A few months back, I posted an update aptly titled “Shameless Hype“, where I walked through the first issue of Cracked Magazine explaining what I did and how it came about. Surprisingly, I’ve gotten a lot of email from people who wondered why I didn’t do the same thing for Issue #2. Honestly? I just got busy and forgot.
So here’s my behind-the-scenes, DVD special feature-style breakdown of Cracked #2. Those of you who never bought Issue #2 and couldn’t care less about what I wrote in it, please skip this entry entirely, confident in the knowledge that I won’t hold it against you.
Stuff I wrote for this issue
- Pg. 1: “Making Babies Cry” ad
- Pg. 7: “Do It All Over Again” ad
- Pg. 12: CelebScoop
CelebScoop’s one of the bits I brought along with me from my NewsSkim writing days at Pointless Waste of Time—a single-page Us Weekly spoof that essentially serves as a fun excuse to make up incredibly slanderous lies about celebrities. I hate to start things off here on a low note, since there’s a lot of great stuff in Issue #2 I’d like to talk about, but for the record (I guess I can say this now), I was really unhappy with the way CelebScoop turned out in Issue #1.
The fault’s mine: I’d written about twice as much copy as I should have, forcing me and the rest of the staff to edit the jokes down at the eleventh hour on the laid-out page. Now, writing a 30-word joke isn’t that difficult; cutting a 100-word joke down to 30 and still having it make any kind of fucking sense requires a skill I freely admit I do not possess. Having to trim down copy under a tight time frame is a recipe for “Whoops, where’d the joke go?” moments. Here’s one of the original bits, to give you an idea:
We’re All Going to Die!
The largest ice shelf in the Arctic is now melting, according to top scientists in actual lab coats! “On a cosmic scale, the human race is little more than a blip,” explains Oxford geologist Bill Cunningham. “A stray meteorite, environmental collapse, over-population and even a devastating virus are all very real concerns. To ensure our survival we absolutely must, within the next five years, put into place a…”
Blah blah blah, Bill! The only danger we’re in is of you boring us to death! Here’s an exclusive pic of CHLOE SEVIGNY in something we like to call FASHION DON’TS!
Okay—so admittedly, it’s not a great joke. The world’s going to end and all the celeb rags care about is what Chloe Sevigny’s wearing, ho ho. Here’s what ended up in the first issue:
We’re All Going To Die!
Global warming is causing ice caps to melt and blah blah blah! The only danger we’re in is of being BORED to death! Here’s DENISE RICHARDS in something we like to call a “FASHION DON’T!”
Notice anything missing? If you guessed “The joke,” give yourself a big pat on the back. Since then, I’ve learned a valuable, valuable lesson about not writing the CelebScoop section too long. I think Issue #2’s is a lot better.
- Pg. 13: “Will Work For Food: AC Slater” (photoshop); “Celebrity Intervention: Adam Sandler” (writing)
I was never a big fan of Saved By The Bell—the show always struck me as the sort of thing you might put on a loop at a cancer ward so people don’t feel as bad about dying. I was pretty proud of my photoshop skillz here (the Variety headline reads: “Mark-Paul Gosselaar Signs $20M Deal”). AC’s hands still bug me, though—the original photo was of a homeless dude in his late-50s. I offer no explanation for why Slater’s hands have been ravaged by time, leaving his face a boyish, dim-looking 25:
As for the intervention: for the record, I don’t actually feel that Adam Sandler’s constant employment of his C-level comedian friends is a scandal meriting righteous outrage. But, you know, it’s a magazine. A piece about Adam Sandler needed to be written. I was unlucky enough to make eye contact right when my boss said “Who wants to write this?” at a meeting. Doodly-doodly-doot, I’m writing a piece about Adam Sandler. Tell me you haven’t gotten yourself in this position at your job occasionally. However, the piece did allow me to use the phrase “clenching out turds like The Longest Yard,” and since it’s one of the worst films I’ve ever seen, it all worked out in the end.
- Pg. 16: “Souldering Pistol: Jonathan Frakes MySpace page”
Co-written with Sean Crespo about a year ago, when I’d first moved to New York City. The piece was labeled “evergreen”—meaning that, unless Frakes died or had his face ripped off by monkeys or something, it could pretty much go to press any time at all and have the same result. It got bumped from Issue #1 for something more timely (a Paris Hilton sex contract, I believe), but I kept annoying everyone about it until it resurfaced in Issue #2. What can I say? I think it’s pretty funny. Something about imagining Jonathan Frakes living an existence this pathetic makes me laugh in a way that could only bring him misery and pain if he heard it. I am a small man.
- Pgs. 20-21: “A Letter of Apology”
A mock-letter I wrote last year about a guy apologizing to parents after an all-hamster production of Hamlet he put on at a public library resulted in casualties and a firefight with the police.
I wasn’t the biggest fan of the Photoshop work on this, but to be fair, I remember the poor guy who did it was swamped with about a million other things for the magazine. This was one of the last he got to. It’s alright, I suppose. I’ve never really been happy with the slapped-on look of the POLICE logos on the cars, but I freely admit it’s the sort of detail nobody else is going to give a shit about. Plus, in the artist’s defense, the skull-holding hamster he came up with is kick-ass.
- Pg. 39:“The Freemason Lodge” (photoshop)
I volunteered to do the psychedelic Freemasons photo collage, on the grounds that those photo collage things you always see in magazines look like they were thrown together in like ten minutes. How hard could it be?
Harder than you’d think, it turns out. Anyway, it is what it is. You can sort of just make out a horned devil figure superimposed over the old white guy in the center. If I’d had more time to dick around with it, I probably would have made that stand out more.
- Pgs. 44-46: “Christmas Around the World”
Another piece co-written by me and Sean Crespo, essentially mocking other cultures for daring to have holiday traditions slightly different from ours. The article blatantly skips over the most obvious counter-argument—that our Christmas traditions are just as senselessly insane as anything Brazil could come up with—but I think that’s part of its charm. Any article that ends with an all-caps “USA! USA! USA!” is probably requesting that you don’t take it too seriously.
- Pg. 81: “Kids Love It!” ad
Pieces I commissioned
“The Four Most Simultaneously Awesome and Shitacular Gifts to Give This Christmas,” Maddox
George “Maddox” Ouzounian is about as nice a guy as they come, and pretty much the antithesis of his online persona. It was a real pleasure getting him for the magazine, for two reasons. First: I’ve always thought his hilarious “How to become an obnoxious internet cam whore in five easy steps” was right on the money, and his book, Maddox’s Alphabet of Manliness was the sort of filthy, funny guy-humor book CollegeHumor should have put out.
Second: he told me he really liked my website, and I always go all girl-crushy when established net humorists lavish praise on me. (To this day, getting a nice email from Erik “Old Man Murray” Wolpaw telling me he and his co-workers still use the “Why don’t you find a cure for me fucking your mom in the ass!” catchphrase from my Superman parody ranks up there with the nicest all-time compliments I’ve ever gotten.)
George is just about the nicest, down-to-Earth guy you could ever meet, full of helpful advice and self-deprecating wit. It was great to get him for the mag.
“My Life of Failure”, Michael Kupperman
I first got turned on to Michael Kupperman through the JP.com forum, where a few guys were just lavishing praise on this comic called Tales Designed To Thrizzle by Michael Kupperman. I was sufficiently intrigued to hunt it out the next time I visited my local comics store, and holy shit, it is hilarious. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard, so often, in years. My favorite bits from Thrizzle were these ridiculous one-page ads, done in the mock-style of advertisements from old comics, so I located Kupperman and asked if he could whip a few of them up for us (they’ve so far appeared in Issues #1, #3 and I believe the upcoming Issue #4).
While commissioning the faux-ads, Kupperman asked me if I’d be interested in some of his written work. Unaware he even did non-comics-based comedy, I said sure, and he sent over a hilarious, surreally meta piece called “My Life of Failure,” a mock-review of a non-existent biography about a fictional film director who, by his own admission, makes the worst films of all time. The dumb-as-shit film titles end up making the piece: my personal favorites are the swinging sex comedy Swingers Love Doing It and the crime caper Murder Irritates My Sinuses.
“The Freemason Lodge”, Harmon Leon
I’ve been a fan of Harmon Leon ever since I read a piece of his called Blind Date, Leiderhosen and Me, where he manages to get on the show Blind Date and thoroughly embarrasses both the show and himself in the name of comedy. I’d bought pieces off him during my time at the National Lampoon, and when I found out that Cracked wanted to do regular features called “Infiltrations”—where the writer disguises himself and causes trouble somewhere incognito—I knew Harmon would be perfect for it.
I remember this piece was originally called “The Freemason Code” until I realized I had two articles with the same damn word in the title (see “The DiCaprio Code”, below). Cue one frantic, last-minute search through thesaurus.com for substitutes.
“The DiCaprio Code”, Justin Skinner
Justin Skinner is an old college friend who worked on a campus comedy paper called Golden Words with me. He was a few years older than me, and so served as a bit of a comedy mentor during those first few fumbling years when I was still learning how to write humor articles. He remains a good friend, and he’s always been a reliable go-to for me, whether at Cracked or the National Lampoon or for my now-defunct trailer review website, The Trailer Trash, when I need a few pages of good comedy fast.
In this case, we realized we had a lot of sports, pop culture and political comedy in the issue, but not a lot of relationship stuff. I emailed Justin with the extremely vague task of coming up with something “relationshippy” for me, and he returned with this two days later. It was a pretty funny article about what your girlfriend’s celebrity crush says about her and, more importantly, you. Justin Skinner: no-nonsense professional, ladies and gentleman.
“Snob Comedies”, Michael J. Nelson
I’ve written so many love letters to Mystery Science Theater’s Michael J. Nelson in the forum by now, anything I say here would be redundant, but: Michael J. Nelson is one of the funniest people alive. I love his books, I love his work on MST3K, and I’ll buy pretty much anything he puts out there for me to purchase. Getting him to write for the magazine was about as awesome as it gets.
“Laugh Audit”, Chris Sims
Chris Sims writes the incredibly funny Chris’s Invincible Super-Blog, a comic book blog that, when I first started reading it, was something of an underground word-of-mouth site. His considerable comedic talent has since gotten noticed, earning him mentions on TV shows and freelance gigs with other media, so I’m just happy I got in on the ground floor.
A lot of good comedy articles were already purchased and banked long before I took a job at Cracked, and Cracked #2 was the issue where, as I recall, we managed to use up the last of them. So there’s not as much of my handiwork here as there would be in future issues, and consequently, not as many memories of putting it together. Still, looking through it now, it’s a pretty strong issue. There’s a lot to like here.
One thing I do remember about Issue #2 were the repeated discussions of which issue should be our Holiday Issue. See, Cracked is a bi-monthly, meaning that any given issue stays on stands for two months. Issue #2 hit stands in mid-October and has stuck around until mid-December, so it’s just now, as I write this, being replaced on the racks by Issue #3.
This meant that if we saved the Holiday Issue until #3, it’d hit stands right in time for Christmas—but then linger on until mid-fucking-February, long past when anyone would give a crap about Santa Claus and eggnog. Conversely, by making Issue #2 our Holiday Issue, we managed to be on stands with it throughout November and December—but also through half of October, which, seriously, come on, is a bit early for a magazine with jokes about Christmas. It was a real “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” puzzle. We ended up going with Issue #2, which we felt was the lesser of two evils.
Whew! Okay, that’s it. Issue #3 hits stands this week, so watch out for Shameless Hype #3. Thanks for reading.