In my annual pre-April-15 joke columns for 2009 and 2010 I poked fun at accountants, psychiatrists, and others, so it's time to point the finger at myself by assaulting editors. Question: How many editors does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: Only one, but first he has to rewire the entire building. Question: How many copy editors does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: Please clarify—do you mean "put in a different light bulb" or "put a new diaper on a light bulb"?
Before the current newspaper depression, editors were often well-paid. One editor, about to retire, confided to a friend, "I'm 70 years old, never married, and have $2 million saved up. I'm madly in love with a 30-year-old. Do you think I'd have a better chance of marrying her if I told her I'm only 60?" His friend replied, "Frankly, you would have a better chance if you told her you're 90."
As the editor was cleaning out his desk, he ran across New Yorker cartoons he had filed away during the 1980s under the category, "politicians." One had a secretary telling her boss, "Excuse me, Senator, but each of your last three press releases has begun with, 'It strains credulity.'" Another showed a man with no face trying on masks, with his butler saying, "Might I point out, sir, that this one goes particularly well with your tie." A third showed a boy holding a chain saw amid a dozen felled trees and saying to his angry dad, "Father, I cannot tell a lie."
The next file, labeled pundits, had one man telling another at a bar, "Look, maybe you're right, but for the sake of argument let's assume you're wrong and drop it." A second had a filing cabinet with drawers labeled, "Our Facts," "Their Facts," "Unsubstantiated Facts," and so forth. A third had a television commentator saying, "Meaningless statistics were up one-point-five percent this month over last month." One more cartoon showed a machine distilling stuff coming from an enormous container, labeled "raw hype," into a smaller barrel labeled "pure hype."
At the editor's farewell party, he talked about how he got his start 60 years ago as a newsboy standing on a corner with a stack of papers. No one was buying, so he started yelling, "Read all about it. Fifty people swindled! Fifty people swindled!" Curious, a man walked over, bought a paper, checked the front page, and then said, "There's nothing in here about 50 people being swindled." The editor-to-be started calling out, "Read all about it. Fifty-one people swindled!"
The editor offered a few jokes about writing and grammar that he had read in McSweeney's: "The bar was walked into by the passive voice." No one laughed. "A dangling modifier walks into a bar. After finishing a drink, the bartender asks it to leave." No one laughed. He tried one more: "Why did a reporter go into labor and yell, 'Couldn't! Wouldn't! Shouldn't! Didn't'? Because she was having contractions." The women stared angrily.
The day after the party, the editor went walking and saw a sign, "Talking dog for sale in the back yard." The editor looked and saw a black Labrador. "You talk?" he asked. "Yep," the dog replied. "I used to be a reporter. I jetted from country to country and got into rooms with world leaders, 'cause no one figured a dog would be eavesdropping. After getting lots of scoops and winning multiple Pulitzers, I retired." The editor was even more amazed at the Lab's price: only $10. The editor handed over the money but said, "I have to ask: "Why does such an amazing dog cost so little?" The owner replied, "He's a stinkin' liar."
That evening, lonely in retirement but now with a dog, the editor went through his final cartoon folder, labeled "Life." The first one showed a dozen editors around a table as one said, "OK—Whose turn is it to set the moral tone?" The second depicted one prisoner telling another, "All along I thought our level of corruption fell well within community standards." The third showed a man in hell complaining to a devil carrying a whip, "There's been some ghastly mistake! My Times obituary exceeded two columns and included a photograph."