Great Minds

Longtime inmates will recall that “Morning Sedition” began as an inside joke. We were doing some volunteer geeking at the old website (long story), but nobody had posted at the old website for a few days. Following an outcry among the masses, we asked permission of the Former Overlords and posted a brief item to keep things fresh.

That was Tuesday. But the Overlords remained AWOL, so we posted another item or two Wednesday. Yet the Gaping Void remained unfilled, so Thursday morning we posted a link dump of headlines, called it “Morning Sedition”, and the rest is history. (The Overlords finally returned from their alternate universe Friday night, and decreed that our Accidental Blogging would become permanent. Much to their later chagrin.)

We were so fucking mildly clever — Morning Sedition. HAHAHAHAHAHA!!! It was funny because it was a play on a well-known radio news program, and we had taken over the website! Now our sharp wit would take over the world!

Until we learned a few weeks later that “Morning Sedition” had also been the name of a popular Air America program.


Of course, we had never heard of the program, since, like most Americans, we never listened to Air America. For that matter, the program itself had long since been canceled, if still fondly remembered in certain circles. So, we decided, fuck it: We liked the name, it was original to us, if not to the world, and if somebody called us on it, we’d just claim honest ignorance and fuck you.

And then it happened again.

A few weeks later, we needed a headline for a post on the Democratic primary race, and came up with the fiendishly clever “Fear of a Barack Planet”. It was funny because Obama is black, and it references a rap album! It was so fiendishly clever, in fact, that somebody else had used it in February.

That’s when we stopped Googling our headline ideas. Too depressing. Prior Art is a fucking bitch. Especially on the Internet. You just can’t compete with millions of other mildly clever wordsmiths chasing the same target. Somebody will always beat you to it. It’s like sperm chasing an egg.

And so, we made our peace. We wouldn’t deliberately cop somebody else’s line. But we wouldn’t bother double-checking our fleeting brilliance, either. If The Simpsons Did It, fine. Fuck them, too.

Ben Greenman, an editor at the New Yorker, hasn’t yet learned this Valuable Life Lesson:

There’s a guy in my neighborhood who dresses exactly like Bruce Springsteen, circa 1975. He has the jeans. He has the cap. He has the beard. After seeing him a handful of times on the street, I nicknamed him “Born to Rerun.” It made me laugh, for a second. It was a pointless little joke, no more than that. Out of curiosity, I searched for the phrase, which I thought I had invented — or rather, which I had invented, at least for my purposes. I discovered, predictably, that the phrase has been used before, frequently: in 2003 by Entertainment Weekly, last year by a fan posting a review of “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” and on and on. I’d like to report that I don’t care about those earlier occurrences, that I brushed them off and moved on, but the fact is that I do care. It’s deflating to learn that your original idea, no matter how trivial, has already made an appearance. Before the Internet, I might have kept that pointless little joke alive in my head. It might have ripened into something or it might have died on the vine. But it would have been my tomato. Now, the process works differently. The incontrovertible proof that the phrase was already circulating made it difficult, if not impossible, for me to claim it as my own. It acquired the feel of something shoddy and second-hand, and I jettisoned it.

Bad move, Ben — that way lies madness. Keep your pointless little joke — just don’t expect to dine out on it. You and your God know the inspiration was original, even if it wasn’t unique. It’s just the inevitable result of billions of primate brains being wired the same way. We’re not snowflakes after all. Get over it.

That insight — It’s ours! Back off! — allows us to finally answer one of the Great Mysteries of Western Civilization: How, before the Internets, did jokes go viral? In particular: How, the night of the Challenger explosion, were all the good nasty jokes already in circulation?

Granted, we weren’t exactly lacking for mass communication in 1986. There was the telephone, after all. And faxes. (And television and radio, of course, but we can’t see jokes like “Did you know that Christa McAuliffe was blue-eyed? One blew left and one blew right” spreading that way.)

Our simple answer is now this: Simultaneous Spontaneous Combustion.

Casual cleverness didn’t begin with the Internet. The world’s sentient beings have always been chasing the same punchline. Only before digital communication, the was no central repository. So, that day, across our spacious skies and amber waves of grain, everybody was coming up with the same lines. And told their friends. And their friends told their friends. What takes mere minutes today on Twitter, required excruciating hours to distribute with tin cans and string.

But the result was the same: A single joke, independently inspiring hundreds of like minds in sufficient geographic distribution, can achieve the same cultural effect as a massive retweet.

Just not quite as fast.

Hey, That’s My Line [Daily Beast, via Sully]

I say it’s telepathy… Yeah, that’s it.

This is why I hate working with comics. You can’t say anything to them but they will get all grim-faced and say “That’s my joke.” I don’t allow them in the dressing room. They have to stay outside in the hall with the musicians.

BTW; it’s … that way madness lies. Other way round isn’t funny.

But of course, only one in 100,000 ever thinks of anything new once or twice in her lifetime. If that. The rest of us tend to hate new things. We screw up our faces and run away. What we call innovation in the arts (I’m looking at you Ben Brantley) is like everything else before it with one tiny tweak. The original stuff tends to languish in drawers – as the bishop said to the actress. If I may extend this to Musical Theatre… it’s not generally known that Jerry Hermann (a 1st class composers of Tunes We Always Knew) didn’t earn a penny from the song Hello, Dolly as he was sued by someone who wrote it (Hello, Sunshine) before he did. Hermann was very sensible, said “OMFG!! I must have heard it when I was a kid and forgot I heard it. So then I thought I wrote it.” Happened with me with a collaborator who greeted me with the thrilling news that he’s just written a fantastic new song. He played it for me, turned to me all red in the face from excitement and said (yes we were channeling that scene we’ve all seen umpteen times in the movies as that’s where many of us learn how to behave) “What do you think?”, expecting, of course accolades. I replied, “It’s great. I’ve always liked Stormy Weather.

BTW. This should not be confused with ALW simply stealing tunes he likes: Main Theme from the 1946 Great Expectations lifted wholesale to become the Big Song from Sunset Boulevard, etc.

I will not write more about this as I am concerned with this very idea in a piece I’m working on. Of course, the New Yorker does nothing but rehash old ideas, that’s its function. And a very good function it is, too.

well known phenomenon here at stinque, and seen regularly as
JINX !!!

@Benedick: Happens in country music too. I mean real country, not that slop oozing out of the nashville pop scene these days where the… hmmph, “performers” take a personal trainer on the road with them instead of a big bag of pot, pills, and what not.

@Benedick: That’s why I rarely give credence to to those joke stealing allegations. More than one person can come up with an idea on their own. Weren’t there several people who came up with the idea on how to create a television at roughly the same time on different continents? Shit happens.

On a different topic, y’all know I love me some un-PC jokes. “Inappropriate Humor ‘R Us”, I always say. But I never could do anything but cringe at Challenger jokes. Twas a big deal for me when I was a lass. I had delusions of grandeur that someday I would be an astronaut and I followed the teacher in space program closely. One of my teachers made it through a couple of rounds (although she had no illusions that she’d actually get picked – being from Houston and all). Anyhoo, when we got word in class that the shuttle had exploded, I was devastated. But other kids in my class started with the jokes almost immediately. I remember hearing the “one blew this way” joke several times the following morning. I wasn’t laughing. What’s weird those is that 25 years and a lot of dead dreams and middle-aged cynicism later, I read that joke and still can’t even smirk. Is it because it reminds me of the tragedy of that day or just because it reminds me of the tragedy of high school? Funny how the mind works.

Topic 3: Who is the woman to the left of Richard Dawson and the woman between Charles Nelson Reilly and Allen Ludden?

@TJ/ Jamie Sommers /TJ:
BETTY WHITE !!! to the left of dawson, can’t recall the other one.
i watched the challenger expode in real time, and i could never find mirth in anything about it, like you. and we are pretty liberal when it comes to mocking everything. but no, not that. not that.

@TJ/ Jamie Sommers /TJ: @baked: Brett Somers. She was always one of my faves (GSN reruns are the best!).

@TJ/ Jamie Sommers /TJ: I was home sick that day, eagerly watching the launch as I too had grandeur of being an astronaut when I was a kid, and was devastated when it exploded while watching it live and alone. (Ahh, the ’80s, when kids were free range and left home alone when they were sick or every day after school….)


Not too long ago there was a big todo about Carlos Mencia supposedly stealing other people’s jokes. But when I checked out examples on YouTube what I found were a bunch of pretty obvious punchlines derived from current events. Now, I’m not saying Mencia definitely didn’t “steal” those jokes from other comedians, but I do suspect that many people hold their own originality in a bit too high regard. There are hundreds of thousands of other witty people listening to the same news you’re listening to. Don’t assume that the phrase “Caught between Iraq and a hard place” is “yours” just because you thought of it all by yourself. Chances are 1000 other guys came up with the same phrase sometime last week.

@TJ/ Jamie Sommers /TJ: I’ve read the official NASA reports for both Challenger and Columbia. A lot of the immediate PR has to do with downplaying the horror of what the astronauts actually go through in their final moments. For instance, stuff I read just last week says the Columbia crew was conscious and aware of what was happening in the 40 seconds between the time the left wing tore off and they went into a flat spin and the ship broke up. The crew cabin depressurized and the crew was incapacitated within seconds. One NASA researcher, whose wife was aboard, said that the oscillation and g-forces pulled the astronauts apart at their joints after that.

I remember watching Saturday morning cartoons with Son of RML when the network cut to live coverage of the landing, which I thought was odd because landings were never covered live, then they went to first coverage of the breakup. Was there some indication that it was going to be a difficult landing that led to the live coverage?

@TJ/ Jamie Sommers /TJ: Me too. I did not think the Challenger jokes were funny.

@redmanlaw: Was there some indication that it was going to be a difficult landing that led to the live coverage?

Yes, upon take off, Columbia had the shit banged out of its wing by a big chunk of insulation and a bunch of tiles were broken off. My memory is that there was some talk at the time of trying to do a space walk and assess the damage, but there wasn’t that much they could do to repair it while in orbit.

@TJ/ Jamie Sommers /TJ: If you meant the woman to our left from Richard Dawson, that’s apparently Dolly Martin, an occasional actress and twice the wife of comedian Dick Martin. I couldn’t find another Dolly who had ever been a panelist.

@Dave H: twice the wife of comedian Dick Martin

Yet another way in which Elizabeth Taylor broke ground.

@mellbell: And Jack Klugman’s wife, although Wikipedia reports they separated in 1974.

@SanFranLefty: I was sitting in a plane waiting to take off from Chicago when the Challenger exploded. Because we were in a waiting position, they had the news on to amuse the passengers except it wasn’t amusing, being forced to watch the shuttle explode over and over and over and over again, knowing the giant tin can I was in was about to go up into that same sky.

@nojo: Before he bored her to death.

@redmanlaw: I wonder, in such circumstances, how much one can actually understand of what’s going on. How soon the brain stops registering. Does time stand still and does one become distanced as can happen in a car crash. Or contemplating president Palin.

I’m convinced we laugh to control anxiety and to signal that we belong to a like-minded social group. I suspect that laughter is a social glue that operates by showing us where the limits are, the limits beyond which we can’t go. The current stand-ups (a pretty new kind of comic) make me think of secular preachers.

@Dodgerblue: There’s nothing more offensive than what makes other people laugh.

@Benedick: The Challenger astronauts who were trained aviators had the presence of mind to lower helmet visors and turn on personal air supplies in the 3 1/2 minutes from breakup to impact. NASA maintains that it is likely that the crew was unconscious due to cabin depressurization after about a minute, but they never proved it. The cabin was intact until it hit the water at about 200 mph.

Likewise, the Columbia’s pilots tried to regain control of the ship, but the high speed disintegration snapped seatbelts and threw people around the cabin. The helmets were not designed to prevent neck injuries. Decompression would have caused backout in seconds at that speed and altitude.

Speaking of which, remember that Payne Stewart’s chartered Lear Jet somehow depressurized en route to Dallas. At 40,000 ft, the crew and passengers would have been out within a few seconds.

@Dave H: Yes, that’s who I meant. Thank you. Twenty lashes for baked, for thinking I don’t know Betty White when I see her. :P

And right on cue…

Pab Sungenis, whom you’ve never heard of:

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. @tomtomorrow flatters me.

Tom Tomorrow, successive tweets:

.@sungenis I’ve never heard of you, definitely don’t appreciate implication of plagiarism.

If there were even a possibility that I lifted that bit unconsciously I’d be the first to admit & apologize. There’s not.

What’s funny is, you ppl have no idea the lengths I go to, to avoid *appearance* of things like this. Threw out a whole cartoon last week..

…because it was too similar to something I saw in print right as I was finishing it up.

Alleged theft: “Puppies are adorable!”

Really? I didn’t know puppies are adorable.

@ManchuCandidate: You live blogging they Grey Cup for us this weekend to augment our usual NFL coverage?

Oh, and BTW – fucking Broncos.

Whoa – Michelle Tafoya reporting from the sidelines!

Maybe. I’ll actually be, um, at a gun range on Sunday.

I thought Tebow The Chaste was supposed to save the Broncs for Super Bowl Marriage?

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