Just the FAQs

Thursday, February 2, 2006; 10:08 AM

Q. Who is Gene Weingarten and why should we give a crap about anything he has to say?
A. Gene is the syndicated humor columnist for The Washington Post. At times he can be erudite and perceptive, but in general has the sensibilities of a nine-year-old boy who has just learned, to his delight and complete distraction, that women wear underpants. There is no reason you should give a crap about anything he has to say.

Q. Why does Gene seem always to take an extreme liberal position on any political issue?A. Because, politically, he is just to the left of Ho Chi Minh. He is also a fulminating intellectual elitist: Below the Beltway, (Jan. 21, 2001)

Q. So that's his whole job? One column a week, and a chat?A. Every once in a while he writes a long and serious story for the Washington Post magazine. These stories sometimes reveal in him a small degree of depth and human understanding, so he tries to do them as infrequently possible: The Peekaboo Paradox, (Post Magazine, Jan. 22, 2006), Fear Itself (Post Magazine, Aug. 22, 2004), Snowbound (May 1, 2005), THE HARDY BOYS THE FINAL CHAPTER (Post, Aug. 9, 1998), If You Go Chasing Rabbits (Post, Feb. 11, 2001).

Q. Who are these characters he keeps referring to?
A. They are individuals who are important to his life, and to this chat. They include:

-- Chatwoman, AKA Liz Kelly: The uber-competent 30-something chat producer who frequently submits acerbic remarks of her own, and reputedly conducts this chat pantsless. Gene is secretly in love with Liz, but never lets on. Most notably, Liz suffers from Restless Legs Syndrome, a nighttime muscular spasmodic irregularity that gets disproportionate treatment here; aliens who had only this chat as reference material about humans would conclude that RLS is the single most serious medical condition besetting mankind.

-- Tom The Butcher: This is Tom Shroder, who is Gene's editor at The Post. Tom used to work for Gene, but is now his boss, an irony that Gene contends -- incessantly -- does not bother him at all.

Gene is also extremely not envious of:

-- Dave Barry: At The Miami Herald in the 1980s, Gene discovered and hired Dave and was his first editor. Dave went on to international stardom, whereas Gene did not. The only possible explanation for this, Gene has theorized, is that Dave's last name begins with a "B," so his books are displayed higher on the shelves than Gene's are, in bookstores.

-- Pthep, or Pat the Perfect: This is Gene's friend and colleague Pat Myers, a Post copy editor who knows everything about everything and everyone, and is never wrong. Gene is secretly in love with her, but never lets on.

-- The Empress: This is the pseudonym of the anonymous individual who runs The Style Invitational, an eccentric weekly humor contest in The Post. Little is known about the identity of The Empress, though she has revealed that she has had sexual relations with Pat the Perfect's husband. Gene is secretly in love with the Empress, but never lets on.

-- Officer Obie, Spike, and Grumpy: These are nicknames for Bill O'Brian, Michelle Gaps and Beth Chang, the copy editors who handle Gene's column. Gene is secretly in love with Spike and Grumpy, but never lets on.

-- "The Rib": This is Gene's wife. Gene never mentions her name, though we do know it is not the same as his, and that she is a government lawyer with a more important job than his, which isn't saying much. Gene is not secretly in love with her: The Nine of Hearts, (Aug. 28, 2005).

-- Molly and Dan, Gene's children: Molly is 24 and a student at Cornell Veterinary School. Dan is 21, and, like his father, is a college dropout. He works at a hardware store and is currently engaged in a major writing project with Gene. It is about death, depression, greed, hypocrisy, marital strife, the cynicism of some religion, and America's bankrupt social structure. It is a comic strip. Unfortunately, Molly and Dan seem to share significant elements of their father's sense of humor, as evidenced by this chat they once hosted.

Q: Who draws the cartoons?A: His name is Eric Shansby. He is a 19-year-old student at Yale. Gene is convinced that Eric is in awe of him, as a patron and mentor, despite the fact that Eric once told him that he considers Gene's columns "long and tedious captions for my cartoons."

Q: Why does this chat have an "official baby"?A: Because, in 2005, an extremely pregnant chatter wrote in to discuss possible baby names, agreeing with Gene on the ickiness of Madison and other cutesy, trendy names as opposed to old-fashioned, time-tested, dignified names. Then, a couple of weeks later, reported on the birth of her child, whom she named, with great good judgment, Hope. Gene immediately declared Hope  to be a modern-day Virginia Dare, the First Baby of Chatological Humor, which shall celebrate her birthday in appropriate fashion every year. Please say hello to Baby Hope.

Q. What's with all the medical diagnoses?
A. In 1998, Gene Wrote a book called "The Hypochondriac's Guide to Life. And Death." It is a humor book making the case that diseases are funny, and dying is a hoot. It was not a best-seller. Unfortunately, researching this book made Gene a quasi-expert in diagnostic medicine. So readers frequently present their symptoms and ask for Gene's opinion, which he offers with great enthusiasm and confidence. These readers are idiots. Gene is often wrong.

Q. Why is Gene not dead?
A. Sadly for the world, he appears to have survived a life-threatening bout with Hepatitis C, which was the impetus for the book mentioned above.

Q. Hepatitis C? Don't former IV drug addicts get that?
A. Yes. Read the "Chasing Rabbits" story linked to above.

Q. What is VPL? It must be very important, because it seems to dominate all discussions.
A. VPL stands for Visible Panty Lines. (See answer number one) Gene is strongly in favor of VPL on the right women, and contends most men agree. This was confirmed by a recent poll of chat readers, which also confirmed that most women dislike VPL and aren't about to furnish them merely for the amusement of men. In general, women delight but mystify Gene; this was the subject of his second book, "I'm With Stupid --One Man. One Woman. 10,000 Years of Misunderstanding Between the Sexes Cleared Right Up," written with feminist scholar and humorist Gina Barreca.

Q. Why do so many readers disclose their intimate bathroom habits in the chat?
A. Both because the chat is anonymous, and because Gene seems to derive great joy from this subject. Areas already explored include why women bunch toilet paper and men fold, why women are ashamed of pooping and men are not, and the intimate dynamics and strategies surrounding the "courtesy flush." Many important vistas have yet to be plumbed, as it were.

Q: What's so bad about digital watches and automatic transmissions?A: Gene contends that, in tandem, these things typify the bourgeois tastes and lassitudinous habits of the American public -- advertising Americans to the world as fat, lazy, tasteless clods. Gene's own sense of style is, however, suspect. He dresses like a turn-of-the-century Ellis Island Eastern European immigrant. His hair resembles the pelt of a swamp-dwelling marsupial, and his own car may have a stick shift but it also is a grotesque, dented, 15-year-old Mazda 323 with upholstery so holey that the driver's seat is pinioned together with an old t-shirt and paper fasteners.

Q: And large weddings? What's wrong with large weddings?
A: Everything, apparently. Gene hates them. He has called them unseemly, ostentatious celebrations of self. In this matter, and perhaps this matter alone, he seems to be without hypocrisy. He and the rib eloped, at City Hall, on their lunch hour. His bride, as he once remembered fondly in a column, "wore a dress of some sort."

Q: Why won't Gene reveal the punch lines to some of the jokes he tells?A: Because he likes a regular paycheck. He eventually gave in and told, in abbreviated form, "the roo-roo joke," in which two missionaries are captured by a savage tribe and offered the choice of sudden death, or roo-roo. The first missionary chooses roo-roo, figuring it can't be worse than sudden death, only to find that it is. Roo-roo consists of being tied to a tree and violated, serially, by all men in the tribe until death through pain and clinical shock. The second missionary watches this in horror, and then is given the same choice. He, of course, chooses "sudden death," at which point the chief says, "Very well. But first, a little roo-roo." See? It can be told! Unlike the riddle about why women don't skydive naked, the answer to which will never be revealed in this forum or any other.

Q. What is the CPOW?
A. This is the Comic Pick of the Week, one of two regular features in the chat. Gene regularly reads and critiques the comics page, and each week links to the best comics from The Post. Gene believes that humor is objective, not subjective, and that he himself is the only infallible judge of humor in America. So he believes his picks are not opinions, but statements of fact. This would be obnoxious if it were not so pathetic. Two cartoonists -- Jef Mallett of Frazz and Stephan Pastis of Pearls Before Swine frequently haunt the chat in real time and submit posts contending, with some justification, that Gene knows nothing about comics.

Q. What is the poll?
A. That is the other regular feature. Every week readers are asked to weigh in, anonymously, on all sorts of questions ranging from comics to geopolitics. Gene usually discloses his answers, too, with some notable exceptions: He never told us how much he makes, or the size of his penis. (Yes, the poll once asked male readers that question.)

Q. Isn't this The Washington Post? Why hasn't Gene been fired?A. We're not sure. Maybe next week.

Q. How large is the chat audience, and who are they?
A. Roughly 3,000 people bother to take the poll each week -- the actual number of chat readers is significantly larger. Who they are was revealed in the results of this recent demographic poll: Men | Women. The chatters have recently formed an organization of their own, in which they trade e-mails, recipes, fart jokes, and, presumably, phone numbers. In short, Gene may wind up being one of the world's most successful pimps and/or homewreckers, without deriving any financial or sexual benefits of his own. What a loser.

Q: Why do many women chatters throw "virtual panties" at Gene?
A: Because they think they are attracted to him. This is because they have never actually seen him.

Q: Are all of the female chatters (as Gene contends) truly hot?
A: Yes.

Q: Seriously.
A: Dude, YES. What's wrong with you? Do you remember when you were a kid, and your parents told you there was no such thing as Santa Claus? So you probably suspected it for a while, and when your parents admitted the truth, you were triumphant, felt validated, because you saw through their cleverly concealed ruse...but at the same time, you were disappointed, because just a little magic had died?

Yes, they're hot.

Q: So is Gene a celebrity at the Washington Post, with sightings of him regarded as treasured events among the staff, with awed whispers and elaborate displays of sycophancy?A: Gene seldom appears at The Post, except when he is sternly ordered to come in by Michelle Capots, the magazine office manager, to get his overflowing mail before she just throws it out, dammit. He is ordered around by everyone, pretty much. He does most of his work at home, in this basement office, which measures five by twelve and resembles the prison cell of a man convicted of serial littering.

Q. So, how much DOES Gene make, and how substantial is his penis?A. He makes about as much as most people, unless he has been eating a lot of fiber. His penis mightier than the sword.

Contributing to this FAQ were Jenn Phillips, Mary Adams, Erin Keniston, Laurel Damashek, Donald Kim, Melissa Kessler , Danielle Huff, Bruce Alter, John Horstman, Jim Silver and Robert Gluck.

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