Acting Madly: the secret history of the lost MAD-alike magazines of the satire boom

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It’s been a bumper year for documentary evidence of the lost, weird history of MAD Magazine: first there was the gorgeous hardcover that uncovered the two-issue, unlimited-budget Trump Magazine (created by MAD’s founding editor Harvey Kurtzman after a falling out with publisher William Gaines, Jr, operating with a bankroll provided by Hugh “Playboy” Hefner); now there’s Behaving Madly, which assembles a timeline of the short-lived, incredibly proliferated MAD rip-offs that popped up as Kurtzman and his successor proved that there was big bucks to be found in satire.


The big one was Cracked, of course. I also read Crazy and Sick.


The English novelist J B Priestley wrote about how the existence of magazines like Mad, Crazy and Sick forecast the end of Western civilisation. Like most pundits of the period he had obviously never read them. Had he done so, and been able to understand them, he might have discovered that they actually shared a lot of his concerns - Mad was satire on the dumbing down of America.

To escape the censorship, Kurtzman convinced Gaines to repackage MAD as a "magazine,"
This is a common misconception. Mad became a magazine because Kurtzman wanted to be a magazine editor. Avoiding the Comics Code was a lucky coincidence.

See for a quote on the subject from Gaines himself.


That’s a thought, but I wonder how any ‘dumbing down of America’ strategy could have enabled some of their movie send-ups, such as “Put-On” (i.e., “Patton”), and “2001: A Space Idiocy” (i.e., “2001: A Space Odyssey”).

The movie send ups and the illustrated American verse dramas like the Wreck of the Hesperus and Casey at the Bat were brilliant, but a consistent thread that runs through Mad is Jewish humour. My peer group growing up in North London loved it. In Mad, it is stupidity that is punished.


Another one (1976/1977) was International Insanity. I only saw that in my local store once.

Let’s include Kurtzman’s short-lived satire publication Humbug Magazine here too.

One thing I marvelled at was how until last year, the legendary trio of Jack Davis, Arnold Roth and Al Jaffee, who worked on MAD, Trump, Humbug et cetera, were stlll around. Jaffee and Roth participated in a panel discussion last year.

I received a nice note from Mr. Jaffee earlier this year telling me he helped Arnold Roth celebrate his 88th birthday (so young!).


Whoa, what?

[googles Al Jaffee]


Nope, Al is still entirely alive, and working for Mad. I guess the key word there is “and.”

I could have been more careful in my phrasing.

Jack Davis, Al Jaffee and Arnold Roth were around in 2016.
Now Al Jaffee and Arnold Roth are around in 2017.

Al Jaffee did not write me from beyond the grave, you of course also read the part where he sent me a nice note earlier this year, but how cool would a Ouija Board with Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions be?


There is a great interview of Al Jaffee by Gilbert Gottfried. Al’s childhood was horrifying, just barely escaped the Holocaust.

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I cannot overstate how much I love the usual gang of idiots.


adjusts glasses

I believe you mean 201 Minutes of Space Idiocy.

What? Are you MAD?!

Nope. Thank you for the correction.


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