Friday, May 29, 2009

A guy walks into a bar...

There are lots of different versions of 'funny' in the world. One would think that the New Yorker caption contest, found online and in the back of each issue, would want to celebrate that. You'd think that a contest opened up to the public, who must notice that the normal cartoons aren't very funny, would go well. I'm finding that this is increasingly not the case. I worked with fifth graders who are funnier. (That's not sarcasm. I taught creative writing at an elementary school and gave the kids blank New Yorker cartoons so they would come up with a caption as a warm-up exercise. The best one? A picture of a husband and wife sitting on the couch. He is completely covered in hair, Cousin It-style. The caption? "I think I need to shave.")

The ones that win are starting to resemble the caption for every other cartoon in the magazine: bland, obvious (or not obvious enough), sort of making sense but not really worth saying. As with most things in life, we can turn to Family Guy to make a clear, well-informed point:

Last summer I submitted my own take on a cartoon, which I was positive I would win. It was too hilarious not to win, or at least this is what I thought before noting that my version of hilarious is much different than the New Yorker's version of hilarious. The picture was of a man who had failed at shooting himself and in the process wrecked most of the living room with gun shots. His wife stands angrily at the door. My idea? "This is why we can't have nice things!" Maybe not the funniest thing in the world, but certainly better than "Once you've finished killing yourself, come to bed." Oh, the existentialist anguish of modern society! The lack of connection! The perils of the modern marriage! What droll personalities these pencil drawings seem to have.
My more recent foray stings even more. The picture is of two couples sitting in a living room that has the whole universe as a backdrop. My idea? "We moved here because it has more space." Their winning commentary on society? "5,000 galaxies and nothing on."
Clearly I'm not getting over it anytime soon. Which is why it's become my mission to win this contest, at least once, and have fun coming up with hilariously unwinnable alternatives in the process.

For the New Yorker contest, I've also had some near-successes with stock phrases. I figure that by reusing the same New Yorker-friendly idea each week, one of them is bound to stick eventually. Two good ideas to start with:

"I sure could use a martini."
"This reminds me: you're fired."

See below an example of how this caption can be used successfully. It wasn't deemed to be New Yorker funny, but it still works with the picture. Also, it was a pain to go back through the archives and find the actual cartoon, so Matt drew his own take on it, which has a lovely Don Hertzfeldt flavor to it.

And a more recent cartoon:

"Man, I sure could use a martini!"
"This reminds me: You're fired."

Perhaps to be beaten by:

"Hot enough for ya?"

I imagine that the winner will create an overextended metaphor using the desert wasteland of the economy. I don't know enough about the economy to do that, so I'll be counting on someone more New Yorker-ish will be able to beat me to it.

For more takes on silly cartoons, see
Garfield Minus Garfield, The Strip Doctor and Marmaduke Explained.

And if you didn't get the Don Hertzfeldt reference or you just need some screwed up cartoons in your life:

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