Friday, December 10, 2010

This week, dear reader, we abandon the usual format in favor of a more scientific approach. To invite your participation, we will be having our own vote on the captions in question. If you haven't read the New Yorker back cover recently, this is your perfect opportunity to falsify, or more likely not, what we all know in our hearts to be true: that Alissa and I are the unicorn's horn, if you will, of this captioning universe.

So here are seven captions, randomly ordered, for your judging pleasure. Three belong to Stephen Domesick (sweet name dude), Edward Wierenga, and Sean Farrell, respectively.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Conceitedly Captioned FAQ

What with this blog reaching residents of every continent and three of Jupiter's moons (breaking several Brazilian laws and international treaties to reach this guy), we get a lot of questions. The mountain of fan mail is overwhelming. And with only two writers--doing the work of ten, mind you--we could never hope, let alone desire, to answer any of them. But I did take the necessary time out of my schedule to make my personal assistant take the time to sort through our mail and compile a list of answers to the most popular inquiries.

Monday, October 25, 2010

What is humor? Answer: absence of wheelchair at wedding

"And please let me apologize again for the wheelchair mix-up."

Less Cartoon = More Caption??

Alright, it has come to my attention that I haven’t really been pulling my weight in this blogging partnership. HENCE I am putting my shoulder to the wheel and my nose to the grindstone and my back into it and mixing a whole lot of musculoskelatal metaphors and bodyslammin this post into existence.

The week before last week we came up with what were, I believe, the finest 4 captions we'd put out to-date:
"Wow, the 5 o'clock gay porn double feature sure is getting popular."
"Dude, take your hands off the wheel. There's still 20 minutes left."
"So...I see that you have no mouth."
"Next time they give the evacuation order, let's not worry about clearing the TiVo queue."

It goes without saying that all of these were way too hilarious for The New Yorker editors, who chose these three remarkably unfunny captions instead:
"This is our worst carjacking ever."
"Try honking again."
"A lot of pizzas are going to be free today."

Hah. Ha....ha?

Okay—here's the thing I've deduced about this particular cartoon, and why our captions work so amazingly well with it compared to the 3 pieces of dreck above: This "cartoon" is barely a cartoon, as there is absolutely nothing funny about the image itself. (Or, as I wrote to Sam the day after it was posted,

) How quick I was to criticize this poor "BORING DRAWING/WOODCUT THING", not realizing that within its visual vaguery lay the potential for endless comedic iterations. Being such a tabula rasa of a cartoon, we could impose all sorts of comedic situations on it, and each could come to the sum total of hilariousness. In fact, I would argue, because the cartoon is so inexpressive/lifeless on its own, its verbal companion (the caption) seems all the more vivid in comparison: the unmistakable lifeblood of the joke.

This is precisely why the editors' chosen 3 captions come off as sucking even more than usual. Already unimaginative on their own, their banality is amplified by the implied richness of what they could be. It's as if their creators, greeted by the blank canvas of the cartoon, decided to draw a stick figure with a word bubble rather than doing any of the zillion more exciting things they could do with such freedom/space to create. (Might I suggest this, for example?)

Anyway, so does less cartoon really = more caption? Clearly we don't have enough evidence yet to draw any real conclusions (though I would say that in this case, less cartoon at least equaled an especially hysterical caption-creation process, during which I may or may not have almost peed on my couch when Sam suggested "So...I see that you have no mouth"). I do suppose that all we can do for now is keep soldiering on with the hypothesis in mind, and see what results. On y va!!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Last week's cartoon, with which Alissa was apparently so flabbergasted she didn't have the heart to tackle its inadequacies, is shown above. Putting aside for now the New Yorker's own caption choices, this cartoon makes for an interesting case study, and it's worth exploring the creative process by which we attempted to wring something useful from it.

If you're anything like we are, your first impression on viewing the cartoon might have been something like "Huh?!" What's going on there? Clearly, something's up with the third duck in the line, but what's the deal? Is it disguised, costumed, or just a genetic freak with glasses? These are some of the basic questions we had to wrestle with in trying to overcome our lack of inspiration. Naturally, my initial thought was that it's a nerd duck; Alissa's was that it's dressed up like Groucho Marx. Any drawing that can accommodate both these views clearly suffers from a lack of clarity.

At any rate, our discussions yielded the following threads:

Ducks are among the few animals that are polyandrous. A nerd duck would be aware of this, perhaps ironically only from library study: "Billy said he read in the library that ducks are polyandrous...just sayin'..." This caption doesn't quite work though, does it? Can't quite put my finger on it. We tried to figure out some way that we could both imply that the mother is talking to a would-be father, but that the nerd-duck isn't in fact his offspring. But it's a lot to fit into one sentence.

[costume]: "If he wears it long enough we can make him re-use it next year." Ya know those kids (or was it just me) who wore their Superman costumes waaaay past Halloween in first grade? Maybe the same thing's going on here. Problem: Not a very inspiring Halloween costume is it?

[Groucho Marx]: "We never should've rented 'Duck Soup'." I'm going to go ahead and not try to justify the whole Groucho Marx thing; either you see it or you don't.

Upon closer inspection, it struck me as odd that this particular duck has ears to support its glasses. Ducks don't have ears. Even ducks with glasses. Coincidence? Surely not:

"Good thing Billy has ears or his glasses wouldn't stay on." Meh. (Also, to answer your question: Yes, any time someone in the caption has a name, it is invariably Billy.)

Eventually, with the same thread, we landed on: "Do you think his hearing is so good because he's nearly blind, or is it the ears?" This effectively combines the irony of both the glasses and the ears into one caption, while making light of the fact that the ears are clearly only in the cartoon as an accessory to the glasses.

Finally, with the disguise idea, Alissa thought maybe there was something involving the witness protection program involved (in retrospect, this makes perfect sense...we were grasping at straws okay?). Witness protection led to "pate protection"....get it? Yup. It's even more of a stretch. But the real question is, why is only one of the ducks disguised? "Remind me why we only signed one of them up for the Pate Protection Program?" GENIUS.

So you see, our level of obsession with this whole caption thing has risen from mildly unhealthy to severely-damaging-to-our-social-and-professional-pursuits. But it was an off-week, so we had to work extra hard.

*************UPDATE: I actually forgot our funniest, final idea, by way of Alissa. This strange duck has so many facial and cranial anomalies it's almost like he has some sort of cosmetic obsession, that his parents have somehow indulged. Thus:

"I drew the line at mustache implant."

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Need I say more

The story of tonight's reveal of this week's finalists, condensed to a single image:

In addition: I've just noticed a curious anomaly in the official contest rules: "Any resident of the U.S. or Canada (except Quebec) age eighteen or older can enter."

Except Quebec???

Sacré bleu! Apparently the Caption Contest Powers-That-Be not only lack any shred of a sense of humor, they're also brutish Americentric anti-Francophones.

[This may also explain why the French captions I've been submitting under the alias of "Élise Baguette" (phone number 714-1789) keep getting rejected...]

À bientôt, chers lecteurs,

Sunday, October 3, 2010

This time they've gone too far...

Eleven o'clock on Sunday night is fast becoming a sacred time of the week. It used to be that time when I realized I had way too much work left to do before the next morning. Now it's that time when I realize I have even more work to do before the next morning, because I've been coming up with New Yorker captions for the last several hours. After all, the captions for each week are due at 11 PM CDT (soon to switch to CST....WHY??), and being the procrastinator that I am, no matter how much I've thought about it all week, the creative ideas pour forth in those final hours. I've also been fascinated recently at how my ideas come to fruition, and not surprisingly, in accordance with this Slate series, a mere conversation with a creative partner-in-crime is indispensable. Most of our submissions, at this point, are collaborations, so when you see one of us on that back cover, don't forget the other.

But 11 o'clock is special not just because it's when we submit our final captions, but because the previous week's editors' choices are finally revealed. The anticipation is palpable, the feeling that this week is finally the one....

Or in this case, the week when they've finally lost it. They've gone too far. Rather than coming to their senses, the editors sunk to a new low, choosing one mediocre and one abysmal caption to fill out their pick of three. Some prominent commentators are more than a little bit suspicious (recent text from Brett Brown: "I suspect foul play"). Indeed. Nothing else could explain these:

"It's raining cat-dogs out there."

"Horsey, I'm home."

I'll start with the second. Alissa may approve of it, but let's be honest, it doesn't match the mood or character of the cartoon. Why is he cheerfully greeting her when both parties are clearly unhappy? Why is he informing her of his presence when she's staring right at him and has clearly been expecting him? Who does he think he is??

Here are our other captions, which they nefariously rejected:

"He said there was no room for me in this one-horse town."

"He said there was no room for me in this half-horse town."

I couldn't really decide which one was better. But they're both on the right track. Speaking of tracks:

"Another rough day at the tracks."

And these idea came from Brett, with our slight modifications:

"Abducting village maidens? Not in this weather."

"She said Billy was agressive and didn't get along with his classmates."

I was so angry before I forgot to explain why the cat-dogs one isn't as good as ours. But do I really need to anymore?

Enjoy your moments of glory Mary Lynch (cat-dogs) and Joel Bernstein ("horsey"), but the last laugh shall be ours, given that you clearly have no sense of humor.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

cunning? more like PUN-ning

"Look—before you turn into a real nag..."

That would be the caption I almost submitted this week. A pun! A homonymic pun, to be precise. Though I did eventually settle on an even funnier submission (to be revealed later this week!!), I nearly went with this one solely out of my deep and abiding love for puns. Namely, bad puns. The more horrific the better. In fact, I would argue, the funniest puns are often not even puns at all: they are failed puns; horrifically failed puns.

But before we get all analyzy in the post-postmodern humor department (in which the unfunny is funny and vice-versa, and the act of joke-making itself can be a joke), let's first read this very amusing New York Times article on puns. Here M. Tartakovsky includes nearly all the chuckle-inducing anecdotes and ideas about puns that I myself would, were I to have some sort of nepotistic connection to the NYT Opinion section.

The one point of Tartakovsky's that I really hadn't considered before was "Surely puns silence conversation before they animate it." True true! Off the top of my head, I can't think of a more one-sided form of humor than the pun, whose only real purpose is to prove its quipster's cleverness. Maybe from now on, rather than groaning or giving the requisite (condescendingly-toned) "har har har," I will instead respond to every pun by referencing Lamb. Pistol to the ear again, eh? When all my intellect wants is a little tickle... (If you thought punsters were bad at making friends, you clearly haven't spent enough time with expert non-sequiturians such as myself.)

And on that note, I do believe I'll be off to bed for the evening. Especially because the Indian food I made for dinner seems to not be agreeing with me very well. (Indian food? More like Indigestion food, amiright??) Har har har.

PS (for readers of indelicate sensibilities only): Why oh why am I not the first to coin this term?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Getting up to speed....

....with the caption from the September 13th issue.
The New Yorker's choices:

"Never thought I’d say this, but I wish I'd played more Whac-A-Mole as a kid."

"I'm on a satellite phone—how's the reception?"

"Yes, I'm alone."

As is fast becoming a pattern, there's a clear stand-out among the choices, one that treads that fine line between being funny enough to win it all but unfunny enough to make the editors' top three (ie, the third one above). Ahem, Whac-a-mole? For serious? Maybe the editors just choose two craptastic captions as a service to their indecisive voters who are already overburdened with choice in this chaotic, globalized society. I mean it's hard enough to pick out a goddam bottle of cough syrup at the pharmacy. Good thing we don't have to then choose among three decent New Yorker captions, right? How noble of them.

But for those of who seek a higher truth no matter the consequences, who champion freedom of choice over socialism, liberty over East Coast Elitism and Sam Post over the New Yorker editors, here are some other options.

The second caption above is on the right track, but the wording is off. (I reckon it's supposed to be a play on the word satellite? Or is it? Would it be funny even if that were obvious?) Brett was on a similar path here, and we came up with something similar, but better:

"The view is great, but the service is incredible!"

This more effectively highlights the uniqueness of the situation: here's this random dude who gets the opportunity to behold the glories of the cosmos in blissful solitude, but it's even more cool that he can tell someone about it.

Alissa decided he was calling someone on a grocery run to earth, resulting in this:

"Sorry honey, I meant fat free. If it's not too much trouble, would you mind turning around?"
Variations included reference to a specific astronomical object, say, the milky way or asteroid belt, as a point of reference: "If you're not past the asteroid belt, would you...." but at the time we were still slaves to the editors, choosing pithiness over quality in a thinly veiled attempt at fame and victory. But now we shall have both (minus the victory).

Okay, I just thought of this:

"I'm afraid I may have to cancel that appointment." Like, cause he's a billion miles away. Yahtzee!

And my rejected submission:

"No no, my plan has ten Zorbon minutes. Talk all you want."

This evolved from "It'll take you how long? Oh, you must mean earth days..." or something to that effect. The point is, the speaker's earth compatriot misunderstands his information about timing, cause they're on different planets and their days are different lengths! But I had to tie in something about the fact that he was on the phone, didn't I?

The phrasing took a while to nail down, but in the end, it ranks as one of my greatest accomplishments, alongside graduating college and the caption I submitted the week before. Too complicated, you say? Go play some whac-a-mole. If you need me, I'll be at the pharmacy for the next three hours.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Mission Statement

As befits a lady of fine character and refined manners, I would like to begin my first Conceitedly Captioned post by thanking Sam for his delightful introduction to this new joint blogging venture. I would then like to point our currently nonexistent readership in the direction of a fascinating (and short, might I add) Slate article by Patrick House entitled How To Win the New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest.

House takes the position that if your goal is to win the caption contest, then you must begin by accepting that "you are not trying to submit the funniest caption; you are trying to win The New Yorker's caption contest. Humor and victory are different matters entirely." While both Sam and I recognize the pragmatism of this view (and its potential effectiveness, as apparently House won within months of beginning his quest), I think it's important to state very clearly—as Sam did in an email to me earlier in the day—that "we have to think of captions not just to submit but for the blog....THIS IS BIGGER THAN JUST THE CONTEST NOW" [emphasis mine].


Predicated upon this refusal to kowtow to the taste of lame old white guys plus some guy named Farley, this blog is therefore a way out of the broken, hierarchical system that House analyzes so well. Surely it'll only be a couple of weeks before the readership of Conceitedly Captioned—recognizing our superior hilarity—exceeds that of The New Yorker itself! (Scientifically speaking, this would be at least 1,011,821 people.)

So have we set out on this project with ridiculously hubristic aims? Obviously. But as Franz Kafka exhorted his friend Oskar back in 1904, "A [caption] must be the axe for the frozen sea within us."

Make that sea into Lake Michigan in late January, Franz, and you've got yourself two disciples.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Idea

A few weeks ago, I started taking the New Yorker caption contest pretty seriously, and by pretty seriously, I mean much more so than any reasonable person should. Seeing as how the New Yorker is my favorite publication and all, I started becoming annoyed that my name (or psuedonym) had never made an appearance within. So after years of flirting with various ideas for the captions, I finally buckled down and submitted one. What gave me the final push? Well, one day a friend and I were brainstorming possible captions for the current issue, when we came up with what we thought might be a winner. With something finally submittable, I rushed to the nearest internet-machine only to find out that the "current issue" was actually two weeks old, and that the winning caption was nearly identical to the one we had independently come up with.

Anyway, buoyed by the support of friends and family, and more recently, Alissa, I/we have submitted caption(s) every week since, thus far with no success. BUT we have started to notice a strange trend: Our captions are often funnier than the ones the editors choose. While this does make me lose faith in humanity, it also makes me gain faith in myself. It also makes me want to share my and Alissa's hilarity with the world at large, by which I mean my immediate family and whatever readers Alissa manages to commandeer. Let's get to it.

First up, the contest from September 6th (yeah we're gonna go back a little and catch up to the present.)

The editors' choices:
"In the end, Ed, most of us are carried along by our delusions."
"You always have to be an early adopter."
"You don't have to tell me it's a vanishing breed."

Okay, the third one's pretty good, but the first two? Come on, now.

My rejected caption:
"Nice chameleon."

Perhaps as an interlude, we can get into the incongruity theory of humor. But it's 1:30 am on a schoolnight, and you know what means: I have to go brainstorm a caption for the next contest.