A Fuehrer Over Underpants

(Eric Shansby)
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By Gene Weingarten
Sunday, July 27, 2008

WHEN PEOPLE ASK ME if I have any rules for humor writing, I say: "Only one. I always try to put the funniest word at the end of the sentence underpants."

Actually, I'm not kidding. That is the only rule I follow, and my choice of the illustrative word is not an accident. I believe I can say without fear of contradiction that I am the leading adult practitioner of underpants humor. A quick check of the Web shows that I have used the term in my columns 21 times in the past 10 years, which might not seem like that much until you factor in my additional deployment of "underwear," "undergarments," "thongs" and "panties," which together raise my 10-year total to 52.

Still not impressed? That's because we haven't even begun to consider my online oeuvre. In my weekly chats and blogs, the incidence of "underpants" alone raises the total to well over 100.

Am I embarrassed? Not in the least. All great writers have their signature words and phrases. Shakespeare favored "forsooth," "perforce" and "perchance." Keats returned slavishly to "thou say'st." Me, I do "underpants," but I assure you I always deploy it in an appropriate fashion, such as when I wrote that one good way to re-interest children in boring holiday festivities would be to dress a menorah in underpants. (Please note placement of word in sentence.)

I have constructed a sophisticated explanation for why "underpants" is the funniest concept in all of humor. It involves the folly and the frailty of human pretension, the fact that we clothe our private parts to deny that we are, in the end, just animals, which is a realization that delivers an existential feeling of discomfort, which we tame through inversion, with laughter. Not all of us can feel it; only those blessed with a fundamental appreciation of the absurd, which is the basis of all humor and unites us in our humanity. Underpants are a litmus test for a sense of humor, which attests to our essential goodness. I assure you that Jon Stewart thinks underpants are funny. I very much doubt that Richard Cheney does.

See? No? Well, it doesn't matter. It's my theory, and I stand by it.

At least I did until a few a days ago. My theory came crashing down on me when I read a news release about a soon-to-be-published book titled "The Last Witness." The author is Rochus Misch, 90, the last surviving inhabitant of the bunker Adolf Hitler lived in under Berlin during his final months. Apparently, the Fuehrer loved underpants humor.

According to Misch, Hitler liked to tease his henchmen. In particular, he went after Hermann Goering, chief of the Luftwaffe, who liked to bestow medals and decorations on himself until his barrel chest was aglitter with Nazi bling. Hitler once joked that Frau Goering had found her husband waving a baton over his dresser drawer and asked what he was doing.

What did she answer, Adolf?

"I'm promoting my underpants to overpants!"

Hitler was so taken with this witticism, the book says, that he had medals made up out of gold and silver paper and gave them to Goering, to pin onto his pajamas.

I tried to talk the problem away by saying, yes, okay, ja, ja, this is underpants humor, but it isn't good underpants humor. But I couldn't pull it off. It is.

Hitler and Weingarten. Funny guys! Could really deliver an underpants joke!

I decided I just can't go there anymore. I have resolved from this day forward to forswear undergarments as an instrument of humor. In fact, it seems like a good time to reevaluate my whole humor philosophy. Have I been underestimating my readers? Have I been shortchanging myself? Have I been trying hard enough to find a truly original catchphrase, one that will finally deliver to me the sort of national, universal acceptance I crave?

And then it hit me, the perfect concept, my signature topic from this day forth:


Gene Weingarten can be reached at weingarten@washpost.com. Chat with him online Tuesdays at noon.

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