Interview: Al Jaffee [unabridged]

By DAN MAZUR  |  November 18, 2010

Did you pitch it toMad and say "when you fold it in there'll be another picture. . . " Noooo. I showed it to Al Feldstein, and the first thing I said was, "Al, I've got this crazy idea, and you're not going to buy it, because it mutilates the magazine." So I put it in front of him, and the thing about Al was, he liked things that intrigued him. The mechanics of it intrigued him. He said, "You mean, you fold it, like this . . . ? And then . . . ?" He folded it, he unfolded it, he folded it, and then he said, "I like this!" But I said, "Al, it mutilates the magazine." And he said, "Well, I'll have to check it with Bill (Gaines)." He takes it, runs it to Bill's office, and he was there a little while, and he comes back and he says, "We're going to do it! You know what Bill said? Bill said, 'So they mutilate the magazine, and then they'll buy another one to save!' " Four or five weeks later, Al comes over to me and says, "When are you going to do the next fold-in?" And I said, "I don't have another fold-in. That was it!" So he said, "Come on, you can come up with something else." I wracked my brain, and the only thing I could come up with was Nixon.

Oh that one! There's a debate, and then you fold it, and Nixon's face appears in the curtains behind them. That was great. That one really set the tone for what the cleverness of the fold-ins has to be. It couldn't just be bringing someone from the left to kiss someone on the right. Now, most of the fold-ins I've done lately have come from Mad, where they call me and say, "We've got an idea for you." And the reason for that is that Mad now has to be edgy. It has to stay on top of things, especially youth-oriented stuff, like Lindsay Lohan, Lady Gaga, that sort of thing. And I'm getting too old to stay on top of that kind of stuff. I'm liable to come up with a fold-in about the new health-care plan, which no reader of Mad is interested in.

A donut-hole fold-in. So you can understand what I'm driving at here: even if I get an idea I have to check with them and get the answer, which is, "Our readership don't have any stock in the stock market and they're not interested." Anyway they throw curves at me. I mean, they don't think they're curves, but I do. But I enjoy it, it's as if they said we're going to throw a bail of straw at you and we want to see gold in the morning.

So they still do the fold-ins on every back cover? Every one.

But it's quarterly now? Now it's six a year, bimonthly.

Was there ever anything that they wouldn't let you do at Mad because they said, "We cant do that." I'm sure you had ideas they didn't like, but was there ever anything that was too far out there, or too edgy? Not that I can remember. My natural inclination is almost like that of a butler, you get the sense what your master wants. Whoever I work for, if its Harvey Kurtzman, I'm going to come to Harvey Kurtzman with different things than I come to Al Feldstien with, automatically, and it isn't something that I sit down and say, "Would Harvey Kurtzman like this?"

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    Al Jaffee has been a Mad man for 55 years, practically since the beginning.
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