The Magazine Reader

Fractured Funny Bone

By Peter Carlson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Amid much honking and squealing from the Great American Hype Machine, two magazines debuted this month -- Cracked and Hallmark -- and if anybody in America ends up subscribing to both of them, I'd like to meet that person.

No. Strike that. On second thought, I do not want to meet that person.

Cracked, to be published every other month, is not technically a new magazine. It's a resurrected and revised version of the formerly deceased humor magazine widely known as the poor man's version of Mad. Hallmark, also a bimonthly, is a new mag from the folks who give us all those heartwarming greeting cards and TV specials. Let's look at them one at a time:

Born in 1958, Cracked was nearly pulseless when Monty Sarhan bought it in 2005. Sarhan promptly killed the magazine, then hired a team to re-create it with himself as CEO and editor in chief.

Who is Sarhan? He's a lawyer specializing in "mergers and acquisitions, venture capital and transactional intellectual property," according to Cracked's news release, and he earned his law degree at Duke University, where he "spent a semester studying asset secularization of entertainment-related revenue streams."

Which is, no doubt, the perfect preparation for editing the new, postmodern humor magazine.

"Comedy magazines are often born from times of crisis -- war, corruption, economic and political travails, social upheaval and questioning," Sarhan writes in Cracked's first issue. "Comedy and humor emerge to provide social commentary and clarity in the face of cultural and political challenges."

Gee, isn't he a high-minded fellow? And what kind of "social commentary and clarity" does Cracked provide in the face of our cultural and political challenges?

Well, there's a feature called "Vehicular Homicide Is the New Black," which notes that Laura Bush, Matthew Broderick and Vince Neil have all been involved in fatal car crashes. And there's a list of "Things Ann Coulter Screams During Sex." And there's the "[Nasty word] Hall of Fame," a compendium of celebrities, including Tom Cruise, David Hasselhoff and Bono, whom Cracked finds obnoxious.

And there's a little ditty called "Mexican Boys: Surprisingly Expensive," in which writer Jay Pinkerton recounts his unsuccessful (and, I hope, fictitious) attempts to purchase little Mexican lads from their parents for 300 pesos.

Are you chuckling yet? Me neither.

On page 57, Cracked stops providing this scintillating comedy and becomes a magazine about comedy. There are interviews with the creators of "South Park" and with comedians Rob Corddry and Ed Helms of "The Daily Show."

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