Before it became a humor website, Cracked was a magazine. Specifically, it was a knockoff of MAD (in their own words, their fanbase was "primarily comprised of people who got to the store after MAD sold out"), using a similar formula of movie and television parodies with deconstructive humor and otherwise (ostensibly) humorous articles, as well as its own Ugly Cute "mascot," Sylvester P. Smythe. It was by far the longest-surviving Mad knockoff, lasting in print form from 1958 until the 2000s, when a great deal of Executive Meddling reduced the mag to an erratic printing schedule and many of the original contributors left. Finally, it was ReTooled as a "lad mag." This format didn't last long, and the magazine went under in 2007, only to re-establish itself as a website.For tropes related to the website, see Cracked.
Tropes present in the original magazine:
Art Evolution: Mike Ricigliano, and how. His art for the early "Shut-Ups!" (later drawn by Don Orehek) was nothing like the sketchy, loose style he adopted for the "Spies & Sabs" (basically their version of Sergio AragonÚs' "Marginal Thinking" sidebar doodles in Mad) and any other work.
On the flipside, Walter James Brogan (who drew most of the parodies in the 1990s, plus a few covers) became a lot more sketchy in his later years.
Credits Gag: Starting in the late 1990s, the artist and writer bylines often had funny nicknames pertaining to the theme of the article.
Follow the Leader: By far, Cracked was the most prominent Mad clone: a parody mag with an Expy of Alfred E. Neuman in Sylvester P. Smythe.
Hourglass Plot: Real Life example. Cracked started off as a ripoff of MAD Magazine that eventually sputtered out and died...until it went online. Now the ripoff is extremely popular while the original is struggling to stay afloat. The website, of course, takes the opportunity to take a few digsat MAD for this.
Given the uprise of anime in the earlier half of the 2000s, they tried a story in which Western cartoon characters "attacked" popular anime characters.
All of their 'Cracked Movies' were crossovers featuring Cracked's original characters (Sylvester P. Smythe, interviewer Nanny Dickering, cowboy Sagebrush, and the Talking Blob) joining forces, usually to stop some threat to the magazine. Many of them are are at least mildy amusing. The weakest is probably the fifth, where the regular cast gets Demoted to Extra while a bunch of heroes from 80's mystery and crime TV shows take over the action to find out who stole the magazine's logo.
The 'Greatest Film Ever Made' involved a crossover between Rocky, Jaws, C-3PO and R2-D2 of Star Wars, the Godfather, and a few other movies that were popular during the late 70's/early 80's. All these characters were gathered together to play a baseball game.
They did a parody of Survivor a few months after the first season ended (back when the show was massively popular) using the Cracked roster of characters. Simpy Dumpkins, The World's Most Hated Man was the first to go. Naked Guy (Richard Hatch) ended up winning.
Pen Name: John Severin (who often drew nearly half the magazine) was fond of switching out his signature for something silly, such as "O. O. Severin", "Seneriv", or "Nireves".
Re Tool: For the last few issues, it was remade as a "lad mag" akin to Maxim or FHM (i.e., suggestive photographs of females, stories about cars, etc.). Didn't work.
Many of their parodies played just like an actual episode of the series or like the movie itself, but with parody names and lame jokes attached. Sometimes, they didn't even go that far. This was especially true in their parodies of sitcoms.
The mag also had an occasional habit of parodying things that were already parodies. Tell me, just how do you do a wacky parody of Hot Shots!, which is a wacky parody of Top Gun?
Other times, the parodies were so Out of Character that any semblance of humor was lost. Their comic strip parodies in particular were known for this.
Still other times, there were song parodies that scanned so horribly that they didn't even work as original songs.
Running Gag: Absolutely, positively, unquestionably, undeniably, the very very very last of The Cracked Lens (and we really really mean it this time, for sure!), part IX.
Superpowered Date: Super People, a superhero parody of People magazine, has an article explaining how to have an exceptionally cheap date using your Flying Brick superpowers. The night starts with using Super Strength and Super Speed to break into a theater and repair the damage while your date is distracted. The only expense for the night is bringing your own popcorn and using Eye Beams to cook it in a large garbage can. The popcorn, along with free sodas beaten out of the vending machine, help deceive your date into thinking you're very generous. After the movie, you fly her home to save on gas. Finally, at her doorstep, you use your Super Breath in reverse to suck out all the local air, causing her to briefly faint and assume you have super-kissing powers.