Celebrating More Than 60 Years of a Mad, Mad World

Tara Taghizadeh

 

Editor’s note: This July (2019), MAD Magazine sadly announced that it would cease publication, ending several decades of  unique wit and humor that have become permanently ingrained in American culture. This is an article Highbrow Magazine Founding Editor and Publisher Tara Taghizadeh wrote in 2013, in which she interviewed MAD Magazine’s former editor about the legendary magazine.

 

James Thurber once said, humor is a serious thing. Tell that to the folks at MAD Magazine, who since the 1950s have been laughing at us (and with us) with tongue placed firmly in cheek. The joke never gets stale. More than 60 years later, and Harvey Kurtzman’s and William Gaines’ (the founding editor and publisher) dreams have been fully realized.

 

Perhaps the magazine’s iconic success is due to its complete lack of respect for anyone and anything. The “nothing is sacred” motto has been at the core of the publication’s superb editorials and illustrations, and from politicians to movie stars to the average Joe, all have been bitten by MAD’s acerbic sting.

 

From Spy vs. Spy to the toothy grin of Alfred E. Neuman, MAD has delivered chuckles to American youths with the underlying message of: Don’t take yourself too seriously because we certainly don’t. Contributor Al Jaffee once said, “"MAD was designed to corrupt the minds of children. And from what I'm gathering from the minds of people all over, we succeeded.”

 

To celebrate their 60th year in 2012, the magazine published Totally MAD, 60 Years of Humor, Satire, Stupidity and Stupidity.

 

John Ficarra, the current editor of MAD, spoke briefly with Highbrow Magazine about the secret of MAD’s success, the throng of contributors who have flocked to the magazine, and how he will probably land in an insane asylum if he ever leaves MAD.

 

 

Highbrow Magazine: Would you say that editing MAD is the best job in American publishing? Where would you go after MAD?

 

John Ficarra: Probably to some sort of asylum….As jobs go, this beats the hell out of coal mining.

 

Do you think East Coasters are funnier than West Coasters?

 

God, that has been the proverbial topic of stand-up comedians since the birth of stand up. There is good comedy on both coasts. I don’t think it’s a matter of coasts, I think it’s a matter of talent.

 

Are there any particular issues of the magazine that are your favorite?

 

If you look through the book, I pulled everything for the book…there were more than 26,000 pages I had to choose from…clearly, most of the stuff in there are favorites of mine. Two different kinds of favorites: those I worked on, and those I read growing up reading MAD.

 

 

You have a long roster of contributors who have been writing and providing illustrations/cartoons to the magazine for years. But are you regularly bombarded with new submissions?

 

All the time. Everything is read by at least two editors. And we have also turned down scripts from people who have been writing for us for years and bought things from the slush pile.

 

What is your daily reading list, aside from MAD Magazine of course?

 

By the time I come in, I’ve read the Times, at least one tabloid, websites like CNN.com, and I’ll check Gawker.com and TMZ.com. From there, I’ll sit with the staff and we’ll work on our blog entry for the day.

 

 

What are your editorial meetings like? I would love to be a fly on the wall.

 

Well, we don’t have any flies, but we have quite a few cockroaches in the office. Probably the best meetings where trying to write something like the blog, where the creative juices are flowing. We’re all very competitive…it’s about who can come up with the better line.

 

Some of the other stuff is pretty mundane: reviewing a submission someone sent in…do we like this, do we not like this…probably like at any other magazine, although I have never worked at any other magazine, nor would they have me work at any other magazine.

 

 

So has MAD Magazine had to deal with its share of ridiculous lawsuits?

 

The big one was Irving Berlin who sued us and we won, which paved the way for song parody. Back in the early ‘80s, we did a takeoff of the second Star Wars movie with Yoda on the cover and we received a letter from George Lucas’ attorney threatening to sue if we didn’t recall the issue, and turn over the original artwork and laundry list of things he was demanding….Unfortunately for the lawyer, two weeks earlier I had gotten a terrific letter from George Lucas saying how much he loved the spoof.

 

Another time we had done a totally fictitious story about …I don’t remember the girl’s name…I’m going to make it up, like this: We wrote a story about a Melinda Klopsmith in Brookline, Massachusetts, a high school student who wore stupid clothes to school, and there was someone like a Mary Klopsmith in a high school in Brookline, Massachusetts and she sued us, saying that we held her up to ridicule. We defended the lawsuit, but when it went to the deposition stage, Bill Gaines  -- even though we would win the lawsuit -- felt so sorry for the girl, he said, the hell with it, and he gave her money to go away.

 

What is MAD’s message to the youth of America?

 

Always question authority. They’re usually lying to you.

 

 

Author Bio:

Tara Taghizadeh is the Founding Editor & Publisher of Highbrow Magazine and grew up reading MAD Magazine in Europe.

 

For Highbrow Magazine

 

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