Saturday, January 1, 2011

My Favorite Humor Pieces of 2010 (unabridged) | Splitsider

I wrote a thing about my favorite humor writing of the year for Splitsider, but it was waaaaay too long initially, so I cut a bunch of stuff out. If anyone's interested, here's the unabridged, non-proofread version. Excuse the typos, length. Also contributing their favorites of the year in the finished piece are Mike Sacks (Vanity Fair, And Here's The Kicker, Sex: Our Bodies, Our Junk, Your Wildest Dreams Within Reason), Ted Travelstead (Vanity Fair, Sex: Our Bodies, Our Junk), Eliot Glazer (Urlesque,, comedian Dan Telfer, Todd Hanson (The Onion), humorist Summer Block Kumar (McSweeney's), and Jack Stuef (Wonkette, The Onion).

  • A Review of the New Museum Exhibit in My Neighborhood” by Sophie-Pollitt Cohen - McSweeney’s
    • Because it begins innocuously, we’re briefly fooled into thinking Pollit-Cohen’s describing an actual exhibit - albeit in an unconventional space. Though, I’ve been to an American Indian Museum that’s next to an arcade in a mall so.... The story’s periodic ending is worth the read. The exhibit’s believably mundane subjects (because what IS art?) are eventually revealed to be her neighbor’s possessions and the result of one hell of a night out.
  • A Response By An Aspiring Screenwriter Whose Screenplay Was Turned Down Because It Was Exactly Like Robocop” by Michael Lecher - McSweeney’s
    • One of my favorite short stories of all time is Jack Lewis’s “Who’s Cribbing?” in which an author finds in a publisher’s rejection letter that his original story is plagiarized. Then things really unravel. I won’t spoil it for you. Michael Lecher’s piece is of the same ilk (minus the suggestion of the supernatural), and could be accused of solely being a recap of Robocop, but it’s much funnier than that.
  • Categories For The Meta Awards” by Curtis Retherford - McSweeney’s
    • Awards shows are notoriously masturbatory and Chris Retherford’s piece lampoons that, imagining a show with categories like “Best Feigned Humility During The Acceptance Of This Award” and the very insidery “Best Sound Editing in a Film or Documentary Short” - which is a real category. Videogum picked up on the latter in its liveblog of the Oscars with this tweet: “And a special award to anyone who knows the difference between Sound Mixing/Sound Editing.” Meta indeed!
  • A Great Opportunity!” by Kristina Loew - McSweeney’s
    • Hardly distinguishable from some of the more outrageous ads actually posted on Craigslist (sans the typos and chance you’ll be assaulted), “A Great Opportunity!” nails everything that’s ridiculous about the site’s jobs section. Expectations are too high, pay is too low - and in our current economic climate - competition is too steep, so non-opportunities like this one seem promising. Even potential employers in search of a “Rabbi Versed in DARK TALMUDIC ARTS to create GOLEM” (No pay. As everyone knows, one has to work one's way up the golem conjuring ladder.) or, at a tempting $12/hour, someone “to listen to conspiracy theories and other outer space visitor stories” (college degree preferred) - both real posts - were probably flooded with applicants.
  • A Guide to Screen Layering in the New Screen Profuse Environment” by Beau Golwitzer - McSweeney’s
    • The first time I read this, it was on my laptop, which was in front of my desktop, next to which was my phone - all near my television. So, I felt particularly indicted by the piece’s opening line “Make a full inventory of your screens. Your screens likely include: the screen of your laptop computer; the larger screen of your desktop computer; the screen of your cell phone; and the screen of your flat-screen TV”. On a rereading, I was nearer to my flat screen. Perhaps I’d internalized the screen layering tips.
  • Orations of a Pre-Post-Colonial Oompa Loompa To His Revolutionary Brothers in Arms” by Marissa Medansky - McSweeney’s
    • I always thought the Oompa Loompas got a raw deal and probably should have unionized - even as Willy Wonka positioned himself as their great liberator. But how long was he really going to hang that over their heads? I’m getting carried away. This piece comforted me in the fact that there are other people as concerned with Oompa Loompian politics as I am. Up with the adorable orange-faced proletariat!
  • Google Docs Breaks Up With You” by Jeramey Kraatz - McSweeney’s
    • If the machines ever DO rise, the revolution will begin with Google. Jeramey Kraatz positions Google as Skynet - or worse HAL - in this piece about a Google Docs user who has no idea the program is sentient. Teddy Waynes’ 2009 McSweeney’s piece, “Yahoo's MAILER-DAEMON Automated Reply for Failed E-mail Delivery Is Getting a Little Too Intimate” and Dan Bergstein’s “Search and Annoy” (Grin & Tonic) take this technology-based paranoia to its natural end, with Google wondering in the latter “Sometimes I wonder what your kisses would feel like.Creeeepy!
  • FAQ: The ‘Snake Fight’ Portion of Your Thesis Defense” by Luke Burns - McSweeney’s
    • The antiquated traditions of academia are lampooned in Luke Burns’ invention of a new stage in thesis defense which is only slightly less terrifying than Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”. Those who try to skirt the rules here don’t get stoned to death (70-year-old SPOILER ALERT!); they have to fight a huge snake.
  • Videogum’s Top Chef Recaps
    • I’ve been reading and commenting on Videogum since late 2008 and nearly everything on the site is comedy gold, but earlier this year, my mother sent me an email about hilarious Top Chef recaps she’d found - and the link was to Videogum. For that reason alone, the site’s Top Chef recaps are among my favorite humor writing of 2010. Gabe Delahaye, the great equalizer. And considering that he has to be funny every day, several times a day, I’d say that Gabe’s writing deserves a place among pieces from Shouts and Murmurs.
  • Udder Madness” by Woody Allen - Shouts & Murmurs
    • If I’m making a list of my favorite comedy ANYTHING, Woody Allen’s probably going to be on it - and not in an everyone-loves-Woody-Allen way. All hype aside, “Udder Madness” is hilarious. Though the story’s most odious character - and object of our speaker’s (a cow!) ire - is clearly some harshly envisioned incarnation of Allen himself, learning in the piece’s introduction that “20 people a year are killed by cows in the United States. . . . In 16 cases, ‘the animal was deemed to have purposefully struck the victim’” makes the consummation of the story’s inevitable tragedy more bearable. Because he's described as a “wormy little cipher”, “insufferable little nodnik”; “fatuous little suppository”, “natting little carboncle”, and a “stricken little measle”, by the story’s end we’re rooting for the cow to destroy this fellow. When our narrator ascends a staircase to enact his murderous rage, I, a cultured person of the world who discovered while watching a recent episode of Sesame Street that cows can’t go down stairs (something about their knees), figured that’s how Allen’s story would end - with the cow caught red handed. But Woody veers away from expectation and the story ends as it should - an ending I won’t reveal because everyone should read this piece.
  • Dear Type A Parent” by Bruce McCall - Shouts & Murmurs
    • Bruce McCall’s satirization of competitive parents and the placement procedures of prestigious schools almost surpassed funny-because-it’s-true terrority straight to hitting too close to home. The openings of my elementary and high schools were protested by spurned parents whose children didn’t test in - and several families of students who did attend were investigated on suspicion of nepotism. So, although McCall’s examples are exaggerated, I know for a fact that parents are willing to do WHATEVER it takes to get their kids into good schools (though I heard gifted programs recently described by a former classmate as “taking the escalator vs the stairs”.). After all the ethically questionable maneuvering Bruce McCall characterizes so well, most of the products of these schools are totally unremarkable 20-somethings right now. I laughed aloud at this story when I read in at the library. McCall gets it.
  • Remembering Justice Stevens” by Ian Frazier - Shouts & Murmurs
    • I wasn’t able to verify any details of this story. Was Ian Frazier ever really a Supreme Court clerk? Seems plausible. Did Justice Stevens ever really get attacked by bees? Not out of the realm of possibility. That’s where the feasibility ends. This maybe-true story is exactly how a raven’s like a writing desk - that I can’t make heads or tails of it and it’s completely absurd. And very funny.
  • Et Tu, Brooklyn” by Allison Silverman - Shouts & Murmurs
    • I don’t live in Brooklyn, but the culture Allison Silverman describes here exists everywhere - dickheads in London, in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood and in Portlandia. Here in Chicago, it’s called Wicker Park. Each place is a sanctuary for aging h******s, clinging to a lifestyle that with every passing year becomes more difficult to maintain. Upon hearing of a close friend’s pregnancy, Silverman’s narrator is heartbroken: “We were supposed to make the world safe for babies by speaking truth to power... Pretty soon, she’d only care about stupid stuff.” Our speaker is the last woman in a world of her own creation; Allison Silverman captures the loneliness and betrayal of being marooned in Brooklyn as her friends forsake h******dom for more mainstream existences beautifully and hilariously.
  • Wit of Winston” by Gabe Durham - Yankee Pot Roast
    • Was Winston Churchill a cad? If his characterization in this piece is to believed, he wasn’t the just orator we’ve been made to believe he was. Of course, this is all made up - and reminds me of my favorite SNL impersonations, the ones that have little to do with the people they lampoon. There’s comedy in accuracy and exaggeration, but absurdity is so much more fun - The Onion’s notoriously ridiculous take on Joe Biden for example.
  • A Pledge To My Readers” by Michael Erard - The Morning News
    • This pitch-perfect marriage of etymological-speak and parody of localvores has something for wordies and champions of domestic production alike! (The Venn diagram of the two groups is probably just a circle.) Who knew there was such an overlap? The author promises he’ll only be “punctuating in season” and sourcing words from a “family-run verb operation that conjugates them in small batches”. And he creates a group of idealists he labels “literalists” who abstain from the use of metaphors, symbols, and any figurative language, that are analogous to vegans in their rigidity. Often in high-concept pieces, the execution fizzles around half-way through, but Erard’s piece works to the very last line.

  • JuniorHighLeaks” by Teddy Wayne - The Morning News
    • Across nearly every medium, there were commentaries on WikiLeaks - written, filmed, in earnest and in jest - so for a piece on the subject to distinguish itself, it’s got to be pretty good, right? Teddy Wayne adopts the service’s very serious tone and applies it to the insipidity of junior high life. He gets all of the details right: lining up in alphabetical order, boys getting taller over the summer, girls not being able to wear makeup. And reading silly topics handled gravely just cracks me up. Michael Lacher’s “My Tea Party Candidacy” from the Barnes and Noble Review’s Grin & Tonic similarly takes aim at the extreme stances of the Tea Party by placing them in the context of a child’s run for Gerbil Monitor.
  • And Now A Few Minutes With Andy Rooney’s Homo Erectus Ancestor” by Andy F. Bryan - The Morning News
    • Read this piece in Andy Rooney’s voice and try not to laugh. You can hear Rooney’s warm, but wooden inflection and the strange way he parses his sentences in Bryan’s style. In season one of Mad Men, Roger Sterling bets that “there were people in the Bible walking around complaining about kids today”. Andy Rooney’s progenitors may just have been among those people.
  • Scared Straight” by Simon Rich - Barnes & Noble Review’s Grin & Tonic
    • Before people took to XtraNormal’s text-to-video service to parody the barriers to entry in their chosen professions, Simon Rich was crushing dreams in his humorous piece “Scared Straight”. Want to marry your high school sweetheart? Want to major in philosophy? Want to be a humorist? Bad Ideas! All!
  • Welcome to Geroge and Cindy’s Divorce Proceedings Website” by Teddy Wayne - Barnes & Noble Review’s Grin & Tonic
    • Whoever wrote this in Vogue’s 1948 Book of Ettiquette would be appalled at Teddy’s Waynes’ story linked above: “Divorce is a public confession of failure, and so it is the height of bad taste to celebrate it with ‘freedom parties’ or any some such jubilation.” And definitely don’t make a website to keep your friends posted! All of the bases are covered, including a divorce podcast and Flickr account - and the domain names of each spouse’s website are perfect: and .
  • Out of Print” by Teddy Wayne - Barnes & Noble Review’s Grin & Tonic
    • Teddy Wayne is going to show up on this list a few more times. He’s just that funny. You know that departure from form I mentioned in the intro? It’s employed here to great effect. Wayne’s meta handling of the demise of newspapers (ironically published online!) toys with convention to illustrate just how spendthrift print news has become. Missing paragraph indents, punctuation, and vowels - because they’re outside of the newspaper’s budget - are not just syntactical gymnastics for their own sake, but work in service of the bit.
  • Dear Mr. Thomas Pynchon” by Mike Sacks & Scott Rothman - Barnes & Noble Review’s Grin & Tonic
    • Whenever I have to speak to or email someone I admire, I fear I come off delusional, megalomaniacal aspiring author Rhon (silent “h”) Penny. The piece above, by Mike Sacks (my favorite humorist at the moment) and Scott Rothman, is one of many in a series by Rhon Penny - a series in which he writes to famous authors begging for their endorsements and collaboration - in this case, a book jacket blurb. Rhon is part Kenny Powers, part Mr. Collins from Pride & Prejudice (“There is a mixture of servility and self-importance in his letter, which promises well.”) - a man in whom a lack of self-awareness is bred with the cloying flattery of a shameless sycophant - all hilarity and cringe-worthy second-hand embarrassment.
  • Self-Promotion” by Polly Frost - Barnes & Noble Review’s Grin & Tonic
    • I did public relations and online marketing for recording artists for almost three years and know - first-hand - that promotion can often eclipse creativity. Everyone is expected to be a generalist instead of focusing on the talent that demands promotion. Polly Frost’s artist becomes ensnared in the full-time job of always being top-of-mind so much so that people seek him or her out, but to discuss promotion strategies. Frustrated, the artist wonders what has become of the real work and is grimly reminded, on the subject of promotion: “This is your real work.
  • Domestic Conflict, Explained by Stock Photos” by Kevin Nguyen - The Bygone Bureau
    • Stock photos are chock full of unintentional humor. And they can be oddly specific. I was writing a piece about effective thrift store shopping for a website targetted at black women and needed a few pictures of “happy black women shopping” and these are what I found. That photos of any situation, condition, or emotion are available at the click of a button is strange enough - but the models in the photos are clearly phoning it in. Any chance to mock this service is welcome.

  • Whim Quarterly’s Conversation Pieces by Matt Passet
    • What do you know about Frank Capra? Or Michaelangelo (both!)? Probably no more than Matt Passett, who imagines conversations between people about whom he possesses only the most common knowledge. The premise is so simple and so funny that when I read the series’ first incarnation in McSweeney’s a few years ago, I wished I’d thought of it myself.
  • Trouble” by Summer Block - The Nervous Breakdown
    • Maybe it’s because of my disruptive youthful rebellion, but I go out of my way not to stir the pot these days. I’m all gratitude and contrition - to a fault. Summer Block Kumar seems to be the same way, but she skipped a few of the more difficult steps. Her aversion to conflict arises innately and gets her into more trouble than the trouble she avoids - chiefly an alley dumpster behind a nail salon. Read it. It’s great.
  • I Tried to Be A Toilet Blogger” by Daniel Roberts - The Nervous Breakdown
    • The Nervous Breakdown’s non-fiction humor pieces are usually pretty funny, but this one is phenomenal. Toilet Blogger is apparently a real job people can have - not only that, but apparently a job people would line up in the cold to get. This recounting of the Charmin Ambassador (official title) interview prices makes me think that it wouldn’t be outrageous to get myself in ridiculous situations just for the story.

There were tons of pieces from The Onion this year that were soooo good - and I wanted to include them all, but by the time I'd started to write them up, my piece was already twice as long as it should have been. But I cheated and put 4 pieces into one write-up. When you think about the fact that they put out an issue EVERY WEEK - and that there are 3-4 stand out pieces every week, it's not hard to understand why I've chosen so many or how difficult it was to narrow them down to 4. So here are my favorite Onion pieces of the year with a few words (literally) about why I liked each:

Kids, Your Mother Is Ready To Start Fucking Again - Oh man. My parents are divorced and if I'd read this when it happened (I was a teenager), I'd have probably lost my shit.

New Law Would Ban Marriages Between People Who Don't Love Each Other - Topical. Servicey. Turning the real issue on its ear. Sanctity of marriage... Spanktity of carraige.... etc etc

Autistic Child Ruins Marriage He Was Born To Save - It's no secret that I love comedy than may bum people out, but this is just heartbreaking. Imagine how much this must ACTUALLY HAPPEN. UGH!

New David Simon Project To Investigate Happy, Upper-Middle-Class Streets Of Wilmette, IL | The Onion & 'This American Life' Completes Documentation Of Liberal, Upper-Middle-Class Existence & Ira Glass Tries To Explain 'This American Life' At High School Reunion - Look, I love This American Life, but we all know they cover a very thin sliver of ACTUAL American life. And I have friends from Wilmette. Nothing urban or gritty happens there. David Simon would HATE IT!

Adderall Receives Honorary Degree From Harvard - This piece by the talented Molly Young in n+1 deals with Adderall in the Ivies: And of course, The Onion kicks it up a notch.

Amazing Original Thing To Become Hated Cliché In 6 Months & Man Who Enjoys Thing Informed He Is Wrong - Outside of my taste in comedy and MAYBE vintage fashion, I like all the wrong things. I hardly listen to any music that's currently out. But who's deciding what the right things are anyway?

Smart, Qualified People Behind the Scenes Keeping America Safe: 'We Don't Exist' - Think of the scene in The Wizard of Oz when we find out the wizard's fake. BUMMER. (Or in The Wiz when we find out it was Richard Pryor all along.)

Sorry, I'm Just Really Bad With Names And Faces Of People Who Are Not Attractive And Can't Help Advance My Career ...... This is the person we all try not to be. BUT WE'RE ALL HORRIBLE OPPORTUNISTS!

Tea Party Plans To Recruit More Coloreds This Fall - The Tea Party is this tone deaf in real life.

Pop Culture Expert Surprisingly Not Ashamed Of Self - This could be about any blogger, but hey... I like pop culture bloggers!

Man Lives In Futuristic Sci-Fi World Where All His Interactions Take Place In Cyberspace - During really bad depressive episodes, this is basically my life. Paypal and Twitter and the whole internet in general are basically The Depression Concierge Service.

Census Finds Enough Homeless People Living In Public Library To Warrant Congressional District - I spend a lot of time at libraries and there's one in particular here in Chicago - The Harold Washington branch downtown - that this article could be about.

There were also pieces in Opium, Hobo Pancakes, Defenestration, BananaFish, The Big Jewel, Swink, Feathertale, Mental Floss, Cavalier Literary Couture and countless other pubs that I remember bookmarking over the year, but just couldn't fit in. That's the sad part about making lists. You have to leave SO MUCH OUT!

(General update: I'll TENTATIVELY - because I haven't started to write it yet - have a post on The Hairpin about free product samples. It's funnier/more exciting than it sounds, hopefully.)


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