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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, May 6, 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.

I am going to leave it to the natterers of my profession, the Shamans of Schadenfreude, to take joy in the newly detailed troubles of Mr. Bill Bennett, author of
"The Book of Virtues," who has recently confessed to having lost some, er, $8 million through gambling. While it is true that Mr. Bennett has amassed his fortune through
sanctimony, bellying up to the bar as America's number one public scold, the holier-than-thou, goody-three-shoes who is always first to condemn others for moral transgressions, I, for one, do not propose to kick a man when he is down -- down there in the gutter of his own exposed ludicrous hypocrisy.

Though I might suggest that his book be reissued with a new title: The Bookie of Virtues.

Ok, the cartoon pick of the week is clearly Sunday's Doonesbury. As I said in last week's chat, I consider it not only ingenious, but of historic importance,
cartoonologically. I'd like to hear your feelings about it, and then I will append mine, which I have already written and will paste in.

For those of you who have not already translated it, here is a translation, courtesy Pat the Perfect, who, of course, reads French:

Panel 2 -- Mark (in English): What's that? You can't even THINK of one? Check out the signature on this strip, mon ami!
Zonker (in French): Or are you so provincial that you don't even recognize a French
Panel 3 -- Mark: Let me ask you something: Why do you think that we liberated France in 1945?

Zonker: Listen up: We liberated France so that it would be FREE! Free from foreign domination! Get it?

Panel 4 -- Mark: With you others, loyalty goes only one way! After 9/11 the headlines of the French newspapers said, "Today We Are All Americans!" If terrorists
had destroyed the Eiffel Tower, would you have cried out, "Today We Are All French!"?
Panel 5 -- Mark: Of course not! And do you know why? Zonker: Why, Mark?
Panel 6 -- Mark (in French turning to English): Because you are jingoistic, self-regarding CONQUER-MONKEYS!

Zonker (in English, giggling): Oops! Pardon our French!

So, let's hear it.

washingtonpost.com: Doonesbury, (Sunday, May 4)

Bad Bet By Bill Bennett, (Post, May 5)

Conquer-monkeys: Oh my god. Thank you thank you thank you for alerting us to this past Sunday's Doonesbury. I had given up on Trudeau, but that was just beautiful.

Gene Weingarten: .

Bethesda, Md.: Damn ... kind of a letdown on Sunday's Doonesbury after all your buildup. I guess it's pretty thrilling if you worship all things French.

Gene Weingarten: . More coming....

Heywood Jablo, ME. (Ed. Note: So old): So what's next, Sunday comix in Farsi or Aramaic? Would that really be revolutionary?
-- Conquer monkey

Gene Weingarten: ... and more....

Alexandria, Va.: Last week, you stated that Sunday's Doonesbury was very funny. Well, I didn't find it funny at all. I even went to the Web site to read the translation and I didn't find it funny.

Is it necessary to not enjoy the current French bashing to find this strip funny? Is this strip still funny after today's Washington Times is reporting that France helped Iraqis get passports?

Why did you consider this strip so funny?

Gene Weingarten: ... an interesting point....

Towson, Md.: Wow. Sunday's Doonesbury was stunning. It was in French! And it said that Americans are "conquer monkeys." That should certainly revitalize the comics.

Has there ever been a murderous left-wing tyrant that you and your ilk have not supported? Castro? Pol Pot? Mao? Stalin? You lefties loved 'em all.

washingtonpost.com: Doonesbury, (May 4)

Gene Weingarten: Okay. Now I will append my thoughts, for what they are worth. Hang on.

Gene Weingarten: I consider this a cartoon a tour de force, as it were.

One reason is obvious: The sheer daring of the message, cutting against the grain of public sentiment while holding his own readers in contempt, and not caring
about their reaction. Which brings us to the sheer daring of the FORM of the message: Writing it in French, daring Americans to take the time and effort to seek a
translation, confident that most won't bother. Those who will bother will probably agree with his point, and those who won't -- haha!, they won't even know how
devastatingly they are being ridiculed! Which speaks to the central point of this strip: That we are fat and complacent and intellectually lazy -- unlike the French,
whose experiences in World War II give them a certain complexity. The French, Trudeau is reminding us, KNOW what it is like to live under occupation. They may not SEE this
whole thing as simply -- read, simplistically -- as Americans do.

And last, of course, is his point about the Eiffel Tower. He is reminding us that Americans are not only short of critical thought, but of memory, too. France is an ally, a spiritual ally, not without memory or gratitude.

And he has done all this without taking a position on the central issue of whether this invasion was warranted. (And I suspect he thinks it was.)

Trudeau is spanking us. It feels good. He has done something amazing.

Washington, D.C.: Sunday's Doonesbury was absolutely brilliant. So brilliant, in fact, that I spent a good part of the weekend telling people to go get The Post just for the comic. It works on so many levels, including making the conquer-monkeys actually read some French.

I never read the Sunday comics, so thanks for the heads-up last week.

Trudeau's back!

Gene Weingarten: Yes, exactly.

Alexandria, Va.: As to the supposition that Gina does not exist, discussed in the Sunday column, I have good proof that neither Gene nor Gina exist. It can be found in the anagram for "Gene Weingarten":

Gene, Gina weren't.

washingtonpost.com: Below the Beltway, (Post Magazine, May 4)

Gene Weingarten: Whoa.

Right Here, Right Now: What is your biggest fear?

Gene Weingarten: My biggest fear is probably waking up one day and discovering I am Mister Jones. Seriously.

Herndon, Va.: For a mildly humorous man, you are very predictable and yes, politically correct.

Gene Weingarten: Okay. But I didn't have to print this. So I'm not a COMPLETE arsewipe.

Chestertown, Md.: C'est lundi, 5 Mai quand je l'ecrit, je ne sais pas que je vais etre d'ici demain, J'aime Doonesbury, et j'adore le comic de Dimanche hier. Quand je pense de la France, je pense de le Statue de Libertie, de le Guerre revolutionne et Yorktown. Quand j'ai lis Doonesbury hier, je l'ai lis quatre temps depuis je l'ai compris, parce-que mon Francais n'est pas plus bon, mais quand je l'ai compris, j'ai rire beaucoup. J'espere qu'il y a plus d'artistes comme Trudeau qui avaient un cervau, mais je pense que il n'ya pas donc.

Merci beaucoup, et s'ily a possible, puissez-vous repondiez en francais?


Gene Weingarten: I do not speak French. Fortunately, I know someone who does.

Pat the Perfect, ME: To the person who sent the post in French:

C'est bien que vous l'aimez, mais comme vous voyez, il y a beaucoup de gens qui ne sont pas d'accord au sujet!

Gene Weingarten: .

Washington, D.C.: I have a concept for a new cable show on MSNBC: The Bill Bennett Bashing Hour. Bennett could host and guests would be sanctimonious windbags like himself, outing other sanctimonious windbags. Wheeee!

Gene Weingarten: There are already DOZENS of shows like that!

New York, N.Y.: Did the Czar show you some of the bad syllogisms from this week's Invitational? How bad were they?

Gene Weingarten: Things that aren't funny aren't funny.
Lots of the entries weren't funny.
Ergo, lots of the entries were things.

Fairfax, Va.: Why can't my question get through your Web site? (This is a test.)

Gene Weingarten: They all get through. This is the only one you have sent so far that was even vaguely comprehensible. You need to lay off the sauce.

New York, N.Y.: Did you know that the loser Web site posted a picture with a caption identifying the Auxiliary Czar as Pat?

Gene Weingarten: I didn't know that but it doesn't surprise me. The web is filled with misinformation.

Dave Barry's Dr.: Dave Barry's article in the Sunday magazine said instead of going to see his doctor for colon cancer checkup; he went to you first to see what it would be like. He also said you were the biggest hypochondriac he knows; so he figured he'd ask you.

So, ever have allergy shots? I'm going for those and figured if you knew about colons maybe you'd know about allergies.....

Gene Weingarten: Yes, allergy shots are completely bogus. They enrich the allergists. When my daughter was one year old, she had a certain stomach ailment I would describe except now, as a 21 year old woman, she would kill me if I did. Lets just say it "ran" in the family. Anyway, I went to an allergist and gave her shots in the butt for two months. The condition did not clear up and Molly began to hate the approach of her dad. So one day I stopped. Just discontinued the shots. On that day, the condition solidified, as it were. Never returned.

Fairfax, Va.: Hey, I'm submitting questions, too, and I'm not the sauced chatter previously mentioned. How do you know who's who (or are my previous questions also pretty bad)?

Gene Weingarten: I don't. That is how I can be so insulting.

Trance, N.D.: Best comic strip of the month. Year. Decade. Blew away the long-awaited Doonesbury. I refer, of course, to yesterday's Non Sequitur, which elevated the form to high art. Simply spectacular, side-splittingly amusing and thoughtful at the same time.

washingtonpost.com: Non Sequitur, (May 5)

Gene Weingarten: Yes, I liked this, too. It was the second in a series. We saw the first in last week's chat.

Oye Como, Va.: We noticed that the second runner up on Sunday was a different joke in the online edition than it was in print. Can we assume that the Czar feels more comfortable giving prominent display to a penis joke online than he does in the actual newspaper itself?

washingtonpost.com: The Style Invitational, (Post, Sunday, May 4)

Gene Weingarten: We can presume that some person or persons in greater positions of authority than the Czar preferred that the selection involving penises not be rewarded with second runner up, and that this was a late decision, and that somehow this change was not communicated to the Web site in a timely fashion.

Pat the Perfect, ME: New York, N.Y.: Did you know that the loser Web site posted a picture with a caption identifying the Auxiliary Czar as Pat?

Sheesh, you mingle with the masses for two minutes -- you know, they hug you on the rope line-- and then they go tell all their friends lies about how they know you intimately.

Gene Weingarten: Precisely.

Charlottesville, Va.: Both you and Gary Trudeau have made my life a better place this week. Thanks to them, and boo to all those conquer-monkeys and people who bashed the strip. That's all.

Gene Weingarten: Well, I think the strip is not without flaws. It does not mention, for example, that the French -- who do, indeed, know a little bit about the pain of occupation -- also know a little bit about the joy of liberation.

It also is an interesting footnote that the French do appeared to have facilitated the escape of some high level Iraqis.

Frankly (hahaha!) I just love the dialogue here. That is what Trudeau has done.

Somewhere, USA: Sayeth GW: "My biggest fear is probably waking up one say and discovering I am Mister Jones. Seriously."

So you must get nightmares and panic attacks when oldies stations play that R&B chanson (in honor of les frogues aujourd-hui) "Me and Mrs. Jones"

Gene Weingarten: Ah, sorry. Couple of people have asked about this. I was referring to the Mr. Jones from "Ballad of a Thin Man," my favorite Dylan song:

You walk into the room
With your pencil in your hand
You see somebody naked
And you say, "Who is that man?"
You try so hard
But you don't understand
Just what you'll say
When you get home

Because something is happening here
But you don't know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

You raise up your head
And you ask, "Is this where it is?"
And somebody points to you and says
"It's his"
And you say, "What's mine?"
And somebody else says, "Well what is?"
And you say, "Oh my God
Am I here all alone?"

Because something is happening here
But you don't know what it is Do you, Mister Jones?

You have many contacts
Among the lumberjacks
To get you facts
When someone attacks your imagination...

(This is, or should be, the terrible fear of every writer. That you wake up one day and realize you are totally out of it...)

Bethesda, Md.: The Washington Monthly already used "The Bookie of Virtues" in its expose of Bill Bennett's gambling, so I'm sad to have to expose your humor as secondhand. On the other hand, it WAS funny to see NBC feature your old neighbor Grover Norquist vigorously defending Bennett's vice as a private matter that's nobody's business! Ain't that just like a libertarian?

Gene Weingarten: Really? Sigh. See, that is EXACTLY WHAT I AM TALKING ABOUT re Mister Jones.

Arlington-that-doesn't-need-a-stadium, Va.: So, if we can't bash the French, how about the Canadians?

It was announced today that Canada is now prepared to help the United States in its war against terrorism. They have promised to commit two of their largest battleships, 6,000 armed troops and 60 fighter jets. However, after the exchange rate, that comes down to a canoe, two Mounties and a flying squirrel.

Gene Weingarten: Good.

Homeland Security: I particularly enjoyed Bill Bennett's claiming, first, his gambling wasn't a problem and then, later, saying, well, he wasn't ever going to do it again. Not that there was ever anything wrong with it, anyway. Of course not.

Gene Weingarten: Exactly.

Charlottesville, Va.: I submit what I believe to be the ultimate aptonym: The real name of Michael Savage, the arch-conservative smear artist currently soiling the radio airwaves and the best-seller lists with his putrid, bilious, McCarthyist rants, is: Michael Weiner.


Gene Weingarten: I agree. This is a fabulous aptonym.

Washington, D.C.: Gene, do the responses to the chats and our questions to you influence what you may sometimes write in print or in the Post Magazine?

Gene Weingarten: Oh, definitely. I have done several columns around ideas generated from this chat. Gina and I went to the movies based on a suggestion from a chatter, for example. The guy who started a time travel fund -- a chatter tipped me to him, too.

Herndon, Va.: In other coalition news:
In a show of solidarity for it's coalition partners, Poland announced today it has sent 20,000 troops to the Gulf to help the coalition forces.

Mexico has no idea what to do with them.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you.

Medford, Mass.: Hello Gene,

I was intrigued by your use of "Shamans of Schadenfreude" in your introduction. As a writer for my college newspaper, I used schadenfreude in one of my columns, but my editor had no clue what it meant and thereby deleted it. Should I be disturbed by this? Is schadenfreude not a well known word in the English language? What should I say to my editor other than "Your vocabulary sucks?"

Gene Weingarten: Wow. I don't know what to say.

Well, tell your teacher that his lexicography needs amelioration. You will have made your point, and he won't know what you said.

You know, sort of like what Trudeau did on Sunday!

Concord, Mass.: "I may not like what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

Apparently withheld from longstanding allies who have the guts to call us on it when they think we're behaving like maniacs.

I may not agree with them, but I am impressed that they didn't cave under pressure.

Gene Weingarten: Interesting point.

Virtue Smirchue: Isn't it interesting that when someone on the right shows a wart, it's their own private wart and everybody should lay off, but if someone on the left shows a wart, he should got to jail or at the very least be executed? I mean, that whole pile of Santorum horse-pucky about what should or should not be private -- what next? Should we all have cameras in our bedrooms so the police can come and arrest us if we're doing something someone somewhere deems deviant? And who deems? I'm commencin' to not like this country so much anymore.

Gene Weingarten: There is something nasty afoot. I once befriended a journalist from Natal, South Africa, who told me what life was like there during the last decade of apartheid. "Miscegenation" was illegal, and there were miscegenation cops who would look through windows for evidence of sex acts between blacks and whites. If they garnered enough "evidence" that way, they were free to break the door in and feel the sheets for further "evidence." I am not making this up.

I wonder what Rick Santorum would think of this.

Happyland, Farfaraway: Gene, does anyone ever need a plate just for holding two dozen deviled eggs?

Gene Weingarten: I'm printing this question just because.

Tysons, Va.: Some friends and I are going to Las Vegas for a few days of debauchery. Care to join us? I'm thinking it will be like that movie, "The Real Cancun" but with a Washington Post columnist embedded. Also, it's cheaper if you rent the car.

Gene Weingarten: No, but I will forward your invitation to our attorney general. He looks like he could use a little relaxation.

Rockville, Md.: Hi Gene,
Please convey my gratitude to the Czar for finally taking a shot at that insipid "Autobiography as Haiku" feature.

Could the Post's PTB please consider switching this feature to the new Source section, and bringing Carolyn Hax back to Style? I have to put out the recycling on Sunday night, so it's convenient that some sections of the Sunday Post are entirely disposable.

Gene Weingarten: I actually LIKE Life is Short. I think something has to be pretty good to be ripe for parody, you know?

I do miss Carolyn.

Dupont Circle Bennett fan: Gambling isn't his only sin. Have you seen the waistline on that guy? Someone also needs to talk to him about the sin of gluttony. What kind of role model is he for our twinkie-gorging youth?

Gene Weingarten: A few people have pointed out that gambling is hardly a terrible sin. I agree. But this is a man who has made (and apparently squandered) a fortune being holier-than-thou. And I would argue that losing $8 million in gambling is not particularly friendly to your family, or a very good role model for other gambling addicts who are NOT megawealthy. And yes, he could lose a few pounds.

Alexandria, Va, the "Fun Side of the Potomac": Please everyone, stop having this serious discussion and take a gander at this: Disturbing Auctions

I especially like the Gator Bride and the Dean Martin hand puppet.

Gene Weingarten: Okay.

Springfield, USA: If not for the Simpsons, I would never have heard of schadenfreude. Homer feels it when Ned Flandersseses' store for left-handers, the Leftorium, failed. Leading to this wonderful exchange:

Lisa: Dad, do you know what schadenfreude is?
Homer: [Exasperated] Yes, I know what schadenfreude is!

washingtonpost.com: Side Note: Store across the mall from the Leftorium -- "Something Wicker This Way Comes."

Gene Weingarten: Am I missing something? Why is that exchange funny? I am going to feel stupid when someone explains.

A la Mode Invitationale: Thanks for printing the deviled egg question, it was my first laugh of the chat.

Gene Weingarten: Noted.

Barely Within the Beltway: Gene, Is it true that Sunday Source is written by and for people with Attention Deficit Disorder?

Gene Weingarten: It will grow on us! I am sure of it!

New York, N.Y.: Seen any good movies lately?

Gene Weingarten: No. I have seen Phone Booth, though.

Feeling neglected?: For all those people who can't get Gene's attention during the chats: Lower your standards and go next door. You'll feel better.

Marty Gallagher: Person - let me tell you something - that just tells me that you are not reading the 'leftovers' since I take some pride in the fact that I have answered every single question for over two years.

Gene Weingarten: WOW. My leftovers would fill the phone book.

With translation (and apologies to my HS French teacher): Laissez-moi comprendre. Les français nous aident dans la guerre révolutionnaire, et nous sommes reconnaissants. Ils envoient la
statue de la liberté. Nous sommes reconnaissants. Nous fournissons Jerry Lewis et un bon nombre d'argent, sauvez leurs ânes de Hitler, et eux luttent contre nous aux Nations Unies et fournissent des passeports pour des tyrants. Queest-ce que je suis absent ici?
Let me understand. The French help us a little in the Revolutionary War, and we are grateful. They send the Statue of Liberty. We are grateful. We provide trade, Jerry Lewis and lots of cash, save their -butts- from Hitler, and they fight against us in the United Nations and provide passports for tyrants. What am I missing here?

Gene Weingarten: As I said, this is not a bad question.

Pas Tres Intelligent, Va.: Schadenfreude? I took German in college - but my memory fails me... translation?

washingtonpost.com: From Merriam Webster: "Enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others."

Gene Weingarten: .

Washington, D.C.: Okay Gene. This may be more of a PtheP question. I was reading the magazine's article on Bob Graham this weekend and saw this line -- "He had a similar reputation as the Democratic chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, where he was dissed behind his back as the Tortoise for his earnest six-part questions and incessant requests for meetings."

Dissed? DISSED?! I can't believe that word has made it into journalistic writing. Is that really the standard? Thoughts from PtheP please?

Gene Weingarten: I have no problem with this at all. The language does grow. Dissed, which I believe comes from "disrespected," is now part of the lexicon. Pat?

Barely Within the Beltway: So, why no post mortem on the Bob Staake Live Online Discussion? Could it be because Staake was outrageously funny?

washingtonpost.com: Bob Staake, (Live Online, May 2)

Gene Weingarten: Oh, right. Staake was terrific. I would say about a third of that chat was a dialogue between him and me. I wonder if anyone guessed that. He did.

Pat the Perfect, ME: fyi: Next week, in response to the complaints of highbrows, Sunday Source will be written entirely in French.

Gene Weingarten: Hahahahahaha.

Springfield, USA: Another wonderful Simpsons item - at the church picnic the reverend stood at the ice cream table behind a sign that said "cruci-fixens."

Gene Weingarten: Wow. I love tiny moments. There was an INCREDIBLE moment in one of the early SNLs where you saw a couple of characters enter a gay bar. You just saw the name of the bar for one instant. It was "The Puckered Starfish."

The Airplane movies were full of this stuff, of course.

Uganda: Gene,

Kim O'Donnel is chatting live from Uganda today. When are you going to chat live from Uganda?

Gene Weingarten: Uganda? Is she calling the chat "Eat-ie Amin"? Hahahahahahahaha. Don't try this at home. I am a professional.

New York, N.Y.: The question asking Staake if he was blind was you, right?

Gene Weingarten: Of course.

Pat the Perfect, ME: Re "dissed": It was in a magazine feature story, not a hard-news dispatch, and yup, it's widely used informal American English.

Here's Webster's New World, which I personally adore:

dissed, dissing -Slang]
1 to show disrespect for; insult
2 to express strong disapproval of; condemn

Gene Weingarten: .

The Simpsons: I think the Homer schadenfreude thing was supposed to be funny because Homer is not really bright enough to know what the word means. It's not as funny as groundskeeper Willy calling a bunch of French people "cheese-eating surrender monkeys."

Gene Weingarten: I was afraid that was it. Not a pant wetter, as described.

Dissed: It may be part of the lexicon, but when used in any column other than yours or Barry's, it makes the writer sound like a twit. The two of you pull that off without unknowingly using words inappropriate to a publication of the Post's reknown.

Gene Weingarten: Nah, Grunwald is a terrific writer. He was using it appropriately. He meant it vernacularly.

Washington, D.C.: My favorite Simpson moment was at the prison. It was called Morningwood Penitentiary.

Gene Weingarten: Really? Wow.

Women in Tears: I don't know if other men feel this way, but when I discover my woman in tears, my stomach twists into knots.

Gene Weingarten: Yes, agreed. Tears are womankind's second strongest weapon.

We're done, folks. I am truly sorry about all the unanswered questions. I will send them all to Marty. See you next week.

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