What, me Murray? or how Mad made me

There is very little that remains from my youth, least of all my youth. I still have the vinyl records that I purchased until succumbing to the folly of cassette tapes more suited to my transient lifestyle. (Cassettes are gonna make a comeback, I tell ya!) Then there are my university English Lit books, because you never know when you’re going to want to curl up with a good Medieval drama.

But buried in a drawer are possessions I’ve had probably longer than anything else: my Mad magazines.

There are only a handful left. I used to have years’ worth, but somewhere along the way the bulk succumbed to the ravages of time and spring cleaning.

The ones that remain are frayed and torn, mostly without their covers. The oldest is from 1975 and features a spoof of That’s Entertainment called “What’s Entertainment?” complete with song parodies by Frank Jacobs and uncanny celebrity likenesses by Mort Drucker. There are also regular features by Don Martin, Dave Berg, Sergio Aragones and “the usual gang of idiots.”

This issue probably belonged to an older brother, but later I had my own subscription. That kept going until about 1982 when I moved on to a cooler, more mature subscription to Rolling Stone.

I don’t have any of my old Rolling Stones.

I’m also not a rock writer. Nor am I particularly cool or mature. Instead, I’m a grown adult man who last week wrote a joke built around the word “beaver.” And not for the first time.

So we now know who to blame for this.

It’s true that Mad had a big influence on me. I grew up in a small town with one cinema and two TV channels – at least in our house. Cable was the stuff that dreams were made on. We didn’t have Saturday morning cartoons. Instead, we had Saturday evenings and “The Bugs Bunny Show,” with its madcap anvils and gravity-defying mayhem, an influence in its on right.

But Mad offered a glimpse at the culture that was happening outside my sheltered, small-town world. Not just a glimpse but a funhouse mirror view – distorted, strange yet recognizable.

I’ve never seen Dog Day Afternoon but I know it through “Dum Dum Afternoon.” I’ve never seen A Star is Born, but I can tell you what happens from “A Star’s a Bomb.” Long before I saw Apocalypse Now, I knew what to expect from “A Crock o’ [BLIP!] Now.”

Mad exposed to me to shallow disco culture, shoddy products, corrupt politicians, The Lighter Side of Grooming. I learned what “planned obsolescence” meant. My brother and I discovered to our endless amusement that when a boob pops out of a bra, it goes “POIT!” (God bless you, Don Martin.)

And weirdly, for a 10- to 15-year-old, I learned the names of the writers and artists. Al Jaffee was a genius. Jack Davis was the bridge between the cartoonishness of Don Martin and the realism of George Woodbridge. To be honest, I paid less attention to the writers, but the writing itself I could count on to skewer everything in its path. And that’s what I took away from Mad magazine – nothing was sacred.

As much as I liked Mad in the 70s, what I truly loved were the special issues, the ones with the reprints of original EC comics from the 50s – “Superduperman,” “Starchie,” “Melvin of the Apes.” These had nothing to do with my current culture. Instead, I was enthralled by the lunatic artwork by the likes of Wally Wood and Bill Elder, with tossed-off gags crammed in every pane. There was no bit of insanity that couldn’t be made more insane, like the ever-changing emblem on Superduperman’s chest (“Good Housekeeping,” “100% Wool,” “For Rent”).

I thought, “I can do this!” And that’s why I decided to become… a cartoonist. But then I discovered I was untalented. (I still have my old cartoon journals too.) Words, however, I could manage, and words could be as flexible as images. Plus there was never a need to draw eyeballs.

Of course, not everyone who grew up reading Mad became a humorist, and no doubt there are many influences that led me to where I find myself – having written a weekly humour column in The Sherbrooke Record for 14 straight years and other places for most of my adult life.

These days we live in Kibitz Nation, where everything’s a joke and comedians come (as Mad magazine described itself) “cheap.” By comparison, the humour of those old Mads is positively quaint. So why do I keep them around?

Maybe it’s to remind myself why I do this, that, like Mad magazine, I still might help someone see the world differently, thanks to humour in a jugular vein.

About rossmurray1

I'm Canadian so I pronounce it "Aboot." No, I don't! I don't know any Canadian who says "aboot." Damnable lies! But I do know this Canadian is all about humour (with a U) and satire. Come by. I don't bite, or as we Canadians say, "beet."
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29 Responses to What, me Murray? or how Mad made me

  1. markbialczak says:

    Yes, Ross. Things were right when that magazine came out on the 7-Eleven rack, I rode it to my suburban Long Island home on my bike and the world could be viewed as slightly ‘Mad.’

  2. Joy Blake says:

    Ric Knowles would be as pleased as punch. He might even ask you to adapt one of the Mad episodes into a ready-for-stage play, complete with costume design!

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Hey, Joy. I think I disappointed me when I dropped my thesis in favour of concentrating on The Argosy. I’ve actually written a play that centres around a local story and (subtext) the idea of myth. I should invite him!

  3. First time I saw your profile photo on WP, I thought, the spitting image of Alfred E. Neuman. I would’ve mentioned it, but didn’t want to worry you.

  4. klea says:

    I used to have that “Superduperman” issue!

  5. franhunne4u says:

    We had MAD – and like you I learned a lot about movies I had never watched. Like Rocky. Yes, I never saw Rocky. But I have still in mind the parody. The strict diet regimen that would go: 6:00 crack two raw eggs in one glass. 6:01 – drink 6:02 vomit …

  6. walt walker says:

    I think I remember Dum Dum Afternoon. My favorite recurring feature was Spy vs Spy. The funniest thing they did in my opinion was an article called “Basebrawl,” where they suggested new rules for baseball that would make it less boring, like letting the batter get to carry the bat with him while running the bases. And using it to knock the crap out of everyone. There was a copy cat mag called Cracked that I liked a lot too.

  7. List of X says:

    If you can believe it, I have never held a copy of the magazine in my hand. And probably not going to – unfortunately, a lot of humor just doesn’t age well, often even worse than its author.

  8. ksbeth says:

    i loved mad and this brought back so many memories. early subversive and intelligent print –

    oh, and spy vs. spy!

  9. Gavin Keenan says:

    Loved it as a kid. And now in that I am in my dotage and don’t care what the mailman will think of me, I started a subscription for the new year. “BARF!!!!”

  10. Mad was a pretty big deal to me as well. I still pick up a copy now and then. There’s actually a few good laughs in every issue. In the last issue, Alfred E. Newman quotes: “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life…because you’ll be unemployed!” But the contemporary issues rely too much on toilet humor. When did that happen? Did you have any of the paperbacks? They reprinted magazine pieces. I had dozens of them. The Ides of Mad. Howling Mad. It’s a World, World, World Mad. Fighting Mad. etc.

  11. Thanks for this post! You brought back so many funny memories of reading Mad and laughing my head off!

  12. ‘Mad’ seemed strange and somehow exotic to a Melbourne suburban boy. Only saw it irregularly, but still remember the folding pictures and “Snappy answers to stupid questions”. But my favourite was Spy vs Spy. That cool, minimalist look; that cruel humour.

    Thanks for stirring up some memories. Humour keeps us human. And sane.

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