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

Tuesday, April 8, 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: BAGHDAD -- (AP) -- Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf denied this morning that American military forces were anywhere near this city, or, in fact, in Iraq
at all. "The mincing, effeminate, panty-wearing armies of the desperate American regime got lost in Yemen and appear to be attacking The United Arab Emirates, he said.

Mr. Saeed also denied reports that Saddam Hussein was dead, saying that the exalted leader was unavailable only because of a "previously scheduled dental appointment."

The press conference was interrupted by a commotion outside, at which point Mr. Saeed's head appeared to explode ...


In related news, I would like to commend Paula Zahn for her professionalism under pressure and in the fog of war, managing this morning to three times enunciate extremely carefully the name of British correspondent Luke Hunt.

This week's comic pick is just a good joke, well told, with perfect timing. Sunday's Pickles.

Questions? Comments?

washingtonpost.com: Pickles, (April 6)

Brooklyn, N.Y.: Gene,

This was in Howard Kurtz' column today:

"Boston Globe ombudsman Christine Chinlund alludes to the weirdness of obsessing over the comics in the midst of a war. It is weird, but now I'm going to do it, too.

"Chinlund's topic is the Globe's decision to kill the March 29 edition of The Boondocks, which, on that particular day, consisted of a text-only protest against the war in Iraq. She quotes editor Marty Baron as saying, 'What I saw was not a comic strip. It was a written statement on the war. For such commentary, we have the op-ed page and letters. We reserve the comics page for comics.'

"Chinlund disagrees with Baron, saying he should have allowed it to run. She writes: 'Allowing Boondocks the occasional use of a text note as one way to connect with readers would not threaten the integrity of the comics page.' I agree."

Any thoughts on this? And how much integrity does a comics page actually have?

washingtonpost.com: The Boondocks, (March 29)

Gene Weingarten:

Glad someone mentioned this. Several newspapers refused to run this strip. (The Post ran it.) At least one paper -- in North Carolina -- was so appalled it cancelled Boondocks
altogether. I'd like you all to look at it and tell me what you think. I'll post some of your thoughts, and then give you my views, which I've written already and will paste in.

Arlington, Va.: I need some help... I don't get yesterday's Mother Goose & Grim - the one with the snakes. Can you explain this?

washingtonpost.com: Mother Goose & Grimm, (April 7)

Gene Weingarten: Okay, so this will be a comics chat.

This one was actually my second choice for comic of the week! It is an inversion of the expression "If it were a snake, it would bite you." A very Far Sidean cartoon.

New England: Gene! I consider you my fantasy best friend. This Friday is my 21st birthday! Can you recommend any smooooooooth pickup lines?

Gene Weingarten: Yes. I am presuming you are male. Here is what you say: "As of today I am old enough to be be executed in any jurisdiction in the United States that has the death penalty, and all federal crimes, including abduction, transportation across state lines, and murder, whether or not the body is buried in a shallow grave and never found. So the stakes are too high. Would you like to go out with me?"

All kidding aside, Gene: Many of the appreciations for columnist Michael Kelly noted that he was wildly funny in person. As a fan of his acerbic, biting, Menckenesque writing style, I would not have suspected this. Did you ever witness this around the Post offices? Can you you elaborate?

Gene Weingarten: Michael Kelly was very, very talented and people who knew him loved and respected him. I never met him. He ran in the Post but seldom entered the building, so far as I know. I disagreed with much of what he wrote, politically, but he wrote it brilliantly.

Washington, D.C.: The war and Cuba Gooding, Jr. being protested simultaneously? Was he kidding? I just didn't get it and don't understand what it was doing in the comics.

Gene Weingarten: This is one view I am seeing, and I have heard even in this newsroom. Another one follows.

Alexandria, Va.: I think we are getting into a danger zone like the one in the 60s and 70s when protests over war resulted in the second highest elected official declared millions of Americans to be "nattering nabobs of negativism." To censure COMIC STRIPS, for crying out loud, makes Angew look wise.

Gene Weingarten: Here's another, a third follows.

Boondocks Thoughts: I believe this was done, at least partially, in jest. To see that, one must only look at the Cuba Gooding, Jr. references. However, comics such as Boondocks and Doonesbury are opinionated comics that display an opinion overtly. Others do it covertly. There is no outcry for them to be halted (even when they are not funny). The comic should have been allowed to run because it is not out of character for the comic.

Gene Weingarten: Here' a third. My view follows.

Gene Weingarten: I wish Aaron McGruder had found his success a little later in life, because he has unfortunately learned lassitude. He has learned that his strips will be accepted whether he tries hard, or whether he tries not at all. And so he has not experimented at all with form. He has not
improved his artwork. He has not introduced interesting new characters, and he has squandered some of what he has -- his grandpappy character, one of his best, has nearly
disappeared. His strip, in general, has not evolved and matured. Too often it is a
simple polemic.

However, Aaron remains a fiercely smart guy who occasionally does brilliant work. I consider this one absolutely ingenious -- deep and disturbing and funny. Others at the Post disagree with me: They see it as hectoring and bizarre, creating some inappropriate
moral equivalency, and thus such. I think they are missing the point.

The point is that this was a meta-cartoon, about how politicized this strip is, and how it makes newspapers nervous, and how people should just relax and accept it for what it is.

There was no moral equivalency being made. He was not seriously linking Cuba Gooding and the war. He was saying, I want to make an unambiguous anti-war statement, but if I
do all you wusses out there won't print it. So how can I do this? I can do what I am permitted to do, what you are comfortable letting me do, you honkies, which is make fun
of black people for embarrassing themselves. So I will hide my statement under that ridiculous conceit. And that will -- for the more daring of you -- give it the funny and
safe feel you demand.

Aaron is further saying that war is surreal -- that the justifications for it are surreal, and, ultimately a lie, and so he is going to make this strip surreal, too. I
will make it an absurdist lie, he is saying. I will word it with ridiculous gravitas, as though I am seriously linking these two issues.

That's what he was doing. A great strip, a terrifically subversive and seditious strip. Whether you agree with him politically or not.

Arlington, Va.: Today's Non Sequitur is hilarious. And political. Loved it.

Gene Weingarten: Agreed.

Alexandria, Va.: Paula Kahn has, very apparently, made twice a year dental visits a very high priority. Great choppers. Unfortunately the criteria for anchor women these days has less to do with the quality and quantity of upper head contents than lower. JMHO.

washingtonpost.com: Zahn. Zahn.

Gene Weingarten: I think she is really good. AND really hot. A tough situation for Paula.

Gene Weingarten: Oh, this is appropros of nothing, and will only mean something to the two or three people who recognize this ad. But the worst radio ad of all time may be airing this week. Worst as in unbelievably lame copy, astoundingly bad acting, etc. It is an ad for Sandy Springs Bank that is in the form of two guys standing at a batting cage, talking about their banker? Anyone hear it? It is pant-wettingly bad.

Washington, D.C.: Gene, do you prefer chicks in one-piece bathing suits or two-piece bathing suits?

Gene Weingarten: The LEAST sexy bathing suits were the ones Miss America contestants wore in the sixties. Remember those? They looked like girdles. They were less sexy than the bathing suits from the 1800s, with the parasols, when the term bathing "suit" made sense.

Towson, Md.: Dad, quit blaming your bladder problems on ads.

Gene Weingarten: Ah, my boy.

Washington, D.C.: Zahn is tooth in German.

Gene Weingarten: Really?

Kent, Ohio: What defined "funny" for you when you were growing up?

Gene Weingarten: Early Mad Magazine. Then Tom Lehrer. Then Tom and Dick Smothers. Then Saturday Night Live. Then Dave Barry. Then I was all grown up.

More of a general take on Boondocks: Since when did comic page editors become such nervous nellies? It was before my time but didn't old school cartoonists like Walt Kelly use Pogo to similarly make political points. I never heard about his strip having its presentation diminished (like happened to Boondocks at the Post) or being entirely removed from print (like Boondocks in North Carolina more recently). This editors need more nerve. I don't buy the Sunday paper just to read mindless drivel like Rugrats

Gene Weingarten: Good point. Though I do believe Walt Kelly got hisself thrown off a number of papers.

English class..: Gene, your college professors must have loved you. I've never seen a more eloquent pile of BS as your mini-essay on why that Boondocks comic was brilliant. Lots of good action buzzwords strung together with enough psychoanalysis, hell, had me wondering if you were purposefully being absurd to make a point or if you really meant it. Sadly, I think you meant it and believed every word you wrote. I feel obliged to say something like "sometimes a cigar is just a cigar" in response to your over the top analysis.

Gene Weingarten: Sorry, but that is exactly what McGruder was doing. Whether he knew it or not.

Washington, D.C.: Gene -

Bobby Knight was quoted as saying, "I'd take Jessica Lynch over 10 Joan of Arcs."

Shouldn't that be "10 Joans of Arc?"

Gene Weingarten: Excellent! Yes, it should.

What was Funny?: What about National Lampoon in it's 1970's configuration? I'll never forget such important exposes such as "Isolationism and Tooth Care" (a cover story) and "How to tell the difference between a homo and a lumberjack".

Gene Weingarten: Yes, actually, that's in there, too. The Sunday Magazine parody was particularly brilliant.

Pet The Sweaty Things...: Er... that same joke was used in a "Get Fuzzy" strip on March 27.

Gene Weingarten: Really? An interesting coincidence. Both strips were already drawn -- in fact, because the Pickles one was a Sunday strip, it probably was drawn first.

Artist's Intentions: Is there any way to get ahold of Mr McGruder to find out what his intentions were? Do you have any pull to try and get him to reply to an e-mail?

Gene Weingarten: It doesn't matter. Do not fall for the Intentional Fallacy. You cannot judge a piece of art on the basis of what the artist intended. You judge it on the basis of what it says.

Langley, Va.: Has the Committee on Incandescent Anomalies come out to swipe your long-lasting lightbulb yet? You doomed that bulb when you revealed its location.

Gene Weingarten: The bulb still burns.

Misguided Epistle: Gene, I admit I didn't see the original story, but the "Holding On" letter to the editor of the Magazine Section seemed a bit creepy/weird. Can we all get our personal grievances aired in The Post?

washingtonpost.com: Letters, (Post Magazine, April 6)

Gene Weingarten: This is interesting reading. My view on this is that it is bizarre, and disturbing, and that is why it should have been printed. Newspapers should worry a little less about being important and a little more about being interesting.

The column you wrote about your dad: Okay, my comment's so belated I should attach some kind of Hallmark sentiment to compensate for its extreme untimeliness. It doesn't pertain to the chat's light-hearted nature, but a while back you wrote a column about how your dad was losing his eyesight and his brain compensated by filling in the gaps with people who weren't really there. Just wanted to let you know that I still remember that column because of what you wrote he said: "well, at least the people I see aren't frightening." wise man, he is, to come up with such a perceptive phrase.

washingtonpost.com: Below the Beltway, (Dec. 29, 2002)

Gene Weingarten: Thank you.

An update: About a week after that column ran, my father stopped seeing things. And they haven't returned. I asked him if he missed them, and he said no, but looked a little wistful.

New Yawk: At a college around here they just awarded something called the Pulitzer Prizes for Excellence in Journalism. It's probably no big deal but it's shocking that your name wasn't mentioned. Isn't it time you blew the lid off the whole Pulitzer scam?

washingtonpost.com: Washington Post Wins Three Pulitzers, (Post, April 8)

Gene Weingarten: Who cares about the Pulitzer? That's small potatoes. I want my notes and scribbles purchased for $5 million, like Woodstein, by some college. Or kindergarten.

Somewhere, USA: Speaking of being "all grown up," I -- a brother immature jerk whose wife issues him exactly one check annually -- must salute your fine Below The Beltway column on Sunday. But my wife makes me clean out my car, so I gotta know: how did you get your wife to let you keep the car guy-style?

Gene Weingarten: Your wife makes you clean out YOUR car?


Someone sounds like he is a little, um, wussy-hipped.

Washington, D.C.: How could your dog NOT notice a chicken dinner in the back seat of your car? Or was he saving it?

Gene Weingarten: That is a really good question. He rides sporadically, more often in the summer. I am guessing the chicken arrived in midwinter and was already fossilized by the time he next arrived in the car.

Pat the Perfect, ME: Darling, someone who would look at a 5-foot-2 co-worker in the cafeteria line and suddenly point to this woman and be consumed in explosive, gut-holding laughter, and say, "You know, you are really -- bwahahahahha-- SHORT!!!!" is not "all grown up."

Gene Weingarten: More grown up than YOU. Hahahahahahahahaha.

Comic Strip Editors?: I had no idea there was such a thing. Couldn't one argue that a comic strip should be viewed as a body of work, and that randomly pulling and modifying controversial strips violates the integrity of the work and is a disservice to readers? Loved your analysis, by the way. If I were a student, I would cut and paste it into my next term paper.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you. But, no, I think it is just as reasonable to edit a strip as it is to edit a column. I just think that the editor really ought to know what he is doing.

Is Hunter an Aptonym?: Gene,
Your colleague Stephen Hunter won the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. If he won the Pulitzer then my mother deserves the Nobel.

Anyway, I wonder if you ever get together with him and go shoot stuff?

Gene Weingarten: Now, this is interesting.

Stephen Hunter is the best movie critic I have ever seen. Number two is quite a distance away. This is not even debatable. If you don't get it, you are not a reader.

Reston, Va.: Did the Washington Post deliberately run the yesterday's Doonesbury again in today's paper, or is that an error?

washingtonpost.com: You can get yesterday's and today's online: Doonesbury

Gene Weingarten: Right, it was apparently an error in some editions.

Wussy-hipped?: please explain...

Gene Weingarten: No.

Re: short people humor: "Up" maybe, and "grown" maybe. But not "grown up". Maturity still counts.

Gene Weingarten: Maturity is a word unfunny people use to mean "I don't get it."

Bad Ads : Another pant-wettingly bad ad is a TV ad for Amtrak running right now that makes two hilariously asinine selling points. First, it suggests that people choose Amtrak as their transportation mode because they want to "see the countryside." Hah - Amtrak's route follows the dirty neck to the armpit and down the scaly torso of America to its stenchful nether-regions.

Second, it uses a smiling middle-aged guy seated with his wife to cheerfully tout that Amtrak' companion fares allowed "her sister to come along for free." He smiles the entire time.

Gene Weingarten: Yes, you're right on both points.

Wussy-hipped: Wife uses my car occasionally and inexplicably registers objections to fossilized chicken dinners and other corpses. She thus insists that I keep it clean for those unscheduled occasions. Can we assume that your wife has given up on your car entirely?

Gene Weingarten: Yes, exactly. Unless a child is bleeding and requires hospitalization, she will not enter that car.

Chicago: I agree with you about Boondocks. It started out so promisingly, but has not grown into a truly good comic strip. It's better than a lot of what is out there, but it could be a really great strip.

Gene Weingarten: Right. Maybe someone will direct Aaron to this chat. Really. He needs to read it.

PtheP, Not ME: Gene -- I love Below the Beltway, but I believe you made a grammatical error in this week's edition. You stated:

"While I do not believe I have ever actually lost a corpse in it, I once discovered in the back seat, beneath a pile of newspapers -- some of which were more than two years old -- an entire uneaten takeout chicken dinner."

I think that you should have used the word "although" instead of "while," because "while" sets up a temporal relationship. It is similarly inappropriate to employ "since" when one really means "because."

washingtonpost.com: Below the Beltway, (Post Magazine, April 6)

Gene Weingarten: I would argue that colloquialisms are fine, in a context like this. Am I being too easy on myself, 'Tricia?

Bethesda, Md.: Saw an article the other day that identified the various 'Hummer' road-hog monstrosities as a new class of vehicle, the 'FUV'.

Some of the people I tell this to get it right away, and think it's very funny, others need an explanation and don't think it's funny at all. What I don't get is how do people manage to miss the joke here -- ?

Gene Weingarten: This is the first I have heard of the FUV. Terrific. Pretty hard not to get this joke, no?

Washington, D.C.: Wasn't that Sarah Gaymon, a frequent Style Invitational contributor, winning last night on Jeopardy? (She's back tonight as returning champion).

Gene Weingarten: It was!!! Sarah is a very smart person. Secret fact: She has always had one of the highest entry-to-published-entry ratios in Style Invitational history. Not a lot of wasted effort. Maximum efficient machine, which defines excellence.

Let's all watch tonight.

Hammon, R.I.: This from a review of "Mismatch: The Growing Gulf Between Women and Men" in the Times Book Review last week:

"I have only three problems with the title 'Mismatch: The Growing Gulf Between Women and Men:' the words 'growing,' 'mismatch' and 'gulf.' There would be no book without the 'growing.' If it had been called 'the gulf between women and men,' people would have said, 'Right; what else is new?' If the book had been called 'the shrinking gulf between women and men,' people would have said, 'That's nice,' and bought something livelier. But 'growing' -- ah! Clang! Another round of gender boxing!"

Yikes! But I'm sure YOUR title is fine.

Gene Weingarten: Right. We are not claiming it is "growing" or "shrinking." We are simply claiming it is, um, pant-wettingly funny.

Maryland: In addition to her professionalism, I would like to commend Paula Zahn for her gams. 46 years old. Man oh man.

Gene Weingarten: Wait. No one has ever SEEN her gams. She's a head.

Alexandria, Va.: Gene -- My three year old pointed to an obese woman in the Home Depot this weekend and said in a loud voice, "Daddy that lady is FAT."

Should I have scooted down the aisle, pretending to be engrossed in the faucets, ignoring him? Please help out a single dad here. I was at a total loss. In his defense, she was fat.

Gene Weingarten: Remember the old Buddy Hackett wildly offensive Chinese-waiter routine where he takes an order, turns back to the kitchen, and yells, "FAT LADY ORDER TWO DESSERT!"

No? Well I am an old man.

washingtonpost.com: Paula -- Head & Gams

Gene Weingarten: Excellent! Thank you, Liz. Gina will now kill you.

FUVs: Hey, I'm grateful for every single one of those lumbering monstrosities. Before they came along the blame-everyone-else weenies were picking on us sports car drivers.

Gene Weingarten: I know! You are off the hook. So are Mercedes drivers.

Towson, Md.: So Dad, is it agreed that you're gonna use Dave's suggested title?

Gene Weingarten: This is my son again. My son is quite a fellow. He is referring to a title for my book. It was suggested by Dave Barry this weekend. I could post it right here, and the question is, would I be able to finish the chat in the next 8 minutes, before Security arrived?

Gene Weingarten: (I of course immediately shared this title with my son. Thanks, son! Good to welcome you to my chat!)

Philadelphia, Pa.: Gene:

You're a star... oddly enough I dreamt I met you. It was an over the top encounter, in a coffee bar of all places. We met as a result of one of your pieces (which one, I haven't a clue). I woke up before you actually spoke and now I've just got to know... what does your voice sound like?

Gene Weingarten: My voice sounds adenoidal. Sorry.

Durham, N.C.: I think my local paper was the one that dropped "Boondocks," replacing it with "Get Fuzzy." How dare they drop a great strip because one installment clearly combined politics with humor. This is clearly a sign that Cuba Gooding, Jr. has just become too sensitive a topic to be addressed forthrightly.

Gene Weingarten: Right.

Washington, D.C.: How much will be my share of the $75 billion billion to rebuild and bring true democracy (complete with the Electoral College -- it works for us) to Iraq? I realize that the $75 billion is just a downpayment (couldn't be THAT cheap; sort of like quotes you get for aluminum siding on your house), but it's a start. I want to know how I can send more.

Gene Weingarten: Actually, this is a good idea for a column. Thank you.

Pat the Perfect, ME:
"while": I had a co-worker who used to go on about this. But to me, insisting that "while" must refer in every case to something that's going on that that very moment is refusing to accept that a word can simply have more than one meaning.
You know, back in the medieval period, when I was a child, "while" used to mean "until."
Face it, words get new meanings. They just do.
Unless there were an actual confusion as to the time frame, I think the use of "while" to mean "whereas" isn't anything to get exercised about.

Gene Weingarten: Noted.

washingtonpost.com: Oooh, Gene's son -- share the title with me. I won't post it. Honestly.

Gene Weingarten: If he doesn't, I'll tell you after the chat.

Which is now! Thank you, everyone. Sorry about all the excellent questions I couldn't answer -- this is becoming a popular chat. Perhaps we'll need a second hour.

Next week.

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