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Gene Weingarten
Gene Weingarten
(Illustration by Richard Thompson)
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Funny? You Should Ask Discussion Archive
The Style Invitational
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Funny? You Should Ask
Hosted by Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer

Tuesday, June 03, 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.

In preparing to write last Sunday's column, I had to re-familiarize myself with some classic children's literature, including Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie. This resulted in two remarkable discoveries. The first is that Peter Pan, as written by Barrie, was, essentially, restrained, heavily entendred child pornography. We'll provide a link to Chapter Three, where Peter meets Wendy, urges her to come with him to Neverland, and promises to respect her in the morning. Wendy is quite flushed and flustered and excited at the prospect.

This led to further research, in which I learned that, as a child, after Mr. Barrie's older brother died in a tragic accident; afterward, to please his grieving mother Mr. Barrie dressed up in his dead brother's clothes and had long conversations with her as the dead guy. Allegedly, Mr. Barrie also failed to physically grow after that point, retaining the dimensions of a little boy.

Then he wrote Peter Pan!

Let us all also recall that Lewis Carroll really really really liked little girls, if you get my drift. Margaret Wise Brown loved to watch specially trained fighting rabbits tear themselves apart. E.B. White and Dr. Seuss appear to have been relatively sane, in the sense of not being totally off their gourds.

Finally, the regular readers of this chat know that washingtonpost.com and I have had some communicational difficulties coordinating the link to my cartoon pick of the week. Specifically, we have almost never managed to link to the correct cartoon. This has been an almost, er, comical dysfunction. This is, however, no laughing matter.

The bond between a chat host and his online facilitatress is essential to the success of the chat, and it can be no stronger than the trust and respect of you, the chatters. Our appalling record of ineptitude must be rectified. The hemorrhage of trust must be stanched.

And so, this week, Liz and I have rehearsed and streamlined the comic-link process until mistakes are no longer possible. You with me, Lizzy?

washingtonpost.com: Check.

Gene Weingarten: We good to go?

washingtonpost.com: All systems readied for deployment.

Gene Weingarten: Estimated potential for error as of 11:59:53 EDT?

washingtonpost.com: Zero.

Gene Weingarten: Ladies and gentlemen, with great pride and humility, Ms. Elizabeth Kelly and I present today's Comic Pick of the Week.

Thank you. Questions? Comments?


Venus, Nev.: Your discussion about the sanitization of children's books reminds me about the death of humor in general at the hands of those who would avoid controversy. This is similar to what has happened to the UVA Pep Band, which is being eliminated because its jokes sometimes offend people: Rescind the Ban on the Un-Bland Band, (Post, June 1)

So it's not just children being protected from ideas, it's also college students.

Do you think this is just a temporary swing of the pendulum. After all, Dr. Seuss was himself a radical departure from the "safe" Dick and Jane children's readers that preceded him. There was a recent New Yorker article on this.

And Dick and Jane were, in turn, were a reaction to the dark and scary fairy tales we inherited from Germany, in which bad children (such as those who were not grateful to Jesus) were typically killed, turned to stone, or had their brothers and sisters taken away. Now, those were some good stories!

Gene Weingarten: I agree with most of what you say. But Dr. Seuss was preceded by some wonderful, edgy stuff, not the least of which was E.B. White's Charlotte's Web, in which we watched Charlotte Cavalny (sp?) the spider anesthetize trapped flies and kill them by sucking their blood out. It was presented unapologetically, as a lesson in life. Mr. White was not PC, and he was brilliant.


Should I marry this man?: On Tuesday my fiance and I purchased the unity candle for our upcoming wedding. This was our first wedding-related purchase. We then visited the Empire State Building. When we descended, I discovered that he had left the unity candle at the top of the tower. Is this bad karma, an unfortunate coincidence, or a Freudian slip of grandiose proportions? Or, as my mother suggests, is this just an indication that I should not trust him to sightsee with any future packages and/or children?

Gene Weingarten: I worry about both of you. A "unity candle'?

Oooh, ooooh. Why not cut your fingers and mingle your blood and become "blood brothers'?

(Sorry, I am not big on ritual and talismans.)


Re: Comic Pick of the Week: Might I just say: Perfect!

Gene Weingarten: Thank you.


Estimate off: Your link is wrong. Can I stop laughing now?

Gene Weingarten: Yes, that was the idea. My actual comic pick is today's That's Life. Um, Liz, heh heh, think you can find it?


Washington, D.C.: So, what's your opinion about the Belmont?

Will Funny Cide win? Should we interview him? (Sportscasters interview everyone EXCEPT the horse -- and without the horse, you don't have a race!)

Gene Weingarten: Here's what I find funny about this whole thing. Usually, if a horse wins the Triple
Crown, he is then worth tens of millions of dollars to his owners in stud fees. But
this guy is a gelding. A eunuch. The poor schlepps who own him get zilch forevermore,

Here's an idea: They rent him out tot dot-com billionaires for pony rides at their
kids birthday parties.


washingtonpost.com: Here we are -- That's Life, (June 3)


Hanover, Va.: I consider myself someone who is fascinated by words, including both their use and misuse. For example, I am constantly amazed by how most people consider the words assure, insure, and ensure to be completely synonymous. Sharing these observations with others at parties and other social occasions, however, usually is followed by either stunned silence or large amounts of laughter at my expense. During my travels, I have come across words that are like those really task-specific tools--you rarely use them, but when you do, they're perfect for what you're doing. My personal favorite is peripatetic (walking about from place to place on foot). Are there any words that you hold in your quiver for just that right time?

Gene Weingarten: I am all tingly. You said "quiver.'

Yes, I am partial to ecdysiast, concupiscence, and likerish. And for sheer irony, sesquipedalian.

On a related matter, last week I asked why the word for palindrome" wasn't "palindromemordnilap,' and Vermont reader Sara Solnick wrote in with this excellent
fact: "aibohphobia' means "fear of palindromes.' On Google, some people spell it "aibophobia," which, Sara points out, defeats the point.


Reston, Va.: Did you see the correction in Saturday's Post? It corrected three misspellings in an article about the national spelling bee.

Gene Weingarten:

It's people like you who contribute to the unfair and hurtful myth that newspapers are full of errors and cannot be trusted. For your information, we did not have THREE
misspellings in the story. We had ONE misspelling that was repeated three times -- in the story, in a caption, and in a page one promo. It happened to be the, um, name of
the winner of the spelling bee.

Sure, it was a mistake. But does anyone point out that virtually all the OTHER words in the story were spelled correctly? I think not.


Gaithersburg Cube Farm, Md.: The best thing about Funny Cide is he isn't owned by evil rich people. He's owned by a bunch of happy drunks in a rented school bus. Stud fees, schmud fees. They got them a keg!

Gene Weingarten: Noted.


Surlygirl: What?!? Your comic pick isn't yesterday's Non Sequitur? That was the best comic I've ever seen, hands down!

washingtonpost.com: Non Sequitur, (June 2) I hope.

Gene Weingarten: No, this was totally hamhanded.


Alexandria, Va.: Just had to share that I loved the Invitational this week, particularly the first runner up and the honorable mention about gin and babies. However, with such an embarrassment of riches to choose from, how did you end up with that lame winner?

Gene Weingarten: I will pass this along to the czar. He will trace this email and blackball you for good. He is just that sort of guy.


Norman, Okla.: I see you mentioned Peter Pan.

That brings me back traumatic memories when I learned that Peter Pan was actually played by a woman (Mary Matalin) and Lassie was played by a male dog!

Gene Weingarten: Mary Matalin!

I think, honestly, that the reason Mary Martin was chosen instead of some actual boy or young man is that it was the only way to DE-sex the thing. All the innuendo was lost because it was Mary.


A Tale of Two Lizzes: Forget the Comedy of the Week; the real question is whether Liz the Facilitatrix (not -tress) is the same as Liz Kelly the Occasional Byline Holder In The Post. If so, then how about letting her field some of the questions in the chat? She'd be far more entertaining than, say, Lloyd Grove.

washingtonpost.com: Are you sure you actually read my story?

Gene Weingarten: I didn't use facilitatrix because it reminded me of dominatrix and then I got all confused and upset.


Idaho, Alaska: Gene,
What or who is used as your screensaver at work?

Gene Weingarten: It is a closeup photo of my dog, Harry, sniffing another dog's butt. I once tried to give it away on this chat and Liz, my stern facilitatrix, refused to allow it.


Outta My Mi, ND: Gene,

This relates to some things that have been knawing at me since you mentioned them in chats a few months ago.

I am a single (unmarried, unattached) female. I am an excellent speller and am quite good at removing my bra without first removing my sweater.

So why aren't potential suitors lining up at my door?

Should I ask Carolyn and Lisa?


Gene Weingarten: 1) you are not the good speller that you klaim to be.

2) It is possibly because you weigh 472 pounds.

However, I do compliment you on the bra thing. Gina and I devote a half a chapter to this phenomenon in our book.


Awwww: How IS Harry?

Gene Weingarten: He seems to have survived whatever it was. Thanks.


Chicago, Ill.: A few chats back, you mentioned your distaste for the word "fiancee" - I'm curious why you dislike it. I myself would never have used the term when my now-spouse and I were planning to get married (didn't like "engaged" either), but it always seemed tedious to try to explain it. I also suspect others get peeved if I insist on referring to them as "so-and-so's girlfriend/boyfriend" when they consider themselves affianced.
What's your objection to the term?

Gene Weingarten: My objection is simple. It is French. This is not a political reaction, it is the simple fact that using French words in ordinary conversation sounds really pretentious. It is not like "bouquet," which really has no synonym. It is more like "rendezvous," which I would also never use except in an ironic fashion. Meeting. It's a meeting.


McLean, Va.: Last week I made a bunch of 11-year-old girls freak out by telling them that the voice of Snow White in the original Disney movie was done by a boy. (The singing voice, at least--I'm not sure about the speaking voice.)

washingtonpost.com: And let's not forget Bart Simpson -- voiced by a woman.

Gene Weingarten: All noted.


Leatherville, Va.: Would a dominatrix ever "submit question"?

Gene Weingarten: No. She would whip out a question.


Falls Church, Va.: Did you see the news story about how the King of Swaziland blames all of the problems in the entire world on women wearing trousers?

washingtonpost.com: Swazi King Blames Women's Trousers for World's Ills, (Reuters, June 3

Gene Weingarten: This is FABULOUS. I thought it was because of the bra-sweater paradox!


Olney, Md.: Did you not see yesterday's Pearls Before Swine, or were you just trying to give someone else a chance? I thought it would be your pick for sure.

washingtonpost.com: Pearls Before Swine, (June 2)

Gene Weingarten: Honestly, sometimes I wonder about you people. This is abominably lame.


Connecticut: This is not, essentially, a humor question, but I find you to be a smart, savvy guy, and would like your take. And, who knows, maybe you can turn it into something funny.

I've recently been selected to work in Iraq. Preparation includes weapons training at a military base. I am very, very anti-gun and have the option to decline the weapons training part. I mean, with a day of training, I still don't think that I'd have the judgment to discern which situations would require gunplay or the ability to not discharge it into my own butt. But, then again, I AM going to Iraq. Would you, or would you not?

Gene Weingarten: This is more properly addressed to Mister Randy Cohen, whose nom d column in the New York Times is "The Ethicist." I really like his column. Randy will tell you the correct ethical position to take, and he will be right. Then he will attempt to end with an amusing observation. It will not be remotely amusing. It will be strained, as in "above all, do attempt to DISCHARGE your duties." y advice to Mr. Cohen is that it is unethical for one without a sense of humor to attempt to use it.


Talented Self-Bra-Remover: Removing the bra while keeping the shirt on is an instinctive technique honed during grades 6 thru 8, when we had to change up for gym in the locker room with the other girls but wouldn't hear of exposing our non-boobies.

Gene Weingarten: Actually, this makes some sense. Thank you. Gina refused to explain it because she was mad at me because I had defeated her the chapter before.


Affianced: So, what's the English equivalent? If I learn it, I'll use it instead, and spread the word.

Gene Weingarten: This is Ginny. We're getting married. Unless of course it isn't Ginny, but Sandra. You have to stay on your toes.


Vix, IN: Tell you what, that link is the first time I've read a piece of the original Peter Pan, and I never realized what a vixen Wendy was.

Whooo, I gotta read the whole thing now. Is there a sequel for when she's, you know, 18?

Gene Weingarten: It is true! Wendy is a temptress! And peter is a ... pan.


Baltimore, Md.: The following sentence appeared in a Post article yesterday: "Though arguably controversial, sentence consulting has evolved into an expected part of white-collar cases..." Arguably controversial? There's a disagreement over whether there's a disagreement about this practice? So then it should just be controversial, no?

washingtonpost.com: Mr. Liberty, (Post, June 2)

Gene Weingarten: Man, you are so right.


Not All There: Has the Tut-Tut Brigade taken aim at the Style Invitational?

Good thing your politically correct treatment of Green Eggs and Ham didn't offer eggs substitutes and a tart, or tofu and grits. Sam-I-WHAT?

Gene Weingarten: That would be the Ombudsman. And yes.


Aptonym du jour: Got a great aptonym for you today:

On May 28, the lead singer of the rock band Eve 6 was cited for indecent exposure after employees reported him walking around with nothing but shaving cream on his genitals.

The naked singer walked to the front desk asking for shaving cream, and an employee escorted him to the elevator and asked him to put on clothes. Police said the singer reappeared later, still naked, and they found shaving cream all over his hotel room.

Both the band and label had no comment, according to RCA Records spokeswoman Maggie WANG.

Gene Weingarten: Hard to quarrel with this one.


Old Town, Alexandria, Va.: Last week on Lloyd's chat someone claimed that you and Levey are mortal enemies. What gives?

Is it because "aptonym" is so much more appropriate than Bob's "PFLNs" (Which means Perfect Fit Last Names)

Gene Weingarten: Someone is trying to start something. Bob Levey and I are friends. I like and respect him. We talk all the time. I restricted my criticism of him to his own movie criticism. Bob has demonstrated that he is as qualified to critique movies as your average forklift driver is to discuss recent advancements in thoracic microsurgery. I am sure he feels I am equally inept in other areas. Ask him.



Aibohphobia: Of course, if you fear palindromes, you probably will want to spell "aibohphobia" as "aibophobia." Otherwise, how do you cope?

Gene Weingarten: Yes, actually, that is a good point. The aibohpobic has a disease that dare not speak its name.


I Knew You Would Wimp Out: I know it's provocative, but there are rumors about Ari Fleischer, and all I'm saying is that this (Boondocks, May 28) is a comic-strip first.

Gene Weingarten: I actually thought this was gratuitously nasty. I have no idea what the rumors are, but I assure you Mr. McGruder has absolutely no knowledge that would justify this. Seriously. This was a cheap shot, in my opinion.


Alexandria, Va.: Is it me, or are so many comic strips breaking the fourth wall that it isn't meta anymore? Yesterday's Beetle Bailey and, um, one of them today did it.

washingtonpost.com: Beetle Bailey, (June 2)

Gene Weingarten: You know, I missed this. This is pretty good. You are right, there has been a spate of metacomics, some good some notso. I guess Zippy started it, but PBS improved it.

I continue to contend that something IS going on with Mr. Beetle Bailey. Some real signs of life.


Southside: Re: Boondocks, you're right. I'm no Fleischer fan, but it's a cheap shot. Macgruder (sp?) is a punk.

Gene Weingarten: No, MacGruder is young. And no one is giving him good advice. Except me. And he ain't listening.


Alexandria, Va.: (a) How come Tom The Dancing Bug is never your favorite comic -- is that one just a given?
(b) Is the Czar currently banning anyone from the SI because he thinks they are using pseudonyms? Is any criteria used when attempting to establish whether someone is using one -- does he call their home phone and hang up really quickly after confirming the name?

Gene Weingarten: I don't read Tom enough. It is often good. And the czar asks people not to use pseudonyms, makes it clear he means it, has explained why, and trusts the minions and subjects to respect those wishes. Should a case arise where a pseudonym is confirmed, it will be dealt with harshly. But in truth, the Czar believes in the honor of the people. He does not harbor suspicions.


Curious in Arlington, Va.: During Levey's chat last week, I noted that he referred to you as a "funny-haired four-eyed geek who thinks he's Mark Twain." Any comment?

Gene Weingarten: The rumors of that are greatly exaggerated.


Dallas, Tex.: Whoa, check out the mug shot of the guy Levey's hosting right now. Scary.

washingtonpost.com: Levey Live. Oh my.

Gene Weingarten: Hm.


AingotNo, MO: How come Outta My Mi, ND and Vix, IN get to use the Post Office abbreviation, but when I write from Venus, NV, which is brilliant, I get edited to Venus, Nev, which is not remotely funny?

(And, in case you are wondering, I must be in a plane.)

washingtonpost.com: sorry, sorry -- Gene gets a load of questions. Hard to catch everything.

Gene Weingarten: Ok, all noted and corrected.


Question for Pat:
Weingarten typed:

E.B. White and Dr. Seuss appear to have been relatively sane, in the sense of not being totally off their gourds.

I have a question with regard to the use of the phrase "off their gourds." Is this an acceptable phrase or is a combination of "off their rockers" and "out of their (collective) gourd?"

Gene Weingarten: Actually, I have no idea. How does a gourd enter into this anyway? Pat?


Death to Disinformati, ON: Adriana Caselotti was the voice of Snow White. Definitely not a boy.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you. We can't be funny and fact check at the same time. Sometimes, we can't be funny and breathe at the same time.


Technical LOL Question: When you and Bob Levey are at the washingtonpost.com site to do these chats, are you seated at terminals next to each other, or do you have your own spacious room complete with stocked wet bar? I wonder if Bob is close enough that you two can holler back and forth to each other.

washingtonpost.com: Yes Gene, explain the logistics...

Gene Weingarten: We are in entirely different parts of the building. We see each other only at the urinals. I bet he has an office. I don't.

I bet it is a big one.


Low down County, Va.: There was an obit in last week's Loudoun Times Mirror for Frank Numbers.

He was a wage and salary analyst for DoD.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you. A little simple, but not bad.


Intercourse, Pa.: "Gourd" refers to the skull. So if someone is "out of his gourd," it means he's out of his head, or insane.

Gene Weingarten: Okay, I'll buy it.


Crystal City, Va.: Gene: You are famous! Here at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), someone has put up a printout of your column from January 2002 about your run-in with the Patent Office spokesperson. Absolutely perfect!

Gene Weingarten: Actually, this was one of my favorite columns. I've waited until four minutes to go so we can TEST LIZ OUT. Can she link to it in time?????

I know she can.


Levey's office: Are you implying that Levey is compensating for something with his big office? I figure you would know, since you meet at the urinals.

Gene Weingarten: No way I touch this line. I don't even POST this line.


Pittsburgh, Pa.: I have also never understood the trend of lighting a "unity candle" at weddings. Think about it: the bride and groom are normally very nervous/excited during the wedding ceremony, and it seems to me that nervous/excited, combined with handling fire is not a good idea.

Gene Weingarten: Good grief. Is this actually a wedding-fart joke? What do you take this chat for?


Gene Weingarten: Anyway, I'm out of here. Thanks for all the humor and provocation. You were excellent.

Did Liz make the link in time?

Next week, guys.


washingtonpost.com: Below the Beltway, (Jan. 13, 2002). Piece of cake.

Gene Weingarten: SHE DID!



That wraps up today's show. Thanks to everyone who joined the discussion.

© Copyright 2003 The Washington Post Company