Dilbert Cartoonist Challenges Readers To Outdo Punch Lines

Cartoonist Scott Adams has a history of interaction with his readers. Now they have a chance to rewrite dialogue.
Cartoonist Scott Adams has a history of interaction with his readers. Now they have a chance to rewrite dialogue. (By Marcio Jose Sanchez -- Associated Press)
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By Mike Musgrove
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams is giving his readers a chance to try and prove that they're funnier than he is.

With a new Web feature introduced on the popular comic's site, fans of dysfunctional office humor are invited to rewrite the final frame of one of Adams's daily strips, which are carried in 2,000 newspapers around the world.

Fans are invited to vote and comment on entries to the site's new "mashup" section. A software filter aims to prevent readers from posting offensive content by converting certain four-letter words to the "&*@!"-style cursing of comic strips. The feature debuted Friday.

Next month, Adams and United Media, the syndication service that carries the Dilbert strip, plans to expand the interactivity by allowing readers to rewrite the dialogue in entire strips.

Riffing on user-generated content isn't just for the Web world. The New Yorker magazine has been outsourcing humor on its back pages with a weekly contest in which readers submit captions. The winners and runners-up are announced in subsequent weeks.

Rob Fassino, vice president of interactive at United Media, said Adams had been looking for ways to "take his interaction with his audience a step further." If somebody comes up with a better joke for a strip than Adams did, that's fine.

"If people are producing 500 [punch lines] a day, it's inevitable that some of them are going to be funnier," he said. "It's just a matter of scale."

Adams has kept his e-mail address public for years and is known for sometimes using his readers' experiences as an inspiration for his strip.

"Dilbert has always been an ongoing conversation with the readers," Adams wrote in an e-mail yesterday. "We don't have any plans to publish reader punchlines. But I don't rule out anything."

If his cartoon imitates life, life also occasionally imitates the cartoon: Earlier this year, the cartoonist wrote a few strips referring to the case of a worker in Iowa who was fired last year for posting Dilbert comics on an office bulletin board.

Fassino said the company is embracing technology in other ways. It's working on plans to put customized strips onto mobile phones and social media sites. The company also intends to make animated versions of the Adams cartoons available on YouTube and as podcasts on iTunes.

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