Some Brief MAD Reflections

I sold my first piece to MAD Magazine, co-written with my comedy writing pal, Charlie Kadau, way back in 1984. It was a parody of a newspaper sports section called “The MAD Sports Pages,” which appeared in MAD #257, featuring a very tasteful cover of Alfred E. Neuman as a flasher.

The following year, Charlie and I were offered editorial staff positions by publisher William Gaines. “I’m told that you guys are very talented, but I don’t believe it,” Gaines told us. “I propose to pay you as little as possible.”  

Gaines wasn’t kidding. His offer was $70 a day, less than I was making as a New York City taxi driver. On the plus side, it was a steady comedy writing gig and, best of all, Gaines would agree to us working a three-day a week. We gratefully accepted his offer. The first day on the job I started hounding Gaines for a raise. By the end of the week, he was threatening to fire me. We had that kind of relationship.

Thirty-three years later, Charlie and I, who started writing together in college, are still at MAD. It has been a journey of complete silliness. I can’t think of a single thing that we have taken seriously, with the notable exceptions of terrorism and natural disasters. Truth be told, we make jokes about that stuff too, we just don’t publish them.  

Being a comedy writer requires having a certain distance from the horrors, injustices and inanity that you’re commenting on. Rather than being swept up in the never-ending tide of bullshit, the comedy writer takes refuge on higher ground and observes the flood.

George Carlin went so far as to say that he did not consider himself part of the human race. That “in it but not of it” sensibility is essential, but also illusory. Comedy writers are in the muck with everyone else, we just don’t like admitting it.

It is exactly upon that realization that Alfred E. Neuman’s perennial “what, me worry?” attitude offers a quixotic kind of salvation. Taking this mindset to its logical extreme, one would remain steadfastly unworried even in the absolute worst of circumstances. Think Jesus on the cross, or a man jumping from the World Trade Center after it has exploded into flames. No predicament, no matter how dire or hopeless, merits worry. In that sense, Alfred’s motto could have just as easily been “be here now,” but that had already been claimed.

 

Here are some of Joe’s articles:


The 2-Hour School of Dentistry
With Charlie Kadau
Illustrator: Tom Bunk
MAD #296

The Belching Dragon Chinese Take-out
With Charlie Kadau
MAD #322

Other Images of Religious Figures in Food
Currently Being Offered on Ebay
Illustrator: Scott Bricher
MAD #451

SuperDelegate
Illustrator: R. Sikoryak
MAD #490