The Abused News, Part 1

Jay Cole image

Humor is our most enjoyable form of truth.

Topical humor—commentary on politics, social trends and other news—is an art form almost as old as civilization. Quite often, it also has the added benefit of irritating people in power, which, let’s be honest, further tickles your audience.

The White House today denied that it authorized a drone strike on the producers of Dance Moms.

While news commentary can be found even in ancient texts, it can also be found in graffiti on what we now call historic ruins in such antiquated cities as Babylon, Carthage, and Cleveland.

There are also numerous modern masters of topical humor that young comedians can study: Will Rogers, Mort Sahl, John Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and Bill Maher to name a few. The popularity of topical humor has not diminished over time. If anything, as society has become more connected, it’s become more popular. Let’s examine a modest sample:


Arbitrarily chosen news story: Harriet Tubman Replacing Andrew Jackson on the $20 Bill.

Our take:

US Treasury Secretary Jacob “Jack” Lew today announced the redesigned US twenty dollar bill will feature a picture of Harriet Tubman, even though he much preferred the more alluring etching of Hillary Clinton in sturdy underwear and Gladiator sandals.

If you’re unfamiliar with Harriet Tubman, that’s perfectly normal—most US voters slept through high school history class. Ms. Tubman was a prominent abolitionist, which means that, pre-Civil War, she was adept at stealing other people’s lawful property.

NOTE: Our country’s history of slavery is still a highly contentious issue in the United States. Some politicians avoid the topic out of pure, heartfelt shame, and others couch their views in politically-correct rhetoric. For example, Bernie Sanders’ recent comment expressing a definitively modern view of slavery:

Come see the house…and you said unpaid interns couldn’t build a nice stone patio.

So, how did Ms. Tubman qualify to have her picture on our money?

Book Cover image


That question is difficult to answer. The majority of black women during Ms. Tubman’s era never owned a twenty-dollar bill in their entire lives. Politically, this announcement reeks of blatant pandering to win support from women and minority voters. However, the primary influence on the Treasury’s decision is that, while twenty bucks was at one time a month’s wages, it’s now only worth a few Happy Meals and a 10-piece McNuggets. Ergo, our top five too-big-to-fail banks have downgraded the twenty from petty cash to pocket change. Therefore, Wall Street no longer objects to allowing the “little people” to replace the current bill’s picture, which although often mistaken for Andrew Jackson, is actually the long-haired, college fraternity picture of Donald Trump. The Trump campaign has yet to comment on his being replaced by an old black woman.

-The End-

What can the reader learn from this bit of lunacy? Quite a lot actually (and factually):

  1. The current US Treasury Secretary is Jacob “Jack” Lew.
  2. The Treasury Department authorizes changes to our currency.
  3. Harriet Tubman was a prominent abolitionist, and her picture will appear on the new twenty.
  4. Slavery was once lawful in the US, and this part of our history is still contentious in some regards.
  5. Unpaid interns and slavery MAY have some similarities.
  6. Black women during Ms. Tubman’s era were mostly poor.
  7. Twenty dollars was at one time a month’s salary.
  8. With the passage of time, depreciation has radically reduced the value of twenty dollars.
  9. Donald Trump has been replaced by an old black woman.

Okay, number 9—possibly not true, however a reader of this very brief article painlessly learns a great deal when the writer makes them laugh. Readers AND WRITERS love topical humor because it’s both informative and fun. Done well, that’s a heady and popular mix.


Parting Funny: After twelve years of therapy my psychiatrist said something that brought tears to my eyes. He said, ‘No hablo ingles.’Ronnie Shakes
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The Indie Dollar Store

Jay Cole image

Humor is our most enjoyable form of truth.

Gird ye loins, oh Authors! Touchy subject ahead.

A book, fiction or non-fiction, is an author’s blood, sweat and tears. However, what is its true value on today’s market? More accurately, what is its perceived true value?

Not just in commerce but in the world of ideas too our age is putting on a veritable clearance sale. Everything can be had so dirt cheap that one begins to wonder whether in the end anyone will want to make a bid.
– Soren Kierkegaard

If a writer is in any way reasonable, he\she should be pleased that Stephen King frightened millions of dollars out of his fans’ wallets, and that J.K. Rowling can now afford a solid platinum magic wand. Good for them! However, as a general rule, traditional publishers wouldn’t offer their own mothers a sizable advance on novice literary or genre fiction, and most indie authors would be more than happy if their books produced enough income to exceed the Federal Poverty Level.

One obvious exception, there is always a market for religious books promising salvation in presidential election years.

Note also, there are many supporters of today’s budding authors, usually parents who dream of using those truly magic words, “He finally made enough to move out of the house.”


Indie books are now a large segment of the publishing market, and this was achieved by a high percentage of authors pricing their books at 99¢.

Yes, indie market share is in large part dependent on The Indie Dollar Store!

When did one dollar become the fair market price for an author’s blood, sweat and tears? When did our society lose all respect for the starving artist?

These questions are even more viable when you consider that one of our most derisive insults is to call someone a ‘two-dollar whore.’ That’s right, some of our countries best writers are now cheaper than a guaranteed STD.

Now, I have nothing against any dollar store. In fact, I shop at them fairly often, mostly buying things that are ridiculously overpriced in any reasonable world. To date, my spilled milk has not complained that it was wiped up by a cheap paper towel, and my toilet has only on rare occasions complained that I didn’t pay double or triple for bathroom cleaning products. However—I have to be honest—at that same dollar store, I have only purchased one paperback—yes, for a dollar. In my defense, the book was supposed non-fiction written by a politician, and I consider it very reasonable that I NOT pay full price to be lied to in writing.

Yet, I’ve purchased quite a few eBooks online at their full price of 99¢!

Many indie authors price their book at 99¢ for the simple reason that many people will no longer pay more for a good read. Why this creates a problem is easier to understand if we use a little sixth-grade math and frame it as a word problem:

If Johnny sells 100 eBooks to cheap bastards avid readers who will only pay 99¢, and the online bookstores take 30 to 40 percent, how many days this month can Johnny afford to eat?

It’s at this point that even the most talented novice writer begins to look for a gainfully employed spouse.

Or not.

Historically, poverty is not unusual for any artist. For instance, Van Gogh only sold two paintings in his lifetime, and it’s rumored that one was remaindered at a dollar store.

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We must also consider the entire world market. In fairness, every product on today’s market is cheaper than it was a generation ago if you compare apples to Fuji apples, adjust for inflation, and still have any disposable income leftover.

However, should such economic theories and woes apply to hard working writers? Is pouring your heart and soul onto the electronically printed page a labor of love because that’s all we’re ever going to get?

Further, is it morally justified that books today are cheaper than they were for your parents’ generation? For example, in 1970 a good ebook cost…

Uh…give me a minute here…uh…

Parting Funny: Limited carry-on—the stewardess said your carry-on bag had to fit in the ass of the passenger in front of you.Dennis Miller
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Genius or Idiot?

Jay Cole image

Humor is our most enjoyable form of truth.

Humorous commentary is both one of the most sought after jobs in publishing and one of the most problematic. Newspaper and magazine editors have long understood the appeal of humor, but they also understand that it’s not their primary job, and that a writer must have a particular mindset to sustain a humorous column in the long-term. Everybody wants the job, but wanting is not the same as producing good copy day after day after day.

Endurance is patience concentrated. – Thomas Carlyle

One of the obvious problems with writing commentary is encapsulated nicely in the title of this piece. When your opinion finds its way from your confused brain to your keyboard, it’s not always viewed by readers as a fine addition to the wisdom of the ages. Indeed, some people will gladly dismiss your words out of hand, or even burn you in effigy.

For youngsters, ‘burning in effigy’ was the old-school, non-Internet version of the hashtags #hate-this-fool and #roast-his-giblets.

No one can have a higher opinion of him than I have; and I think he’s a dirty little beast. – William S. Gilbert

But, I Say…
Despite any possible backlash, writers have a fascination with commentary, including humorous commentary, no matter what format or genre we choose to pursue. Some part of our ego deludes us into believing that our opinion is vital to the survival of the universe, which may be why so many of us enter the Frito Lay 25 words or less essay contest.

Rampaging ego aside, all opinions are created equal, being spawned from the firing of synapses within a human brain. It’s only upon being communicated that opinions become differentiated.

We credit scarcely any persons with good sense except those who are of our opinion. – François de La Rochefoucauld

Not all commentary is equal upon delivery. Note, Hollywood stars’ opinions receive inordinate attention even if the speaker is a world-class idiot. This is somewhat surprising since winning an Oscar simply means that you’re very adept at not being yourself and at representing things make-believe. There is no Oscar for Fewest Brain Cells Killed at the After Party.

Less Than Reputable
We must also admit that some opinions may be disreputable or even wholly criminal. At this very moment, Bernie Madoff has an opinion on both the current stock market and survival strategies when one drops his soap in the prison shower.

Of Two Minds
Humorous commentary requires a unique mindset because it’s a bit schizophrenic. Is the goal to make your point or get a good laugh from the reader?

These goals are not mutually exclusive. One can express a valuable opinion in such a way that the reader is both intrigued and amused, but it’s not always easy. More to the point, it’s not always successful.

For over thirty years, Andy Rooney‘s weekly commentary on 60 Minutes (CBS News) was often hilarious, but just as often merely grumpy. Yet, America loved him and mourned his passing because he gave us many marvelous insights, such as:

Vegetarian—that’s an old Indian word meaning lousy hunter.

Cover image: "Sexual Evolution"Curmudgeonly Andy was certainly not alone. The magazine The Atlantic offers a list of 10 of the Funniest Essayists of Our Time and the networks give us such fabulously funny political commentators as Bill Maher, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Dennis Miller. Many standup comedians are well-known commentators, including Lewis Black, D.L. Hughley, Janeane Garofalo, and Chris Rock.

Keep It Simple
Writing humorous commentary, one has two choices:

  1. Humor takes priority.
  2. Message takes priority.

Hardly rocket science, but in the rush to put words on paper, it’s easy to lose one’s intent.

A point of view can be a dangerous luxury when substituted for insight and understanding. – Marshall McLuhan

If your intent is to stress the joke, go for the laugh and don’t worry about it.

However, if your message is most important, worry over every word.

For inspiration, take a good look at the people mentioned above, and at their very fine work. They make us think, AND they make us laugh. In addition, whether viewed as a genius or an idiot, these writers have the courage to continue working day after day after day…

Parting Funny: She cried, and the judge wiped her tears with my checkbook.Tommy Manville

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Human Sacrifice Adds Up

Jay Cole image

Humor is our most enjoyable form of truth.


Without doubt, the benefits of science to society are ridiculously obvious. However, the benefits of some of science’s discoveries are, despite wonderfully correct math, open to a few questions. For example:

Thanks to math, we can calculate the benefits of human sacrifice
Complex society may depend on occasionally murdering innocent people.

Human sacrifice, in other words, is a useful tool for elites who want to maintain their power in a stratified society.

While this brief, but informative online article outlines an entirely valid scientific study, it cannot possibly list all of the numerous benefits of human sacrifice. Still, there is some faint hope that we will not turn our back on any practice that truly benefits society as a whole. Therefore, I suggest that we compile a list of proposed human sacrifices, beginning with:

-The Koch Brothers
-Justin Bieber
-The toddler on Flight 497 who kicked the back of my seat for five and one-half hours.
-Reality TV executives (Although, executing the brain dead may not be constitutional.)
-Anyone wearing an article of Duck Dynasty clothing.
-Plumbers who charge brain surgery rates to fix a toilet.
-[CAUTION: Long one ahead => ] Banking and financial institution executives who were paid a bonus while using taxpayer bailout money (TARP funds, etc.) to cover the fraud, waste and abuse that both screwed the world economy and served as the credo of their Corporate Operations Manual.
-Protestors with signs that prove they failed their GED exam.
-The inventors of Tofurkey and the lentil sandwich.
-Etc. etc. etc.

Please feel free to add to the list. One never knows if or when it might come in handy, and it’s up to us to make human sacrifice beneficial once again.

Next, I may comment on the scientists investigating ritual suicide as an alternative to watching C-SPAN.

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Killer Quotes

Jay Cole image

Humor is our most enjoyable form of truth.

Quotations are likable, nay lovable for many reasons, not the least of which is the vainglorious experience of having someone quote something that you said or wrote.

Gentlemen, start your egos. – Billy Crystal

On the other hand, it’s somewhat humbling to note that people who are routinely and widely quoted are so phenomenally rare that we often honor them with various prizes—Nobel, Pulitzer, Oscar, Emmy, etc. Personally, I have yet to fly to that particular stratosphere, although I can certainly see the appeal of an award for professional excellence, especially those that come with a large check.


Forget the stratosphere. Let’s start with the basics:

Quotation def. text or speech repeated by someone other than the original author or speaker.

Dreadfully dull!

Such formal definitions completely fail to capture the real essence of a quotation, which may be entirely dependent on where a quotation is used.

In Academia
In academia, a quotation is serious business and must be carefully cited with appropriate references. Citation is defined as crap at the bottom of the page that no one reads and even fewer people bother to verify.

Thank goodness I was never sent to school; it would have rubbed off some of the originality. – Beatrix Potter

In Journalism
In journalism, a quotation is a string of words that can be taken completely out of context in order to appear titillating to the news consumer. The goal, of course, is to make a parking lot fender-bender appear to be the Holocaust.

One of the reporters must have flunked journalism school because he asked a question that went straight to the point. – P. J. O’Rourke

In Politics
The voters in nearly all democracies have elected some of the least impressive people on the planet. In most cases, politicians quote great men and women from history because they are incapable of personally doing anything of substance, or of hiring speech writers who cherish original thought.

Being president is like running a cemetery: you’ve got a lot of people under you and nobody’s listening. – Bill Clinton

Cover image: "Sexual Evolution"In Folklore (AKA Pearls of Wisdom)
Every generation thinks itself wiser than its predecessors. Frankly, that’s arguable. However, it is fair to say that every generation produces insightful individuals who offer us unique insights into nearly every aspect of life. Such pearls of wisdom are traditionally passed down generation to generation, and may become lost or evolve over time as they are mixed in with adages, platitudes, clichés, and things our parents said when we weren’t really listening.

Never, under any circumstances, take a sleeping pill and a laxative on the same night. – Dave Barry

What is the ideal quotation?
The ideal marketing position for any product is to have the brand name become synonymous with the product. For example, asking for a Kleenex™ (brand name) is understood by everyone to mean ‘Hand me a tissue.’

Killer quotations deservedly have that same type of identification with readers. Some become so widely known and accepted that they are repeated for generations, or become entrenched in our language. Consider a few examples:

• Catch 22 (Joseph Heller)
• 1984 (George Orwell)

• What light through yon window… (Shakespeare)
• I’ll be back. (Terminator, 1984)
• Military intelligence is a contradiction in terms. (Groucho Marx)
• I think therefore I am. (René Descartes)
• Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn! (Gone with the Wind, 1939)

Many writers needlessly shy away from quotations. If a quotation works well, improving the reader’s experience, use it. If it also produces a laugh, use it with relish.

Regarding your original work, it should be noted that there is no secret sauce to guarantee a particular line will impact the public consciousness and become widely quoted. Just as no joke will make the whole world laugh, trying to write a line guaranteed to become a viral quote is a waste of time. Write a great joke instead. Write a great article, book or script. If you’re very, very lucky, people will quote you for generations.

Parting Funny: If Adam and Eve can’t make it work in Paradise, how am I going to make it work in Lewisham?Sara Pascoe

Check out some of my favorite funny quotes by great writers: TidBITS!

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Hear Ye (as opposed to Care Ye)

Jay Cole image

Humor is our most enjoyable form of truth.

Every four to six months, I find it necessary to walk away from pretty much everything for a week or two. While this may be contrary to the bloggers’ discipline, I have to admit that it’s not-at-all-contrary to me or to what passes for my mental health. Sometimes, I just need to drop everything and find a way to recharge my dwindling resources and ambitions.
NET RESULT: I’m back and I feel good.

While away, I put some thought into the structure of this site, and noted a few certainties:
• I love talking about writing.
• I love talking about humor.
• I love reading and writing humor.
• The more fun I have with this blog, the more sustainable it will be.
• Everything else falls under What Can I Get Away With?

I’ve decided that posting bits of humor is not secondary to this blog’s stated purpose. It’s just as important (to me, and hopefully, you) as discussing the craft of humor and comedy writing itself. Therefore, I intend to post more than I have in the past. After all, there’s no point in discussing how to plant and harvest if we never get to see the actual fruit. Or, some reasonably good facsimiles.


How to organize?

Good question.


I’ve been pressed by friends to do more political commentary, which for some odd reason they seem to enjoy more than actual politics itself. However, I enjoy commenting on all of the news that I read, not just on the kindergarten under the capitol dome.

I also occasionally like to wax philosophical, which is a term not much in use recently. It comes from the Old English weaxan, meaning to increase or grow.

Philosophical, of course, derives from the ancient Greek, meaning If I make it sound erudite, they’ll swallow it.

I must also be honest. I tend on occasion to drift in whichever direction I might find the best laugh. It really is impossible to be forewarned about the possible direction humor might take. That’s entirely normal. Our most advanced medical texts fail to adequately describe the funny bone, ergo my overinflated ego need not compete (or suffer).


Rather than add a ton of new but piddling categories to the archives, discussions of writing will be covered under Craft. All other blog posts will be placed under either Just for Fun or Messages to My Readers. No further new categories will be added. (Policy subject to change if reviewed while sober.)

Note, there will be no changes to the main menu at this time. Tidbits, et al. will remain separate from the blog posts as they have always been.

So, dear reader, please look forward to a few changes in the coming months as both this blog matures and my scotch continues to age.

Next post, tomorrow if all goes as planned.

Lastly, a fine example of the need to be philosophical: Reading this page has indeed cost two minutes of your life that you will never get back.

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