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

Tuesday, March 18, 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.

Some questions:

Yes, we know that Mr. Moran has been punished for his insensitivity by being forced to resign his "leadership position' within the Democratic caucus. But we learn in
paragraph 12 or so that his leadership position was "deputy minority whip for the Mid-Atlantic region.' This is like punishing Saddam by forcing him to drop "exalted'
from that 12-word honorific he uses.

Speaking of which, the administration keeps saying that they hope Saddam doesn't deploy weapons of mass destruction. Understood. But don't you think, deep down, they might sorta hope he deploys maybe a teensy little one at least? If you get my drift.

We hope you all saw the New York Times article on Saturday about the carp that began to speak in Hebrew, shouting apocalyptic messages. It happened at a seafood market. The dealers were astounded,
awed, stunned, then clubbed it to death and sold it for gefilte fish. This reminds me of the great joke about the pig with three legs, which I will tell if anyone wants to hear it.

Lastly I can't help mentioning some breaking aptonym news involving the Air Force sexual abuse scandal -- this is the one being investigated by, ahem, Gen. John P.
Jumper. Well, one of the chief complainants surfaced over the weekend. Her name is Sharon Fullilove.

Today's comic pick is March 14's Speed Bump. But the most interesting comic was Sunday's Red and Rover. Liz will link to it. A t-shirt goes to the first person
able to completely explain this cartoon. My daughter figured it out faster than I did -- about 3 minutes.

Questions? Comments?

Beltsville, Md.: Would you agree that the Prez gave the perfect St. Patrick's Day speech last night? All across the country, Americans turned green.

Gene Weingarten: Yes, I would.

washingtonpost.com: Speed Bump, (March 14)
Fish Talks, Town Buzzes, (NYT, March 15 -- requires site registration)

Men, Women, Humor and Films: Gene, some thoughts about the above subjects in which I know you take an interest.

You've remarked before that women don't enjoy story-with-a-punch-line jokes as much as men. I think the reason is that such jokes usually involve a protagonist one-upping an antagonist that began the joke by looking down on the protagonist. Like the winner of last year's "Best American Joke":

New student from the midwest attends his first day at Harvard. He spots an upperclassman and asks "Where's the law library at?"
Upperclassman replies "Here at Harvard, we never end a sentence with a preposition."
New student replies "Oh, sorry. Well, where's the law library at, jerk."

This is a class David-and-Goliath battle of wits, in which the underdog protagonist ultimately prevails. It's a great men's joke; just as a men's movie often involves a renegade cop who has to fight both the criminals and his superiors in the police department. Ultimately, the criminal is killed and apprehended and the superiors look like incompetent boobs.

We discussed with Rita Kempley on Friday that a chick flick is often one that involves "bag guys that aren't that bad" ('guys' a gender-neutral term here.) Something like The Hours or Chocolat, in which the protagonist is less likely to kill or otherwise harm the bad guy, but to bring the bad guy around to the good side.

In both humor and films, men like conflict and women, compromise.

Gene Weingarten: I agree totally with this. Gina has added this observation: That men's taste in humor is similar to their taste in sex: They like a quickie, bada-bing, that comes to one particular and immediate point of release. Women like a longer process, more textured, a rolling, kneading sort of joke that is more of an extended story than a joke.

Hey guys--that sorta gets you hot, doesn't it?

Clarksburg, Md.: It's your fault I can't take Bush seriously anymore. Every time I look at him now, I think of Tommy Smothers. When he came on last night, before he said bubkus, I started laughing.

A gracious thank you. I think.

Gene Weingarten: It's pretty good, isn't it? Bupkis, I think.

Portland, Ore.: Hi Gene,

I have to call foul on the winner of SI this week. That is a joke taken directly from the movie Fargo, written by Joel and Ethan Coen. This is the link to the screenplay. For quick reference, here is the section of screenplay from where it was taken:

Yah. Say, Lou, ya hear the one about the guy who couldn't afford personalized plates, so he went and changed his name to J2L 4685?

Yah, that's a good one.


XZC-4147 should have to return the Kosher dog food and be forced to wear a dunce cap.

And no, I am not a Coen movie freak who memorizes all the lines in their movies, I just happened to watch the movie the night before I read SI.

Gene Weingarten: This is true, we got caught on it. Clearly the entrant knew she was scamming us, because she used the same license tag number. One could argue this was homage, but one would be an ass to do so. She slipped it by, and doesn't get the prize. (Fargo is one of the Czar's favorite movies, but he missed it.)

Even worse, the first runner up is unoriginal, too. A smart reader found it in an old Letterman monologue. (This was the one about toothpaste blobs as breath mints.) Also no prize.

A bad week for The Czar.

Washington, D.C.: Wait, say that again: a CARP began to shout apocalyptic messages in Hebrew? And there are witnesses who are not destined for rehab? And it was reported in the world's most respectable newspaper? I'm so confused.

Gene Weingarten: Yes. Liz, can we link to this? It appears to have been a practical joke. I, um, hope.

New York, N.Y.: I would like to say that the SI entry on what to do with the abandoned supercollider is one of the funniest things I have ever read. I also thought it was very elegant the way it was written: anyone likely to be offended wouldn't get it.

Gene Weingarten: That entry made The editor of the Style Section uncomfortable. He wondered if we should cut it. The Czar pointed out to him that it not only had run in the section ten years ago, but it had won the contest. So he relented. It still made him uncomfortable.

Olney, Md.: You've got to be kidding. Explain a kid trying to get out of eating his mom's meatloaf and brussel sprouts? Kids learn that one as soon as they can eat solid foods.

Gene Weingarten: Huh? What? Wait, do we have a cartoon problem again?

Gene Weingarten: If you were referring to the Speed Bump, that ain't the right one.

Cartoon Explanation: The stars represented the U.S. astronauts who have died during missions. The first set (3) was for the Apollo astronauts, the second set (7) was for the Challenger astronauts, and the final set (7), was for the Columbia astronauts.

Gene Weingarten: Give this person the t-shirt.

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

The Iraqi situation is already having some alarming global repercussions: The French have renamed American cheese. It's now "Idiot Cheese."

Gene Weingarten: Noted.

Itzallabout, ME: Never mind about war and that. Here's a truly pressing issue:

What is the best way to deal with those pinheads who leave their grocery carts smack in the middle of the aisle? Diplomacy only takes you so far.

Gene Weingarten: You get some $15 slab of weird meat and jam it deep in the cart. They'll wind up paying for it.

washingtonpost.com: T-Shirt winner, please send me your address. -- Liz

Washington, D.C.: Do you think Bil Keane will take on the controversial topic of Iraq any time soon? One of his February comics featured Billy asking if a Navy warship would stop to fish (that rascal!). I assumed this was a prelude from America's most hard-hitting and satirical cartoonist. But no.

Enough of what Trudeau has to say about war, let's hear from Bil Keane!

Don't you agree?

Gene Weingarten: We already have! Bill had a cartoon about three weeks ago in which Billy refused to let his mother come in to clean his room. He asked, instead, for U.N. inspectors.

Somewhere, USA: Tell the pig joke, for chrissakes.

Gene Weingarten: A guy drives past a farm, sees a pig with three legs. This sort of amazes him, so he stops and knocks on the door and asks the farmer about it.

"Oh, that's no ordinary pig," the farmer said. "That pig's a hero. A few weeks ago, I was plowing the
back 40 when the tractor falls on top of me. I'm trapped. Well, that pig sees it, and goes runnin' back to the farmhouse, grabs Becky by the apron, and drags her to me.
That pig right near saved my life!"

"Wow," said the traveler. "But why does he have only three legs?"

"Wal, a -pig like that, you don't eat all at once."

Speedbump: I see a cartoon of a stick figure man congratulating a pregnant stick figure woman. You can tell she is pregnant by the stick figure bump in her belly area.

And can we note again that the US Park Police Spokesperson is Mr. Fear. I have lots of fear if, at this elevated state of alertness, that a man can drive down Constitution Ave in a tractor with no one questioning him!

Gene Weingarten: Many people have noted Mr. Fear. It would be better, however, if Tom Ridge was Tom Fear.

Post writer outs SI Czar: In what will almost certainly be called "Stylegate" by unimaginative members of the media, Gene Weingarten has been exposed as the Czar of the Style Invitational, a confidential informant from Washington Post states. In a Live Online chat, the informant, Deep tHroat (DH), then stated to "Bowie, Md.," whose name is derived from the letters in Woodward and Bernstein, that he was aided and abetted the Czar by providing some of the cheap crap that passes for prizes in the weekly feature.

Bowie, Md.: [DH], did you see yesterday's Style Invitational contest? The prize for this week is the board game associated with the film "How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days." I know your cubicle is next to Gene Weingarten's, who frequently finds prizes for the Invitational Czar. Did paramount really send you that game in hopes it would turn your brain to mush BEFORE watching that waste of celluloid?

DH: [blah, blah, blah...] And yes, Gene Weingarten (who is proud of his inability to appreciate any movie that he identifies as a chick flick) sits next to me, and he readily appreciates the junk I send him for his Invitational contests.

Gene Weingarten: I don't see your point at all. I have never denied my connection to the Czar. If you are referring to his calling it "my' contest, well it is. It is your contest, too.

Gene Weingarten: David Montgomery just stood up at the next cubicle and showed me a picture of our commander in Chief on page A-12 of today's paper. We are trying to decide if he looks more like Alfred E. Neumann or Kilroy. Either way, it's pretty startling.

Lemme, IN: What's worse, a guy with a little mop dog, or a guy with a cat?

Gene Weingarten: Oh, having a teensy little yapdog is waaay worse than a cat. A cat has no choice in the matter. You happen to be a cat person, you have no choice but to have something like that. It's appalling and degrading, but there you are. But to have something like that when you could have a labrador retriever? Inexcusable.

Fairfax, Va.: So how was your weekly pee session with Bob Levey today? Any good laughs?

Gene Weingarten: I got there early. He was entering as I was leaving. I'll keep you posted in future weeks.

In the Bull's Eye: Bill Safire says the official name for military personnel is now "servicemembers." That seems rife with humor potential. Any jokes come to mind, Gene?

Gene Weingarten: No, because the joke has already been taken. I have oftentimes remarked, in private, about the appropriateness of their being called "members" of Congress.

Washington, D.C.: I would have to agree that the Czar had a bad week. I found the following entry rather offensive:

"Instead of those expensive congressmen from California or New York, bribe someone from Wyoming or Arkansas."

Specifically, it was offensive in that while I did not write it, my name was underneath. I did submit a similar entry, but it was different, in that it was funny. Specifically: "Instead of those expensive Congressmen from California or New York, bribe the D.C. Representative." (The joke being, of course, that the D.C. Representative cannot vote.)

Would you guess that the Czar missed the joke, or simply exercised his own (rare) misjudgement?

Noah Meyerson (Washington)

Gene Weingarten: Personally, I think it came out funnier. However, it was changed because we are not about to suggest, even in jest, that A SPECIFIC HUMAN BEING might take a bribe. There is one person and only one person fitting that description.


Smothers Brothers: The comment about Tommy Smothers made me think of a piece that came over the wires today about Dick Smothers's son, who is now a porn actor. Isn't that great? He doesn't even have to change his name for the screen! (though, I suppose it would be even more apt if he were doing snuff films.)

Gene Weingarten: Is he Dick Jr.? Wow.

Red & Rover link?: So we can see what Gene was talking about...

washingtonpost.com: If someone can find it, I'll post it.

Gene Weingarten: Thanks, Lizzo. There we go.

Men and little dogs: One word - sex. Men'll do anything for it, including adopting the glorified rat from the local animal shelter just because their girlfriends start talking baby talk to it.

Gene Weingarten: I cannot believe women will coo over a chihuahua. I have more respect for women than that.

Laurel, Md.: Tommy Smothers
Alred E Newman
Howdy Doody

Does Mr. President actually look like all of these, or does he just present a sort of "deer caught in headlights" look that we project onto him a sort of Forrest Gump "doing the right thing without really understanding it" persona?

Gene Weingarten: I am just hoping like hell it is not Doing The Wrong Thing Without Really Understanding It.

Drowning in the book I'm writing: Dr. Richley Crapo: Professor of Anthropology of Religion.


An Anthropologist of Religion

Gene Weingarten: It is the Richley that makes this great.

Bias Fear, Va.: Anyone reading Eric Alterman's serious new book, "What Liberal Media?" will be shocked/amused/annoyed to find you quoted on page 22. Was Woodward on vacation that day? Alterman's evidence that liberal media bias is a myth goes out the window when he refers to you as a "much-beloved columnist." You were given a free pass. I guess you lefties stick together.

Gene Weingarten: Um, did this person actually take something I said seriously?

Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C.: Well, Gene, you called out Michael Wilbon last week. This week, the Tony & Mike Chat House is coming on right after you're done. Are we gonna see a battle here?

Gene Weingarten: I doubt it. Wilbon hasn't got the cojones. Speaking of which, has anyone heard about the restaurant somewhere that was forced to change its name when someone finally figured out what it meant? True story. It was a Mexican restaurant named C.O. Jones.

In Defense of Small Dogs: Gene, I am sorry I must disagree with you about little dogs. There is actually something pretty tough about Boston Terriers, French Bull dogs and, yes, even chihuahuas. They are all little dogs who operate under the assumption that they are incredibly intimidating even to much larger dogs They are also funnier than many other dog breeds- trust me watching a 6 pound chihuahua cower a great dane is side splitting.

Gene Weingarten: Nope. You can see wonderful feistiness in sparrows, for example, when they take on crows. I love sparrows. But the little yappers are too taut wired. They'd be better as soup.

Revolted in the park: Gene I firmly believe large male dogs, namely Mastifs, Danes, and the like, should be required to wear underwear in public. What are your thoughts on this?

Gene Weingarten: I believe you are referring to unneutered males. I see your point.

Arlington, Va.: Gene,
Two Items:

1. I recently came across the name of a Turkish corporation: Koc Holding. I'm not sure if it's appropriate to giggle at that since I don't even know how "Koc" is properly pronounced in Turkish.

2. A few weeks back, you and Pat the Perfect endorsed the use of the business-speak term "grow the business," and it has been gnawing at me ever since. I admit I don't hold a fraction of Pat's expertise in English grammar, but I can't help thinking you two are mistaken this time. I think what you both miss is that people use it to mean "make bigger," and I don't think that's a traditional definition of "grow." "Get bigger," yes. "Make bigger," no. Am I totally mistaken, or just a nerd for caring about this? (I admit, I already have one strike against me for ignoring Pat's advice on the placement of punctuation inside quotation marks.)

washingtonpost.com: No worries on the last count. I edited and moved them inside. Nyah Nyah!

Gene Weingarten: Um, I dunno about Pat. She may or may not be around. But if you can "grow" tomatoes, I am thinking you can "grow" a business. It's a transitive verb. Or active. I can never remember the difference.

Red and Rover, Over: Stars: I figured the stars out instantly, but I was impressed that the creator, or whoever placed those homages in the sky didn't think to honor the cosmonauts killed in the exploration of space, too

Gene Weingarten: I think if he had, it would have confused EVERYBODY.

No Little Dogs For, ME: I am a woman, and I hate fluffy little aspirin-bottle-stuffer dogs. Give me a Bernese Mountain Dog or a Retriever any day!

Gene Weingarten: Yes, those Bernese Mountain Dogs are gorgeous. Best new hot breed. Also, they stay puppies for about three years. Then they die. That is the bad thing about big dogs -- much lower life span. God is being cruel. He keeps the little rodents around a lot longer.

Howdy, HI: C. O. Jones is, I believe, a restaurant in New Haven, Conn., and popular spot among young Yalies. Has it really been forced to change its name, and if so, has W. been alerted?

Gene Weingarten: That is correct. And yes, they changed it to "The Mexican Restaurant." I have just learned this from another reader.

Arlington, Va.: Gene,

I got my newest issue of Cosmo yesterday, and in it were four pages of Joe Millionaire, naked. Do you happen to have any battery acid with which I can destroy my retinas?

All that hair... the horror

Gene Weingarten: Now there was another guy with a deer-in-the-headlights-haven't-got-a-clue look, wasn't he? I refuse to believe that women find a guy like that attractive, as opposed to a guy like me. I contend women like homonculi. And I am sticking to that.

Gene Weingarten: homunculus.

Washington, D.C.: For big dog lovers who want a long lived, good natured, hypoallergenic dog, get a retired racing greyhound.

A gorgeous couch potato that will live 12-14 years.

Gene Weingarten: Especially if you do not mind a ridiculous looking animal with a head so streamlined it has no cranial capacity.


Allin, AL: Hi Gene-

The chats are great and have been a fan of the column for quite a while. In support of your men with small dogs argument, I am a woman who has the privilege to share my life with a pony-sized labrador retriever and couldn't even imagine life without a larger dog. I don't even know if I would date someone that had a small dog like that.

Keep us laughing.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you. I was beginning to wonder.

Pat the Perfect, ME: Re "growing" pains: I do concede that it's a new, informal usage to use it as a transitive verb to mean expand, rather than nurture. I was just saying that, as current expressions go, I didn't find it a Vile Taint on Our Holy English Language. Such as, oh, "upsurge."

Gene Weingarten: Upsurge?

Upsurge is bad?

Arlington, Va.: Gene, I would much prefer four pages of you naked over Joe Millionaire. I mean "rather than," not "over" literally.

Gene Weingarten: I love that second sentence.

Somewhere, USA: Gene Weingarten: Um, did this person actually take something I said seriously?


Gene Weingarten: Oh, good.

About ex-racing greyhounds: The sad thing is that if you don't adopt one, it'll live about another 12-14 DAYS.

Gene Weingarten: Are you one of those people who walk around with 12 greyhounds, looking like a Trailways bus?

C.O. Jones: So it's okay for a restaurant to be named Hooters, but not for one to be named C.O. Jones? That's complete crap. I bet C.O. Jones didn't even have men walking around in tight short shorts.

Gene Weingarten: Hey, I am not ADVOCATING making them change. Listen, there is a photo on my desk of a strip mall in some suburban place in middle America. It has three stores, and only three stores. The stores are Dicks, (hardware), BJ's, (eatery), and Seamans (furniture.) I love this picture. I celebrate such things.

Overly sensitive, and my dogs hate you, too.: Greyhounds, as a breed, are not any stupider than men, as a gender.

Gene Weingarten: Okay.

Doin, OK: "Upsurge" is, at least, redundant, no?

Gene Weingarten: Why can't you have a downsurge?

Mary Ann Madden: Many years ago I submitted an entry for a New York magazine contest about country-western song titles: "If You're Bad Enough for the Betty Ford, You're Good Enough for Me" (I've actually written the whole song). When it appeared in the magazine, she had changed "Betty Ford" to "City Jail" (why? some fit of political correctness?) I still think my version is funnier. Who's right?

Gene Weingarten: I think Mary Ann didn't like the idea of making a big joke of addiction. She made it less funny, cause she took the edge out of it. The Czar would have kept it as is, because the Czar has no shame.

Pat the Perfect, ME: Well, what surges DOWN?

Gene Weingarten: Why can't something surge down? The guy in the tractor surged down. Surge means up? Or ahead?

Fairfax, Va.: Here's an aptonym for you, Gene. The minister who performed my niece's baptism on Sunday was Thomas Dunkum.

My husband and I both chuckled when we saw the name on the bulletin for the service.

Gene Weingarten: This is terrific.

Ohmeo, MI: It took several tries to log in today... apparently the site was overloaded. Do you think people are desperately seeking humor today or is it because you're on opposite Woodward?

Gene Weingarten: Liz has been directing both chats, and doing a great job. A hand for Liz.

Just, BC: Gene, you should go to a two-hour chat like Carolyn Hax. My job really sucks.

Gene Weingarten: Hax is a god. I could not handle two hours. I am exhausted after one. Sometimes, I even cheat and leave a minute early.


Let's hope we're all happy next week at this time.

washingtonpost.com: Clarification: Producer Lisa is producing Woodward. I'm just sending through questions for them. -- Liz

© Copyright 2003 The Washington Post Company