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Style Conversational Week 1459: Sing yourself to ink

The Empress of The Style Invitational discusses this week’s first-person song contest and winning 'good news/bad news’ jokes

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Above, Sophie Craft’s winning video from Week 1440. While this week’s Style Invitational contest, Week 1459, is really about first-person song “by” well-known people, you could sing about yourself as well, like Sophie.

Hi, all: I’m back after last week’s still-unexplained production snafu delayed The Style Invitational by three hours, which was just long enough to blow my Style Conversational schedule as well. This week: Like a charm!

This week, Week 1459, we’re back to one of the Invitational’s stocks in trade, the song parody — enhanced more and more often by ever more impressive videos, but still with plenty of room for low-tech Brilliantly Clever Just the Lyrics.

Our last song contest was only 19 weeks ago, back in June; that week the only restriction was that the song be about something currently in the news. This time there’s also plenty of scope, but with a different limitation: that the song be in the first person: in other words, that it’s being sung “by” some particular person (don’t forget to say who!). Many, many of our Loserbards’ inking songs over the years are in the first person.

While in Duncan Stevens’s example Sir Mix-a-Lot, of “Baby’s Got Back” fame, “rewrites” his song to the tune of Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Major-General’s Song,” the contest isn’t specifically — or even broadly — about one song being rewritten as another. (I’m still working up the courage to run that contest. Maybe next time.) I hate to forsake the opportunity for at least some of the songs to be about current topics.

Rather than repeating all the guidance I reiterated in the Week 1440 Invitational and Conversational, I’m just going to send you over there with this Magic Link to the Convo. There you’ll see some advice on what kind of songs are best for our purposes (long enough to make something satisfying to sing yourself as you read it; not so long that reading it gets boring or difficult on the page); my requirement of a rhyme scheme as good as or better than the original; how to convey the tune you’re using to me and (you hope) the readers of the Invite; and, if you’re interested in doing a video, what I need for that. (If you’re singing it yourself, you don’t need to do a parody.)

I used to insist that, no matter how well produced and entertaining the video, my only consideration would be the quality of the song’s lyrics. But that’s no longer true: While I still will put a premium on clever lyrics and “perfect rhyme,” I also am happy to shout out funny, clever visual humor as well, even if it might not make the very top of the list of the week’s lyrics themselves.

This is why, in the results of Week 1440, I gave out two Clowning Achievements. One went to Hildy Zampella for her (first-person!) parody of “Royals” as “sung by” Prince Harry. And then another one to First Offender Sophie Crafts for her utterly enchanting video, “Two Darn Shots,” a parody of Cole Porter’s “Too Darn Hot” in which Sophie, in evening gown and long gloves, sashays into CVS and gets vaccinated right on camera to the amusement of fellow line-waiters.

Hildy’s song was pushing the limits of length on what I can run on the print page, but it was sooo good and never repetitive. A more workable length was used by runner-up Barbara Sarshik — also a first-person classic:

Jeffrey Toobin’s Song

To “I Could Have Danced All Night”

I wear my pants all day, I wear my pants all day

Right in my living room.

I used to show my groin, and I exposed my … loin

To everyone on Zoom.

I’ll never know what made it so exciting

To be so raunchy and risque.

I’m back on CNN. I won’t screw up again.

I wear my pants, pants, pants all day!

Remember that you have till Nov. 8 to submit your song(s). But if you have questions about how to proceed, feel free to contact me much earlier in the game: Email me at pat.myers@washpost.com and catch my eye in the subject line with something like “question about song contest”; I get hundreds of emails a day sometimes.

Meanwhile, for guidance, inspiration and pure viewing pleasure, do check out the results of Week 1440 and any number of previous contests, dating back to 2004. There’s a special page — see it right here — from the Master Contest List on the Losers’ website, NRARS, that lists all music-themed contests; click on the links on the right side of the page to see the results.

The vary idea*: The results of Week 1455

*Non-inking headline by Jeff Contompasis

Our third go-round of a contest to turn a “good idea” into a “bad idea” with a slight wording change (the previous ones were in 1995 and 2014) yielded dozens of zingy, high-level puns from a boatload of 1,400 entries from almost 200 entrants. I ran 38 of them in this week’s results, almost all of them also in the print Invite; my shortlist was about twice that long. I foresee several Ink of the Day graphics based on this week’s winners.

It was a heck of a week for Clowning Achievement winner Ryan Martinez, a high school French teacher whose all-time ink total catapults from 12 to 15, and who gets his first contest win with this zinger:

Good idea: Getting your cues from science.

Bad idea: Getting your science from Q.

And looking over his entries just now for 1455, I see that those three inking entries are from a total of four.

I had noticed a while back on the entry form that Ryan lived on the same street as longtime Loser (and Style Invitational Devotees anagram obsessive) Barbara Turner — in fact, they were just a block apart. But they hadn’t met! So I did my bit for remote neighbor-introduction.

Frank Mann continues to have a boffo Invite year, once again scoring multiple blots of ink with exceptionally clever and funny entries. This week he gets the weird Belgian beer promotional hat for Good idea: Striving to be more of a caring person/ Bad idea: Striving to be more of a “Karen” person, with three especially zingy honorable mentions. According to the Loser Stats at NRARS.org, Frank is now just a single blot shy of 200 inks. I understand that his sister Aimee is terribly envious.

The remaining runners-up, also wielding very funny puns, are the Invite-legendary Jesse Frankovich (832 inks) and Promising Fresh Blood Scott Richards, who — get this — has three blots of ink, of which one is a runner-up and one is a win: Scott got the Clowning Achievement five weeks ago for his report about our civilization from a future anthropologist: “Once a year every human must recommit to the familial cult by lighting a cake on fire while clan members chant a mournful dirge.” This time Scott scores a Loser Mug or Grossery Bag (let me know, Scott) for pointing out that big church coffers are a much better idea than big church coughers.

I had figured that this contest would involve mostly Invite regulars, especially when it came to who got ink. So I was delighted to discover that we have three First Offenders this week — Becky Foster, Donald Norum (who I believe is the son of early-days Loser Jean Lightner Norum) and Lauren Shaham — plus at least three Losers whose second blots of ink promote them from the One-Hit Wonders list: Mary Giorgis, Glen Matheson and Michael (“I’m not a lawyer!”) Cohen. As thrilled as I am to hand out those FirStink air “fresheners,” it’s even more gratifying to see those single-ink people come back to score again — especially when, in Michael’s case, it took 19 years.

I’m truly grateful that almost all the 190 entrants to this contest heeded my abject pleading to put each entry on a single line, with no line break between the good idea and bad idea. I didn’t see a single two-liner until Entrant No. 27, whoever that person was, and not again until Entrant 58. I was able to fish out the eight or 10 offenders in all and fix them before sorting the entries alphabetically into 1,400 anonymous jokes. (I admit, though, that at least two of the offenders ended up getting ink today; in the end, I’m not going to deprive readers of the funniest material. But I’m going to kvetch at those Losers personally. Especially the one who sent 25 entries.)

Some good jokes weren’t “good idea/ bad idea” as much as “good news/ bad news”; my favorite of these was by Kevin Dopart: Good idea: You’re up to bat with the bases loaded. Bad idea: You’re up for reelection and the base is loaded.

Other ways the good/bad ideas went astray:

— Setting the entry up so heavy-handedly that it telegraphs the punchline. Like: Good idea: Throwing your mom a buss. Bad: Throwing your mom under a bus. You can’t start with an expression that no one uses without giving away your plans for the rest of the joke.

— Convoluted sentences that try to hard to match or contrast multiple elements: Good: Your bride is waiting for you with a flight of champagne at the shrimp station, wearing a wedding dress with a long train. Bad: Your bride gives you a long dressing down, calling you a worthless little shrimp, and takes flight for the train station.

— As happened with the entries to Week 1454′s Punku entries, some people sent in jokes that I believe were discovered in the caves of Lascaux along with the drawings. The funniest of these — in that it was submitted, not in its inherent haha — was: Good news: Finding a worm in an apple. Bad news: Finding half a worm. Um, finding a worm in an apple is good news? Well, it’s cheaper than a bottle of tequila, I guess.

Less head-slappy but, alas, done by too many people was using “halving” for “having.” Good idea: Having a baby/Bad idea: Halving a baby. I Have a Dream/Halve a dream. Having a wonderful family/Halving a wonderful family. Having all of your assets secure/Halving all of your secure assets. Having patience with untrained interns/Halving patients with untrained interns. Good: Having your boss to dinner. Bad: Halving your boss for dinner.

This last one is pretty good, because of the double meaning in the other phrase: Good idea: Living it up and having the time of your life. Bad idea: Living it up and halving the time of your life. (Mark Raffman)

On the other hand, regular Invite readers could reasonably think they’d have half (lve) a chance, given the number of times the halving joke has gotten ink over the years:

Puns on movie titles, 2002: She’s Halving a Baby: An epic on the life of King Solomon. (Tom Witte)

AND, from 2004, puns on historical/legendary events: The judgment of Solomon: Split Decision, or Halving My Baby (Russell Beland) (Would that, in my first year of Empressing, I had that indispensable searchable “All Invitational Text” file, now at NRARS.org!)

Also in 2012, at least in the pretty different context of horse names, but by the same guy: I’ll Have Another x Conserve = I’ll Halve Another (Russell Beland)

In 2017, Beverley Sharp used “have/halve” with enough of an original context to make it fresh in this haiku:

“I’m the Grim Reaper.

It's midnight. Time's up at noon.

So halve a nice day!”

And the same year, an “X is so Y” joke by Chris Doyle that takes it an extra step: My friend from Weight Watchers is so competitive that she always halves what I’m halving.

AND in Week 1418, by Jon Gearhart in a contest for charity names, again given more humor from the rest of the joke: I Halve a Dream: Helping America’s youth set attainable goals.

Anyway, I think we’ve halved enough for a while.

I also learned a new term this week, thanks to First Offender Donald Norum: Good idea: Sending thoughts and prayers after a tragedy. Bad idea: Sending thots and players after a tragedy. “Thot,” I learned, is an acronym for (depending on whom you ask) That Hottie Over There or That Ho Over There. I owe so much of my knowledge to The Style Invitational.

What Doug Dug: The favorites this week of Ace Copy Editor Doug Norwood include all four top winners — Doug and I are usually on the same wavelength when it comes to the Invite — plus several from the honorable mentions: First Offender Becky Foster’s childproof gates/child with Gaetz; Mark Raffman’s Jan. 1 resolution/Jan. 6 revolution; Tom Witte’s conquering/concurring with your demons; Jeff Contompasis’s preferred pronouns/preferred capItaLizATionS; Frank Mann’s SNL, Owen Wilson/WFT, 0 and 1; and, in reference to our somewhat Invite-adjacent in-house kerfuffle, making Indian food/mocking Indian food, by Michael Cohen, a longtime fan both of the Invite and of Gene Weingarten’s recently retired column.

Funny, but noooo-tions*: The unprintables (*also a Jeff Contompasis suggestion). While Ryan Martinez’s “Date Lab/Dating a Lab” sailed right into print, I drew the line — in disinfectant — at “Good idea: Charting your daily caloric intake. Bad idea: Sharting your daily caloric intake” (from our Western Canada Bureau, Byron Miller) and, from Seamus O’Connor: Add some chickpeas to your favorite stew. Add some chick’s pee to your favorite stew. Ew.

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