Gene Weingarten

Washington, D.C.

I am old and cranky. I write "Below the Beltway," a weekly humor column that is nationally syndicated. With my son Dan and David Clarke, I write the daily newspaper comic strip Barney & Clyde, about a friendship between a billionaire and a bum. I am working on a book about the events of Sunday, December 28, 1986, a date chosen at random by picking numbers out of a hat. Yes, it's an insane idea, and yes, I can use all the tips I can get.

Best of Gene

Chatological Humor chat

On one Tuesday each month, Gene is online to take your questions and abuse. He will chat about anything.

Although this chat is sometimes updated between live shows, it is not and never will be a "blog," even though many people keep making that mistake. One reason for the confusion is the Underpants Paradox: Blogs, like underpants, contain "threads," whereas this chat contains no "threads" but, like underpants, does sometimes get funky and inexcusable.

12.28.86: One day

I chose the date at random, by drawing numbers out of a hat. I'm going to spend the next two years researching that date, and only that date, in America, and then present it in a wide-angle, panoramic fashion. I'd like your help. Many events leave a trail in the media or the public record, and I'm already following up on many of those. I know, for example, that hardboiled mystery writer John D. MacDonald died on that day, and the Jets beat the Chiefs. "Walk Like an Egyptian" topped the pop charts. And so forth. The public record is voluminous. But fame tends to be transient and shallow, casting what seems to be an arbitrary spotlight; there is also power in things that never get into the public eye -- stories of drama and consequence can be found in the lives of ordinary people. Sometimes, small things happen that will go unnoticed or unrecorded, but will prove pivotal to monumental events that follow. I want to find these things by tapping your memories, and/or testing your research skills. The book will be highly selective, but my Facebook page won't be; we hope it develops an engaging narrative of its own. If you think you have a story to tell, we'll look at it here. Or you can email me in complete privacy at oneday12.28.86@gmail.com. These could be anecdotes from your life or the lives of others you know. Nothing is too trivial, though it will be edited for quality and appropriateness. Are you a good enough storyteller to make yours interesting? Or, are you a researcher at heart? Talk to me. I'd be grateful for all sorts of promising leads. No money will change hands, I'm afraid, but I'll introduce you to all my swanky, bon vivant friends, as soon as I get some. What's in it for you? People who proved helpful will be acknowledged in the book. If you're really helpful, you and I could be working together in person. And, of course, if your own life finds its way into the book, hey, you'll be a superstar. Honors & Awards:
  • 2008 & 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing – the only two-time winner in that category
Recent Articles

GENE WEINGARTEN COLUMN

Advance for release Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021, and thereafter

(For Weingarten clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

For Print Use Only.

By Gene Weingarten

WASHINGTON -- When I think back over the more than 1,000 columns I have written, one of my funniest lines was pretty paltry. It wasn't even a full sentence. It was a dependent, hyphenated clause about The Plumber Who Saved Thanksgiving. My wife and I were a day away from hosting 10 friends from out of town for Thanksgiving dinner when all three toilets in the house stopped flushing. A plumber arrived with backpacks of equipment, some of it ancient and mechanical, but most of it high-tech. There were computer consoles and 90-foot snakes with electric eyes. The plumber descended to the basement, deployed the technology and diagnosed: We would have to dig up the front yard, replace old plumbing with new. More dreadful, we would have no water -- no functioning sinks or bathrooms -- for at least three days.

The food had been purchased. The guests were already arriving. The plumber watched my wife slump into me, and me slump into her, a Dust Bowl portrait of despair. Something had to be done. The plumber began barking orders. "Go to every sink and tub and shower in the house and turn on all faucets full blast."

When I returned, he was straddling the toilet, like a colossus. He had removed his fancy equipment. He was wielding a rubber plunger -- 1800s technology -- and using his body like a piston. Schmorph, schmorph, schmorph. His neck veins were bulging. After two minutes, there was a giant sucking sound, and the house was Clean.

Here comes my top-of-the-line line: I wrote that the plumber was "a modern-day John Henry, a stool-drivin' man."

My humor is puny compared with the jokes of those who came before. If I have achieved any success, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants, squinting down at their work, stealing what I could. I take notes, all stored in my head. I forget almost everything instantaneously, but I will remember a good joke forever. Here are some favorites, working backward:

Dave Barry, covering the 1984 presidential primaries, noted that John Glenn was a dull speaker: He wrote: "I doubt he could electrify a fish tank if he threw a toaster into it."

Robert Benchley defined opera as "where a guy gets stabbed in the back, and instead of bleeding, he sings."

And then there's Dorothy Parker.

All humor is hard to do, but written humor is the hardest because you are naked out there. If you write a mediocre screenplay, it can be saved by great acting. A cartoonist gets to use images to enhance the joke. A stand-up comic adds personality, body language and timing. But for the writer of words, that's the only tool he or she has, and sometimes, you give yourself an additional burden, based on the inexplicable idea (older than Beowulf) that communication is somehow deepened when the ends of certain lines sound like the ends of other lines.

Parker did this. It seems easy. It's not: "I like to have a martini,/ Two at the very most. /After three I'm under the table, /After four I'm under the host."

My favorite early-20th-century humor writer was Stephen Leacock, a joyful misanthrope who found much to lampoon in human behavior, particularly the overheated prose in Victorian drama. In a short story, he wrote: "Lord Ronald said nothing. He flung himself from the room, flung himself upon his horse and rode madly off in all directions."

My notes go back to the beginning of time. The first joke that has been preserved, from the ancient Sumerians, was: "Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband's lap."

It's got an odd double negative, but weak syntax is no impediment here. Farts are the original joke, an observed absurdity of the human condition.

Actually, there is something older. I wrote about it once. It is peekaboo, a game humans have played with our children, possibly from the age of troglodytes, because troglodytes loved their children, too. That love is why we are here today.

A baby is suddenly denied access to her mother's face because a hand covers it. The baby's face registers existential panic. Where has Mommy gone? Am I here all alone? Then, Mommy's face again. The anxiety is banished. The baby smiles, then laughs.

It is our primordial response to fear: We laugh, to avoid crying. Everything is ephemeral. This is the very engine of humor. I'm laughing now. Writing this column has been exhilarating, and terrifying, for 21 years, and that's all you can ask of life. I am grateful for it, and for the relationship I have had with all of you who read it -- from the delightful dorks who thought everything I said was hilarious to those who looked in only to get riled over what the rude old coot was spouting this week. I will miss you all.

- - -

Gene Weingarten can be reached at weingarten@washpost.com. Follow him on Twitter, @geneweingarten.

GENE WEINGARTEN COLUMN

Advance for release Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021, and thereafter

(For Weingarten clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

For Print Use Only.

By Gene Weingarten

Here's another batch of "Pokes,"

Poems retelling corny jokes.

People claim they're juvenile

An accusation I find vile.

So today I'm using only jokes

Aimed at only preteen folks.

- - -

Heavy Metal

When it's raining cats and dogs, that's bad.

You get sopping wet, and hard rain stabs.

But even worse, (by more than a tad)

… Is hailing taxicabs.

- - -

A Fruitful Encounter

A baby kumquat cried and cried.

She said to me: "How sad I am."

And then explained, all teary-eyed:

"My mother's in a jam."

- - -

A Real Ripsnorter

"I can make a facial tissue dance,"

Said the magician, with a wicked glance.

"I won't lie, or try to spin it:

"You just put a little boogie in it."

- - -

Who? Nose!

I hear a thin voice in my head.

As my right eye to my left eye tells

This joke that knocks the left eye dead:

"Just between us, something smells."

- - -

The Lunar Pruner

Observe the moon (up over there).

Do you wonder how he cuts his hair?

How he does it, how he snips it?

Eclipse it.

- - -

Johnny's on the Spot

No homework, Johnny? Guilty, he pled.

But he had an excuse, an unusual take.

No, his dog didn't eat it -- HE did, he said.

"Teach, you called it a piece of cake."

- - -

A Sour Fact

Behold! A revelation that just might tickle.

It's about how a cucumber becomes a pickle.

It's partly science, and part lament.

The cuke must suffer a jarring event.

- - -

This Kid is a Chicken

A playground's traversed by a kid.

Why is this something he did?

He crossed it (all kidding aside)

To get to the other slide.

- - -

Gene Weingarten can be reached at weingarten@washpost.com. Follow him on Twitter, @geneweingarten.

GENE WEINGARTEN COLUMN

Advance for release Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, and thereafter

(For Weingarten clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

For Print Use Only.

By Gene Weingarten

WASHINGTON -- The other day I was driving on a highway in the middle lane and found myself behind a car going about 40 miles an hour. I moved to pass him on the left, as the law prefers. My exit was ahead, on the right, perhaps a half-mile away.

The driver next to me sped up, matching my speed exactly. So I accelerated more. So did he.

It became a race to get past him without swerving wildly across lanes of traffic. I wound up having to brake to get behind him to hit my exit. I wondered, what kind of an idiot does something like that, and then I realized exactly what kind of an idiot, and it was a slap-to-the-forehead revelation. It was about our current situation.

He was (BEG ITAL)exactly(END ITAL) the kind of an idiot who is an anti-vaxxer. Absolutely certain of his "right" to do something, and obnoxiously protective of it, and oblivious to the damage he might be causing.

"Vaccine-hesitant" is the expression of the day, used pretty much universally, including by news organizations, which are not ordinarily prone to euphemism, although we do refer to "developing nations," even though in most cases these nations are not developing at all, inasmuch as they have warlord-based economies.

The principle behind "vaccine-hesitant" seems to be that giving offense to these ignorant people might result in greater social disruption, civil war, etc. -- that if we got these moronic people really mad, they might start indiscriminately coughing or vomiting or wiping their noses on strangers. To me it is a ridiculous euphemism, the way you might refer to cannibals as "practitioners of non-traditional culinary adventuresomeness." I propose, instead, as I have just made clear, "idiots."

Back in the 1950s, there was little or no "vaccine hesitancy" to the cure for polio. That is because, back then, people trusted science. We were on the brink of the space age. We had conquered smallpox. Today a substantial subset of people seem to regard science as the equivalent of necromancy or alchemy, or, like, Rumpelstiltskin. Anthony Fauci, a doctor who has literally -- you can look this up -- saved hundreds of thousands of lives, is regularly portrayed by the idiots as some sort of maniacal dictatorial quack, a cross between Hitler and surgeons from the 16th century (you can also look this up) who would operate on mentally ill people to remove, from their brains, the "stone of madness."

Anyway, I do not mean to be overly critical of idiot anti-vaxxers just because some other idiot tried to cut me off on the highway. That would not be good journalism. I am merely saying that we are in the middle of a pandemic, and seemingly at the mercy of incredibly stupid people who are so medieval they won't be happy until a leper with black crummy teeth in a burlap robe is wandering the streets clanging a bell and yodeling, "Bring out your dead."

- - -

Gene Weingarten can be reached at weingarten@washpost.com. Follow him on Twitter, @geneweingarten.

About
I am old and cranky. I write "Below the Beltway," a weekly humor column that is nationally syndicated. With my son Dan and David Clarke, I write the daily newspaper comic strip Barney & Clyde, about a friendship between a billionaire and a bum. I am working on a book about the events of Sunday, December 28, 1986, a date chosen at random by picking numbers out of a hat. Yes, it's an insane idea, and yes, I can use all the tips I can get.

Best of Gene

Chatological Humor chat

On one Tuesday each month, Gene is online to take your questions and abuse. He will chat about anything.

Although this chat is sometimes updated between live shows, it is not and never will be a "blog," even though many people keep making that mistake. One reason for the confusion is the Underpants Paradox: Blogs, like underpants, contain "threads," whereas this chat contains no "threads" but, like underpants, does sometimes get funky and inexcusable.

12.28.86: One day

I chose the date at random, by drawing numbers out of a hat. I'm going to spend the next two years researching that date, and only that date, in America, and then present it in a wide-angle, panoramic fashion. I'd like your help. Many events leave a trail in the media or the public record, and I'm already following up on many of those. I know, for example, that hardboiled mystery writer John D. MacDonald died on that day, and the Jets beat the Chiefs. "Walk Like an Egyptian" topped the pop charts. And so forth. The public record is voluminous. But fame tends to be transient and shallow, casting what seems to be an arbitrary spotlight; there is also power in things that never get into the public eye -- stories of drama and consequence can be found in the lives of ordinary people. Sometimes, small things happen that will go unnoticed or unrecorded, but will prove pivotal to monumental events that follow. I want to find these things by tapping your memories, and/or testing your research skills. The book will be highly selective, but my Facebook page won't be; we hope it develops an engaging narrative of its own. If you think you have a story to tell, we'll look at it here. Or you can email me in complete privacy at oneday12.28.86@gmail.com. These could be anecdotes from your life or the lives of others you know. Nothing is too trivial, though it will be edited for quality and appropriateness. Are you a good enough storyteller to make yours interesting? Or, are you a researcher at heart? Talk to me. I'd be grateful for all sorts of promising leads. No money will change hands, I'm afraid, but I'll introduce you to all my swanky, bon vivant friends, as soon as I get some. What's in it for you? People who proved helpful will be acknowledged in the book. If you're really helpful, you and I could be working together in person. And, of course, if your own life finds its way into the book, hey, you'll be a superstar.
Books
  • I’m With Stupid
  • The Hypochondriac’s Guide to Life. And Death
  • Old Dogs: Are the Best Dogs
  • The Fiddler in the Subway
  • Me & Dog
Awards
  • 2008 & 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing – the only two-time winner in that category
Reviews
"Gene Weingarten is outrageously funny. I mean that literally: He is guaranteed to outrage some readers. But the smart ones will absolutely love him." – Dave Barry
Links