzard fan.

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  7. brian stouder said on May 9, 2007 at 10:17 am

    I like to skim – Kinsley is sharp; the prairie home companion guy from Minnesota (I’m blanking on his name) can be worthwhile; Ivins was always worthwhile; R Emmett Tyrall (spelling?) was occasionally funny in an acidic way (a quarter century ago) before President Clinton got elected, and Tyrell lost his freaking mind!! (saw him on C-SPAN the other evening. Nobody conducts a better interview than Brian Lamb; he drew Tyrell out, and the guy became more and more pathetic); my dad always liked Royko too; and Buckley’s word play.

    I think the goal should be sharp, incisive writing – and then the humor will take care of itself

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  8. Jim in Fla said on May 9, 2007 at 10:24 am

    Garrison Keillor is the Prairie Home Companion guy

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  9. brian stouder said on May 9, 2007 at 10:32 am

    Wow! I was never going to come up with that! I was thinking Kevin Phillips – no not him – he’s the apostate Reaganite; John Roche – nooo – he’s the old LBJ guy that wrote an interesting column….etc

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  10. sdh said on May 9, 2007 at 10:36 am

    The key to humor writing is that you write about something that already is funny. You can’t, by the art of fine prose, make something funny. You can only describe something that already is funny.

    I think the secret to Dave Barry’s writing for many years was that–and I am not making this up–a great deal of the humor was inherent in the way in which he viewed the world, and the way he viewed the world was often with wide-eyed-amazement.

    Another nice muse Nancy. I enjoyed reading.

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  11. Danny said on May 9, 2007 at 11:14 am

    I think the key to humour writing is to write something humorous. But that’s just me.

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  12. Danny said on May 9, 2007 at 11:14 am

    Hey, speaking of funny. Where’s Marcia been? She missed some haps around here.

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  13. LA mary said on May 9, 2007 at 11:20 am

    Did you read Christopher Hitchens’ article in Vanity Fair a couple of months ago? The one where he claims women are not funny, or at least women writers?

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  14. Danny said on May 9, 2007 at 11:25 am

    Reminds me of the light-bulb joke:

    Q: How many feminists does it take to screw in a light bulb?

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  15. Connie said on May 9, 2007 at 12:05 pm

    I think Brian just compared me to his father!

    I had to make a rule at work about younger employees comparing me to their mothers. With an exception when my daughter worked there last summer.

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  16. Kat Coble said on May 9, 2007 at 12:26 pm

    I’ve never found the Daily Quirk particularly funny. Amusing, maybe. But not really FUNNY.

    My “funny” Gold Standard would be James Thurber, with vintage Dave Barry approaching that on occasion.

    Lileks is actually much funnier when not constrained to the daily paper format. His Bleat has good moments but the really great stuff is in The Gallery of Regrettable Food. He does best when writing for himself–as I think most writers do.

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  17. Seamus said on May 9, 2007 at 12:43 pm

    Nancy, I’m a new example of those you’ve mentioned have been brought here from time to time though outside links. It’s the unmistakable character and quality of your writing and that of your commenters that keep me here. Call it the blog “flypaper” strategy.

    In honour of the point of your current thread, I’d like to make the following humble observation: I’ve long felt that “humourous” writing is rarely all that humourous unless it is, beneath it all, first and foremost, “good” writing.

    It works best if it doesn’t seem to have been laboured over, but I am convinced that most truly funny writing is a product of great attention and no small effort.

    Of course, what I’ve become convinced of and what is actually so are two sets whose contents rarely overlap, so, grain…salt…take as needed.


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  18. Scout said on May 9, 2007 at 1:03 pm

    It appears that many more than three of us “slogged” through the whole post, but I, for one, am glad I did. As always, insightful and relevant. I agree with you on all points except for the one in which you say you don’t find yourself funny. I beg to differ. I guess we never see ourselves as others see us.

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  19. Danny said on May 9, 2007 at 1:12 pm

    For your pleasure, I present modified dialogue from Goodwill Hunting that would be Nancy’s conversation with Lileks:

    LILEKS: I think you could show me some appreciation.

    NANCY: A little appreciation? Do you know how easy this is for me? Do you have any f***n’ idea how easy this is? This is a f***n’ joke. And I’m sorry you can’t do this. I really am because I wouldn’t have to f***n’ sit here and watch you fumble around and f*** it up.

    LILEKS: Then you’d have more time to sit around and get drunk instead, wouldn’t you?

    NANCY: You’re right. This is probably a total waste of my time.

    LILEKS: You’re right, NANCY. I can’t [WRITE THIS COLUMN]. But you can, and when it comes to that it’s only’s just a handful of people in the world who can tell the difference between you and me. But I’m one of them.

    NANCY: Sorry.

    LILEKS: Yeah, so am I. Most days I wish I never met you. Because then I could sleep at night, and I wouldn’t…and I wouldn’t have to walk around with the knowledge that there’s someone like you out there. And I didn’t have to watch you throw it all away.

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  20. nancy said on May 9, 2007 at 1:41 pm

    I’d be happy to appear in that scene, Danny. My price: $92,000.

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  21. brian stouder said on May 9, 2007 at 2:03 pm

    Of course, the first thing he did when found out the Opry was live on television was to call his dad and tell him to look for him in the audience. So much for the importance of reality to an eight-year-old.

    Further to that – back in 2004 Pam and I won an all-expense paid trip to the Daytona 500 (and going there for free will be the only way I would ever go there!! but I digress) and there were 7 women in the row directly in front of us. They were all decked out in red (Dale Jr fans) – and when the race went green several of them stopped talking to whoever was on the other end of their cell phones, and held them high – so as to transmit the roar!!(??). ‘Course, the race is on LIVE TV (as they certainly knew…no doubt bubba back home had it on the set while he was on the phone)

    Pam and I got a chuckle over that spectacle…we never have really figured out what desire was being served

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  22. Jeff said on May 9, 2007 at 2:22 pm

    I’m just still trying to figure out $92,000, with the caveat that this figure saw print, as best i can tell, in a piece written by someone who doesn’t like him. But for the record, i like him a great deal, and can’t figure out why a/any newspaper would pay that much for 250 wds five times a week, from anyone, work from home or flextime regardless. Bill Shaksper, even.

    Which is where the two “camps,” so to speak, intersect; i suspect he doesn’t make this much, but if it was anywhere near that, this is why newspapers are arguably badly run. Major decisions given to 25 year old $25K a year new hires about the front page, assignments, photo selection, etc., and marginal content getting top dollar outlays.

    But as my first editor liked to say, “we have million dollar equipment and college eddicated writers, but it all comes down to a kid on a Schwinn hitting the front porch with it for eight bucks a week, or we’re a soggy unreadable mess.”

    Then he’d add, “so don’t help it start out as soggy, unreadable writing. Give it a chance.”

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  23. Marcia said on May 9, 2007 at 3:02 pm

    Where’s Marcia been?

    You rang?

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  24. Jeff said on May 9, 2007 at 3:06 pm

    Is that like Orson Bean?

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  25. Kat Coble said on May 9, 2007 at 3:06 pm

    But for the record, i like him a great deal, and can’t figure out why a/any newspaper would pay that much for 250 wds five times a week, from anyone, work from home or flextime regardless. Bill Shaksper, even.

    I make anywhere from $5 a column to $75/hr depending on the client. I’ve been paid in free pencils, and often not paid at all. I like the idea that there’s someone out there making $92K for writing, but I’m not surprised to see that type of job dry up.

    I guess if you consider the amount of publicity generated by Lileks’ column, you could say that he makes $25K for writing the column and the rest is Sales and Marketing salary.

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  26. Marcia said on May 9, 2007 at 3:09 pm

    And Dave Barry = awesome.

    (The Smoot-Hawley Tariff)

    I tried to get involved in his blog for awhile, but man, those commenters were so fast and proliferous I couldn’t keep up.

    Possibly the bar is set lower here.

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  27. Danny said on May 9, 2007 at 3:17 pm

    Possibly the bar is set lower here

    Yeah, the atmosphere here is … dissimilar. We’re just one notch above telling fart jokes. And Nancy made 15 cents once on Google-ad page impressions. So there.

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  28. Samuel John Klein said on May 9, 2007 at 3:52 pm

    Thinks he’s a man because he swigs Pepto-Bismol Max? Oh, please. He’s a wuss. My Mom carried a bottle of Maalox wherever she went. My Mom’s more of a man than Lileks is.

    Now that was pretty sweet, wit-wise. Where’s my $92K?

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  29. Peter said on May 9, 2007 at 4:09 pm

    Well, I finally got around to rereading the post, and you DID mention Jon Carroll. Sorry; the first time I read it I was off meds.

    Referring to a much earlier post, here’s my two cents on light bulb jokes:

    Q. How many Muslims does it take to screw in a light bulb?

    A. You have insulted Allah – PREPARE TO DIE!

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  30. michaelj said on May 9, 2007 at 4:12 pm

    I’ve never subjected myself to this Lileks levity for lucre, because I always figured from his inane political bile that he might cause me to feel compelled to break my lifelong abstinence from Pepto Bismol. If this is a fair and balanced representation of his attempts at humor, it’s worse than I could have imagined. About as funny as Mallard Fillmore. Or a screen door in a submarine. Or (shudderput you in mind to beat the diarrhoea (if that’s the correct perverse Brit spelling) out of his whinging arse if your too far into Pepto Bismol withdrawal.

    The best humorists in newspapers, at least those that make me laugh (ruefully), are political cartoonists, maybe because they can get away with anything but outright obscenity, and maybe because their happiness with depression is infectious. (Check No. 27 if you’ve got a sec.)

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  31. michaelj said on May 9, 2007 at 4:16 pm

    Pleas indulge me. My previous that got lost in translation or the ozone, one:

    I’ve never subjected myself to this Lileks levity for lucre, because I always figured from his inane political bile that he might cause me to feel compelled to break my lifelong abstinence from Pepto Bismol. If this is a fair and balanced representation of his attempts at humor, it’s worse than I could have imagined. About as funny as Mallard Fillmore. Or a screen door in a submarine. Or (shudder Andy Rooney, with whom Lilleks shares a remarkable capacity for whining and passive-aggressive public Onanism, probably for 10% of the cash the old fool gets for two minutes a week .

    I do like Pepto Bismol, though. Not that Jack Bauer could induce me to drink pink chalk from third grade New Math Class emulsified in weapons grade trans fat. This may sound snotty, but if you put this stuff in your digestive tract, you might be happier indulging your pica disorder married to your cousin down in Kaolin Kountry.

    What I like, for sure, is Pepto commercials. Mexican tourist who drank the water, not the cerveza; urban hipster Electric Slide white office worker rappers; Super Max Godzilla and Wonder Woman. Ultimate poop jokes for children of the Summer of Drugs.

    As for humor columnists, Mona Charren is hard to beat, especially that stock byline photo. Hitchens’ bizarre denial of reality and his own past whoppers is funny if you’re in the right mood. But his nasal, unadulterated, and entirely odious neurasthenia can just put you in mind to beat the diarrhoea (if that’s the correct perverse Brit spelling) out of his whinging arse if your too far into Pepto Bismol withdrawal.

    The best humorists in newspapers, at least those that make me laugh (ruefully), are political cartoonists, maybe because they can get away with anything but outright obscenity, and maybe because their happiness with depression is infectious. (Check No. 27 if you’ve got a sec.)

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  32. Jolene said on May 9, 2007 at 4:26 pm

    Weingarten and Joel Achenbach, another WaPo humor (and many other things) writer have criticized the Strib’s decision re Lileks. I was surprised, especially by Weingarten’s comments. They are both so much better than Lileks, and Weingarten, especially, is generally tough on people who try to be funny and aren’t.

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  33. Marcia said on May 9, 2007 at 4:42 pm

    How many Fundamentalist patriarchal men does it take to screw in a light bulb?

    One; he holds onto it, and the house revolves around him.

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  34. LA mary said on May 9, 2007 at 4:50 pm

    The pepto bismol thing is a little funnier if you imagine him being in intestinal discomfort over being kicked out of his job. Sort of flop-sweaty in his delivery, if you get my drift.
    It still isn’t funny-funny, though. It’s funny in a Cathy comic strip sort of way, which is to say, not.

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  35. Phoenix Woman said on May 9, 2007 at 5:29 pm

    Lileks isn’t funny. He thinks he’s a cross between P.J. O’Rourke and Erma Bombeck.

    You want funny? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Driftglass.

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  36. basset said on May 9, 2007 at 9:43 pm

    “Smyrna AM” is part of the Gannett empire, which pretty much says it all right there. The Tennessean, Gannett mothership here in middle Tennessee, has spun off a bunch of suburban sections named for the surrounding towns and counties, as well as for various parts of Nashville itself. Most of the reporters for those sections have to keep up blogs as well as stories for the paper and its website.

    Smyrna is a redneck suburb on the edge of the interstate, built around a bunch of warehouses and a Nissan auto plant. There are worse places to live around Nashville, though.

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  37. joodyb said on May 9, 2007 at 11:43 pm

    why i know dave barry is funny:
    at 4pm on any thursday, i’d pull his column off the wire and catch myself snorting, occasionally reduced to tears. anyone who can do that to you in Features at that hour on that day of the week is funny.

    btw, jimmy was an inspired writer back in the day. i have archival evidence. speak up. and yes, $92K is real money in these parts for an opioniated scribe. they’re just not that impressed here. unless you’re sid.

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  38. velvet goldmine said on May 10, 2007 at 8:20 am

    One of the funniest newspapaper humorists I know of is Colin McEnroe, who writes for the Hartford Courant and has a Hartford radio show which is deft and would be on my daily playlist if not for incessant commercials. I don’t know what his national profile is; he did some guest stuff at McSweeny’s and for a while had a regular gig with a fashion glossy that I’m not even sure is even around anymore.

    Here’s his current courant blog:

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  39. harry near indy said on May 10, 2007 at 12:38 pm

    here’s my take on the lileks thing.

    the guy came across as a wimp. he was about as butch as an olson twin (mary kate or ashley, that’s for you to decide). i could ignore his writings about gnat, matchboxes, etc.

    but sometime after 9-11, he started writing macho and came across as a bad-ass mofo war wimp.

    i don’t know how to link all that well, so i’ll tell you folks to go over to james wolcott’s blog. it has a link to a criticism/destruction by dennis perrin of lileks’ tough talk, especially about iraq and its critics. there is a big, big chasm between that and his twee topics.

    and i feel angry that he was full time and got $92,000 for his efforts. what a waste of money.

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  40. crack said on May 10, 2007 at 1:52 pm

    Lileks wasn’t even the funniest humor columnist at the Strib. That was Uncle Al Sicherman. He took the buyout. Granted he was weekly but he was pretty good.

    The second item, although it involves only a tiny bit of a tiny corner of the world of print, is more troubling to Uncle Al, in that somebody should have noticed it: The registration card for the astonishingly heavy over-the-range microwave oven that he and his friend Phil hung in his kitchen with great difficulty a few weeks ago asked for his name and address. Then, rather than his age, it asked him to fill in the month and year of his birth. This way:

    MONTH _ _, YEAR 20 _ _.

    Although it is possible for a 7-year-old to buy a microwave oven, Uncle Al suspects that the majority of under-8 purchasers go for the countertop models. He hopes that any kids buying an over-the-range microwave have friends who are unusually tall and burly for their age…

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  41. LA mary said on May 10, 2007 at 5:09 pm

    I’m still liking Lakeville Lake a lot.

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  42. theo said on May 10, 2007 at 5:19 pm

    How do you screw in a lightbulb? Hey, if you can comfortably fit me and a willing partner in a lightbulb we’ll write up a small essay on the experience and put this question to rest once and for all.

    Dave Barry has made me ruin more books and keyboards with the “spew factor” than anyone else in the newspaper trade but I have a fondness for Art Buchwald’s columns as well.

    Nice blog entry, Nancy.

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  43. Chris Truscott said on May 10, 2007 at 5:30 pm

    I always loved Barry’s columns on North Dakota.

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  44. Garry said on May 12, 2007 at 12:38 am

    Zay Smith’s Quick Takes column in the Sun-Times is a great collection of the bizarre & plainly stupid.
    Lots of dumb crooks & idiotic political correctness is spoofed.

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  45. Mr. X said on May 16, 2007 at 3:42 pm

    Good observations about Barry; I liked his funny stuff, sure, but the one column that really sticks out in my memory was the one that he wrote after his son had been in a bicycle accident and he and his wife were waiting in the ER to see if he’d live or have any brain function left. Who knows how many people were motivated to wear a bike helmet, or make their kids wear one, after that column.

    It still boggles my mind a bit that Barry thinks that Lileks is good, but I’ve long since worked through the notion that, simply because I like someone’s work, I don’t have to like the people that they like.

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  46. Jackdaw said on May 16, 2007 at 10:42 pm

    Sorry to be commenting on a week-old post, but I’m new here (came in over the transom from Lawyers, Guns and Money, when they linked to your recent post about the new Zevon biography). I don’t know that I’ll become a regular reader, but perhaps an irregular one is possible.

    Anyway, I am mostly chiming in to correct commenter “crack”, above–for while Lileks’ Star-Tribune column was not funny, neither was Sicherman’s; the Strib is improved by the absence of each.

    As far as the comment by Mr. X above, puzzled about Dave Barry being a fan of Lileks’ stuff: if you are judging Lileks purely on his newspaper columns you are really missing out–some of the writing over at, particularly the Institute of Official Cheer, is extremely funny, and has reduced me to giggles similar to those I’ve experienced while reading Barry’s columns. Read a bit of that before dismissing Dave Barry’s taste out of hand.

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  47. Adam Khan said on May 21, 2007 at 11:37 am

    I never found anything Lileks wrote in the Strib column remotely funny, but his Bleats contain artful and juicy sentences. To me it was like two different writers.

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