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.