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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 27, 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.

Last week my Labrador retriever, Harry, decided it was time to, y'know, visit a farm in the country. But first he began engaging in typical I'm-an-old-dog-fixin'-to-die
behavior, including inappropriate drooling and panting, sudden inability to eat, move, open his eyes, etc. Harry kept this up long enough to amass $1,200 in vet bills and
then decided he was okay after all, thank you. In gratitude he looked up at us with his rheumy, 11-year-old eyes, and peed. He is on steroids now, and this turns him into a Bladder-Majic urine processing machine, requiring us to leave all toilet seats up at all times, and walk him about every seven minutes.

My point is that I had a bad week last week. Fortunately, The Washington Post is a great big comfy familial place, alert to signs of personal stress in its employees, and eager to assist them with patience and compassion. And so it was that my editor, Tom
the Butcher, patiently and compassionately KILLED ALL THREE OF MY ATTEMPTS AT COLUMNS last week, on the grounds that they were, and I quote, "not remotely funny.‘ So I had
to write all day yesterday.

Then, last night, my daughter's boyfriend arrived for an extended visit. Jeremy is a great guy, and immediately volunteered to walk Harry, who needed to pee real bad. While Jeremy was out with the dog, someone stole his car with virtually everything he owned inside.

So, how was YOUR week?

Today I am going to try to actually, for once, correctly communicate my comic pick of the week with washingtonpost.com, so there can be no possible mistake. The pick this week is obvious, for its breathtaking originality. Liz, put it out there.

Questions, comments?

Washington, D.C.: How embarrassed are you coming in second to a criminal defense lawyer (albeit a brilliant one) in your e-mail humor duel? You're not even the funniest Weingarten in D.C.

Gene Weingarten: See the next posting.

Gene Weingarten: Actually, what I meant to say was, thanks for writing in, Reid. See the next posting.

Santa Fe, N.M.: Re: your column Sunday

You seriously didn't KNOW this lawyer person before e-mailing him threats? You are my new hero.

Gene Weingarten: No, I didn't know when I started sending him threat, and, more interestingly, he didn't realize we were writing a column together until halfway through our
correspondence! This was just two guys, being guys.

Of some small additional interest: My wife's name is Arlene Reidy. Because she and I agree that "Arlene' is a name unworthy of utterance, I have always called her "Reidy,' shortened to "Reid.' So this monster at Steptoe and Johnson has appropriated my entire
household. I am surprised he didn't name his son "Molly.'

He was really good, wasn't he?

Howdy, Mo.: Are you or are you not going to write a limerick about a national news event of historic importance?

Gene Weingarten: Give me a sec.

washingtonpost.com: B.C., (May 27)

Washington, D.C.: Did you have to (or out of courtesy did you) ask for Mr. Weingarten's permission to publish the e-mail exchange between you guys?

Gene Weingarten: Um, yes. I do not have the cojones to publish private correspondence between myself and A BIG SHOT CRIMINAL LAWYER WHO HAS LITIGATED MILLION DOLLAR CASES without getting his approval. If you see my point.

Gene Weingarten: There once was a Timesman named Blair

Who wrote with great color and flair.

Because he was full

Of the ordure of bull

He'll soon be a new millionaire.

Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C.: Gene, I think that Saturday's "Boondocks" pretty much sums up why I read the strip. Maybe it isn't always funny, but when it is I am never disappointed.

washingtonpost.com: The Boondocks, (Saturday, May 24)

Gene Weingarten: Agreed. I'd rather than he try and fail than not try. Like that B.C.

What's next on Johnny Hart's list? Why did the moron throw the clock out the window?

Re: Harry: So sorry and I hope he lives for a while yet. I lost a dog to a brain tumor earlier this year. I guess it's "fortunate" that she only managed to rack up $400 of vet bills before the tumor got her. Funny how we get so attached to the little critters.

Gene Weingarten: I once had a parrot who cost $1,200 in 1978 dollars to die. I had to borrow money to pay it.

New York, N.Y.: Do the further resignations at the New York Times signal a shift in the paradigm of how newspapers function? Is that scary?

Gene Weingarten: What is happening at the Times is a shame. I fear there is a witch hunt. Some witches may die, but I think more innocents might go.

West of Washington, D.C.: Wow, a lawyer with a sense of humor. Who knew?

Gene Weingarten: Well, my wife is a lawyer with a sense of humor. But this is a rare bird.

Your Brother, Reid: Did you get a look at this wonderful '70s mug of Reid?
Business Week Online

Other than the hair, he basically looks the same today:
Steptoe & Johnson, LLP

Gene Weingarten: Yeah, these pictures are terrific.

Veterinary Care Costs: Gene,

You got off cheap, even for the parrot. If an elderly human relative had been involved, the medical tab for useless procedures while the relative was waiting around to die would run into six figures.

Gene Weingarten: Well, yes. But there's insurance for that.

Antomym (or whatever they're called): A Muslim woman is going to court against the state this week in her fight to wear a veil that covers most of her face for her driver's license photo. The Assistant Attorney General in the case? Jason Vail.

Gene Weingarten: Man, that is both a funny story AND a funny aptonym.

Laurel, Md.: Gene, is the story it taking about Mrs. Truman 30 years to get her husband to say "manure" the funniest true annecdote about any U.S. President?

Is it any part of the reason you named your dog for him?

Gene Weingarten: No, the funniest anecdote about a president is the reason that President James K. Polk, who was both good and popular and could easily have won reelection, chose not to run: Diarrhea.

We named Harry Harry because the kids thought "Harry" was funny, and I insisted on the Truman part to give it absurdity.

15th and L: Maybe my eyes are going bad, but I couldn't decipher what this week's prize is in the SI. I read it twice and it still said it was a wooden replica, but didn't specify what it was a replica of. Could you ask the Czar what the prize is so that I don't have to walk around wondering what the hell the SI is giving away this week.

Gene Weingarten: It is a wooden replica of a casino in Windsor, Ontario. It didn't say that?

washingtonpost.com: Sorry about the technical difficulties today, folks. Apparently this is not my week. -- Liz

Washington, D.C.: Do you play golf? Why or why not?

Gene Weingarten: I do not. And the reason I do not is contained in the following column. Liz?

DC: The B.C. link takes us to yesterday's strip about the fish that was caught and released. Did you mean to direct us today's about the fresh shrimp?

washingtonpost.com: The one we've got listed online for May 27 is re: fresh shrimp. I want to go back home and start over.


Liz, do we not have the fish?

New York, N.Y.: Didn't you go golfing once with a Priest, Rabbi and Minister?

Gene Weingarten: I did. The priest was much better than the others, and the rabbi got pissed.

washingtonpost.com: Gene's Golf column, (Oct. 20, 2002)

washingtonpost.com: The correct B.C.

Eastern Market, Washington, D.C.: Gene -- I saw you having dinner at La Plaza Friday night. Judging from what was in front of you (besides your beautiful wife), may I assume that you don't keep kosher? And is it worth ordering on my next visit?

Gene Weingarten: Right. I do not keep kosher. I am not a very good Jewish person. I even married a shiksa. The restaurant is pretty good. I had a great fish soup-stew. But the best thing about it is that it opened the week after a McDonald's closed next door!

Springfield, Va.: Well, I can already tell that Sunday's column is going to earn you many "did you make that up?" comments. In case you need some back-up then I can honestly say that I have met Ross Weingarten and seen him play high school basketball. That doesn't really prove anything, but at least we know you've got your facts right!

washingtonpost.com: Below the Beltway, (Post Magazine, May 25)

Gene Weingarten: Actually, I got the idea for the column by seeing a photo in the Post of Ross Weingarten sliding into second base. He is apparently quite an athlete. Anyway, I thought: I'll bet that's Reid's son, and I e-mailed Reid the next day.

Technoville: You need at least a two hour chat.

washingtonpost.com: Are you people trying to kill me?

Gene Weingarten: Or me?

Virginia: Gene: What was wrong with Harry? Man, having a sick dog is unfun.

Gene Weingarten: Harry's ailment is still undiagnosed. I'm sure he has at least another $2,000 of vet bills left in that old ticker.

Jeremy : How did Jeremy do in his first encounter with you? What sort of questions did you pose to him? Did your daughter make an impassioned plea beforehand that you not make a fool out of yourself?

Gene Weingarten: Jeremy is a shrewd, shrewd man. He left NOTHING to chance. He arranged that we meet for the first time AT A YANKEE GAME. He is an avid fan, as am I.

It was almost diabolical. There was no way I was not going to like him.

New York, N.Y.: I think the BC strip is actually doing something clever. Since the setting of this comic is the stone age, couldn't this be the actual origin of this incredibly old, hackneyed joke? Could this be a new level of subtlety on the comic page?

Gene Weingarten: If only. Alas, Hart completely abandoned the caveman conceit 30 years ago. His characters regularly refer to computers, airplanes and, um, Jesus Christ. They might as well be characters on a modern sitcom.

I grieve for this. Do you guys know that in the beginning he was very, very good?

Pittsburgh, Pa.: Don't worry about not being a good Jewish person. I, an African-American Episcopalian woman, had to remind my Jewish husband that the reason his favorite deli was closed one weekend was because it was Yom Kippur! His response: "It is??"

Gene Weingarten: That's me! That's me!

Washington, D.C.: James K. Polk was good? Politically or ethically? Granted, he is always cited as the only president to achieve all of his campaign promises, but most of them involved annexing territory from other nations (say, Mexico?) and then being pretty lenient about the whole introducing slavery there thing. Abraham Lincoln, John Quincy Adams, and Henry David Thoreau had some problems with this.

A better anecdote is the possibility that James Buchanan, our only unmarried president, and Rufus King, a vice-president who died in Cuba without serving any time in the office in this country, were gay lovers.

Gene Weingarten: Well, Polk was honest, and if he had remained deaf to the slavery question twenty years later, I would agree with you. But he was more a man of the Jefferson era than the Pierce-Buchanan era. Also, Polk was deeply and sweetly in love with his wife, and as I recall his deathbed words were calling her name, and I find that almost unbearably poignant.

I don't think that King and Buchanan have been officially outed, but it seems likely. Their enemies of the time called them something like "Aunt Fancy and Uncle Nancy." I may have that a little wrong.

RE: Hart & B.C: Every once in a while, Hart STILL can be funny, even while proselytizing. But, these comics are few and far between.

Gene Weingarten: Agreed.

LOL: Did you and Reid patch things up when you asked his permission to print it?

Gene Weingarten: I told him halfway through. He was fine. He understood completely what was happening. And, y'know. He sort of ... won.

Lawyers LOVE to win.

B.C.: B.C. was great in the late 60s early 70s, and Hart was the heir apparent to Walt Kelley. Why is finding religion so utterly destructive to one's sense of humor?

Gene Weingarten: I don't think religion is destructive to a sense of humor. I think EXTREME zealotry in ALL forms is destructive to a sense of humor.

I have observed this before: Bruce Friedrich, of PETA, is a very very funny man until the topic turns to animal rights. He can't be funny about that.

Annandale, Va.: I believe that the Czar erred in this week's Style Invitational in not awarding a more significant honor to the Muldoon concerning the agile young lass from Fort Hunt. I contracted a prolonged case of stifled giggles, with my young daughters bouncing around asking me what was so funny. I had to indicate another of the entries, resulting in their conviction that I have a really stupid sense of humor.

Gene Weingarten: You are the second person to observe this. I will post the first one below, because it has a link.

Manassas, Va.: I would like to point out an editing error in this past Sunday’s Style Invitational. It looks like the winning entry was mixed in among the honorable mentions. You know the one; it was about cracking nuts.

washingtonpost.com: The Style Invitational, (Post, May 25)

Gene Weingarten: Here.

Southern Maryland: Sorry to hear about Harry's illness. I recommend Merrill Markoe's humor books, which cover a lot of her life with her dogs. When writing about Bob, Stan and Lewis, she can be funny and touching at the same time.

Gene Weingarten: Speaking of dog books, Daniel Pinkwater's last book, all about dogs, is brilliant, brilliant writing.

Either, OR: Johnny Hart or Jennifer Hart?

Gene Weingarten: Please.

Moving to New York, N.Y.: Hi Gene,

I'm here in New York, visitng with my soon-to-be hubby, and we went to our first Yankees game yesterday. Despite the rain, the wind, the delay, and the loss, we had a fabulous time. I can't believe that all we have to do to drink beer, eat some dogs, and watch a game is walk three blocks to the 4 train, get on, and 35 minutes later we are there! We are looking now for as many tickets as we can get our hands on for the summer. Lemme just say that the Yankees have changed the way I feel about moving to New York... this is going to be a LOT of fun!

Gene Weingarten: Man, you are giving me nostalgia.

But they LOST. Clemens got lit up like the Hindenburg! You can't be a real fan.

New York, N.Y.: I am a hypochondriac. I am also in love with a med student. This has not helped my ailment. I now know how to take my own blood pressure. She wants to practice drawing blood. Should I let her practice on me?

Gene Weingarten: Sure. Get used to it. If you get married, she'll be drawing a lot more blood.

Virginia: So, is the Jeremy/Molly scenario playing out like the Gene/Gene's wife scenario: Doofus guy gets hot, slinky dame with his cleverness, not his looks?

Gene Weingarten: Sigh. No. Jeremy's got looks, too. Damn him.

Calling PtheP : "At a Yankee game"? I thought the team was called the Yankees. Would you say "at a Beatle concert"?

Gene Weingarten: No, but when you grow up in the Bronx, you say "Yankee" game. You also stand "on" line to get tickets.

Ceralvo, Ky.: Why is it that you are not a member of the Washington Post Writer's group?

Are you afraid to be a member of an organization that will allow George Will in? (i.e., the Groucho Marx line about "I don't care to belong to any club that would accept me as a member.") or is it that you are actually a syndicated bought guy and don't really work at The Washington Post at all?

Just puzzled about this seeming avoidance of the hoi polloi... (is that OK, using 'The' in front of 'hoi' in "hoi polloi", Pat?)

Gene Weingarten: They won't have me as a member.

Exactly in Betwen the Weingarten Offices, D.C.: It's not that Hart isn't funny -- it's that only those who have found peace with their One True Savior know what the hell he's talking about. The rest of us are just going to burn, slowly, for all eternity, anyway. Just ask him.

Gene Weingarten: Yes, true.

Dogsville: Speaking of dogs, two questions.

First, have you read the book "The Inner Life of Dogs" and do you agree that dogs' emotional lives are as complex and involved as that of humans? The stereotype is that their emotional life consists of "food, GOOD, strange dogs, BAD"....

Second, do you think people should be licensed to own a dog? I just had the interesting experience of being turned down by a dog breeder (parents of a friend of mine) to obtain one of his dogs -- my family and I were "not ready" in his expert opinion. Is any first time owner really "ready" for a dog? For that matter, is any first-time parent really "ready" for a child? You can do all the reading and preparing you want, but you don't know until you have one, right?

Gene Weingarten: "Food, good, strange dogs, and bad" seems pretty close to me. You'd have to add "I love you," though.

BC: What I find interesting is that a comic like "Pearls before Swine" can sometimes take what would be an otherwise lousy pun, or silly joke and turn it on its head and wring a whole new dose of humor out of it all over again. Yesterday's strip, about "killing time" is a classic example of how Pastis does that.

washingtonpost.com: Pearls Before Swine, (May 26)

Gene Weingarten: The guy is leaving all others in the dust. It's true. This is pretty weak, and he still manages to give it some edge.

Alexandria, Va.: Who is Liz?

Gene Weingarten: I'm surprised Liz sent this one through to me.

Cash Back, Va.: Gene,
Do you volunteer to do this chat or does The Post require you to do it? Do you get paid extra? If so, don't you think it's only fair you divide it up with us after you pay off the vet?

Gene Weingarten: If I subtracted what I paid the vet from what I get paid for the chats, and divided up the remainder among you guys, you'd each be owing me some money.

Baltimore, Md.: Your dust-up with the Baltimore City Paper writer over your story about a dubious miracle reminded me of how Baltimore's Cardinal Keeler handled another "miracle" a couple of years ago.

An aging parish in downtown Baltimore was being closed over the complaints of its few remaining parishoners. Then, suddenly, one of the parishoners reported seeing visions of the Virgin in the shadows of the church's steeple at night. Surely, the Diocese couldn't close the church now? So how did the Cardinal handle this miracle? He ordered the steeple lights shut off at night. No shadows, no vision, no reason not to close the church.

Gene Weingarten: Excellent!

Ida know, OR: Will flattery get me anywhere with Liz? Will my question rise to the top like cream?

washingtonpost.com: ahem

Gene Weingarten: Well, this one did.

Please Send More Democrats To, Virginia: Two words: Tucker Carlson's hair.
need i say more?

washingtonpost.com: (stet)

Gene Weingarten: Tucker Carlson's hair looks EXACTLY like Howdy Doody's hair, which looks EXACTLY like Alfred E. Neumann's hair.

Pat the Perfect, ME: So, being from the Bronx, would you also say "a Met game"? Yeah, I know, being from the Bronx, you would have no occasion to use this phrase regardless.

"Hoi" in Greek means "the," so "the hoi polloi" would mean "the the masses." Given that it is no longer consider a foreign phrase, you have the right not to worry about its literal meaning in Greek. But do it at the peril of The Wrath of the Free For All-Type People.
I know someone who insists that it is redundant to say "Sahara Desert," because Sahara means desert in Arabic.

Gene Weingarten: Yes, it IS a Met game, in N.Y.

Also, everyone says "ATM" machine, right?

Re: BC and the shrimp: That's a Ziggy gag from years ago.

Gene Weingarten: A ZIGGY gag? That was probably a Yellow Kid gag. That gag is older than vaudeville. That gag is so old Milton Berle would have been embarrassed to steal it.

Upper Support, BR: On Bob Levey's chat, Governor Warner indicated he might send a bra to RFK. How about you?

McLean, VA: Governor:
Elliot Segal of DC101 is doing a "Bras Across RFK" promotion to raise money to fight breast cancer. His station is also doing a "Brauction" to sell bras signed by celebrities, to augment the money raised. Gov. Ehrlich sent his in. How about it, Governor? Don't let MD one-up us!

Gov. Mark Warner: Show me the bra that Bob Ehrlich sent you, and maybe I'll consider it.

Gene Weingarten: I like the use of the word "augment" in the question.

Gov. Ehrlich sent HIS in? Hm.

Better Than U.: I never say "ATM machine."
I also avoid "scuba gear" and "U.N. countries."

Gene Weingarten: Noted.

Corioliseffe, CT: From last week's chat:
"The Coriolis Effect does, indeed, swirl water in the opposite direction in the lower hemisphere."

The funny part is your earlier statement that "A LOT of journalists are getting very careful these days." Bad Coriolis

Gene Weingarten: Yes, a couple of people referred me to this site. I stand corrected.

Inna Gadda Da Vi, DA: On his new CD, Weird Al has a song ("Bob") in the style of Bob Dylan, comprised entirely of palindromes. (My favorite is "Lisa Bonet ate no Basil").

In your mind, does this qualify as genius?

Gene Weingarten: I haven't heard the song, but that line is great, and the concept of a palindromic song is excellent. Why isn't the word for palindrome Palindromemordnilap?

Gene Weingarten: Oooops. Out of time.

We talk next week, yes?

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