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Gene Weingarten
Gene Weingarten
(Illustration by Richard Thompson)
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The Style Invitational
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Funny? You Should Ask
Hosted by Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer

Tuesday, March 4, 2003; Noon ET

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.

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: Good afternoon.

Great mugshot of that al Qaeda guy, eh? Stuever thinks it takes its place among the great mugshots of history, and I agree. I think my previous fave was the
ordure-eating one of Hugh Grant. Remember that one? The insufferable prettyboy comic thespian was expressing his homage to Jackie Gleason doing his I've-blown-it-now

But this Al Qaeda guy. Wow. First off, he makes John Belushi look like Val Kilmer. Plus, it is as though they had a Hollywood makeup man spend five hours on him
before, to get just right the look of a beady-eyed, swarthy piece of filth.

(Yeah, yeah, I know. He also looks like me.)

Gina and I still have no book title, and we are sorting through hundreds of excellent ideas you all graciously sent last week. We're not using them, but could the people who suggested "It's Not Me, It's You" and "Women Are From Venus, Men are From
Uranus" please make yourselves known to Liz? Please honor the honor system.

This weeks comic pick is yesterday's Speed Bump, which is some pretty ingenious meta-humor. I would have awarded it to last Wednesday's Pearls Before Swine, which confirmed the rightness of my last week's pick, which proved to be a prelude to excellence. However,
the cartoonist must be punished for his Monday offering, which shamefully resurrected the ancient Lou Gehrig-dying-of-Lou-Gehrig's-disease joke.

Questions? Comments?

washingtonpost.com: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed Mug Shot

Hugh Grant Mug Shot (and he still manages to look good -- Liz)

Pearls Before Swine, (Feb. 26)

Speed Bump, (March 3)

Prankster in Washington, D.C.: Gene,

Regarding your column. I can't believe that was your best shot at getting back at your neighbor! You possess one of the most amazing things for pranksters. A dog! You should have gotten some of Harry S. Truman's doo-doo (or would bowel movements be more appropriate? Whatever.), put it in a paper bag, set it on the neighbor's doorstep (during the party) lit it on fire, rang the doorbell, and skedaddled back on home. That would have been much more satisfying I'm sure. (Unless the guy actually blew chunks at your morning gift)

Oh wait a minute. Given the D.C.'s response time to house fires maybe my gag isn't such a good idea.

washingtonpost.com: Below the Beltway, (Post Magazine, March 2)

Gene Weingarten: I actually thought of it but didn't want to go down in history with Mrs. O'Leary's cow. The Great Capitol hill fire of Aught-three, started by Mr. Weingarten's poo....

Sting's B.O.: My wife was deeply troubled by your description of Sting's B.O. as "powerful enough to incapacitate a water buffalo." The tears she's shed! Please, tell her that you were kidding or your information came from a less than trustworthy source. End her misery!

Gene Weingarten: Oh, this is absolutely true. You can check it out on the web. Numerous sources. He smells like a septic tank.

Barmitz, VA:
I heard an ad on the radio for Lockheed Martin the other day. It started out by stating, "If you train like you fight, you'll fight like you train."

Is this the logical fallacy circulus in demonstrando or petitio principii (begging the question)?

Gene Weingarten: This line is an example of a chiasmus, which is a form of expression in which two elements are presented, and then re-presented in reverse form. As in "Never let a fool
kiss you or a kiss fool you.' The most famous chiasmus in history may be Kennedy's "ask not' line. But my two favorites were winners of a STyle Invitational a couple of
years ago:

Not all men kiss their wives goodbye when they leave their home, but all men kiss
their homes goodbye when they leave their wives. (David Kleinbard)


I'd rather have bliss with two sisters than a cyst with two blisters. (Tom Witte)

Now, having said all that, I have no idea whatsoever what that training for a fight thing means.

John, the Pinhead Next Door: Gene, first of all, I'd like to thank you for the mention in your column. It's not every day I get to be called a "pinhead" in a major newspaper read by my mother.

I feel somewhat compelled, however, to tell your readers what really happened that night. I’m not sure your column painted a fair and accurate picture.

I first noticed you had joined my party when you were about six inches from my face around midnight, screaming at me about my lack of Wolfschmidt vodka. I’ve seen you buy it at the liquor store down the street on a number of occasions, and had I known you were going to join the guest list, I would have had a bottle just for you. Grey Goose isn’t your thing. I understand. You are doing your part to protest the French.

I was pleasantly surprised to see you in this valiant attempt to fight the aging process and mingle with the local youth. Maybe you were doing a test run before you crash a party at your daughter’s college. You know, so you can stroll in as the Hip Dad, already familiar with what the kids are listening to these days. On that note, I began to worry when you called the DJ a "pinhead" for not having enough KC and the Sunshine Band in the rotation. In your ensuing lecture on Lessons in Tacky Music: A Journey for the Ages, I feel you were losing sight of the spirit of your exercise.

Things took a turn for the worse when I noticed you engaged in a conversation with some woman (I suppose she’s the "belcher") about tantra, insisting, "nobody can last five hours" and Sting, is in fact, a "big, smelly liar." At that point, I think you spotted your "little lady" in the street with a screwdriver, frantically attempting to chisel the Carter/Mondale bumper sticker from your car. While you were out proving that you could still stand vertical after the SNL opening, she was in the street playing Mary Matalin. You then shrieked, "Oh No, Grits and Fritz!" mentioned something about calling the cops on her, and ran out the door.

The next morning, while enjoying your gracious thank you gift of eggs and liverwurst, I was happy to note that you managed to save Grits and Fritz from permanent damage. A symbolic victory of sorts, I think driving around with that sign proves you are not quite the "cantankerous old codger" you fear you’ve become. Feel free to join us next month when we celebrate Arbor Day. I’ll even get you Wolfschmidt.

By the way, if the old lady ever starts giving you too much grief, the "belcher" thought you were kinda cute. I'd be happy to pass along her phone number.

Gene Weingarten: Now, this is interesting. Offhand, I would say John lacks the wit to have sent this, though it is sufficiently overlong and windy. But he gives me pause with the accurate bumper sticker. John-Boy, that you? Convince me with a fact.

Connecti, CT: Regarding the Speedbump offering -- what's funny about penciling in a meeting for Friday?! (And does my lack of "get-it-ism" make me the uber-office-drone?)

Gene Weingarten: Didn't you notice anything unusual about the drawing?

Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: OK Gene -

I managed to track down a copy of "The Hypochondriac's Guide to Life And Death," got a few chapters into it (pretty funny stuff), then stowed it in the bathroom for leisure reading. Now I only get through a page or two at most at a time. Here's the reason: I simply can't dawdle on the pot (I'm a female). How do men spend half an hour or longer just sitting there? Don't your legs fall asleep?

Gene Weingarten: Men don't mind it that much when their legs fall asleep. It takes a lot more than mere paraplegia to erase the satisfaction we get from extended reading time behind
closed doors. Women don't understand this because they are more social creatures, constantly seeking validation, interaction, communication, reassurance, opportunities to
nurture, and whatnot. Men want to poop in peace.

Billy from Damascus: My favorite chiasmus is W.C. Fields' "I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy." Is that a sentiment you would subscribe?

Gene Weingarten: I don't think that is actually W.C. Fields. When you are that witty, you benefit from a lot of misattributions. If Mae West said everything she is famous for saying, she was the smartest person who ever lived.

Shaikh in Stirred, Va.: So, is it me, or does this al Qaeda guy Khalid Shaikh Mohammed the spitting image of Ron Jeremy?

Gene Weingarten: He is! You're right! Liz, can you find a link to Ron Jeremy, the scuzzball porn star? Um, just a head shot, please.

Alexandria, Va.: Gene, I would submit to you a question, but since it is obvious that you already have it in for me, as you have NEVER printed one of my entries in the Style Invitational, I won't even bother.

Gene Weingarten: Well, see, you're never this funny when you enter the Style Invitational.

Humor Impaired?: Or is this another Beetle Bailey incident? I don't get the linked Speed Bump at all. I don't see a joke. I don't see anything that faintly resembles a joke. What am I missing?

Gene Weingarten: Sigh. Will someone please explain to these people? I'll print the first one to understand.

Alexandria, Va.: A few chats ago, the question was posed about how many Losers from Year one are still submitting. You estimated six or seven. Curious, I repaired to the county library this past weekend and dug up the back issues of Depravda on microfiche. (Depravda, as you may or may not know, was a newspaper devoted to covering the Loser community, in which Loser standings were printed.) I then compared the year one Loser listings with Year III final standings from front issues on macrofiche, applied multivariate analysis, geographic modeling, and climate control, and came up with 37 Losers still Losing. These results have a standard error of 3 Losers. I wish to take all credit for this analysis; Elden gets none for supplying the data.

Gene Weingarten: Wow. I am impressed. And surprised. And sort of proud.

E. Lansing, Mich. law student: I briefly met Dave Barry this week. I was wondering, considering he was apparently in East Lansing voluntarily, speaking to the greater regional Chamber of Commerce (again, no signs of abduction), if I should also question his judgement in writing "to Katie, a goddess."


Gene Weingarten: Dave writes some great stuff in his books. He is spontaneously funny. I am not, and wind up writing things like, "Best Witches," then I get upset at the misspelling, have to buy my book from them, and sign another.

I spent two years in East Lansing, when I was a reporter for the Detroit Free Press. How do you keep sane?

Interestingly, the guy who draws Frazz lives in Lansing. Okay, maybe it's not that interested, but it shows my encyclopedic knowledge.

washingtonpost.com: Ron Jeremy

Gene Weingarten: Here ya go.

La Plata, Md.: The comic is in pencil you idiots.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you.

Washington, D.C.: What with all the sadness and trauma going on in the world at the moment, it is worth reflecting on the death of a very important person which almost went unnoticed last week. Larry La Prise, the man who wrote "The Hokey Pokey" died peacefully at age 93. The most traumatic part for his family was getting him into the coffin. They put his left leg in... and then the trouble started.

It's been so stressful around here lately; we need a laugh. At my office, some of us have decided that part of our terrorist preparation kits should include large amounts of chocolate, and alcohol.

Gene Weingarten: Very nice!

Haylay, DE: You talked about puns that slipped by readers initially. I have to admit that when I first saw "Mr. Mom" this exchange went right past me.

TV Repairgal: Your wife says you got a problem with your horizontal hold.

Mr. Mom: Well, she ought to know.

The next time I saw the movie I caught the joke immediately. Aaaah! Outsmarted by Michael Keaton. I'm so ashamed.

I'm more ashamed to admit that I watched the movie more than once.

Gene Weingarten: This one I caught in real time.

Washington, D.C.: Dear Gene:
With all due regard for your typically wonderful column this Sunday, I must gives honors for the funniest piece in the magazine to the (quite inadvertently, I'm afraid) hilarious letter to the editor chiding "Dave Barry's incredibly ignorant comments regarding the art of ballet."

If I may bring some seriousness into the proceedings here, how do you respond, when you are faced with similar complaints, to such a person who is so far gone? Do you have any other options than humoring them merely for your own amusement? Just curious, since politically incorrect you must raise hackles o'plenty.

Your Devoted and Loyal Fan

washingtonpost.com: Letters, (Post Magazine, March 2)

Gene Weingarten: This is precisely the sort of letter that I like the most. You just put it out there, giving it all the dignity it demands. Knowing that in every single household, people are snorting out milk.

Lincoln Park Treehouse: Not to make this sound like a Bob Levey chat, but what did you do before you started the Style Invitational? Were you a feature writer at the Post? Somewhere else?

Gene Weingarten: This is a trick question. I am not biting.

Arlington: We can't forget the Nick Nolte mug shot!

Gene Weingarten: I am afraid to click on these, because in the past, doing so has lost me my link to the chat. So I'm trusting Liz here.

Was the Ron Jeremy picture pretty close to Mohammed al Sleez?

Older lady seeks young man: Gene,
I think John the pinhead sounds cute, can you get me his number?

Gene Weingarten: I will give you his number only if you assure me you are really old, and really skanky, and really, really persistent in matters of the heart. A stalker.

John-Boy: Wow -- I've been elevated from Pinhead to John-Boy status with one post to your chat room.

Here's a factoid: I kept the quarter you "returned to me" as a remembrance of our time together.

Gene Weingarten: THIS IS JOHN THE PINHEAD!!!!!!!

Detroit, Mich.: As funny as your columns are, I understand you are an editor in your real life. What sort of reputation do you have among the writers who report to you?

Gene Weingarten: I am no longer an editor. I used to be the editor of Sunday Style. My reporters loved and respected me but this was tempered a little by their resentment at having to pay me kickbacks.

Whatkindafool, MI: I'll ask my follow-up question first: Gene, has the Czar told you if next week's Style Invitational column is going to be a real collector's item?

Now my previous question: Does the fact we're on a war footing have anything to do with the current size XL Loser shirt shortage?

Gene Weingarten: Yes, he has told me.

Boy, these questions are getting easier and easier.

No connection on item number two. We are simply doing our part to combat the obesity epidemic in America. An incentive to slim down.

Arlington, Va.: Just back from a weekend in Florida, where I drove past the Robert Greaver Funeral Home in Hallandale Beach.

Gene Weingarten: Superior! Tom the Butcher just alerted me to another nice one. The foreign minister of Australia is named Alexander Downer.

Aspen Swill, Md.: Gene,
I managed to get through the gauntlet of Post security to drop off a Style prize. Did they deliver it to you Sunday?


Gene Weingarten: The Czar got it. Thanks.

College Park, Md.:

I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy."

That would be Dorothy Parker.

Gene Weingarten: Dorothy Parker is another person to whom witticisms are over attributed. I am willing to bet it was not her, either.

Didn't get mentioned: Being one of the referred to 20-something pinheads, I'm shocked and chagrined I got nary a mention by my neighbor, and I organized the party!

Gene Weingarten: Are you the guy with the dog who resembles a hamster?

For John the Pinhead: I think it's a strange, rare compliment to be called a pinhead by Gene Weingarten. You should be proud!

Gene Weingarten: He doesn't understand. Trust me.

Washington, D.C.: As a kid, I found the Mr. Rogers character scary. As an adult, I found that it was NOT a character very scary. And I was conflicted about the Toles cartoon on 2/28. It was timely and therefore funny (the timeliness was the point of the cartoon). And it was timely and therefore too soon to be funny. What did you think about it?

washingtonpost.com: Toles, (Post, Feb. 28)

Gene Weingarten: I think this was excellent precisely because it was edgy. I think Tom thought long and hard about it. But it was not remotely at expense of Mr. Rogers. You could call it homage. I just call it good.

Washington, D.C.: I didn't understand what was so offensive about that Smelt The Felt T-shirt you referred to last week. Then I checked out the name of the bar on Google. Man. Wow.

Gene Weingarten: Listen, if someone like me declares something to be so tasteless even I was appalled, the thing is going to be so far over the line that the line is no longer visible in the distance.

Yeah, this was totally disgusting.

Duesseldorf, Germany: Based on the "growing" issue from last week's chat, I have a question for P the P:

Recently, on CNN and in the newspaper, I have heard the term "wine growers." Is this correct? My husband says that it is, but I am not so sure. I think that these growers can make wine, but they cannot grow wine.


Gene Weingarten: Seems pretty clear to me that one is a grape grower and a wine maker. Pat?

How, DE: Gene,
Long time reader, first time poster. Was thrilled to hear that I share a birthday with you. Sting isn't as funny, Gandhi never knew the Czar, and Tiffany, well, whatever. would you ever consider having a birthday lunch with one of your biggest fans?

Gene Weingarten: Tiffany?

Arlington, Va.: A possible aptonym found in a Sunday Post article. Confirmation would be dependent on knowing the man's personal habits, though:

Lou Boozer, chief of the county's fire code enforcement section, said enforcement relies largely on citizen complaints, rather than routine inspections, because the county has 12 code enforcement inspectors for thousands of restaurants, bars, nightclubs and other businesses.

washingtonpost.com: Tragedies Put D.C. Clubs in Unflattering Spotlight, (Post, March 2)

Gene Weingarten: I'd say this is pretty spot-on, actually.

Chicago, Ill.: I've found that some reporters like Lisa de Moreas slip in all kinds of funny things into the articles she writes. Are there others like her at the Post, or is the fact that she is writing about TV mean that she can get away with this stuff, while someone writing about Iraq wouldn't?

Gene Weingarten: She's funnier than most. Sometimes, efforts at subversive humor don't make it into print. Many years ago, Richard Harrington wrote a review about one of those slasher films in which everyone is dead pretty much by the end of the opening credits. He wanted the byline to read By Richard Harrington, then underneath, in agate, just like the normal line: Washington Post Stiff Writer.

It got nixed. The editors were too stiff.

Re: frontal lobotomy: according to www.chiasmus.com, it was Dr. Randy Hanzlick.

Gene Weingarten: This has a ring of truth.

Maryland: Can I say hi to Pat the Perfect? I think she needs her name mentioned at least once in this chat.

Gene Weingarten: It's already been mentioned! Now we've mentioned Pat FOUR times.

Arlington, Va.: Does the guy resemble a hamster or the dog resemble a hamster? both?

Gene Weingarten: The dog resembles the hamster. The guy resembles a guy who would walk a hamster on a leash.

Welcome, Pinhead!: I hope John-boy the Pinhead becomes a regular feature of this chat, just like PtheP.

J-BtheP could write in each week about the juvenile antics he did over the weekend to annoy the ol' codger next door. Sort of our own little version of Dennis the Menace (DtheM) and Mr. Wilson.

Also, here's a challenge, Gene: in a week, infiltrate every single WP chat with one question that backhandedly compliments the star. Prizes go to the person who first identifies your question in all of the chats.

Gene Weingarten: Interesting.

Langley, Va.: Mr. Weingarten, since you've acknowledged your resemblence to Mr. Khalid, we're curious if you share his level of body hair. If so, we were wondering if you could help us with an interrogation experiment involving some extra duct tape we have around here.


"Mr. Jones"
Counterintelligence Section

Gene Weingarten: Well, I do not. It did occur to me that the presence of, and lushness of, Mr. Khalid's body hair, presents an extra little gift for his "questioners."

Re: Tiffany: 1980s teen-age pop star:
"I Think We're Alone Now" was one of her hits (although a remake).
She sued her parents for emancipation, and then was never heard from again.

Gene Weingarten: Ah. Noted.

Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C.: My favorite office activity yesterday was to use MSPaint to apply lipstick, eyeshadow and dangling earrings to the photo of the captured terrorist. He makes an excellent drag queen.

Gene Weingarten: Alert: Do not use real lipstick on your computer screen.

Pat the Perfect, ME: Yeah, I'd have to agree that "wine growers" crosses the line of logic. You grow the grapes for wine; you make the wine.

What we need is a nice elegant word for "wine grape growers," as opposed to munching-grape growers or raisin-grape growers. "Vintner" doesn't do the job, I don't think.

I understand that people also call themselves raisin growers or pickle growers, but at least a raisin or a pickle is still a fruit, you know? It's not like being a juice grower.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you. This reminds me of the joke about the man and the pickle slicer. Everyone who knows this joke can now chortle at its memory.

Hey Pinhead: Arbor Day is in the fall. Earth Day is in the Spring (next month). Gene, don't you know everything?

Gene Weingarten: Hey, I didn't write it, Pinhead wrote it. What do you expect?

Somewhere, USA: Tommy James and the Shondells sang "I think we're alone now," if I'm not mistaken.

Gene Weingarten: Yes, apparently Tiffany Re-did it. Man, covering Tommy James and the Shondells is pretty darn bottom-of-the-barrel, isn't it? It's like creating a spin-off from "Three's Company."

Hypothetic, AL: Gene, is it possible you write both all the questions and all the answers in this chat?

washingtonpost.com: Yes, that's exactly what's happening.

Gene Weingarten: The only thing that is not me are Liz's snarky asides.

Helena, Mont.: I really can't explain why, but I found the report that Vanity Fair is about to publish the fact that Michael Jackson has to wear a prothesis over what used to be his nose absolutely hilarious and fascinating. Your thoughts?

Gene Weingarten: Mostly, I cannot get out of my mind something I saw on Paula Zahn's show this morning. Larry King is going to interview Latoya. Latoya looks EXACTLY like Michael. Same nose!

Lexington, Ky.: Tiffany had one hit, "Brand New Rollerskate"

washingtonpost.com: That was Melanie.

Gene Weingarten: Right, Melanie. One of a series of revolting sexual metaphor songs, the most horrendous of which involved Mama have a squeeze box.

Winegrowers: I work in agriculture, and winegrowers are abundant. It is short for "wine grape growers." It is an insider term, and obviously the masses are prepared for it yet!

Gene Weingarten: Ahh, intersting. It is an elision. It is, however, a stupid one.

Randy Hanzlik: According to the link, he found it on a bathroom wall, though in its variant form ("I'd rather have a free bottle in front of me than a pre-frontal lobotomy.") All he did was write a song about it. So the mystery is not solved.

"Oh, they fired her, too."

Gene Weingarten: The point is, I think we have established it does not belong to Winston Churchill, or Gertrude Stein, or W.C. Fields, or Dorothy Parker, or Tom Waits, or anyone else anyone has ever heard of.

Arlington, Va.: Speaking of "Three's Company," were you aware of last year's controversy when Nickelodeon discovered that one episode actually included a scene where the male star's right testicle was exposed? He was wearing too-brief gym shorts.

Conan O'Brien got the best line for this: "I always thought Mrs. Roper was the only wrinkled bag on that show."

Gene Weingarten: Wow!

Virginia: Has anybody else noticed the great collection of location names today?

Gene Weingarten: I have. Especially one that ended AL.

Pickle Slicer:
So chortled..... a classic!

Gene Weingarten: Indeed.

Sexual Metaphor Songs: The all-time greatest was in Big Joe Turner's "Shake, Rattle and Roll": "I'm like a one-eyed cat/Peepin' in a seafood store..."

Gene Weingarten: Holy cow. That's really good!!

Reading, PA: This week's submission (no disrespect intended toward anyone), from the local phone book:

Berks County Association for the Blind
2020 Hampden Blvd.
Reading, PA

Gene Weingarten: This works.

New York, N.Y.: I wish I had been funnier today, then maybe I could have seen something of mine posted.

Gene Weingarten: This is a big-time chat. The threshold is high. Next week I would advise you to prepare some material.

Thank you all. This has been one of my favorite chats. See you next week.

Squeeze, ME:
I beg to differ, not beg the question. The Who's "Squeezebox" is a great song.

washingtonpost.com: I agree.

Gene Weingarten: Superior place name.



That wraps up today's show. Thanks to everyone who joined the discussion.

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