Sometimes comedy illuminates hard truths with a pointed urgency that other means can’t quite achieve. Sometimes comedy is just funny. This series of posts is mostly about the former instances, but the latter is valuable, too.
By the time I was cognizant of the offerings arrayed on the magazine rack at the local grocery store, Mad was already an institution. Of course it was. The publication had been around for about twenty years longer than little ol’ me. I grew up with Mad as the North Star of insolent humor, juvenile in its outlook, but also invested with a commensurate youthfulness in its zingy freedom. Absolutely anything was open to mockery, and the greatest arched-eyebrow derision was reserved for the most imposing pillars of authority. If you can’t beat ’em, joke ’em.
I don’t remember that many issues of the magazine ever passing through my hands, yet Mad was somehow everywhere. Paperback collections were strewn about and the proper closet shelf held spin-off games, which were more fun to browse through than actually play. At school, a kid who smuggled in a copy of Mad was briefly a hero, subject to jostling as classmates clamored to get a giggly dose of Don Martin or Sergio Aragonés or Al Jaffee’s Fold-in. I begged to read Antonio Prohías’s “Spy vs. Spy,” marveling at the pantomime slapstick without quite being able to articulate what was vividly unique about it. At the time, I just knew it was funny to me. That was plenty.