Funny? You Should Ask
Hosted by Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 13, 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: The flabulous news today is that the FAA is requiring airlines to calculate an average of 21 pounds more per flier than they did a mere eight years ago. This follows the news that seatmakers for buses, ferries and movie theaters were expanding the standard widths of their product from 18 to 22 inches or more. Americans are broad-beamed and getting broader. Where will it all end, as it were?
BLOOMBERG MARKET NEWS, May 12, 2025 -- Record fourth-quarter earnings were reported Tuesday by Posterio, Inc., pioneer manufacturer of the "Bench Bicycle Seat...'
REUTERS, May 12, 2050 -- Cleveland announced the opening of its Museum of Doorways, remembering an earlier time when American houses actually had walls and oddly narrowed
spaces between "rooms" for people to squeeze through...
ASSOCIATED PRESS, May 12, 2075 -- American schools, citing a continuing rise in childhood obesity, set as a goal that by the turn of the century every schoolchild in
America should be able to rise from his sofa-stool unassisted by the use of a personal winch...
And so forth.
In other news, I hope you all saw that the makers of Playtex tampons are going to trial against the makers of Procter & Gamble tampons, claiming that P&G has made false
advertising claims that their tampon is better.
Please, um, insert your own joke here. Me, I don't want my head bitten off.
Today's runner-up comic pick of the week is Saturday's excellent Foxtrot. The clear winner on Comic Pick of the Week was correctly cited and linked by the first poster, below.
washingtonpost.com: Foxtrot (May 10)
Preemptive strike: How about todays Pearls Before Swine for meta humor -- author brings himself into the strip while also joking about other strips. Almost seems like the cartoonist is reading these chats, picking up on the likes/dislikes.
Gene Weingarten: I'd like to think that Pastis is taking these chats like semaphore signals, but, alas, his work is famously long-range. He draws these things up to a YEAR in advance. This comic here is genius.
Washington, D.C.: Jason Blair -- the New York Times' Janet Cook. Funny or not?
Gene Weingarten: Well, sure. But probably not to The Times.
Journalistic felons make an interesting rogue's gallery. Janet Cooke is like a big-time, one-shot murderer. Hers was a single crime of great enormity. She made up a story that moved good people to outrage, cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in wasted
police work, etc. Janet Cooke was O.J. Simpson or Lee Oswald.
Stephen Glass, the New Republic writer who invented subjects of complicated feature stories and covered his trail so well he even invented companies and Web sites to confirm his fictions -- Stephen Glass was an international cat burglar. He was Willie Sutton
-- slick, elusive, almost elegant in his amorality.
Ah, but Jayson Blair of the New York Times is something else again. His crimes were perhaps less impactful than either Glass's or Cooke's -- much of what he wrote was
actually TRUE, though shamelessly lifted from the work of others. But, not actually having done any reporting, he also kept making grotesque mistakes that required
corrections. He was so stupid he left a cellphone trail of his duplicity on his company
phone. Jayson Blair was a smash-and-run burglar named something like Izzy Pescatore, with a brick and good sneakers.
I will say that I thought the Times' mea culpa on Sunday (Meredith, can you link to this?) was pretty good, but not self-abasing enough. Too much on what an utter turd this
guy was, and not enough on how stupid The Times was, as an institution. They were amazingly complicit in letting this obvious fraud run wild waaaay after they knew he was
TTrouble. That's trouble with TWO capital T's.
(The Post did much better 22 years ago when we publicly ate ordure over Cooke. That piece, by Ombudsman Bill Green, set a nearly unmatchable standard for acts of
journalistic contrition and honesty.)
But was the Blair thing in some ways funny? Yeah.
One of the victims of Blair's thievery was my friend Tamara Jones, who had several quotes lifted from a story she did in March, out of Cleveland. Like most of us Post
reporters, Tammy is always late filing her expense reports, and she hasn't filed hers yet for the Cleveland trip. She's considering just sending it to The Times.
Upe, ND: I must say I am a bit suspicious of the authenticity of the debate published in your Sunday column. These were just fun ramblings off the top of your head, yes? What is the scoop?
Gene Weingarten: WHY DO PEOPLE THINK THIS???? THAT REPORTERS MAKE STUFF UP???
Oh, wait. Right.
No, no. If I say it happened, it happened. See the next post.
washingtonpost.com: Times Reporter Who Resigned Leaves Long Trail of Deception (New York Times, May 11)
Rat Cheer: Your column Sunday: do those two guys really hate each other, or was it a joke?
washingtonpost.com: Below the Beltway (Post, May 11)
Gene Weingarten: Both. Rick and Bruce really and truly have enormous contempt for each other. It is genuine and deep, in both directions. When I extended this opportunity, they both
gleefully jumped at it as a chance to be really mean to the other guy. However, both men understood this was a joke, and both, I think, joyfully went over the top. I doubt
that Rick truly wants Bruce dead or that Bruce wishes Rick had been aborted. Anyway, that's my official position.
Mostly, I thought they both looked like funny people, and good sports for participating.
New York, N.Y.: Plain or peanut M&Ms?
Gene Weingarten: Plain. Peanuts are reprehensible. Peanut and chocolate is a taste combination I never understood. Also, black forest cake -- cherry and chocolate -- simply does not work.
Landover, Md.: As a humorist, which of the NINE Democratic candidates do you want to win the nomination? Or who would make for the funny campaign against George W.? Why?
Gene Weingarten: After consulting with my podmate Mark Leibovich, who, unlike me, is a politics expert, we agree that Dennis Kucinich presents a compelling case. For one thing, he is
a kosher vegan. For another he appears to be campaigning on a record of having been the worst mayor in Cleveland's history.
Then there is Kerry. Much has been made of the notion that Kerry looks French. I think that is totally unfair. He looks like a corpse.
But in the end, you just GOTTA go with Sharpton. I mean, c'mon. He's the whole package.
Metacomix: Seems like you probably loved the way "Bloom County" ended, with all the major characters moving to other strips.
Man I miss Breathed. The comics page seems grayer since he left it.
Gene Weingarten: I miss Breathed, too. Coincidentally, I just talked to him for the first time in years. He is in Hollywood, happy, working on some Hollywood stuff. I really miss him.
Speaking of great strips ending, I wasn't crazy about the way Calvin and Hobbes ended. They went off in a sled, together. I would have preferred to have Calvin look at Hobbes and, for the first time, we see Calvin alone with Hobbes, and Hobbes look like a stuffed toy. Then Calvin shrugs and walks off.
New York, N.Y.: I agree that black forest cake does not work. But as for the peanut thing, how can you explain why a Snickers(TM) bar has a pleasant, enjoyable taste, but a Milky Way(TM) bar tastes like an unwashed camel? The only difference between the two is the peanuts.
Gene Weingarten: I disagree. I much prefer Milky Way. It's the peanuts. They don't work.
Washington, D.C.: Gene--
I need to pick a "first dance" song for my wedding. Any suggestions? Preferably something that does requiring "dancing" or "steps"
Gene Weingarten: I once wrote a play where someone compelled someone else, at gunpoint, to dance to "Pop Goes the Weasel." I recommend that.
Dupont, Washington, D.C.: I'm a pretty smart girl, but in this anonymous forum let me admit that I don't get the Pearls Before Swine strip. Would you condescend to explaining -- or at least giving a hint to -- the meaning of that last frame? (I do get the part that the Family Circus strips are round.)
Gene Weingarten: I'm not sure what's to get. The rat went to another, better drawn strip. The humor comes from Billy uttering the words "there's a rat in the refrigerator."
Falls Church, Va.: The book you dubbed "The Worse Novel in the World" becomes a cult hit on the internet. The town you dubbed the "Armpit of America" is reveling in the distinction with a party -- The Armpit Festival. Those exploits caused you to make it to Fark's front page twice in A SINGLE DAY!
How does it feel to be the patron saint of unintended consequences?
Gene Weingarten: Well, it feels great, but these were hardly unintended consequences. The whole idea of reviewing Burrows' book was that he would do it for publicity. I told him I thought it would get him 500 sales or more. He probably got more.
And as for the Armpit -- An antiperspirant company is underwriting the cost of the Armpit Festival. That is precisely the reason I did that story. The story ended with my telling the town, be mad at me if you want, but go get an antiperspirant company to bankroll your town.
washingtonpost.com: This is the Pearls Before Swine strip Gene meant to refer to...
SW Washington, D.C., the forgotten quadrant: I am interested in the logistics of who sits where at the Post. Are reporters randomly assigned a soul sucking cubicle, no matter what section of the paper s/he reports to or is there some higher rationale?
Gene Weingarten: Sections of the paper are situated together. I am in Style. But within sections there is not much rhyme or reason. I am surrounded by Tim Page, who reviews classical music, Leibovich, who does politics, David Montgomery, who does general features, and, until a few days ago, film reviewer Desson Howe.
washingtonpost.com: Deodorant Co. to Sponsor Armpit Festival (AP, May 12)
Why, ME: A general question -- why do we say someone went the whole nine yards when a football player is ten yards. Is there a ye olde English history to this phrase? Also, we say someone is dressed to the nines. What is up with that?
Gene Weingarten: I don't know. Pat?
Knightswhosay, NE: In reading archives of past chats, I read with interest your response concerning the 'guy with no arms and no legs' jokes. I am wondering why the stock of such jokes seems not to be growing. Hypothesis: once the joke with 'Russell' as the punch line was formulated, people gave up trying to top it, knowing it couldn't be done.
What do you call a guy (or gal) with no arms and no legs on a piece of toast?
Gene Weingarten: I have heard better ones than Russell, I think, but don't recall them now. I do think even better than Russell is the name you call a guy with no head, neck, torso, legs or arms.
Comicville: Gene, three out of the last four weeks, I correctly predicted your 'pick of the week.' Of course, this weeks was extremely obvious... and possibly the funniest strip in year!
I am thinking of starting an office pool on it. If I do, could you give me your pick a little early?
Gene Weingarten: Will there be kickbacks involved?
Bolt Out Of The Blue: Whole 9 yards refers to tailors using the whole piece (bolt?) of cloth to make a quality suit.
Gene Weingarten: Ah. Cool. And the other one?
No way!: Well, what about peanut BUTTER and chocolate?
Gene Weingarten: Nope. I hate Reese's to pieces.
Marcuswelby, Md.: Kudos to Darragh Johnson for slipping a hip pop-culture reference into his article on ants.
Style section irreverancy breaks out into Metro!
washingtonpost.com: Ants in Your Pantry? You're Not Alone (Post, May 12)
Gene Weingarten: I have now read this story twice and I am not finding what you are referring to. I am sure I will be exposed as an old fuddy, but I don't see it.
But I will pass along your compliment to Darragh. And I will inform her on your behalf that she is a man.
Below PETA's Gun Belt: Were either or both Mr. Friedrich or Mr. Berman the least bit friendly? Was there any laughter following any of the fiery exchanges? Did you feel uncomfortable in your role as mediator?
Gene Weingarten: No. Everyone knew what was going on. Total arm's length deal. It was really fun.
New York, N.Y.: Last week someone asked why the Web site listed different SI winners than the print edition. Your explanation was that some editor got antsy and changed the print edition at the last minute, but there wasn't time to change the web site. Is it actually easier to change the print edition of the paper than it is to change a Web site at the last minute? That seems counter-intuitive, no?
Gene Weingarten: Right. If I said that, I misspoke. Someone FORGOT to change the Web site.
Choco, LA: How about dark chocolate?
Gene Weingarten: No. Milk chocolate. Dark chocolate is made from corpses. So is curry, but that's a whole nother discussion.
As is the use of "a whole nother."
Atlanta, Ga.: RE -- the whole nine yards. It refers to ammunition belts in WWII fighter planes. They were 27 feet long, so if a pilot fired the whole thing at a target it got "the whole nine yards"
Gene Weingarten: Aha. This is interesting. See the next post, too.
Nine Yards: It's a construction term, coming from how cement or concrete is measured. To get the "whole nine yards" is to get the full load of cement. It has nothing to do with football.
Gene Weingarten: Possibly all this is wrong.
Is Gene Gina?: Gene, I know I'm a week late with this -- I have a baby so I'm perpetually behind in reading the paper -- but one line in your conversation with Gina about whether she exists did give me pause and make me wonder whether she is, in fact, you: She correctly used the phrase "you couldn't care less." Now, practically everyone uses the infuriatingly contradictory "I/you/he could care less" to mean the exact opposite, but I am sure that you would use the phrase correctly. I realize Gina is supposed to be a professor of English and presumably knows how to write and speak, but on the other hand, is it too much of a coincidence to imagine that BOTH Gene and Gina are among the few, the proud, the people who think about what words really mean?
washingtonpost.com: Below the Beltway (Post, May 4)
Gene Weingarten: Gina is real.
Gina is real.
Gina is real.
I would not make up someone who beats me up all the time. Gina, if you are out there, could you please send in a post in which you disclose something that no man could possibly know. Say something in your post that will tell me it's you.
I am looking for something that will inform every single woman reading this chat that you must be a woman.
Not P the P, but a Wordsmith Nonetheless: Gene:
Apparently there's no consensus on the derivation of "the whole nine yards." See this article for details.
Gene Weingarten: Noted. Thank you.
Washington, D.C.: Gene, according to the Post home page, the "Hirshhorn Museum is one of Washington's most unique buildings." Which buildings do you suppose are even "more" unique?
Gene Weingarten: Sigh. That shouldn't happen.
Unique, N.Y.: Did you see where Katie Couric (or more likely, a producer who may now be looking for a new job) mistook the Post's satirical Bob Graham daily diary for the real thing, and grilled him on why he bothered to plan in such detail? Do you think the Post needs to more clearly say when it is joking? Perhaps a disclaimer that says, "WE'RE JUST KIDDING, FOLKS! PLEASE DON'T TAKE SERIOUSLY WHAT YOU ARE ABOUT TO READ."
Gene Weingarten: Shhhhhhhhhhh. Don't say that. The editors always try to do that. They'll label satire "SATIRE," thereby destroying it as satire.
Yes, this article was written by Mark Leibovich. It was very clear what he was doing -- no doubt at all -- but whatever editor cut it from the news failed to notice, and handed it to a soon-to-be-cagrined Katie.
Whole 9 Yards....: I'm not sure the Tailor response was accurate. According to The Straight Dope, the phrase originated in WWII when machine gun bullets for planes were manufactured in sheets that were 27 feet long. Hence, when someone got shot at, if they got the whole blast they got the Whole 9 Yards.
Great Sunday article.
Gene Weingarten: Right. This appears to be one line of thought.
Look, MA: The Post Ombudsman spoke to my high school language class yesterday, and mentioned that he had had a number of "run-ins" with you over the contents of the Style Invitational, as submitted by the "pack of weirdos" who "win every week." My question is: is the Ombudsman really so out of touch that he has you confused with the Czar? (I'm thinking yes, because he also called you "extremely intelligent.")
Gene Weingarten: No, he and I have had many run-ins. The Czar is very private and reclusive. He does not communicate directly with ANY other editors at The Post. He uses intermediaries.
Gambrills, Md.: Your preferred ending for "Calvin and Hobbes" suggests you are a glass-is-half-empty kinda guy.
If Calvin had realized Hobbes was just a stuffed toy, then childhood would have ended. This way, fans of the strip will always remember Calvin the way he was: a precocious, impetuous youth with a fantastic imagination. (Perhaps reinforcing our own visions/misconceptions about our own youth).
Gene Weingarten: I understand. I know why Watterson did it that way. I respect the decision. But the other way would have brought tears to tens of thousands of eyes, and lumps in throats. I would have gone there. Just a disagreement. His was a worthy end. He chose the high road.
Laurel, Md.: Anyone who doubts Gina's real should visit Amazon.com and type her name to the search engine (full name is "Regina Berraca"). You'll get 26 hits, though mostly as an editor.
BTW, Gene, have you ever read any of them? Are any funny?
Gene Weingarten: Yep, I particularly like "Perfect Husbands" and "They Used to Call Me Snow White But I Drifted."
Her REAL name is Gina. That was the name on her birth certificate.
Ants Marching, Md.: The line "All the little ants go marching, red and black, antennae waving," is from a song by Dave Matthews.
Gene Weingarten: Ah, thank you. I knew I was missing something. I don't like Dave Matthews at all. I call his music "wallpaper." My daughter strongly disagrees.
Calvin & Hobbes: It's my personal opinion that Hobbes WAS real. The parents were too blind to see it.
Gene Weingarten: That is precisely why Watterson ended it the way he did.
Annapolis, Md.: Gene,
Do you secretly hate all things Indian? First, there was the pooping in the Ganges thing. Now there's the anti-curry thing. And if I remember correctly, you're anti-turmeric also. What up?
PS: Ever see the Daily Show skit about "Curry in a Hurry?" Genius!
Gene Weingarten: I LOVE the Indian English accent. It is my favorite accent.
New York, N.Y.: Why "wallpaper?"
Gene Weingarten: It has no hook. I hear it as background music.
Eastern Market, Washington, D.C.: You have the same hair that I had back when I graduated from high school in 1975. I want it back. My current hair is inadequate, and you clearly aren't showing good stewardship of our shared hair. I think I can do better.
Gene Weingarten: I apologize. I do have a lot of hair, and I do treat it badly, and my balding friends hate me for it.
New York, N.Y.: Is there anything the we, as the pack of weirdos, might be able to e-mail to the ombudsman to ease tensions between the two of you?
Gene Weingarten: I think I can leave this up to you.
Elsin from Knoxville, Tenn.: Speaking of Americans weighing more, I just bought an outdoor chair which has on the tag, "Will support up to 215 pounds."
What do I do? Eye all visitors as they come up to my porch and scream, "Don't sit down there!!" if I think they're uncomfortably close to 215 pounds?
Gene Weingarten: IS THIS ELSIN PERRY? How you doing?
Yes, you need to place a scale near the chair.
Dave Matthews is...: Kenny G. with lyrics.
Gene Weingarten: That's how I hear it. I think we are in the minority.
Practical Jokes: Funny or not?
Gene Weingarten: Absolutely. The more elaborate the better. One millionaire in Brazil had an upside down room constructed in his home, with the chandelier coming stiffly up from the floor, and a bed and dresser bolted to the ceiling, etc. When someone got hugely drunk and passed out at the bar nearby, the bartender would bring them over, and place them on the ceiling-floor. The walls were one-way glass. People would come to watch him wake up. EVERYONE blinked twice, and grabbed for the chandelier.
Dressed to the nines: No one knows. Robert Burns mentions nature as painted to the nines in 1793, and "dressed to the nines" appeared in an 1859 slang dictionary, but it's an extremely old phrase and no one -- not even the OED -- really knows where it comes from.
Gene Weingarten: Okay.
Barely Within the Beltway: Gene, is it true that the Sunday Source section is actually President Bush's Sunday CIA Briefing?
Gene Weingarten: Hahahahahaha.
Santa Fe, N.M.: Is HAHAHAHAHA your highest form of praise?
Gene Weingarten: Yes.
Washington, DC: Gene, I'm sure we'll all come to grow and love the Sunday Source, but this Sunday's edition had a photo of Scott Baio kneading bread on the front page. Scott Baio? And if he's old to have jowls, shouldn't he be old enough to grow a full mustache?
Gene Weingarten: Yeah, I thought the Scott Baio thing was terrible. However, I kind of liked the guide to Gettysburg.
I don't know if you noticed but there are a LOT of ads in this section. People are probably liking it. I am always wrong about these things.
San Jose, Calif.: "It was a mistake, and a result of an overzealous attempt to ensure that our safety net systems can respond to all customers and clients."
-- Multnomah County official Diane Linn on the now-rescinded decision to include Klingon on a list of 55 languages that might be spoken by incoming mental health patients
washingtonpost.com: This isn't a joke
Gene Weingarten: That's great.
Baltimore, Md.: I was up in Connecticut this weekend visiting family -- flipped the radio on to the local news channel and heard an women's health advertisement from Gina Barreca. It made me want to run right out and get a mammogram.
Are you concerned about her rising superstardom possibly overshadowing you?
Gene Weingarten: No. We are writing a book together. I am ROOTING for her rising superstardom.
Towson, Md.: From the online column "Funny Paper" in the Baltimore City Paper, by Scocca and MacLeod:
Some readers apparently didn't get past the initial "Huh?" stage. One of them wrote in to Washington Post humorist Gene Weingarten, who dabbles in comics analysis in his value-added washingtonpost.com chats. Weingarten explained the gag, opining that it was almost his favorite gag of the week.
Now, Funny Paper happens to dislike Gene Weingarten, owing to something scummy Weingarten did a few years back. But he is a funny writer, and he's usually intelligent about comedy. Here, however, he missed the boat entirely. The snake gag resembles a very funny gag, in that it hovers right at the edge of un-gettability, producing a moment of confusion before the gag hits home. But it's not confusing because it's making a daring conceptual leap. It's confusing because it's confusingly written.
Care to comment?
Gene Weingarten: I'd like to know the scummy thing I did. I shall have to inquire.
But I have no idea what this guy is talking about, regarding the snake joke. I explained the snake joke. It was a good joke because it was a good joke. It was two snakes, one of whom was looking for his glasses, which were right next to him, and the spouse snake said, "If it were a human it would cut your head off and skin you." Or something like that.
I have no idea what this dork is criticizing.
New York, N.Y.: Let me be clear that this is not any kind of endorsement whatsoever.
I went into Barnes and Noble this weekend to reserve your new book and they told me it was called "Untitled Book on Relationships." Is this what you have decided to go with?
Gene Weingarten: Hahaha. No, we have a title. It is an excellent title. I am not sure I am permitted to disclose it. I'll check.
Herndon, Va.: Practical jokes: The best compilation I ever read (now long out of print) was collected by the American humorist H. Allen Smith, under the title (if my memory is working)"The Compleate Practical Joker."
Gene Weingarten: I have that book, it is indeed excellent, and it is my source for the upside-down room.
Washington, D.C.: Hi Gene --
This weekend I was glancing through the Enfield Advertiser, a local paper for a borough just outside of London. The first thing that caught my eye was an article on the awarding of a trophy to the local football club. It seems that the Chestnut Football Club "is sponsored by Temptations, a sex shop based in the Chesnut Centre in High Street."
Brilliant, I thought. We're so puritanical compared to the British. As confirmation of this, a few pages later there was an add for the closure of a wood flooring warehouse -- they were being forced to sell off "over one million square metres of top quality erotic wood floors from around the world."
That is one wild and crazy country.
Gene Weingarten: What are erotic wood floors?
Billy?!?: The humor comes from Billy uttering the words "there's a rat in the refrigerator."
It was clearly Jeffy, not Billy, who uttered those words.
Oops! I've said too much!
Gene Weingarten: Sorry. And we end today on a note of the press SCREWING UP AGAIN.
See you next week. This was fun.
Somewhere, USA: You're funny, but you're also quite mean. Do you have a soft side at all?
Gene Weingarten: *&@$! you.
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