The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Style Conversational Week 1503: Dish up the songs!

The Empress of The Style Invitational on this week’s food-themed parody contest and winning (and losing) cartoon captions

(Courtesy of Kyle Hendrickson)

Above: Thirty-four Losers and auxiliaries of all ages, some from the early days of the Invitational, came out to BJ’s Brewhouse in Laurel, Md., last Sunday to celebrate the retiring Keeper of the Invite Stats Elden Carnahan (who’s almost invisible in a ball cap in the middle of the row). The next, surely smaller Loser brunch is at Kilroy’s pub in Springfield, Va., just outside the Beltway, at noon on Sunday, Sept. 18. See the Losers’ website for more info and to RSVP.

Sing is here, ah, sing is here! It’s parody time once again with Style Invitational Week 1503. I lurve judging the Invite’s song contests, which I’ve run about twice a year ever since I deposed the Czar almost 19 years ago (that’s one of our few differences about the Invite: he has no interest at all in song parodies, even though he always loved doing light-verse contests). Our Loserbards have always produced the wittiest, funniest lyrics around that you can read as well as see performed — an essential requirement for the Invite’s print version, which runs on the back page of The Post’s Arts & Style section each Sunday.

But in recent years, we’ve also been increasingly blessed with entertaining videos to share, everything from expressive singing into a phone in your bedroom to a whole performance with a band. The technology and skills to produce a watchable video are clearly being picked up by an ever-widening group of clever singer-songwriters, and I’m happy to pass them along.

But still, especially for the week’s top winners, the lyrics are the thing, and the vast majority of Invite parody ink is with printed lyrics alone. What am I looking for? As I’ve done now in a series of Conversationals published the weeks of parody contests, I’m going to send you right over to an earlier column, one that in turn quotes even earlier one.

So here’s Style Conversational Week 1440 (June 2021), which offers Pearls (or at least Mardi Gras Beads) of Wisdom about:

The importance of rhyme

Matching your lyrics to the original tune

How well known does the song have to be?

Can you have a double credit? (also see an extra note below)

How to include a clip of the original tune you’re parodying

Can you ask me questions before the contest deadline?

Links to earlier results

Just remember! You’ll be reading a column from last year — don’t use the dates mentioned in it!

A few notes that have occurred to me that might not be in the earlier columns:

Crediting helpers on videos. For videos, it’s the writer of the lyrics who officially earns the ink, the prize (such as it is), and the point in the Loser Stats. But I’ll also be happy to credit a guest singer, an accompanist, the person who came up with graphics or costumes for a video, etc. But if you want to share the loot, you’ll have to cut up your Loser Mug or Grossery Bag or FirStink into pieces.

If you’re making a video, leave promotional material off it. You can have a title or ending with your name, and credits to anyone who helped you, but not with your website, “I play bar mitzvahs,” etc.

Don’t publicize the video until I post the results on Thursday, Sept. 22. Until then, please set the visibility to “Unlisted” (click on Edit Video, then see the visibility setting at the top right). This lets people see it only if they have the link — which you’ll be sharing with me and, if you get “ink,” I’ll share with readers. After that, you can change it back to Public.

Meanwhile, here are some classics from parody contests that ran after that column did. The first two are set to the song that’s become a running gag in our parody contests because it’s used almost every time: “Be Our Guest” from “Beauty and the Beast,” whose first verse is just long enough — 32 bars, I think — to feel like a self-contained song that a reader could sing along with, and that invites lots of clever interior rhyme.

From Week 1440 in summer 2021, for songs about things in the news (full results here):

IRS: it’s a mess! Decades straight of “more with less”
Mean few audits and no plaudits (‘cept from tax cheats, who say “Yes!”)
Downsized staff, ancient tech make our oversight a wreck;
Might as well claim that deduction for your tummy liposuction!
uch abuse we can’t catch—systems here aren’t up to scratch—
So to fraud we have to meekly acquiesce;
Enforcement: have to fudge it, ‘cause they’ve slashed our budget; Reassess! No BS: IRS! (Duncan Stevens)

Here’s a basic but adorable video by Sarah Walsh about the deluge of 17-year cicadas, with the patient assistance of a stuffed dog.

Last year we also had a contest to write a song “by” some particular person. (Full results of Week 1459 here.)

Eve (To the “Addams Family” theme)
If Genesis you’re readin’,
You’ll find me there in Eden.
A snack is what we’re needin’,
The Adam family!

I find it pretty neat here;
I must say, life is sweet here!
But still, we’ve gotta eat here —
Say, what’s up in that tree?

Snake…. spake: “Partake!”

Well, hesitate? I might’ve….
Until I got a sight of
And got to take a bite of
That apple from the tree!

How dumb I was to dare it;
My conscience couldn’t bear it,
And so I had to share it!
(It brought us misery.)

‘Cause just as God predicted,
The tree had been restricted;
So now we’ve been evicted,
The Adam family. (Beverley Sharp)

And here’s a fabulous Loser collaboration: Jonathan Jensen’s lyrics performed by pro cabaret duo (but also proud members of the Loser Community) Sandy and Richard Riccardi.

Yuk of the draw*: The cartoon captions of Week 1499

*Headline submitted by both Chris Doyle and Jesse Frankovich for an earlier contest

In addition to his honorable mention for his cartoon caption in our Week 1499 contest, I owe Loser Dan Helming a finder’s fee for posting a link to the contest in the Facebook group New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest Rejects (and Enthusiasts), as well as the group’s admin Beth Lawler for letting us encroach on NYer fandom. Because a nice big stream of NYCCCRandEs decided to send some captions to the Invite, as well as join the Style Invitational Devotees and sign up for the Invite’s weekly notification emails. Not surprising, really, since the New Yorker publishes a grand total of three captions a week — first, second and third prizes. Today I ran 43.

And sure enough, New Yorker caption fans Robert Welch and Mel Simoneau got Invite ink the first time out. Perhaps our three other First Offenders this week — Daniel Jarrell, Cheryl Gracey and Maier Schreiber — are bicartoonal as well.

While the New Yorker contest gets a lot more entries than the Invite does — more than 5,000 a week for a single cartoon, while I got 1,300 spread out over four pictures — there’s still often a lot of duplication of ideas, sometimes even virtually identical submissions. In my case, if I have several that are pretty much the same, and I can’t determine that one of them is in some way better than the rest, I toss the lot of them. That’s what happened with the “bear necessities” jokes (20 entries), for example. On the other hand, of 46 entries mentioning “woods” in the bear cartoon, I thought Mark Raffman phrased it best (though one could argue that the quote didn’t sound angry as the man’s face looked).

Speaking of facial expressions: I think that next time I’ll ask Bob to make them a bit more ambiguous: The travel agent, supermarket clerk, office women, and couple at the restaurant were all clearly upset or worried, which meant that a cheery quote didn’t quite fit.

It’s only the second blot (well, second and third) of Invite Ink for Clowning Achievement winner Carol Lasky, whose first ink was in our March 2021 caption contest. Carol aced it with simple but surprising and funny wordplay in the pithiest of sentences — as the waiter walked past (or away from) the diners carrying a huge covered dish, one of them says, “Well, he did ask if he could take our order.” And nobody else did that joke.

Bob hardly ever comments on the entries for any particular contest, and I haven’t heard from him today about this week’s results. But he is on record as not enjoying the jokes that riff off details in the pictures that people see in the cartoon, rather than the general setup. But I always enjoy including a few such entries, usually near the bottom of the list. Today, I enjoyed the different interpretations of the nose-hanging mustache of the man in Picture 1, with the travel agent — odor blocks, a mask substitute, Hitler. And Jon Gearhart went after the man’s nose length (he’ll have to book the seat in front of him), while Richard Franklin wondered how the travel agent’s head was attached, given that her giant mouth went all the way to the back of it.

What Pleased Ponch: As usual these days, Ace Copy Editor Ponch Garcia chose his faves from the honorable mentions:

Supermarket clerk to bear: “It’s in the back and on the right … but I thought you guys went in the woods …” (Mark Raffman)

Travel agent: “You’ve seen London? You’ve seen France? Then I’m afraid the ‘Netherlands’ are off-limits to you, sir.” (Stephen Dudzik) Kid with older women at office computer: “All I did was ask about your enhanced proxy-layered security protocols and you look at me like I’ve got two heads.” (Jonathan Jensen)

Couple at restaurant: Emma later told Date Lab she appreciated James’s “well-groomed nostrils.” (Steve Smith)

They all pleased me! So have fun with the songs — and if you’d like to keep your versifying to five lines, remember that our “hi-”word limerick contest, Week 1502, is running through Monday night, Aug. 29.