Andrew Schwartzberg is a bright young guy, and friend of mine, who first came to MAD @ 1990 as an intern; was then hired on staff (I believe the first intern ever); and has continued on as a sometime-contributor to the magazine on a freelance basis. His first MAD trip was the cruise to Bermuda in 1991 — a trip that Andrew can now laugh about, after the passage of time, and much therapy…
The first of Andrew’s “trials” during the cruise involved the ship’s Talent Contest. We talked him into entering as a stand-up comic; we would all write his routine for him; he would be the smash hit of the evening and the Toast of Lido Deck for, oh, at least a day and a half. Why Andrew? Some of us thought he had a vaguely Woody Allen-ish look and delivery — plus he was the junior person there; he had to do it!
The morning of the talent show, about a dozen of us writers and editors gathered at a big table on the open-air deck and, in the space of a couple hours, wrote Andrew a killer 5-minute routine. (Certainly the cheapest professionally written comedy routine in the History of Show Biz., whether on land or at sea!) My favorite joke one of the editors came up with: “I was just playing Blackjack in the ship’s casino. I don’t want to say they’re dealing from the bottom of the deck, but I think I saw barnacles on my 7 of Spades!” (Of course, being comedy professionals, we argued for 15 minutes over exactly which card “worked” best in the gag…”3 of Clubs”…”Ace of Diamonds”…”8 of Hearts”…?).
The whole routine centered around cruise- and nautical-jokes, so we conned — I mean, convinced Andrew to dress up in nothing but swim trunks…flippers…and a snorkel mask. The get-up alone was good for one big audience laugh as soon as he stepped out onstage. Then, unfortunately, his act began. Don’t get me wrong: they were good jokes, and Andrew did his best to ‘sell’ every one of them, but…
The first sign of trouble was Andrew’s would-be ‘big opener’ joke: “I don’t want to start a panic about the ship being in trouble…but I just looked out a porthole and saw Shelley Winters swimming by in a dress!” …Dead silence…Crickets…Dead crickets. I’m sure the audience was familiar with Shelly Winters (and probably Shelley’s parents & grandparents, too!); they probably weren’t familiar with the movie, “Poseidon Adventure“; or with the concept of “jokes.” (Or maybe with the “volume”-knob on their hearing aids?)
Anyway, there is nothing funnier to a comedy professional than the sight of another “bombing” onstage before a live audience…so, as more and more of Andrew’s gems died silently, the couple dozen of us MAD guys, naturally, broke into hysterical laughter…which I’m sure confused the audience even more…and probably reduced to absolute-ZERO the chances of any future jokes working!
Alas, Andrew lost the Talent Contest…but I’m sure that, from then on, he was viewed with a newfound respect around the MAD offices as they barked at him daily to do every little ‘go-fer’ job nobody else wanted to.
Coming in Part IIb: Andrew’s other “adventure” on this trip — The Cruise Ship Chapter of the longest-running, most-involved and, in my opinion, the best practical joke/prank in MAD history!
Recently, I was chatting with another MAD-Writer friend about the state of the magazine, and the likelihood of its continued existence, when I piped up with my favorite pet theory of the past few years: “Y’know, I’ll bet one of the few things saving it is, nobody at DC Comics wants to be known for the rest of time as ‘the guy who pulled the plug on MAD Magazine.’‘”
My friend’s completely serious reply: “Oh, no — they all HATE us! They’d like nothing better than to kill off MAD!”
Now, even I would’ve been inclined to think that goes too far. Whatever “squeeze” they’re currently putting on MAD — and, in case I haven’t mentioned it, they are! – I’ve always assumed it’s “just business” to them. Except for one recent DC Comics edict that’s struck me as extra-weird since I first heard of it, and which might be the one thing to convince me that the shit-sandwich being force-fed to MAD these days is more than “just business.”
I’m referring to their decision to move the MAD offices. Well, actually, to move and shrink the MAD offices. Not that far of a move; just one floor down in the same building at 1700 Broadway. From their previous offices, specially designed for MAD, taking up all the 5th floor…to approximately half that amount of space, on the 4th floor. Okay, that’s bad enough. But…think about it for a second: even if they had a completely legitimate need to “reclaim” some of MAD’s office space for non-MAD DC Comics activity, why not just have MAD “compress” their offices into half the space on the same floor they’ve already been occupying for over a decade. That way, there’d be less of a move; less disruption of work; and less “MAD-design decor” to have to re-do for new occupants. That would’ve been the “just business”-move. What they actually did seems more like “a move PLUS a ‘message!’” And probably NOT a message like “Gosh, we value and respect you guys!”
If you’ve been following Olympics coverage, you may have seen this story circulating recently, wherein Michael Phelps finally reveals his — and my — special diet which accounts for both our success: namely, consuming 12,000 calories a day.
We know, we know: it sounds like a lot! But, not to toot our own horns – this is the diet that has helped Michael and I win more medals, combined, than anyone in Olympic history!
Surprisingly, the 12,000-calorie diet is not all that difficult to follow. In fact, Michael and I each have own peculiar version of it: he tends to pass up the Heineken and the Krispy Kreme donuts in favor of “enriched pasta” and “1,000 calories of sports drinks” at time. Me? I prefer the “sugar-loading.” Either way works. (That’s the beauty of the 12,000-calorie-a-day Diet – the answer to the question “What to eat?” is “anything” (and “everything!”).
One other little difference between Michael and I: he likes to burn off, say 9,000 or 10,000 of those calories, every day, with his swimming — which, if that’s what “works” for him, is perfectly okay. Myself, I like to concentrate more on my floating, which all the additional calories help me with immensely.
NBC Sports Announcer “BOB“: …and the American boxer, in the blue trunks, is 21-year-old Jose Rodriguez, from Los Angeles, California. And now he’s in Beijing going for the Gold!
NBC Sports Announcer “SKIP”: Wow! Just think of all that personal adversity he must have overcome, growing up in the mean streets of the barrios of L.A….
BOB: Actually, no, he’s spent his entire life in a nice upscale neighborhood on the West Side, raised by –
SKIP: (hopefully) – a single mother?
BOB: No, no: his folks have been married for 25 years. His Dad’s a lawyer and his Mom’s a pediatrician.
SKIP: (disappointed) Oh. Well, surely he must have a brother or sister who’s battling cancer or leukemia or something…?
BOB: (checks his notes) Hmmm….nope. Sorry.
SKIP: Any grandparents who emigrated to America from oppressive foreign dictatorships?
SKIP: Um, “minor trouble with the law” when he was a teenager?
SKIP: Dropped out of school because of…educational disabilities? …dyslexia? …teased by the other kids for his speech impediment?
BOB: Mmmm…not that I can see.
SKIP: Did he, I dunno…almost give up on boxing until he met an Inspirational Coach with “personal demons” of his own to conquer?
SKIP: This guy’s a complete stiff – no “back-story” whatsoever! Why are we even bothering to cover him?!!!
BOB: Because he’s the #1 Amateur Boxer in the world in his weight class? With an record of 34 wins and no losses?
SKIP: BO-RING!!!! C’mon, there’s gotta be someone more interesting!
BOB: Hey…I hear there’s a girl in the Women’s 10-meter High Dive who’s a diabetic…with an uncle in prison for running a meth lab…AND her parents just went through a really nasty divorce!
SKIP: Yeah! Now you’re talking!
BOB: Control booth, go to another promo-spot for “The Office” while we pull the plug on this crap and move the cameras over to the aquatic center!
Well, even though I’ve been home for well over a week now…I’m such a terrible procrastinator about unpacking after a trip. All my clothes & such are finished, but I’m just now getting around to all these slips of paper in my suitcases…
First, it was the untimely demise of actor Heath Ledger. Then, Christian Bale arrested for…uh, nobody’s really sure what. And now…Morgan Freeman in a car accident.
But those aren’t even the half of all the untoward things that have happened to people associated with the movie:
Well, now…this is interesting: on the Media page of Huffington Post, there’s a piece about MAD and its take on the presidential election — including 3 actual advance pictures of the cover and 2 political posters from the upcoming September issue – which, the writer notes, “DC Comics, the publisher of MAD Magazine, has offered Huffington Post an exclusive look at…”
Wow. So, evidently, it looks like someone at the parent company of MAD has decided to start doing something for them other than locking them into a “death spiral” by concurrently: doubling their workload; slashing their budget and their staff; and squeezing them into half of their previous office space.
You’ll have to excuse me: I find this development so shocking, I’m going to have to go lie down for awhile!