Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Email from the New Yorker re: cartoons....

Greetings again, captioneers! Make this guy laugh, and you’re halfway to winning the cartoon caption contest …Well, not quite halfway, but closer. So, as a public service, what follows is an introduction to, and a little “Q. & A.” with, the new Assistant to the Cartoon Editor, Farley Katz. Our topic— the art and science of choosing winning captions. Who knows? The next winner might be yours. Good luck! See you in The New Yorker, Michael Shaw

Question and Answer with Farley Katz

  • Q. Name and job title?
    A. My name is Farley Katz and I am the Assistant to the Cartoon Editor (that would be Bob Mankoff).
  • Q. (Have to ask) Were your parents big fans of Farley Granger?
    A. Huge fans. Why?
  • Q. So am I! Small world. Any biographical information you’d care to divulge?
    A. I grew up in San Antonio, TX and am now 22 years old. My previous jobs include a roller coaster operator at Six Flags, and a telemarketer (until they made telemarketing illegal). I plan to work here until they make caption contests illegal, sometime later this year.
  • Q. What are the main duties of the Assistant to the Cartoon Editor?
    A. Bob makes me read all the cartoons he deems "too funny" to protect him from laughing attacks.
    Also Xeroxing. A whole lot of Xeroxing.
  • Q. Interesting. Are you also the primary gatekeeper for the Caption Contest?
    A. That’s correct. Every week we receive between 6,000 and 10,000 captions for each cartoon. And I read them all. I’m reading one even as we speak…”No Mrs. Feldspar, I’m interested in your mind, not your shoe size.” Hmmm...good but not great.
  • Q. Did your predecessor or Bob give you any advice when looking through the responses?
    A. My predecessor stared me in the eyes and warned me that reading too many captions in one sitting could make a man crazy. Oh, and also to "pick the funny ones."
  • Q. After a while isn’t it difficult to decide what’s funny? Do you say to yourself—“#4,347, sort of funny. #4,348—sort of but not quite funny enough?”
    A. I've developed a system of sorting algorithms that allows a laptop to pick the finalists without any human input.
  • Q. Really?
    A. Yes and no. What actually happens is that when each entry is received it’s sorted by keywords. The keywords are grouped into 5 or 6 categories. Then I sort through all the one-liners, zingers, gags, goofs and gaffes, looking for the very best—which I pass on to Bob.
  • Q. Uh…you had me, and then you lost me.
    A. Take, for example, a recent contest cartoon depicting crash test dummies. All entered captions were broken into keyword groups like “insurance,” “driving,” “crashing.” So at that point it’s easier to read them and make the best choice.
  • Q. What if I decide to send in a caption in Esperanto?
    A. All the unique captions are grouped together in a category we call “Huh?" "Huh?" captions have indeed made the finals. No Esperanto yet, though.
  • Q. Have you experienced "caption fatigue" yet?
    A. Caption fatigue is a serious problem. I like to combat it by drinking unhealthy amounts of coffee and by reading the captions aloud in a fast, high-pitched voice.
  • Q. What happens after you pass the 50 or 60 semi-finalists onto the second round?
    A. That’s when Bob Mankoff, as Cartoon Editor, summons his decades of expertise in the science of humor and chooses the three finalists. Then David Remnick, as Editor of The New Yorker, reviews the final three to ensure that even Eustace Tilley would grin slightly when reading the entries. Then I take a nap under my desk. It’s from these three finalists that we invite our readers to choose a winner.
  • Q. Did you ever enter the caption contest before joining the home office?
    A. I entered the contest once and they didn't choose my caption. But that's all going to change now because I can't enter anymore because it's against the rules.
  • Q. You weren’t a Canadian citizen at the time you entered the contest, were you?
    A. No.
  • Q. (aside) Whew! Good. If a contestant added the name "Farley" to their caption, would that help? Or if they left a little message before the caption, like "Hi, Farley! How's it going?"
    A. The only way to make sure your caption passes the cut is by writing the funniest one.
  • Q. Finally, in the spirit of full disclosure, you're a cartoonist correct? And if you get a cartoon in the caption contest before I do, I'll be really depressed.
    A. I am a cartoonist too and hope to one day be published in the magazine.

    So when send in your caption this week, take a moment and ask yourself “What would Farley do?” Probably drink more coffee. Good luck!
  • Monday, August 20, 2007

    Sunday, August 05, 2007