“Be alert. The world needs more lerts!” — MAD Magazine cartoon caption from the ’70s
I grew up in a world far less politically correct. To me that means a couple of things. The most important for me is that I grew up in a time when we had a collective sense of humor. We laughed at the world. We laughed at the human condition. We laughed at ourselves. We just seemed to laugh a lot!
I still laugh a lot, however, it seems that I cannot share my humor with as large a public audience. Humor is very hard to define. What is one person’s laugh can be another person’s tears. Humor was never about degrading or making fun of anyone’s disposition in life. Humor was just a way of coping with things that we couldn’t seem to change. My sense of humor came from many inspirational sources. I have always loved standup comedy. I always read humorous books. Comedy films were my preference during the formative years.
And then there was my constant source of satire from my childhood. One of my personal heroes was a fellow called Alfred E Newman! For those under 40 years of age, Alfred was the mascot for a magazine I literally couldn’t wait for each edition to be published. I credit MAD Magazine as a major reason for my twisted and very broad sense of humor.
MAD Magazine was a publication for its time. Recently, it was announced that after going on seven decades of publishing, the print edition will soon end. MAD has been around as long as me. I will survive its demise. I don’t think the world will be a better place because of it. I would argue that the world needs a MAD Magazine now more than ever.
During a 1985 interview on the Tonight Show, Johnny Carson asked then-television and movie superstar Michael J. Fox, “When did you know you’d made it in show business?” Fox replied, “When Mort Drucker drew my head!” Mort Drucker was a cartoonist for MAD Magazine for over five decades.
Terry Gilliam of the Monty Python comedy icons claimed, “MAD became the Bible for me and my whole generation.”
Movie critic Roger Ebert wrote, “I learned to be a movie critic by reading MAD Magazine. MAD’s parodies made me aware of the machine inside the skin — of the way a movie might look original on the outside, while inside it was just recycling the same old dumb formulas. I did not read the magazine. I plundered it for clues to the universe.”
MAD Magazine was notable for other reasons. It was published ad-free from 1957 until 2001. This allowed MAD to be free from any ad revenue influence to deter its freedom to lampoon and satirize any and all American subjects without fear of any financial reprisal. And satirize it did. Nothing was too iconic or sacred from the MAD treatment.
An interesting list of single line contributors to MAD Magazine includes: Charles Schulz (Peanuts cartoon strip creator), Chevy Chase, Andy Griffith, Winona Ryder, Jimmy Kimmel, Jason Alexander, Representative Barney Frank, Steve Allen and Richard Nixon, who remains the only President credited with “writing” a MAD article. The entire text was taken from President Nixon’s speeches.
MAD is credited with being the top level of political satire during the “Cold War” year from the 1950’s through the 1970’s. Most notably, the regular cartoon of Spy vs. Spy was a regular feature of the publication.
Like many other successful ventures, MAD attempted to spin off into other media to capitalize off its success. An animated television special produced in 1974 never made it on the air. A 1980 film spoof of a military school directed by Robert Downey Sr. was so awful MAD demanded its name be taken off the credits. FOX television network did run a mildly successful comedy sketch series in 1994 called MAD TV.
For those of us who were addicted aficionados of the world of MAD Magazine, we were allowed to exist in a world that never existed, but was somehow still real. For a few pages, we escaped from what we knew into a world that we wanted to be. The movie parodies were so much better than the celluloid on the screen. The political satire was so much more honest than the politicians who spoke often the same or very similar words each evening on the nightly network news.
Mostly, for a teenage and young adolescent boy of the 1960s and ’70s, I was allowed to immerse myself into a world of silly but simultaneously meaningful and sophisticated humor. The very best satire doesn’t have to be cloaked in an intellectual sense of cover that blocks out the masses.
The genius of MAD Magazine was that it influenced so many young people to understand humor. I know from my many attempts at writing funny pieces that a magic exists when something humorous appears on a blank page seemingly out of nowhere. Nobody who has ever created something funny understands how it happened. It only takes the courage to try. Failure only increases the resolve to continue. One laugh is a tremendous achievement.
I spent many nights in my bed reading an issue of MAD Magazine often laughing out loud. I feel lucky to have been there during its heyday. I think the world is a lesser place with its passing. We don’t have the collective ability to laugh at ourselves and the current human condition.
I accept that my sense of humor is outdated, politically incorrect, and out of place in today’s world. I am fine with that. I laugh a lot. It’s really gotten me through some very tough times in life. Much like my teenage years, I often stand against the crowd. Today is not much different from those nights lying on my bed sometimes literally with a flashlight.
You are free to blame MAD Magazine. I prefer to credit them.
— Lindon Dodd is a freelance writer who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.