Happy birthday, Alfred E. Neuman! MAD magazine’s perpetually 12 years-old mascot celebrates his birthday on April 1st (naturally), and MAD itself turned 60 last year. Neuman has appeared on almost every cover since March of 1955. To celebrate this successful string of failure, we tried to get straight answers out of MAD‘s longtime editor-in-chief, John Ficarra.
Man Cave Daily: MAD just celebrated its 60th anniversary, and you’ve been with it more than 3 decades. Apart from the changing media, what are the biggest differences you notice between then and now?
John Ficarra: So much! Probably the biggest difference is that I was not alive 60 years ago – so that’s been a real night-and-day transformation for me.
MCD: Was there ever a writer or artist you wanted to work for MAD and almost got, but it never happened?
JF: Absolutely. There are so many talented people out there who are too busy, or too hard to reach, or have the good sense not to get involved with us. Off the top of my head, I’d say Dave Barry, Gary Larson and whoever originally wrote the “Here I sit brokenhearted” graffiti from public bathroom stalls.
MCD: Similarly, what MAD talent did you never get to work with that you wish you had? Is there any creator who you feel was ahead of his/her time and would flourish in this current era of MAD?
JF: John Caldwell. He’s been contributing to the magazine for almost as long as I’ve been on staff, and I’ve been carefully avoiding him for the better part of three decades. So we’ve technically never worked together. I’m starting to feel bad about it. I wouldn’t say John is ahead of his time – but he often eats bananas that are nowhere near ripe enough.
MCD: You once said everyone’s favorite MAD era is when they first discovered it. Is that true of you as well, or as a creator do you feel there are eras (whether you presided over them or not) that were outstanding?
JF: You’re absolutely right – we sometimes get comments on Facebook or the blog where someone says “MAD is terrible now, not like year XXX when it was brilliant!” Invariably, the year they pick is when they were reading it as a grade schooler. And I promise you that the era that person hates is going to be someone else’s golden age of MAD. It’s all relative. That said, by definition, MAD has never been “outstanding.”
MCD: What was the last piece that you really felt was special and exciting, and couldn’t wait to share with the readership?
JF: I have no idea what you’re talking about.
MCD: Is there ever a temptation to be serious? Do you ever have to dial down an impulse to really stick it to a deserving target? Or do you just go for it and couch it in funnier/sillier humor while letting the indictments remain sharp?
JF: As a humor magazine, we try to fight the urge to be serious. I had a great article about “10 Ideas to Update Your Finished Basement” – it was poignant, powerful and eye-opening, but, sadly, it just wasn’t funny. The writer wound up selling it to This Old House Magazine. It ran in their comedy issue.
MCD: As your work evolves, do you look for new ways to come at a topic with parody and satire, or at this point is it more the case of refining and tweaking the methods you use now?
JF: Both. We always want to find new ways of making fun of the world. And strive to keep getting better at the methods we do use. We’re not successful in either, but it’s the thought that counts.
MCD: Has there ever been an occasion you were shocked to learn an otherwise venerable person was a MAD fan?
JF: Yes! Someone told me that Pope Benedict was a regular subscriber. It turned out not to be at all true – but, boy, was I shocked!
MCD: How has the landscape of American humor itself changed? And now that it’s become an institution rather than a gadfly, how has MAD‘s own humor changed?
JF: Well, MAD isn’t that revered – and it’s still a gadfly. It’s just become an institution as a gadfly.
MCD: Taking the long view, where do you think MAD stands in relation to magazines like Puck and National Lampoon?
JF: MAD is still being published. So, I guess we stand on their graves.