I sold my first piece to MAD Magazine, co-written with my 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. Best of all, Gaines was agreeable to us working three days a week, plus he was offering a 90-minute lunch break, an offer way too good to even consider refusing. The first day on the job I started hounding him for a raise. By the end of the week, he was threatening to fire me. We had that kind of relationship.
Against all odds, the gig lasted 33 years. It was a journey of complete silliness and I can’t think of a single thing that we took seriously, with the notable exceptions of terrorism and natural disasters. But actually, we make jokes about that stuff too -- we just didn'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.
Joe Is Credited on over 100 MAD articles. Here are A handful of them:
The 2-Hour School of Dentistry
With Charlie Kadau
Illustrator: Tom Bunk
The Belching Dragon Chinese Take-out
With Charlie Kadau
Other Images of Religious Figures in Food
Currently Being Offered on Ebay
Illustrator: Scott Bricher
Illustrator: R. Sikoryak