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You KNOW You’re Really a MAD Writer When…

You KNOW you’re Really a MAD Writer when…you spend almost as much time trying to “game” the MAD editors as you do actually writing! Half the challenge of selling articles to them on a regular basis is anticipating what type of stuff they’re more likely to buy — before you actually waste time writing up stuff that they won’t. This task is made exponentially more difficult by the fact that MAD editors sometimes have a habit of saying one thing, but doing something else. Like, for example, periodically sending out memos to the writers that “we want new & different kinds of articles”…but continuing to buy and publish mostly the same old style of articles.

To me, the most glaring example of this “disconnect” involves the old MAD article formula, “You KNOW you’re a [blank] WHEN…” If you’re at all familiar with “classic MAD,” you KNOW they did this exact piece to death, over and over, all during the 60s, the 70s and into the 80s. Here’s just a partial list I swear I’m not making up:

  • You Know You’re Really Getting Old When…
  • You Know You’re Really Married When…
  • You Know You’re Really a Parent When…
  • You Know You’re Really Overweight When…
  • You Know You’re Really A Nobody When…
  • You Know You’re Really in Trouble When…
  • You Know You’re Really on Your Own When…
  • You Know You’re Really a Football Fan When…
  • You Know You’re Really Grown Up When…
  • You Know You’re Really Divorced When…
  • You Know You’re Really a Pet Owner When…
  • You Know He/She Is Not For You When…
  • You Know You’re in a Second Marriage when…
  • You Know Your Days Are Numbered When…
  • You Know There’s Something Fishy When…
  • You Know You’ve Really Got a Problem When…

It got so ridiculous that, in the mid-80s, even the (then) editors themselves realized they might be beating a dead premise, and they started specifically mentioning it in their Submissions Guidelines — as in ‘Don’t EVER send us ANY MORE ‘You Know You’re Really a [blank] When… pieces!!!’ And they dutifully kept on mentioning that in the writers guidelines for over 20 years…even as they kept on buying essentially the same articles!

See, what we discovered — and what became the worst-kept secret among MAD writers — is that even though the editors said they wouldn’t buy any more “You Know You’re a [blank] When’-articles…in point of fact, they DID, and would CONTINUE TO buy them — as long as you re-worded the offending You Know-title into something like:

  • Warning Signs you’re a…
  • Sure Signs you’re…
  • Sure-fire Signs that you’re…
  • Tip-Offs that you’re…
  • Tell-tale Signs you’re a…

Other than the reworded title/template…they’re practically identical in format, style of gag, etc. to every “You Know You’re a [blank] When...”-article¬† from 20, 30, or 40 years ago! (Prove it to yourself: take any ‘reworded special’ from the last couple decades that has “Warning Signs,” “Tip-offs” or “Sure Signs” in the title; and change it back to “You Know You’re a [blank] When…” form. Did you have any problems?)

I’m not too proud to admit I sold them GOBS of articles like that over the years, as have lots of the other guys, including my friends Desmond Devlin and, especially, John Caldwell — who, even now, gets one published in roughly every other issue; he’s probably put a kid through college just on the $$ he’s made from these kind of articles alone! (But I have to admit, John does bring more than his share of laugh-out-loud jokes, and art, to this particular dead-horse format.)

So, there you have Reason #312 why MAD Hasn’t Changed (That Much): the editors wouldn’t stop forcing money down our throats for writing the same old stuff year after year! Hee hee. (My tongue is only halfway in my cheek — if they had actually bought more of the “new & different” material than the “old, safe & familiar” kind, we would have written and sent them MORE of the former. You can bet my Bank Account on it.)