Wednesday, November 23, 2005

My 15 Minutes

I am an excellent time-waster (anyone who writes - or reads - yes, that means you - a blog must be). One of my time-wasting strategies has been to enter the New Yorker's weekly cartoon caption contest. To my utter shock, I am a finalist in this week's contest. Here it is:

"Well, it's not my fault booty revenues are down this quarter."

The brain is excellent at seeing the downside of something good. Here's what my brain came up with:

1. It's not the best one, and perhaps not even one I'd want the world to see with my name attached. That word 'booty' is problematic, after all. Furthermore:

2. I've really enjoyed submitting these, and I feel it would be silly to continue doing so now that one has made it into the magazine. Thus I've decided that instead of submitting them, I'll just post my caption ideas right here. That's right, folks, for the price of an internet connection you can see the intermittent contributions of an actual published cartoon caption writer.

Through next Sunday (11/27/05) you can even vote for my caption - or against it. [Update: too late now.] That first caption is pretty damn funny too, after all. If it wins I won't feel too bad. [It didn't. Neither did mine. The one that did was the one that everyone I know thought was the least funny. Do I feel bad? No - hoi polloi may not have chosen me, but the editors of the New Yorker did. Which, incidentally, is cooler.]

[Another update: Bob Mankoff wrote the following letter. To whom, I don't know. Frankly, I'm a bit suspicious as to its provenance, as I snagged it from cyberspace. But since it seems to be Mankoff discussing my very caption inter alia, I thought I would post it for posterity. Post-erity.]

Dear Captioneer,

Thanks for all your submissions (over 200,000 to date). That's right, thanks for all of them. Even the ones that are, shall we say, terrible—oops, I meant not quite right for us. Making humor is, by its nature, an uneven enterprise, even for folks who do it for a living. Often, in looking over the contests, you'll find that someone who had a very good entry in one contest submits another that completely falls flat. To be funny demands a certain kind of courage: the courage to be silly, look stupid, and, many times, not even get the payoff of a laugh. If we ever do a book about the caption contest, I think a good title might be Captions Courageous.

At Caption Contest Headquarters at The New Yorker, we receive, along with thousands of submissions every week for the contest itself (average: 7,000), many e-mails and phone calls wanting to know more about the contest. Many of these fall into the category of "Why didn't I win?" Well, what can we say, but that with 7,000 entries a week—well you do the math. Actually we have no idea what the math is or how to do it, but you get the idea.

And, even if you have a good caption, it's going to end up competing with others of a similar vein. The fact is that while there are thousands of entries for each contest, there are not thousands of different comic ideas. For example, in contest #27 over 95% of the captions could be grouped in the following categories, here shown with a few representative examples.

"We have to find a better way to record our meetings."
"Your idea is stupid!" "Your idea is stupid!"

"I thought we could use the additional feedback!"
"Even yes-men need yes-men."
"All right, let's just say we agree to agree!"

Parrots as clothes or objects
"Well, at least we didn't all wear the same tie."
"Shut up, Bob, everyone knows your parrot's a clip-on."
"I put my parrot on the same way as everybody else, Bill. One talon at a time."

"Nothing we say leaves this room."
"Well I guess that's the last time I'll ever confide in a parrot."
"Can you keep a secret?"

"The parrot's okay, but if you ask me it's a peg leg that really says you've arrived."
"This is nice but I really prefer hands-on piracy."
"Well, it's not my fault booty revenues are down this quarter."

"Every meeting it's the same—'Motion carries—more crackers!'"
"We've got to get past this issue of who wants a cracker."
"Cracker for your thoughts?"

From these we ended up picking the three finalists:
"We have to find a better way to record our meetings."
"Shut up, Bob, everyone knows your parrot's a clip-on."
"Well, it's not my fault booty revenues are down this quarter."

Each one represents a different angle on how to resolve the incongruity of the image in a satisfactorily funny way. Which one turns out to be most satisfactory and funny is a matter of taste, not truth. So enjoy the contests and the results, but don't take them too seriously or at least not so much that you have to call us about it.

Bob Mankoff
Cartoon Editor, The New Yorker

No comments: