Weekly Schedule
  Message Boards
  Video Archive
Discussion Areas
  Home & Garden
  Post Magazine
  Food & Wine
  Books & Reading

  About Live Online
  About The Site
  Contact Us
  For Advertisers

Gene Weingarten
Gene Weingarten
(Illustration by Richard Thompson)
Below the Beltway Archive
Funny? You Should Ask Discussion Archive
The Style Invitational
Post Magazine
Talk: Style message boards
Live Online Transcripts

NEW! Subscribe to the weekly Live Online E-Mail Newsletter and receive the weekly schedule, highlights and breaking news event alerts in your mailbox.

Funny? You Should Ask
Hosted by Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer

Tuesday, March 25, 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.

Submit your questions, comments and rants before or during the show.

He'll chat about anything.

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.

The stock market report:

1) The war starts -- HOOOORAY!!!

2) The war isn't over in a day --- PANIC!!!!

Isn't it comforting to know that the vaunted American financial system -- within which rests your retirement savings -- is in the hands of kindergartners?

Meanwhile, in times of great unrest, you can almost feel the zeitgeist shifting. Sometimes, good things come out of bad events. The Vietnam War birthed some damn
fine music. Is it possible that something is blowing in the wind right now, something that is generating a
total reassessment of all we are? Just this week, on Pennsylvania Ave. near my home, a McDonald's ACTUALLY CLOSED. And right next door, a cute little Salvadoran restaurant opened. Meanwhile, there have been mighty strange goings on in the comics pages, in the
places you would least expect. I cite, without comment -- for none is necessary -- today's Beetle Bailey, the unchallengeable pick of the week.

Questions, Comments?

washingtonpost.com: Beetle Bailey, (March 25)

Washington, D.C.: Do you think American news outlets should have carried the footage of the dead and wounded captives?

Oh, wait. This isn't Howie's chat? I'll ask anyway.

Gene Weingarten: In a word, yes. I think that once we knew that the families of all recognizable individuals had been notified, we should have shown the footage, in toto. Obviously,
all news is properly subject to editing for taste and content, and I think it was not an easy call. But it's a decision I strongly disagree with.

Here's why: These images are essential to an understanding of the reality of what is going on. To withhold it is strangely patronizing, even manipulative. In World War II, the American press didn't show photographs of dead allied soldiers until 1944, when the tenor of the war began to change and we no longer felt compelled to keep morale artificially high; we had good things to report. I think I agree with that decision: It was a war for our survival that few sane people could oppose. This one today is a highly controversial, discretionary war. We need information. We need to see it graphically -- both to see the despicable way the Iraqis are behaving, and the stark terror of the prisoners, which underscores the stakes here.

To me, the argument here is not one of prurience or sensationalism. Twenty years ago, when some state official in Connecticut ate his gun in front of rolling TV cameras, most news outlets chose not to run the footage, or even the more graphic stills. I agree with that. There was no newsworthy element to showing the horror -- it was simply sensationalism.

This is totally different.

Okay, back to funny stuff.

Seattle, Wash.: Do you know which of the jokes Steve Martin told on Sunday night were written by your friend Dave Barry?

Gene Weingarten: For those who missed it, Dave was one of a small team of writers who wrote Steve Martin's monologues. Dave I traded quick e-mails this morning. I told him I was certain he wrote the joke about how, in a humanitarian gesture, the Oscars were divvying up the proceeds among huge corporations.

He confirmed this. I know no more.

Dave wrote a terrific piece for the Herald dotcom yesterday about the process of jokewriting. Ironically, it is not particularly funny. It is just terrifically enlightening. Here is the URL. http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/ living/columnists/dave_barry/5454934.htm] -- Liz, can you turn this into a link?

Silent, Cal.: My aptonym of the week: I spotted a campaign sign in a Chicago suburb for a candidate named PHYLISTINE MURPHY. At first I wasn't sure if it qualified as an aptonym, since I know nothing about the person, but I figure if he/she actually USES that name, it must be appropriate.

Gene Weingarten: On a related aptonym front, you may recall that last week I pointed out that one of the complainants in the Air Force sexual harassment case was named Sharon Fullilove.
Now, the charges in this case are serious and ugly -- some even involve rape -- and I don't want to appear callous or unfeeling. The crimes being alleged are horrible and
worthy of censure. But at times the duties and responsibilities of the professional aptonymrod collide with the need for propriety and sensitivity. In such cases, regrettably, journalism must triumph. Therefore it is my sad but necessary duty to point out that according to today's paper, a new complainant has surfaced. Her name is Kira Mountjoy-Pepka. You can't make this stuff up.

washingtonpost.com: Okay, Gene put a raw link into the discussion and broke the page. Now its going to have to stay like that until I archive it after the show. Don't be too mad at him. -- Liz

Somewhere, USA: This week's winner was masterful! With a new Hokey-Poke sonnet that ranks among the "best ever!" (Certainly compares favorably with Monica!) The entry attributed to Chuck Smith about handwashing also brought guffaws. A classic week! Thanks!

washingtonpost.com: The Style Invitational, (Post, March 23)

Gene Weingarten: I agree. I would say Sunday's winner might have made it into the list of the top ten entries ever.

washingtonpost.com: Joking Around With Oscar and Steve, (Miami Herald, March 23)

Southern Maryland: This has been a particularly grim month, but I had a good laugh from a recent interview with Evan Marriott. He said lots of scenes on "Joe Millionaire" were aired out of order. Now, most people know that the networks twist the "reality" on shows like these to heighten the entertainment value. Still, it was cool to hear someone confirm it from the inside.

Here is the funniest part: before Evan told Zora and Sarah that the show was all a set-up, the crew kept the two women waiting for Evan for more than hour, and kept the cameras rolling as they got more and more exasperated. Sarah's alleged bitchy "reaction shot" was taped before Evan had even arrived. According to Evan, both women were actually relieved to hear he wasn't rich.

Gene Weingarten: I didn't see this, but if true, that is pretty appalling. I realize this ain't exactly journalism, but journalists are always having to move quotes around so they make sense. When we interview someone, we seldom report quotes in the exact sequence they were uttered. We basically have to operate on a truth-honor system. Does changing the order of the quotes change the person's meaning? If it does, you don't do it.

This sounds totally egregious.

Delta Quadrant: Most Estimable Sir,
I need your assistance! I have always been quite a stickler for good grammar (my saying so automatically means there will be at least one error in this message, of course). However, I am also a great Star Trek fan. You may be wondering what my dilemma is. Well, split infinitives! I don't like 'em - never did. But one of my colleagues aptly pointed out that the famous phrase, "To boldly go..." is an obvious example of the egregious type of grammar that plagues me. What do you think? In this day and age, is it safe to use split infinitives? I will treat your opinion as law on this matter.

Gene Weingarten: I like to cheerfully split infinitives. But my view is worthless. Pat?

Comic Pick-of-the-week: Damn! As soon as I read BB this am, I -KNEW- you would choose that! What's going on with Mort, anyhow? Isn't the strip nearing 50? I think he is cutting loose and is throwing caution to the wind to go out with a BanG!

Gene Weingarten: It is truly astonishing. Perhaps I should interview him.

Arlington, Va.: I am eight months pregnant. I am tremendous. I am also apparently sending out some sort of magnetic pull that forces perfect strangers to touch, press, and yes even stroke my stomach. I need from you a defensive strategy that will not only stop these strangers in their tracks but also make them feel like the tools they are for touching me. My husband's suggestion that I just punch them in the nose seems a little extreme (although it grows more tempting by the day). I know you are the man who is going to arm me well.

Gene Weingarten: You just scream "Omigod I'm gonna blow!"

New York, N.Y.: A bunch of us were using the beautiful weather in Central Park this weekend to contemplate your assertion that people should not own froofy dogs. The question was posed -- is it OK for a dog owner to be seen in public with a froofy dog that he (or she) has inherited through a relationship? Is there any way to make this publicly known when walking such a dog?

Gene Weingarten: I recently babysat a neighbor's dog when he was out of town for a week. She was a perfectly nice cocker spaniel. This is, to me, borderline too small. I was vaguely uncomfortable walking her. But I drew the line at calling her by her name, in public. Her name is "Queenie." When walking her, I called her "Thor."

Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: Gene--I know that you're not a fan of "Mutts," and I agree that it's usually lame. But Friday's strip was a comic gem: A funny premise --the cat who sheds explosively on the first day of spring -- and exquisite execution. McDonnell at his best is the finest artist on the comics page. Now if he could only get the strip to be funny on a regular basis!

washingtonpost.com: Mutts, (March 21)

Gene Weingarten: He is the best artist on the page, probably. His strips leave me cold.

Rex Morgan, MD: On behalf of every honest (h-o-r-n-e-y) you must link to the "Index" article.

Gene Weingarten: I think this person is pruriently asking for a link to my pubic-hair column on Sunday, Liz.

Get Fuzzy?: I finally got to read a selection of strips from the much-lauded "Get Fuzzy" comic, as today's trial comic in The Post. I have to say I wasn't impressed. I found the art hard to look at, and the punch lines weren't funny. I enjoyed the fast-food strip in yesterday's Post much more.

washingtonpost.com: Get Fuzzy

Gene Weingarten: There has been a drumbeat of support for Get Fuzzy in this chat. People, or maybe the same person, keep writing in to tell me how brilliant it is. Well, it is exceptionally well drawn, like Mutts. It is also equally shrug-inducing. The examples in today's paper are a little unfair -- you spend half the time trying to figure out who is who, because you don't know the characters -- but mostly, I find this strip waaay too pleased with itself.

I repeat -- Frazz. We should get Frazz.

Hey There, PA!: Hey Dad. A columnist in today's Daily Pennsylvanian (my school's paper) totally ripped you off. Her topic? Sending funny e-mails back and forth to some scam artist in Africa looking for someone to hold onto his money. Some of her language even sounds like your writing. Her topic for next week: Dancing with her 10-year-old yellow lab named Harry S Truman. Hmmm.
(I suppose there is no need to add that her column wasn't even that funny. I suppose it is because she is a girl.)

Gene Weingarten: Hey there, Pa! Very nice, Mol.

Hey, we journalists get ripped off all the time. See next posting.

Slippery Creek, KY: When I saw www.chickenjoke.com, I threw up in my mouth. Would you mind alerting the Czar and the loyal SI contributors who work way to hard for thier work to be pirated by Internet morons?


Gene Weingarten: See?

Washington, DC: Link to the Red & Rover comic discussed last week.

I didn't get it until it was discussed here last week.

washingtonpost.com: Thanks man.

Gene Weingarten: Ah. This was the strip I challenged people to explain. Thanks.

Vienna, Va.: A friend and mine are big fans of Hank Steuver and we noticed you wrote about him in your column the Sunday before last. I also have noticed you like to gossip about your fellow Washington Post staffers.

So what's Hank like? Is he cute? Gay men in the D.C. area want to know.

washingtonpost.com: Below the Beltway, (Post Magazine, March 16)

Gene Weingarten: I would no sooner answer this than I would answer an inquiry from a guy about how cute a female Washington Post employee is. (I get them all the time.)

However, you are in luck. In my column about a year ago, Hank described HIMSELF as cute. And as you know, journalists do not lie.

Arlington, Va.: Do you really read Beetle Bailey regularly? What other comic strips? (There's a lot of chaff out there, and I haven't developed the attention span to find the good wheat).

Gene Weingarten: Unfortunately, I read em all. It's my job.

washingtonpost.com: Doh, my bad: Below the Beltway, (Post Magazine, March 23)

Gene Weingarten: There ya go.

Washington, D.C.: Gene,

A couple weeks ago there was a discussion in this chat about gender differences in regard to attentiveness to punchlines. I would never want to make any sweeping generalizations in this area, but I thought you might find this amusing. Some years ago my mother in law and a friend of hers were at a tea party. My MIL decided to tell a joke, which went like this:

"Three hunters went into the woods one day. They saw a sign that said 'bear right,' so they all went home." She was rewarded with a roomful of blank looks. Except for her friend, who knew how the joke was actually supposed to go and was doubled up in laughter.

Gene Weingarten: I don't know the original joke, and I haven't been able to figure it out. At least not in a way that would produce a good joke. Splain.

Bad times, good music: Gene, funny you mentioned the guy who ate the bullet on TV -- but actually it was Pennsylvania state treasurer Bud Dwyer who did it at a press conference in 1987. A decent grunge band called Filter paid homage in the mid 90s with a song called "Hey Man Nice Shot."

Gene Weingarten: Wow.

Re: Get Fuzzy: When I first saw this strip I was really impressed -- but that was about two years ago. Now it's frequently the same joke over and over, usually some completely random and elaborate set up to a dumb pun. I love the artist, but the last strip of his I found mildly amusing was one where Satchel orders a garden gnome and names him "Chompsky".

Mutts used to not be so sentimental. I hate that.

Gene Weingarten: Get Fuzzy just seems to be tired old dog-cat jokes.

Greek To, ME: Gene --

I'm e-mailing this to you rather than Michael Wilbon or Tom Sietsema because, well, you're smarter, funnier and probably better looking.

The basketball games over the past week or so have provided notable entertainment. I enjoy watching so many games in a row because of the sky-high levels of competitive drive and linguistic gaffes.

Here's one for which I need a humor ruling:

In an exciting second-round game, a player who made a horrible play found redemption via a steal and a dunk just seconds later. The announcer said, "He went from goat to hero in a matter of less than a minute."

I thought this was funny because "hero" is often a pronunciation of the Americo-Greek taste treat made from lamb (or sometimes goat?) called a "gyro." Instead of meaning bad to good (as the announcer intended) his statement gave the opposite effect. That is, he went from being a live goat (probably enjoying just chewin' on some grass) directly to someone's (probably an overweight American) dinner table. Funny? Or too much a stretch?

Goat Boy

Gene Weingarten: Well, it's too much of a stretch, for sure. But you are one weird dude, and there is humor in that.

Les Aspen Hill, Md.: Why did the Czar run a contest that doesn't call for any real creativity or humor writing ability?

Gene Weingarten: Every so often, he takes a huge chance. This is one of those. It requires an ear for subtlety, the ability to distinguish a boring fact from a bizarrely interesting one. He is keeping his fingers crossed.

Bears right, jokers left.: I believe the punchline was the signage read "Bear left", thus the hunters went home.

Gene Weingarten: AHHHHHHHHHHHH. Thank you.

Theglassishalf, Md.: The following sentence appeared on page A4 of yesterday's Post: "She asked Kenneth W. Starr and Seth P. Waxman -- both former solicitor generals now arguing opposite sides of the case -- when the Supreme Court would need to get the case to render a decision this term."

Solicitor generals?

Gene Weingarten: Hm. Bad. I think.

Tinseltown: Let's open this can of worms: give everyone an equal opportunity. How cute is Helen Thomas in person? I love her work, and I bet she looks better in person.

Gene Weingarten: Yes, a hottie.

Hoosier Baghdaddy: Dear Imperialist Yankeefan American Dog,
From one corrupt autocratic ruler to a friend of another, please pass this message on to the Czar of the Style Invitational. This past Sunday he printed still another poop joke. This is just another sign of decadent American malfecence. Soon this will stop. When we win the war I will assume control of many things including the Post's humor contest. When that happens, all the poop jokes will be by me and about me. There will be a New World Ordure.

Until that time, please cease and desist with the printing of impure, unclean jokish material. Failure to obey this edict could result in the launching of a Scuz missile, possibly even the issuance of a fartwa.


Gene Weingarten: I was not going to post this, because it strained quite a bit, as it were. But "New World Ordure" tickled me.

Stuever: Photo of Hank Stuever is here.

Gene Weingarten: Whoa.

Cubeville: I found this entry in the Stanmore, England yellow pages:

Boring - See civil engineers.

Gene Weingarten: HEre is an interesting fact. About a week ago, for maybe four hours, if you went on Google and searched for "French military victories," you were told that there were no hits, but the search engine said: "Do you mean French military defeats?" No lie, I tried it.

Eventually, it did find some site, and that perfect moment went away.

DuPontius Pilot: Gene,

I am the guy who asked the original question of Wilbon about how newspapers review columnists. I was genuinely curious about how popularity is determined. I did not mean to cause the ruckus that has ensued. See below from Wilbon's chat of Mar. 18
Washington, D.C.: Mike, for two weeks now, Weingarten's been calling you "wussy" in his chat. Any response?

Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon: What would I care about some punk nothing like Weingarten? You think I'd trade my career for his? --Mike

Your picture doesn't really give details. Could you please list height, weight, reach, etc.? So when you and Wilbon "Take this outside," that appropriate wagers can be placed.


P.S. This is WAY more interesting than my original question. Thanks for the free entertainment! Hey, I didn't even have to plunk down 35 cents for a paper!

Gene Weingarten: Wilbon actually thinks that what he has is a "career"?

Racist?: Do you think a joke that relies on race or ethnicity can ever be appropriate? I don't mean jokes that rely on or perpetuate stereotypes, but rather jokes that rely on the underlying race or ethnicity as the central punchline. Such as: What did the dyslexic rabbi say? "Yo" Another example would be: When confronted with hordes of Indians, the Lone Ranger said to Tonto "We're in big trouble." Tonto replied, "Who we, white man?" Are jokes like these always "politically incorrect?"

Gene Weingarten: I guess so. I personally have no objection to ethnic jokes that perpetuate stereotypes. Stereotypes are funny. You just need to tell these jokes to people who know that you are not a jerk. This can be very tricky.

Yeuge, Ariz.: Tell Hank we prefer the old picture of him in the Elmer Fudd hat.

washingtonpost.com: Bonus

Gene Weingarten: Okay....

Virginia: American Association of Sunday and Features Editors!?!? It just goes to show that there is an association for everything.

Gene Weingarten: There is an Association of Associations. I was going to do a column about them, but they proved too boring even to make fun of for being boring.

Somewhere, USA: Hank Steuver's got Christopher Walken eyes! Spoooookeeee. What kinda eyes you got?

Gene Weingarten: I have eyes like some ungulate.

Pat the Perfect, ME: The Post's dictionary does list "solicitors general" before "solicitor generals"; also, it makes more sense because otherwise it sounds like two generals.

However, "Theglassishalf, Md." MUST be "Theglassishalf, MD." You knew this.

Gene Weingarten: I can't believe solicitor generals is even accepted. Actually, I can believe it. How about court martials? Is that now accepted?

The Dyslexic Rabbi joke: Is hilarious. VERY New York Jewish. Almost as good as, "How many Jewish mothers does it take to change a lightbulb?"

Answer: "It's alright, I'll just sit in the dark."

Gene Weingarten: Right.

My new favorite joke: What did the fish say when it swam into a wall?


Gene Weingarten: Not bad.

The real Stuever: Didn't I call myself "cute-ish" in that column a year ago? I was leaving room for doubt. You want cute? Try me circa 1976: (www.hankstuever.com)

Gene Weingarten: All right. The definitive answer.

Broomes Island, Md.: From last week's chat:

"Howdy, HI: C. O. Jones is, I believe, a restaurant in New Haven, Conn. Has it really been forced to change its name...?

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

I told my wife about this (she's retiring Latina from South America) and she was mildly amused. "Did you know," she asked, "that CHI CHI's is Mexican slang for BOOBS?"

I'm not making this up (as DB would say). Looks like something else to protest!

Gene Weingarten: I didn't know that. Of course, why hide behind code? Hooters didn't?

Ogynist, MS: I loved Kornheiser's piece today about the "sport" of ice skating. I've always believed any event that's judged may be a contest of some kind but it's not a sport. My wife says I just don't like stuff girls like. I think you should go see the event and report your findings.

washingtonpost.com: Go Figure, It's a Real Showstopper, (Post, March 25)

Gene Weingarten: I believe that something is not a sport if it must depend on the voting of judges. I don't limit this to the frou frou things like ice dancing or synchronized swimming. I would can gynamistics, equestrian events like dressage (keeping only direct competition or timed events.) And I would either kill boxing or make each fight go until someone is knocked out.

Yes, I am a real ass about this.

Fairfax, Va.: Not only is there an Association of Associations, there is an Association of Meeting Planners. And, like most associations, they have annual meetings for which they have meetings to plan them. The planning meeting for the annual meeting of the Association of Meeting Planners. (This was in a BRILLIANT WP Magazine article maybe 11 years ago when I first moved here, on how if you think things happen at meetings then you don't understand Washington: things happen at the pre-meetings and post-meetings... and we wonder why the rest of America--to say nothing of the world -- doesn't understand us?!)

Gene Weingarten: Excellent.

Arlington, Va.: My favorite juvenile joke: What did the number zero say to the number eight?

Nice belt.

Gene Weingarten: My favorite juvenile joke: What time is it when you have to go to the dentist? ("Tooth hurty.")

Slighted Fan: I'm getting tired of posting every week and being denied. I really like your chat but why can't I join in?!

Gene Weingarten: Because no one likes someone who is always feeling sorry for him or her self. You are a pill. We don't need people like you in here.

Atlanta, Ga.: My son't favorite joke:

Two muffins are sitting in an oven. One turns to another and says, "it's getting hot in here."

The other muffin says, "holy cow, a talking muffin!"

Gene Weingarten: Wow. That's very good!

Fairfax Station, Va.: Why aren't any humor columnists embedded?

Gene Weingarten: They are afraid of us.

Annandale VA: Is this funny? Everyone in my office thought so, but maybe just because we saw it on a day we were practicing our "safe room" drills:

Gene Weingarten: Yes, this is a scream.

Housekeeping question: When your chat is over, do you have to clean the chatroom or is that Liz's job?

Gene Weingarten: Liz, get cracking.

Thank you all. See you next week at this time.

Well, not at THIS time. You come at THIS time, you miss the chat.


© Copyright 2003 The Washington Post Company