I recently received the following letter from a fan:
Please don’t laugh at me, but I’m one of 2,485 Americans that suffer from a very rare brain condition called Nogetus DeBoffo Disease. There is still very little known about this strange condition, but what we do know is shocking. Almost immediately upon the onset of the disease, the carrier of the condition ceases to maintain the capacity to understand single-panel comic strips such as Ziggy, The Lockhorns, Family Circus, and of course, the strip for which the disease is named, Mr. Boffo.
It is not known what causes this condition to take over the mind of such a select few individuals in this country. But a group of doctors working in conjuction with the Tribune Syndicate has developed a theory. It appears that through their extensive research, it has been determined that readers of the funny pages who tend to read their strips in a particular order have been exposed to a combination of eye stimulants that, individually, would be harmless to the human receptors, but combined, they form a deadly mixture of ink, newspaper grain, and adoloscent humor that can be crippling to the brain’s primordial lobe region.
But there is a separatist movement in the medical field which has seen a small cluster of doctors coming out against the aforementioned theory. This group of doctors, known simply as The Mary Worths believe that the problem is genetic. They believe that an extremely miniscule percentage of newborns are brought into this world missing one-twenty-fifth of their humor chromosome. The Mary Worths hope to prove this theory through extensive stem cell research.
The fact remains, Mikey, that I am one of the unfortunate souls who has spent his whole life traumatized by his inability to grasp those simplest of life’s little pleasures. And that pleasure is the single-panel comic. You can’t possibly know what it’s like to find yourself gathered around the office coffee maker as everyone admires the new Ziggy cartoon that someone posted on the company bulletin board. Faking a laugh can be a traumatic experience in its own right, and I challenge anyone to live in constant fear of the inevitible happening: “Hey there everyone, let’s see if Greg can tell us why this Ziggy cartoon is so darn funny! Greg?”
I can’t take it another day. So in a last ditch effort to keep from flinging myself into a wood chipper, I’ve enclosed a few single-panel comics in the hopes that you might be able to help me wrap my tiny little brain around them. I have no where else to turn. Please, can you help?
Not Gettin’ It Greg
Dear Not Gettin’ It,
It just so happens that this is a field in which I am a trained expert. You’ve come to the right place. Let’s get right to it.
Clearly, poor Ziggy lost his luggage. Upon inquiring about its whereabouts, he’s informed by the friendly customer support representative that his luggage was sent to another country. Once again, poor Ziggy finds insult added to injury when it’s determined that the French luggage collectors actually became offended at the sight of Ziggy’s luggage, and decided that the best course of action would be to throw it away, rather than send it back to the place from whence it came. This is funny for several reasons: 1) Ziggy just has no luck with anything, let alone luggage; 2) the stereotype that the French are arrogant snobs is perpetuated with some effectiveness; and 3) the woman relaying the information about Ziggy’s luggage is doing so with a high level of earnestness, thus providing a subtle undertone of implied irony. But really, it just comes down to Ziggy’s penchant for bad luck.
This one is particularly funny. Let us break down why. For starters, it is expected that the reader know and understand that Don Juan was a man well-known for his ability to woo and bed women on a regular basis. It is expected that the reader recognize that Don Juan was a master of turning a seductive phrase at the most romantic of moments, thus rendering his female prey unable to resist his charms. However, what cartoonist Joe Martin has done here is substitute his Uncle Leon for Don Juan. The first reason this is funny, is because Uncle Leon is a much funnier sounding name than Don Juan. Secondly, the reader is expected to infer that Uncle Leon is still lamenting about the missed field goal that cost his team the big game (presumably the missed 45-yarder by Mike Vanderjagdt which cost the Indianapolis Colts a trip to the 2006 Superbowl, a game ultimately won by the team at whose hands the Colts were dealt defeat, the Pittsburgh Steelers). Thirdly, this is not the sort of question one would normally expect a gentleman to ask a lady when he is attempting to win her affection. Finally, the ultimate punch-line occurs when the reader accepts that this alternate-universe that Joe Martin created is one in which a line about the what-should-have-beens of NFL football serve as a spoken aphrodesiac. Ah, if only this world was real, and our current reality just a cartoon.
Mr. Lockhorn has arrived home from work and he’s hungry. His statement implies that his wife, Loretta, isn’t much of a cook. That’s pretty funny.
Last but not least:
I think we can all relate to this one. What we’re dealing with here is a play on words. The author of the comic is drawing a comparison to real human life. As it happens, there are things out there called “gay bars.” These are establishments at which people of a certain tendency tend to gather. In this case, it’s assumed that dogs that don’t wear collars are considered a different breed of dog. They tend to sniff the butts of the same mutts, if you get my drift. They use the fire hydrant as more than just a deposit point, if you see what I’m saying. These are dogs that often travel in fudge packs, if you take my meaning. Therefore, it just makes sense that they should have their own drinking establishment. This is funny because these two collar-wearing breeder dogs have wandered into a bar in which they don’t belong. Good stuff.
Okay, one more:
Ziggy has been drinking and doesn’t recognize a quality television program when he sees one. In this episode of CSI: Sesame Street Big Bird was shot and killed while attempting to thwart a robbery at Mr. Hooper’s liquor store. But Ernie suspects that the case isn’t as cut and dry as that. With the help of The Count, Ernie discovers that there were one…two…three…four…FOUR bullet casings on the floor of Mr. Hooper’s liquor store, ah hahahaha! Ernie takes these to Oscar who determines that they were fired from the same small caliber, nickel-plated .22 caliber handgun that was discarded in his garbage can by a large, brown, furry, four-legged muppet with a trunk not unlike an elephant’s, and a tendency to be self-loathing and depressed all the time. Brothers and bail bondsmen Cookie and Telly Monster arrive at the home of one “Snuffy” Snufalupagus and inform him of their intention to present him to the authorities. Snuffy goes cooperatively, and is placed in a holding cell. While in the cage, Snuffy finds himself in a mortal tussle with his cell mate, Grover the Glove, known assassin. Grover was picked up selling counterfeit letter G’s in the alley. As it turns out, the bust was all a big setup. Snuffy finds himself with a shiv buried deep in his trunk as he’s ultimately killed by Grover. The blue assassin struck again before vanishing in into a cloud of chicken feathers. He’s not heard from again. Meanwhile, the post-mortem forensic results indicate that Snuffy was not the Big Bird shooter after all. And through a magnificent stroke of luck, Sesame Street officials stumble across a piece of red fur stuck under the fingerhoof of their dead Snufalupagus. Further tests reveal the fur belongs to one Elmo “Maddog” Timpowski. He’s brought downtown where he cooperates and gives the Sesame Street authorities a full confession. Sadly, after prison guards fail to subject “Maddog” Timpowski to a full body and cavity search, Elmo strangles himself with the human hand on which he has come to rely for animated body movement and well-timed, comic relief providing giggle spasms. The episode ends with a despondant Kermit the Frog unveiling the details of the tragedy to the local Sesame Street media. Elmo is survived by his mother, Elmo’s Mommy, and his uncle, everyone’s favorite former gameshow host, Guy Smiley.
I hope that helped. As always, feel free to drop me a line.