Interview: Al Jaffee [unabridged]

By DAN MAZUR  |  November 18, 2010

In the format where there's one scene or separate gags? Different scenes with single answers. It never occurred to me to do more than one answer. I showed it to Al Feldstein, the editor of Mad, and he loved it, and he said, you know it's great Al, but it's very thin, it takes up the whole big area and it has one funny answer. Can we do more? And I said sure, why not? So he said, lets have three answers. And then I piped up, and I said, hey y'know what else might be good, we'll leave one balloon blank and the reader writes in his answer, you know, so you can create your own snappy answer. And it just took off. It was very popular from the get-go.

It has some of the quality of the "I wish I'd said . . ." to it. It does have it. "Stairway wit." Well you know the things that are popular with people are the things that happen to them, I mean they get a vicarious thrill from reading about celebrities and their shenanigans at their champagne parties but that's a vicarious thrill, it's just curiosity the way you might like to read about a guillotining but not particularly participate in one. But if you hit people — one of the most popular things in comic strips and newspapers are the things that happen around the house, Dennis the Menace–type stuff. Family Circus. Things that people relate to they enjoy, from my experience. That's the kind of article I did in Mad. And Mad's the only place you could do the kinds of articles I did. For instance, "Solutions to the Big City Doggy Doo Problem." Well. it's from the sublime to the ridiculous. I mean I'm creating inventions for the removal of dogshit that takes rocket scientists to build these things, but who's going to bother? So I guess that's where the laugh comes in, where the reader can say, boy this funny advice, this complicated catapult for getting rid of dog doo — it's funny as hell, but who would buy one? Who would make one? So they get a kick out of feeling superior. But for me, I don't know why I got a kick out of doing these things. But as I said before, who would buy an article like that from me? Nobody.

Did you have other favorite comic strips, when you were a kid?The Katzenjammer Kids. Little Orphan Annie, I loved Little Orphan Annie. Rube Goldberg. I loved his inventions. I don't know what years they were published, but they used to appear in Liberty magazine, so one would have to research that, but I remember seeing them. And inventions are a particular fascination of mine, especially if they're absolutely silly, you know. Going to a great deal of trouble to make something that has virtually no usefulness, but is fun to do, that makes it interesting to me. I don't have anything to hang up on that bulletin board , but I liked making it. I didn't understand Harry Herschfield [of the newspaper strips Abie the Agent and Desperate Desmond], who was also very popular at that time. Russ Westover, who did Polly and Her Pals.

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