July 9, 2008

Let Farley Katz explain

As promised, Farley Katz, the real power behind the New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest, answers our questions.

How are the hours there?

It’s your typical 9-5 punchclock, unless it’s one of the weeks we’ve run a double issues where people have twice as long to submit captions and submit twice as many. Those weeks are called my “suicide weeks."

How disappointing. That question was actually a test, and I'm afraid you failed. Or more accurately, I failed, because it was a test of the reach and influence of the anti-caption contest -- a reference to the only New Yorker contest winner that originated as an anti-caption: The hours here are obscene. So I probably know the answer to my next question: does anyone at The New Yorker read or pay attention to the anti-caption contest, and if so, has it ever influenced the real contest, even just a tiny bit? Be honest.

Alas. Now it is I who am disappointed. You see, my response to your “test” was actually a test in and of itself. You got a 91. Nice work.

I am a fan of the anti-caption contest. One of my favorite anti-winners was "I'm going to lick my balls now.” I think I’m drawn to that particular caption because it’s exactly what a lion would do after he finished his meal!

"The hours here are obscene" is one of several captions that get referenced in almost every anti-caption contest. Some of the others are "Everyone knows your parrot is a clip-on" and "I brought a couple of midgets—do you mind?" Do you get referential or otherwise meta entries too?

There are some meta captions, but the anti-contest is probably more conducive to these inside jokes as entries are submitted as comments. That is an ideal format for heavy riffing.

Do you know what the cartoonist's original caption was and, if so, is it often submitted to the contest? Would that weigh in its favor or against it in your choice for finalists?

I generally don’t read the artists’ original captions before reading the entries. But, it is not uncommon for one of the finalists (or the winner) to be very similar to the original caption.

So: "Crazer." You're envious of my job, right?

Ahh, the Crazer, my award for the week’s “craziest caption”. Well, Daniel—may I call you Daniel—there’s a funny story behind that. Allow me to elaborate and I will tell you. Just read the text immediately following this sentence and you will find out.

Shortly after starting here a year ago, I noticed a few particularly shocking captions. X-rated stuff, devoid of reference to the contest. Then I discovered that these captions were submitted by the same man each week. Believe me when I tell you that this was not your run-of-the-mill Sunday-brunch smut. His work was pure and honest, innovative and real—and I felt it was my duty to share it with the world. So, the original concept behind the Crazer was a delivery vehicle for this man’s message. Unfortunately, the editors here refused to print (even online) the kinds of things he had to say. The world is not ready for a true ride on the crazer’s edge.

As I warned you, the top two questions people ask of the New Yorker contest are, "Why didn't you choose my caption?" and "Why do all the captions you do choose suck?" Want to take a crack at it?

Can I blame it on the television? Let’s go with that.

A couple of our readers are obsessed with the recent winner, "I'm haunted by the faces of my victims." Their contention is that it does nothing but restate the visual gag. Care to defend it?

Remember—the readers choose the winner, not me. So if you’re looking for a scapegoat, perhaps you should look into the mirrored glass, America. Woah—did I just blow your mind? Good. Welcome to the other side.

One of the finalists for 146, stick figure talking to guy at desk, was "I'm sorry, this is Tic-Tac-Toe—applications for Hangman are down the hall." One of the entries in my contest that I pegged as "should win the real contest" was, "Looks like the jury might not hang you after all! In fact, if they guess 'L' you should be home free." If that had been submitted to you, you would agree that it's objectively the funnier caption, right?

Both good captions. If I had to rank them on my joke-scale, they’d get a 17.31 and a 17.55, respectively.

What did you think of that Slate piece? Was he onto something with all that theory of mind mumbo jumbo?

The caption contest is like The Da Vinci Code. No one man can decipher its complex mystery. Except maybe Tom Hanks.

Evil captions often win the anti-caption contest. Is the New Yorker ever tempted to go for something really funny, but dark?

A near finalist for last week’s contest (#150, where the wife comments on her husband failing to shoot himself in the head) was “I never thought the Parkinson’s would actually save your life.” Though very funny, the higher-ups decided that it would be an insensitive choice.

Which is the better all-purpose caption, "Christ, What an Asshole" or "Go Fuck Yourself"?

“Who farted?”

Posted by Daniel Radosh


You like me. You really like me. Hey, Farley!

(I'm going to lick my balls now too.)

I would have asked Mr. Katz:

Don't you have a brother named "Fraidy?"

Thanks for bringing up the floating-fish fiasco, but I notice you provided Mr. Katz an escape hatch by mis-characterizing my question, which was:

"I'm haunted by the faces of my victims" is the sine qua non of unmitigated caption suckiness. Why would this be nominated as a finalist...?

Katz has to bear the full responsibility for that stage of the game. He's like a senator who votes for cloture on the good telecom immunity amendment, then thinks he can wash his hands by symbolically voting against the bad bill, as it passes anyway. Well, sorry, Mr. Katz, but America knows the truth! You will be held accountable for this utter desecration of constitutional principles!

I judged that contest! I guess i did a bad job if the real new yorker cartoon guy likes it. Must be a terrible anti caption. And clearly, Mr Katz didn't read my email in response to him asking recent caption contest winners how they came up with their ideas. I told him all about my bizarre internet fame.

You like me. You really like me.


Btw, I never won the original caption contest but was once a finalist, to the delight, envy and indifference of legions. It was #75, and my entry went something like "... and all because of the account that got aw-a-a-a-a-y ...". Although only an also-ran, I was flattered to receive an inquiry from one Harley Katz as to my creative process. I had to admit I have none. It just popped into my head after watching a Judy Garland video on YouTube, actually this rarity I'd never seen before, as it had reportedly just been discovered in a cardboard box at NBC.. Since my entry definitely was not anti-caption material, I offered it to the alternative jury of one.

I do enjoy the indulgence of split personality the two concurrent contests provide. Thanks again Daniel, Harley & Harry for the yocks. I am not worthy ...


Good egg, this kid.

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