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Funny? You Should Ask

Hosted by Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 24, 2003; 12:00 PM

Gene Weingarten's controversial humor column, Below the Beltway, appears every Sunday in the Washington Post Magazine, generating more mail than Santa gets at Christmas. Not all of it is wildly condemnatory. Some of it is only mildly annoyed. Weingarten came to The Post in 1990 after being chased out of Miami at midnight by farmers with pitchforks and burning torches. He is also reputed to be close to persons thought to be familiar with individuals claiming to be authoritative spokesmen for the mysterious and reclusive Czar of The Style Invitational.

He is online, at any rate, each Tuesday, to take your questions, and abuse.

Gene Weingarten (Richard Thompson - The Washington Post)

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He'll chat about anything. The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


Gene Weingarten: I?ve received several inquiries from alert correspondents who noticed a news item about last Friday?s "Zits." The cartoon showed Jeremy mowing the lawn in a way that communicated to his parents that he resented the chore: He was mowing into the lawn the words "This suc...."

The news item reported that in the Chicago Tribune, and apparently ONLY the Chicago Tribune, Jeremy was mowing "This Sti ..."
Readers reasonably wanted to know whether there were two versions of this cartoon made available to newspapers, one for most sentient humans of reading age and one for the delicate sensibilities of the Chicago Tribune readers (and the Washington Post ombudsman, who no doubt was mailed his own copy).

I have researched this matter and determined that when the Chicago Tribune complained to cartoonist Jim Borgman about the raw filth he was purveying, he re-drew it for them alone! Nice customer service, if you ask me.

However, this is only part of the story. It begs, as they say, the question. The other part of the story is that Jim Borgman should be led away in chains -- afforded the full Jayson Blair treatment, hounded by paparazzi until he is forced to live in his house, eating only spam and green Gatorade, emerging only sporadically, at night, in humiliating disguises chosen by his enemies.

Jim is one of the better cartoonists out there, and it pains me to say it, but this entire cartoon was a blatant ripoff of one of the greatest cartoons, and one of the greatest cartoonists, of our time. And worse -- can things be worse? -- it was a weenie ripoff. A candyass, pantywaist ripoff.

More than a decade ago, Joe Martin, the creator of the brilliant "Mr. Boffo" strip, did one about mowing the lawn. It became a pretty famous cartoon. Not only was it on the cover of one of Martin?s books, but I believe it was praised by Johnny Hart at a cartoonists convention, as the best cartoon ever drawn. You want to know how big it is? Here?s how big it is: I personally, moi, have a copy of it, signed by Joe, on the wall of my home office.

We link below to both the Zits cartoon and the Mr. Boffo cartoon, which, in deference to comic genius, is this week?s Comic Pick of the Week. See if you can spot not only the subtle similarity of theme, but the reason that, cojones-wise, Zits sucks and Boffo rocks.

Questions? Comments?


washingtonpost.com: Zits, (June 18, 2003)
Mister Boffo


Ahhmm Buds, Man.: In this Sunday's Post, the Ombudsman column by Michael Getler contains the following:

"Going from the sublime to the ridiculous, there is the Sunday Style Invitational, presided over by staff writer and resident humorist Gene Weingarten."

Where does this guy get his information from? Jayson Blair? This seems to imply that you control The Czar and, as such, run the Style Invitational. Shouldn't Michael Getler resign over this blatant untruth?

washingtonpost.com: Readers as Writers, (Post, June 22)

Gene Weingarten: Yes, that was interesting. On Sunday morning, I actually sent the Ombudsman a long letter complaining about the Ombudsman and urging him to look into it.

Here are the sad facts: The Ombudsman DID call me, and I DID give him the facts and figures he demanded, but in Jayson Blair-like carelessness, he simply ASSUMED he was talking to the person who runs the contest, as opposed to someone close to the person who runs the contest. He also shockingly prosecuted his own prejudices, suggesting that the popular contests were the ?really gross? ones.

The larger issue: Just whom does one complain to when one feels abused by the Ombudsman? I suggest a new position, the Ombadsman, who will investigate only malfeasances of the Ombudsman.


Gene Weingarten: There are a huge pantsload of posters today, and I?ll do my best to get to as many of them as I can, but first I feel I must issue a public-interest warning about a menace lurking in our midst.

There is a deceptively simple but wildly entertaining retro computer game out there that Dave Barry sent me a link to. It is addictive to the point of getting one fired. I just want to urge people to stay away from this site at all costs.

Liz, please provide a link so people will know what to avoid if they should happen to come upon it. Whatever you do, do NOT open this link. Thanks.


Washington, D.C.: Gene,

Somebody posted in Joel Achenbach's chat last week that this sentence from Desson Howe's "Hulk" review used "whom" incorrectly:

"Elliott gives great dimension to his brusque military archetype, and as Bruce's aged father, whom Bruce thought was dead, Nick Nolte produces a memorable, gravelly-voiced performance."

This person thought "whom" was the subject of the clause and should have been "who." Is there a term, perhaps from the French, for a pedant who doesn't know what he is talking about?

BTW, the index of chat archives is woefully out of date. Is this what we have to look forward to post-Lisa?

washingtonpost.com: Yes, it's all going to hell in a handbasket now.

Honestly, stay tuned for entirely new archive pages that are easier to find, use and read (and update).

Gene Weingarten: I would call such a person an "incompedant."


Cha, TN: Gene, do you ever have trouble falling asleep from pondering the cruel inequity of the host always having the last word on these chats?

Gene Weingarten: No. And you are an idiot.


Once Again: Now I'd understand if Liz, with her new duties as Hax's online producer, was now suddenly providing the incorrect link for Gene's Comic Pick of the Week.

But no, she's always done it.

But it is all part of the allure of the Gene Weingarten Happy Hour.


Gene Weingarten: Noted. So what's your problem, chatboy?


washingtonpost.com: Helicopter game


Watta, FL: Ummm. I don't know how to ask this, but doesn't your crack staff of editors and researchers know anything about American geography?

Do you realize that many of the city and state names used in your chat are nonexistent. I'm embarrassed for you whenever I see yet another obvious error. Even the most junior copyeditor should be able to recognize the official USPS postal abbreviations for states.

Gene Weingarten: I will put the Ombudsman on this, post haste.


Scuse, ME: Did you see the "Role Reversal" item Sunday's Unconventional Wisdom column? Richard Morin cites a study where men were more likely to choose a woman who says (in an online ad) that she's "financially independent, successful, and ambitious" than one who says she's "lovely?very attractive and slim."

A co-worker of mine suggested to me that "the authors overlooked a supply-side phenomenon that skewed the results: Namely, 8 out of 10 men may prefer the looker, but if there are 100 women claiming to be lookers, and only a couple claiming to be well-off, it stands to reason that the well-off advertisement will get more customers."

As a woman who would never in a million years use the term "lovely" to describe herself (it would be so wrong on so many levels), I think that it may be the wording that turned the men off. Only a high-maintenance type or a let's-talk-about-the relationship type would use the word "lovely" in describing herself.

Any thoughts?

washingtonpost.com: Unconventional Wisdom, (Post, June 22)

Gene Weingarten: I think you raise a very good point. I bet you are right. But I am also not surprised for another reason: why WOULDN?T a guy be prejudiced toward a rich woman? It is hardly a selfless impulse to choose a rich woman over a woman who gives no financial information about herself.

And, in fact, if I were a woman who was rich AND good looking, I would not advertise both. I?d say I was financially secure, let men assume that meant I was not a looker, and weed out the scummy horndogs. And I agree with you: I would never, ever answer a personals ad from a woman who described herself as ?lovely.?

Many years ago, in Tropic magazine, I planted a personals ad that said, simply, ?Boy seeks girl.? I was looking for pure romantics. It got almost no responses.

Apropos of nothing: Reader Amy Lee writes in with this excellent aptonym: One of New York City?s best urologists, as anointed by New York Magazine, is Dr. Marcus Loo.


washingtonpost.com: June 20 Zits. (I'm so sorry! This will be our little secret. Don't tell Gene.)


Washington, D.C.: Hi. You said you were going to see "A Mighty Wind" and "Adaptation." Did you? Verdicts?

Gene Weingarten: Yes, I saw and liked both of them. I wished that Mighty Wind had been a little more funny and a little less droll, but it was good. I thought Adaptation was a complete masterpiece, start to finish, scene by scene. It was wildly original, and to the poster who didn?t like the end: With all due respects, you didn?t understand the end.


Whom vs. who: The person who voted for "who" was right. It is the subject of "was dead." You wouldn't say "I thought him was dead." Check Fowler on this if you don't believe me. Your own poster (and Stephen Hunter) are the incompedant ones.

Gene Weingarten: Wrong. You are wrong. Pat?


New York, N.Y.: Gene, so what is your high score on the helicopter game?

Gene Weingarten: 1840. So far.


Arlington, Va.: I made a game based off of the back of one of dave barry's books. How can I send it to him?

Gene Weingarten: You can send it to me and I will send it to him.


Bangkok, Thailand: Gene: I was hoping for a double dactyl in last weekend?s BTB. Here's mine; it's nothing special, but I thought I'd share it.

Higgledy Piggledy
Senator Lieberman
Wants to be President
Just one of few

Although I agree with him
He gets my vote
Just for being a Jew

Gene Weingarten: Quite good. But your dactly is off. "Just for" needs to be at the end of the penultimate line. "Being a Jew" is the last line. Then, it is perfect.


Washington, D.C.: I understood the end of "Adaptation" and hated it. Sorry, but a good joke drawn out for 37 minutes is no longer funny.

Gene Weingarten: You are simply wrong.


Sterling, Va.: Gene, did you see the article on Sunday's front page about the woman eating a steak at a restaurant in Texas? This is front page news? I guess it was a slow news day!

washingtonpost.com: Pride (and $50) at Steak, (Post, June 22)

Gene Weingarten: I absolutely loved this story. I am proud of the Post for running it on page one. And surprised they did it.


Manassas, Va.: I was reading this article last week: Clubbing of Seals Lands Canadians Back in Hot Water, (Washington Times) -- and found myself laughing after the third paragraph. Is this funny, or has my sense of humor become warped? I found the eye poking think to be a bit disturbing/funny as well. :P Perhaps I have gone off the deep end.

Gene Weingarten: Well, I believe this story is hilarious. The hilarity begins with the name of the man quoted in the second paragraph, which you seem to have elided right by! It then continues with the third paragraph, which is magnificent.


Pat the Perfect, ME: No, the poster is absolutely right. He should have said "who," for the precise reason that the poster said.

Gene Weingarten: Wow!

Maybe I am wrong about EVERYTHING.


Medford, Mass.: So now that you have seen "A Mighty Wind," how do you rank the three Christopher Guest mockumentaries?

Those being "Best in Show," "Waiting for Guffman," and "A Mighty Wind."

washingtonpost.com: Don't forget "Spinal Tap."

Gene Weingarten: I haven't seen Guffman. It's hard to beat Spinal Tap.


YouGene, AR: I think posting the helicopter game was a clever way of thinning out the chatting ranks.

Gene Weingarten: I was desperate. There are, like, 600 posters queued up here.


Adaptation: was genius. I saw it twice. Chris Cooper was the best part. "F--- fish" best line.

Now you should see "Spellbound": example one of how real life and real people are better than [most] fiction.

Gene Weingarten: Yes. It was right up there with W.C. Fields's great line about fish.


Brooklyn, N.Y.: Help! the chat isn't working! I can't get new responses or update! I'm stuck on incompedant!

washingtonpost.com: You might need to click "Reload" or "Refresh" to get the latest responses. We're having server troubles. This is all part of the hell in a handbasket theme...

Gene Weingarten: A public service.


Gene Weingarten: Um, but wait a minute. Liz, how can the previous poster get your advice if the previous poster can't read the chat?


Lakewood, Colo.: For your "metacomics," check out Monty last Thursday and last Sunday...

washingtonpost.com: Monty, (June 22)
Monty, (June 19)

Gene Weingarten: These are really great. I love this meta schtick. I don't really want it to end. Liz, can you link to today's Pearls Before Swine? Another good example.


Seattle, Wash.: In its most recent weekend magazine, the Times put some questions to Newt Gingrich. First sentence: "A novel you were co-writer of that imagines a Confederate victory at Gettysburg is just out."

Is that the worst sentence in the Sunday Times? Possibly the worst that week? Can anyone else beat it?

Gene Weingarten: I think this is a godawful line, but what do I know. We cannot agree it is a godawful line until Pthep declares it to be godawful.


Wonderla, ND: I was on southbound 270 a couple of weeks ago and the leftmost lane was closed. I glanced over and noticed that a road crew was painting the jersey barriers that separate the directions of traffic flow. Were they, as Bob Levey suggested a while back, painting them an aesthetically-pleasing color that would beautify the drive? One of those noxious safety colors like not-quite-fire-engine red or decaying marigold that, while ugly, at least serve a purpose? A nice reflective white that would make them easier to see in inclement weather or after dark?


They were painting them CEMENT GRAY!

I?ll grant that this is marginally better than the dirty grayish buff that they were before, and that painting them covered the scuff marks caused by rubber bumpers colliding with the wall for maybe a full nanosecond after traffic was allowed back in the left lane, but am I the only one who finds this an absurd exercise in futility (not to mention a total waste of taxpayers? money)?


(Your Perfection, Please forgive me the sentence fragments. Absurdity does not always lend itself to proper sentence structure.)

Gene Weingarten: Hey, Levey. It's always a treat when you join the chat.


Fredneck, Md.: Wish me luck... I convert tomorrow. Shalom, Shema Yisrael! It would mean a lot to me, if I had one last word of advice/wisdom from you.

Gene Weingarten: To quote Mel Brooks: "Never, NEVER strain on the pot."


New York, N.Y.: I'm afriad I am not terribly familiar with the works of W.C. Fields. What was his fish line?

Gene Weingarten: "I never drink water. Fish f--- in it."


Tragic, Ind.: The steak story was fabulous. A shame she couldn't finish the slab o' meat, but that took away nothing from the story. The best part, however, was that when she couldn't eat another bite, her husband said, "Oh baby, that's all right!;" and added that they'd have leftovers for a while. What a sweet, supportive guy. He's a keeper.

Gene Weingarten: Actually, the story would have been considerably worse had she finished it. It was perfect. I also loved her history. Hockstadter told it very well.


washingtonpost.com: Pearls Before Swine, (June 24)


Thinning out the ranks: No, you only thinned out the male chatters. Most of the women came right back. Of course, perhaps that was your aim all along.

Gene Weingarten: Heh heh.


Boffo: Honestly, I don't get the Boffo. He's writing an "F". I mean, it could be the start of ANYTHING!; It's not like Jeremy's lawnmowing skills, where he's clearly on the way to a declarative sentence....

Gene Weingarten: But it ISNT the start of anything. We are told that by the guy in the foreground.


Southern Maryland:: This past weekend a fancy-dress party celebrating Prince William's 21st birthday was crashed by -- can you imagine -- a man in a turban, with a fake beard, wearing a pink dress. He slipped by security. Now, am I missing something here but wouldn't such a person cause a normal security detail to look twice? The Royals are now miffed because he could have wiped out the entire royal family if he had been a suicide bomber. Don't those Brits get it yet? Are the Royals so in-bred that they think this is normal attire?

washingtonpost.com: Hey there Yank, "fancy dress" party doesn't mean a formal.

Main Entry: fancy dress
Function: noun
Date: 1770
: a costume (as for a masquerade) chosen to suit the wearer's fancy
-- Merriam-Webster

Gene Weingarten: I didn't know this either.


Hi, Liz: Just wanted to say I caught the transcript of Carolyn's chat last week and if anyone is cool enough to replace Lisa it's you, babe.

washingtonpost.com: Awww shucks.

Gene Weingarten: No one will ever "replace" Lisa.

Liz will carve her own new path, an entirely different presence and personality. It will be exciting to watch, an affirmation of the foreverness of life, like the birth of a star in a distant galaxy.


Boffo, Okla.: Incredible. I can't believe the comics editors ran it.

They must have been too far out of touch to get it, like trying to explain to someone who's never met an Australian why the name "Randy" is so dang funny.

Gene Weingarten: Hell, what about "Randy Johnson"?


Obyte, ME: Your reference to Spam and Green Gatorade in your prologue reminded me of a question that I've had for a long time, yet no one could ever answer. Perhaps you could also get P-the-P to weigh in.

In the great Dr. Seuss book, "Green Eggs and Ham" how can one infer from the text alone that the adjective "green" applies to BOTH the eggs and the ham. Is there some special rule of grammar that I either never learned as a child or have long forgotten that allows for this interpretation?

If so, can you think of any other examples of such construction (i.e. a single adjective applying to multiple nouns)?


Gene Weingarten: Well, let me just say that I am the one person on Earth who doesn't think Green Eggs and Ham is any good at all. To me, it is the least of the magnificent Seuss oeuvre. It's just nothing.

It's of the quality of One Fish Two Fish, also nothing.

How did the man who wrote The Lorax and The Butter Battle Book and The Cat In the Hat also write that dreck?



Gardner, Mass: Gene,

Outhouse is a common name in the maritime provinces. Phone book pages full of them. The name is pronounced, Otis, like the elevator.

Gene Weingarten: I know. I took a picture of The Outhouse Law Firm in Quebec. It's still funny.


Arlington, Va.: At least the ombudsman did acknowledge (for the first time?) that the SI is funny. However, he loses points for loving the haiku thing on the front of Style.

Gene Weingarten: I like the Haiku thing, much of the time. He quoted from one of the best ever.


Walla-Walla, WA: So what am I supposed to say now that I can't say fiancee? Obviously I can call him by his first name (Sven) when referring to him, but what about on those occasions when a further explanation is required? Do I say, "This is Sven, with whom I will be entering into an equal, legal domestic partnership?"

Gene Weingarten: Haven't I made this abundantly clear?

You say, "This is Steve."


The point is, why is it any business what you and Sven intend to do? Would you say, "This is Sven, whom I intend to bed this evening?"

Sven, this is Sven.


Hamm: Obyte, ME is an excellent place name.

Gene Weingarten: It is!


K Street, All Reet: I believe you meant to say "What about Randy Johnson, whose nickname is 'The Big Unit.'"

Gene Weingarten: That is correct. Thank you for the amendment.


Pat the Perfect, ME: On the who/whom front (sorry, you people who find this stuff interminably tedious, there's more to come -- stay tuned): You can sometimes make a case for using "who" where grammar dictates "whom," if you insist that "whom" is too stilted for the context. But you can't EVER EVER EVER use "whom" when it should be "who," because not only are you just plain wrong, but you're wrong in a would-be know-it-all way.

Gene Weingarten: Sigh.


Breaking the seal: The article reminds me of a joke I find hilarious, but very few seem to get. I'd appreciate your take:

"A baby seal walks into a club..."

Gene Weingarten: That's good! It reminds me that yesterday Bob Staake told me the most tasteless joke I ever heard. He agreed that he would tell it to no one else other than me and the guy who told it to him. I told it only to Dave Barry. We all agreed it may never be uttered again. It was astonishing. Total agreement. It is dead, as a joke.


Larrycurlyand, MO: F could be the start of Anything? Sounds like someone needs an eyepoke to see if they're still amongst us living. Geez.

Gene Weingarten: Well, yes.


Warrenton, Va.: Did you catch "Car Talk" on NPR this past weekend? They read from your column on you and Gina reviewing a French movie. When the next movie review? Maybe "Charlie's Angels 2?"

Gene Weingarten: We need the right movie. I don't think that's it.


Olney, Md.: Gene, you posted to Amy Joyce's chat today, didn't you? (You and your faithful readers will know which one I thought was you.)

Gene Weingarten: I did not.

I do this occasionally, but have only been caught once.


Forgot, Tenn.: As I read "Below the Beltway" Sunday I started to wonder how many of those poems of yours the Czar would have been willing to print as entries in a contest.

washingtonpost.com: Below the Beltway, (Post Magazine, June 22)

Gene Weingarten: I dunno. I'll ask him.


Fountaino, UT: Is Harry feeling any better?

Gene Weingarten: He is, thank you. Looks like he has survived whatever it was.


Cube City: I got to tell you, your chat is the most fun I can have here at the office, at least until I get an office with a door.

I wish you could make it last longer.

Gene Weingarten: You must be a woman. Women are always complaining that men can't make things last longer.


To Pat the Perfect: What is the difference between "absolutely right" and "right?"

Gene Weingarten: I can answer that. There is absolutely no difference.


Berkeley, CA:
Gene: I thought you would appreciate this SF Chronicle obit for Elizabeth "Dolly" Rhee, longtime assistant to the late Chronicle Editor Scott Newhall. Newhall described her thusly: "She swore like a trooper, ate like a bird and dressed like a fashion model."

How can you not like someone who wouldn?t put Richard Nixon through to her boss? And when a federal judge called up, trying to complain to Newhall about his morning Chronicle being thrown through the living room window, Miss Rhee said, "Well, you got the son of a bitch, didn't you?" and hung up.

washingtonpost.com: Miss 'Dolly Rhee, (San Francisco Chronicle, June 21)

Gene Weingarten: Yes, this is well worth reading. It is "thus," not "thusly." Also, swear like a "trooper." I'm not sure what that means.


Pat the Perfect, ME: Re One Fish Two Fish: The beauty of that book is that it is a lengthy volume written with a vocabulary in the area of 100 words, almost all of them very short. YOU try it. No wait, wait, not with YOUR four-letter words.

Gene Weingarten: Oh, please, pthep. I can write an entire volume using only one word. Poop poop poop poop poop. Kids would like that, too.


Lower Scaggsvill, Md.: Last week a female chatter identified herself as a "word curmudgeon." Leaving aside whether one can be curmudgeonly in one area only, I would like to ask if it is possible for a woman to be a curmudgeon at all. Is this not one of the last exclusive bastions left to us Y-chromos?

washingtonpost.com: Would "word nag" be more gender appropriate?

Gene Weingarten: Curmudgeon has no gender to it. Neither does "cur," I was surprised to learn, recently.


Rebuilding Iraq: is going too slowly. Since we're started imposing our system, let's give them what they need most: true democracy. They can use our system for choosing a president: whoever gets the second highest number of people voting for him or her wins.

Gene Weingarten: Good!


San Monique: Does Charlene Lichtenstein dress like that at work?

Gene Weingarten: I've never seen Charlene Lichtenstein. I'm not sure anyone ever has. She may be dead. It's not clear.


Lame, ME: So how cool is it to have a job in which you are adored by the masses? A job in which you not only get paid to give people your opinion, but you have people groveling for your attention every week?

My husband is a cartoonist. He gets fan mail.

I write about dental insurance. I don't get fan mail.

Gene Weingarten: You write about dental insurance? Why the hell aren't root canals covered? Answer me that, and I'll send you fan mail?


washingtonpost.com: Pic of Charlene LichtensteinGene Weingarten: We don't know when this picture was taken. It could have been 1959.


Apropos of More Nothing: Do you think that the various links you refer to have people scratching their heads when all of a sudden, they get this tidal wave of hits.

I imagine you are personally responsible for half of the hits the "Washington Times" will get this month on its site.

And that helicopter game site in the UK; if it doesn't crash by COB, "I'll eat my shoe."


Gene Weingarten: Has anyone beaten 1840 yet?


Towson, Md.: So do you get two months off like those PTI bigshots?

And did you like "The Big Lebowski?"

washingtonpost.com: Gene -- This reader is referring to Tony & Mike's summer Chat House vacation.

Gene Weingarten: Yes, I loved Lebowsky, particularly the Jesus character.

No, I get no vactions. But I will be traveling next month for a story. On the 8th and possibly the 15th, you will be chatting with Pat The Perfect. She will explain patiently, and with impeccable grammar, what an idiot I am.

Sorry, I need to leave a minute or two early today. Thank you all. Back next week.


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