What Jack Handey would say to the Martians

I’m a huge fan of Jack Handey (bad Flash site alert), whose Deep Thoughts often reduce me to a giggling wreck. If you don’t find the following Deep Thoughts funny, there’s probably not much point in reading the rest of this post.

One thing kids like is to be tricked. For instance, I was going to take my little nephew to Disneyland, but instead I drove him to an old burned-out warehouse. “Oh, no,” I said. “Disneyland burned down.” He cried and cried, but I think that deep down, he thought it was a pretty good joke. I started to drive over to the real Disneyland, but it was getting pretty late.

I can still recall old Mister Barnslow getting out every morning and nailing a fresh load of tadpoles to the old board of his. Then he’d spin it round and round, like a wheel of fortune, and no matter where it stopped he’d yell out, “Tadpoles! Tadpoles is a winner!” We all thought he was crazy. But then we had some growing up to do.

Even though he was an enemy of mine, I had to admit that what he had accomplished was a brilliant piece of strategy. First, he punched me, then he kicked me, then he punched me again.

So I was delighted to discover that he had a newish book out, What I’d Say To The Martians. Unlike Deep Thoughts and Fuzzy Memories, which are collections of one- and two-liners, WISTTM collates Handey’s longer pieces, such as the superb This Is No Game (from the New Yorker).

When Handey’s good he’s very good, and some of the pieces had me in tears. But the book suffers from the same problem as Handey’s deep thoughts: he’s not consistently funny, and misses as often as he hits. When the next idea is a sentence or two away that’s not a problem, but when an unfunny gag is stretched over several pages it’s much more disappointing.

Worst of all, entire sections of the book are dedicated to reprinting old Deep Thoughts and Fuzzy Memories. If you’ve never read Handey before you’ll probably damage something internal and important, but if you have read his stuff – or seen it in email sigs, or on the hundreds of websites that reproduce various Deep Thoughts – you’ll know these ones off by heart. They’re essentially Handey’s Greatest Hits or, as a publisher might put it, padding to make a pretty thin book look slightly less thin. You’ll read it in one sitting, and not a very long sitting either.

Please don’t misunderstand me: WISTTM is very, very funny, and the screenplay for Zombies Versus Bees made me laugh so hard I pulled a muscle. But it’s also very, very patchy.

This isn’t in the book, but it made me laugh: Handey’s letter to Obama, volunteering to be an ambassador.