For decades a key influence on parodists and satirists in all entertainment media, Mad began in 1952 as a full-color Comic Book, Tales Calculated to Drive You Mad, published by EC Comics. Harvey Kurtzman, the founding editor and writer, started it when he complained how other artists got more money with more page counts, especially when he was so meticulous with his war comics. His publisher, William Gaines, suggested that he do a humor book on top of his present work since that material came easily for him.Kurtzman began by satirizing popular comic book genres of the time (horror, crime, SF and adventure), but soon found his niche concentrating on parodies of specific comic books and strips, TV shows, films, and classic literature, as well as broader satire of American pop culture. EC artists, such as Jack Davis, Will Elder and John Severin, accustomed mostly to drawing in a "serious" style, were encouraged to cut loose for Mad, resulting in panels filled to capacity with outrageous caricatures, physics-defying antics, gross-out humor and innumerable background signage gags.In July 1955, with issue 24, Mad became a black-and-white magazine (only to become color again in the 2000s). Contrary to popular belief, EC did not do this in order to escape The Comics Code. Rather, Kurtzman had received an offer from the more lucrative magazine market, and so EC publisher Bill Gaines proposed the change in format in order to retain him. Nevertheless, the new medium benefitted from the lack of censorship, as well as the broader range of subject matter and media available (including prose and photo features). By late 1956, Mad had become EC's only surviving publication. As history shows, it was more than enough for the company to prosper with.In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Mad began to take on its most familiar (and commercially successful) form, with a long-lasting team of core writers (Jerry DeFuccio, Dick DeBartolo, Frank Jacobs) and artists (Don Martin, Al Jaffee, Dave Berg, Mort Drucker, Angelo Torres, Bob Clarke, Paul Coker (jr.), Norman Mingo (long time cover artist), George Woodbridge, Antonio Prohías, Sergio Aragonés) and a willingness to take on any target it felt it could get away with. More recent contributors (since the 1980s) include writers Desmond Devlin, Arnie Kogen, Michael Gallagher, Charlie Kadau and Joe Raiola, and more recent artists include Don "Duck" Edwing, Tom Bunk, Sam Viviano, Rick Tulka, Tom Richmond and James Warhola.Currently in its fifth decade, Mad, now published by DC Comics, lacks the circulation and cultural impact (and some would say quality) it had at its peak. All the same, entertainment figures and critics ranging from Matt Groening to Roger Ebert to Patti Smith have cited Mad as a major influence.For the page on the animated spin-off see MAD. See also MADtv, the loosely-affiliated Sketch Comedy show, and Planet Tad, a regular feature in the magazine that was released as a book in 2012.
This magazine contains examples of:
Absentee Actor: A literal example in parodies from time to time, such as "Goofies" (The Goonies) which is notably missing Martha Plimpton's character Stef.
Actor Allusion:invoked In the movie / TV parodies, there are many jokes related to this.
Actually Pretty Funny: It's almost become routine for celebrities to write to the magazine with positive reviews of articles that parody their works, some of them including photographs or even original artwork, which the magazine always displays on their letters page.
In one "A Mad Look At", a student tells an apparently offensive joke. The teacher steps out into the hall, laughs, then returns to class to scold the student.
Adaptational Villainy: In several cases, often in parodies of TV shows, the culprit is one of the heroes.
Added Alliterative Appeal: "Duck" Edwing titles every one of his one-page "Tales From the Duck Side" strips this way, with colorful titles like "The Demonic Detector Disaster" and "The Cannibal Coffee Shop Conundrum".
Alan Smithee: Many articles have had pseudonymous bylines for various reasons. Some of the more popular are J. Prete, Josh Gordon, and Jack Syracuse.
Appeal To Worse Problems: Sometimes, people are mocked for their own exceedingly petty concerns when there are worse problems out there, especially when the news media cover celebrities over important events abroad
Art Evolution: Many of the longtime artists have done this, whether by choice (e.g. Sergio Aragonés going from a somewhat plain style to his loose but highly-detailed Signature Style) or by old age (e.g. Dave Berg's style becoming sloppier as his motor skills declined). Al Jaffee had a little bit of both — his early art in the 1950s and 1960s was far less cartoonish, and the late 1990s has seen his art become a little more muddy looking due to old age.
Everyone's art was a lot more interchangeable in the 1950s, even stalwarts like Mort Drucker, George Woodbridge, and the aforementioned Jaffee. One gets the impression that they were being told to copy the Elder/Kurtzman style instead of pursuing their own.
Artifact Title: The 'departments' listed at the top of each article. This is a leftover from the days when Mad was a color comic book in the 50's, when it actually had things like "Western Department" or "Horror Department" depending on the article's subject matter. Now (and at least since the 60's) it's little more than a throwaway gag and usually Just for Pun.
Author Appeal: Sometimes, certain parodies are taken up by artists and/or writers who particularly like the subject matter. For instance, among writers, nearly every game show parody has been written by Dick DeBartolo, as he was once a writer for Mark Goodson Productions; sexual-themed works usually go to Arnie Kogen; and parodies of modern music or youth-skewing movies (e.g. Harry Potter) usually go to Desmond Devlin. Previously, comic strip parodies usually went to Frank Jacobs (writer) and Bob Clarke (artist); sports articles were usually drawn by Jack Davis; and animation-related parodies were often drawn by Sam Viviano.
Author Tract: Mad has had quite a long-running relationship with The Simpsons, prompting the former to regularly launch take thats against Family Guy for perceived plagiarism and causing the latter to regularly feature Mad (with one notable episode having it be integral to the plot).
Badass Beard: William Gaines and Al Jaffee. Jaffee's signature is a caricature of himself, with "Al Jaffee" in place of the hair.
Badass Preacher: The Ventriloquist Priest, who appeared in many Duck Edwing comics; he knew ventriloquism, and became somewhat of a non-violent Church Militant with it, doing everything from tricking miserly people into donating to charity to convincing would-be suicides not to jump, and even fooled Satan himself into leaving a possessed child by imitating the voice of God!
Big Damn Heroes: Subverted in one early feature, in which in the "real life" version of the scene, more Indians arrive instead of the cavalry, overwhelming the settlers.
Black Comedy: "Celebrity Cause-of-Death Betting Odds" is but one example.
They actually got angry mail after running an issue in 1999 in which readers were encouraged to choose which way Pikachu was going to dienote A few issues later, after the votes were counted, Pikachu was killed via inserting a stick of dynamite into its behind, and on the back page, a spoof advertisement about several children's books as written by Dr. Jack Kevorkian, all with suicide or death themes.
Blatant Lies: One picture has Richard Nixon as George Washington. Holding an axe behind his back, he says "I cannot tell a lie! I DIDN'T DO IT!!"
One prisoner is tricked into confessing by being told that he will be given a pardon. His crime was stealing a loaf of bread.
A more benevolent example of this Trope appeared in one of Duck Edwing's comics, where the Ventriloquist Priest fooled a killer into confessing this way.
The Board Game: Manufactured by Parker Brothers in 1979. Kind of like Monopoly, but with the goal of losing all your money.
Bold Inflation/Emphasize EVERYTHING: Dialogue in the magazine tends to have several words bolded for no particular reason, particularly the majority of the nouns and almost every sentence ends in an exclamation point!
Briar Patching: A boy gets in trouble, and begs his mother not to tell his father, resulting in her deciding to do so. The boy's friend chastises him for letting his mother know his weakness, but the boy says his father is soft.
Brick Joke: In the parody of The Matrix, as in the film, Neo's mouth vanishes when the Agents plant a bug in him. At the end, after realizing his status as the One, he does this to Morpheus when facing another one of his long speeches.
Carload of Cool Kids: In one issue, there is a Dave Berg piece from the 60s or early 70s with a car overloaded with teenage boys.
Father: Where are you going?
Boy: To the school dance, Dad. But first we gotta pick up our dates.
Casual Danger Dialog: In movie parodies, heroes and villains will often converse amongst themselves or with each other in the middle of battle or chase scenes.
Catch Phrase: "What, me worry?", "Price: $x.xx (Cheap!)", "Fa! Fa! Fa!", and "The Usual Gang of Idiots" (used to describe the creators on the credits page of almost every issue).
Censorship by Spelling: In one "Lighter Side Of" strip, the parents are talking about their son's bad report card in front of him; the mother is reluctant but the father says "just spell it." So they have the conversation, which ends with:
Cobweb Of Disuse: Done frequently, particularly in Sergio Aragonés' "A MAD look at _____". If a person bought something that sits in disuse, you'll see it sitting on a shelf or in a closet with spider webs.
Comically Missing the Point: Very frequent, to the point of being one of the magazine's stock jokes. "The Lighter Side" features this especially frequently.
Contractual Immortality: Often made fun of for long-running franchises. Batman and the Joker attempt to defy this trope at the end of the Tim Burton's Batman parody; the Joker, falling to his death, tells Batman not to save him lest they put him in the sequel. In the last panel, Batman cuts the line he's swinging on in hopes of doing the same.
In the parody of "All the President's Men", a girl from the Republican Party who squealed on the party was tied to a chair and forced to listen to the "Checkers" speech, and watch home moview of Julie and David's wedding.
In the parody of "Up the Academy", the main characters are set to the academy as punishment for various offenses (stealing, getting a girl pregnant, being a disgrace to the family
Cool Old Guy: Lots. Most of the magazine's old guard are in their seventies and eighties, and Al Jaffee is in his 90s.
Couldn't Find a Pen: Amusingly done in one "A Mad Look At", in which the victim writes out not only the name of his killer, but also his motivation.
Creator Cameo: Whenever "The Lighter Side of The Office" appeared, the office itself feature real-life MAD Magazine staff members, including Bill Gaines (publisher) and Lenny Brenner (production director).
After Gaines died, Dave Berg semi-retired the boss character. He still appeared, but as a picture on the wall silently reacting to the office antics.
Creator Thumbprint: Harvey Kurtzman had some odd attraction to the name "Melvin": an overwhelming amount of stories from his reign as writer have one of the characters named Melvin in them. The name's even on the first cover.
The Dark Age of Comic Books: "If Truth in Advertising Laws Applied to Comic Books" skewered a lot of trends that plagued comic books in the Nineties.
Deconstruction: One of the older issues dealt with how a movie cowboy "Lance Sterling" would be different from a real life cowboy, "John Smurd". In the movie, Sterling defeats his rival in a long fistfight and gets the girl. Smurd, however, misses several shots in a shootout, gets knocked out for some time after being hit with a chair, and shoots his rival dead after taking him by surprise, but gets hanged for murder.
Reel Life vs. Real Life was a brief feature in the early 1990s that took several popular movies and asked how they would play out in reality. Similarly, the ending of the Top Gun parody has the hero's actions resulting in World War III.
Deconstructor Fleet: Unlike many examples, though, the deconstruction is typically Played for Laughs. Though not in the early Kurtzman issues, where the satire was often nasty because Kurtzman really did dislike quite a few of his targets.
Kurtzman's early satires were aggressive because it pointed out what was disturbing about the targets. Like his parody of Archie, highlighted the slacker nature of the characters, their exploitative attitude to friends and authority and even Archie's misogyny and the shallowness of teen culture, pointing out that such a character would face worse social consequences in real life than in the world of the stories.
Denied Food as Punishment: Averted in the parody of The Shining. Danny asks his father, who is chasing him with an axe in order to punish him, if he could not send him to bed without supper like other fathers, but Jack says that with the food they have, that would be a reward.
Depending on the Artist: Most artists who drew front covers stuck close to Kelly Freas's design of Alfred E. Neuman. Sergio Aragonés's three covers were closer to his loose, sketchy style, and John Caldwell's cover◊ was closer to his squiggly style. (He drew a second cover in 2001, but it was changed at the last second because his original cover art was deemed possibly offensive after 9/11.) Lampshaded in Frank Jacobs' anthology of Mad covers, where Jacobs recalled a conversation with Aragonés over one of his covers: Jacobs said that it was one of the only Alfreds not to follow Freas' style, but Aragonés protested it was "the best [he] could do".
Divorce Requires Death: In the parody of The Godfather Part II, when Kay demands a divorce from Michael, he refuses because it is against God's will. He then turns to family consigliere Tom Hagen and orders a "hit" on her. Hagen then tells Michael he is a good Roman Catholic for not divorcing her.
Also in the parody of the Shining, in which Dinny's mother tells him that his father is trying to kill her because, as a Catholic, he cannot divorce her.
Dogged Nice Guy: In the "Superduperman" parody, Clark Bent is this to Lois, and is played in a creepy and Stalker with a Crush sense. He spends his life savings to buy a pearl necklace for Lois, just for the chance to sniff her perfume.
Don't Explain the Joke: In the "Plastic Sam" parody, a guard pauses to explain why he's looking around in surprise like he did in the previous panel, before doing so again in the next.
Don't You Dare Pity Me!: In one "The Lighter Side Of", a man politely refuses assistance carrying his groceries to the car, saying there are things he has to do himself. It turns out he parked in a handicapped parking space despite not being handicapped, and this attention is the reason he regrets doing so.
Drugs Are Bad: Bill Gaines did not smoke or drink, and had a strict policy against alcohol and tobacco being portrayed in a positive light. He once required Antonio Prohías to redo one initial sketch of a "Spy vs Spy" comic because the two Spies were smoking and sipping cocktails in the first two panels.
Early-Bird Cameo: Many artists and writers submitted one-offs well before they became regulars. Examples include:
Al Jaffee, who first illustrated for the mag in the 1950s, jumped ship to Cracked and returned by the 1960s.
Sam Viviano drew a cover◊ in 1980, four years before any of his other work appeared in the mag. By the late 1990s he was promoted to art director, and what little illustration he did after that was typically credited to Jack Syracuse.
Early Installment Weirdness: The early issues (of the magazine format) were very different. The humor was "lighter and softer", the tv/movie satires were less biting and more likely to deviate from the plot, and most notably, they had contributions by famous humorists of the day (Bob and Ray, Danny Kaye, Sid Caesar, Andy Griffith, Stan Freberg, Jean Shepherd, etc.). It wasn't until the sixties until it gained its traditional format it's most known for.
Even some of the artists and writers display this beyond the scope of Art Evolution. For instance, Don Martin's early gags were often Black Comedy, lacking the manic pacing and wacky sound effects he would soon become known for. His change in tone may be in part to Duck Edwing joining as a frequent ghost-writer of his gags.
Some of the very early (1955-56) issues had some very long essays with very little artwork, something that rarely happened in later issues.
In the earlier installments of "Monroe and..." Monroe's parents were actually caring and loving towards their son but as the strip progresses by the third installment, Monroe's mother becomes more and more of a slut, Monroe's father is more of a coniving con man of a dick, and both of them become more and more uncaring and apathetic towards their Buttmonkey son.
Judo-Lee: If they register me with the Federal Mutant Agency, I'll be taken away! That means I'll never see mom and Dad again! Hey, cool!
Draco in Leather Pants: Invoked; many parodies will have characters expressing admiration for the villains, such as in the parody of "Bonnie and Clyde"
Ending Fatigue:invoked Movie parodies often make fun of the film continuing even though it doesn't make any sense to. For instance, their parody of The Green Mile ends with a complaint that it was "long winded" despite the parody being a scant four pages.
Everything's Better with Monkeys: One recurring sketch in the "Fundalini Pages" (a slapdash collection of mini-gags at the front of the mag) involves randomly adding monkeys to certain famous photos. Taken Up to Eleven with an issue featuring nothing but monkeys.
Expy: Al Jaffee's feature Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions uses the same format as Rube Goldburg's early 20th century newspaper feature Foolish Questions
Fanservice: Dave Berg's and Mort Drucker's women, or at least until old age took its toll on Dave's drawing skills.
The Grey Spy as well. Yow.
Bill Elder was drawing hot chicks since the book's start. The lady in red in "Dragged Net!" in #3 is a good example.
Wallace Wood's women, either. The preface to the 2002 re-release of The Mad Reader goes out of its way to point out all of the fanservice contained in Wood's Flash Gordon parody.
Jack Rickard and George Woodbridge drew some very attractive women as well, although their styles were a little more understated.
Evil Lawyer Joke: Used quite frequently, and discussed in one Lighter Side strip, in which it a lawyer points out that no one likes lawyers until they need one.
Fake Band: In 1959, a novelty record was released with the credit "Alfred E. Neuman and his Furshlugginer Five", a series of uncredited musicians. The A-side is a novelty song titled "What, Me Worry?", with an uncredited man singing in the role of Alfred, and the B-side is an instrumental piece called "Potrzebie".
Family-Unfriendly Aesop: invoked. The Superman III parody, discussing Superman's inner struggle, points out that good triumphs over evil, if good is more violent than evil.
Fantastic Measurement System: Issue #33 had the "Potrzebie System of Weights and Measures", sent in by a 19-year-old Donald Knuth, who later became a computer scientist. The base unit was the thickness of Mad issue #26, or 2.263348517438173216473 millimeters.
Faux Affably Evil: One mugger approaches a target, pretending to be a beggar, and acts polite while he says he has nothing to his name, before threatening his victim with a gun.
Felony Misdemeanor: A running gag, especially in parodies, when characters get angry with others over minor slights rather than things that would be considered unforgivable.
Final Speech: Mad often parodies the tendency of characters to do that in spite of injuries that should have killed them, and the "Tumbrel Cart" cliche movie prop is designed for this purpose, with a reference to A Tale of Two Cities
Flipping the Bird: The cover of Mad #166, which was nothing but an illustration of someone doing just that, captioned by "The Number One Ecch Magazine". Many newsstands refused to display this issue.
Follow the Leader: The magazine's success inspired a succession of copycats, including Cracked and countless others, many of which even had Expys of Alfred E. Neuman as their mascots (and many of which lasted for only a few issues). William Gaines supposedly kept a voodoo doll that had pins marked with the names of Mad knockoffs; by his death in 1992, only the Cracked pin remained.
Gaines even launched his own rip-off, Panic.
For Inconvenience, Press "1": Parodied in one "The Lighter Side Of", in which a woman eagerly chooses the option for people who want to speak with a human being like they used to.
In the parody of Quiz Show, Charles mentions that he wanted some way to impress his father, when he couldn't find a word that rhymed with Orange.
In the parody of Tim Burton's Batman, the Joker's maniacal speech about wanting to cut up Batman and spread him over the city is said to have been from watching WWE interviews.
In the parody of "Contact", "Ellie Outaways" is an atheist because her father died when she was young, as a result of her getting him his medication, but running to the bathroom and back in slow motion.
Funny Background Event: The main premise of Sergio Aragonés' "Drawn Out Dramas" in the margins. Many of the parody artists tend to do this as well, some moreso than others. They're quite common in the direct parodies of television shows and films.
Gag Words: "Fershlugginer" and "potrzebie" in the early years.
Getting Crap Past the Radar: Although the magazine had become more vulgar in the 1990s, it has usually refrained from using "fuck" and "shit", and the few times it does, they are censored with asterisks (for example, "F**k."). Usually.◊ (The F-bomb is to the left of the cardboard box.) Al Jaffee snuck the word "shit" into an article entitled "Who's Who at a Comics Convention" and Aragonés drew barely-visible uncensored penises in the graphics accompanying a Frank Jacobs-penned parody of "We Are the World".
Sergio got away with female nipples a whole lot of times.
A parody of Archie has Biddy hurl herself at Starchie. As she does so, several syringes and bottles of pills spill from her handbag, and this was a strip from the fifties!
"Woman Wonder!" saw the titular character change her outfit inside her invisible jet with it implied her boyfriend was watching her. He keeps a horrifically lecherous face through the next few panels.
Minus five percent? How can you get -5% on an exam? He spelled his name wrong! That's S-H-O-T, Horseshot!
Gilligan Cut: In the parody of "The Godfather", Micrin reminds himself of what he was instructed to do on the hit on Plotzo, and in the next panel, starts screaming and swearing at Plotzo.
Glad I Thoughtof It: In one "Lighter Side" feature, an editor brings up an idea his subordinate has, while mentioning that he isn't fully convinced of what his subordinate suggested. When his superior approves, the editor claims the credit.
Gold Digger: A few are parodied. In one "Ventriloquist Priest" strip, the priest forces one into an Engineered Public Confession by pretending to be God and saying that her groom's death will come in days.
Helping Granny Cross the Street: The magazine had a series of comics based on this trope. The final one subverted it - the scout ignored the old lady in favor of a young attractive one, and an older scout master had to comfort the poor granny.
Hero with Bad Publicity: Justified in the "Ecch-Men" parody, when Professor Ecch complains about Geraldo and others who "fight and scorn" them, but Cyplops points out that their out of control powers "have killed a fair number of totally innocent people."
Honest Advisor: The magazine, especially in the '60s and '70s, was popular among kids because it was one of the few places adults would be honest about some aspects of the world.
Hotter and Sexier: The magazine got considerably more vulgar in the late 1990s, leading to the departure of some veterans such as longtime artist Jack Davis. Lampshaded in the first "hotter and sexier" issue, which had Alfred E. Neuman photocopying his ass.
Human Knot: One of the magazine covers from 1999 has Steve Austin doing this to Alfred E. Neuman.
Hurricane of Puns: Often done, such as in the fight between Superman and Zod in the Superman II parody. Often, the puns are the subject of the joke, rather than the joke itself.
Hypocrite: Frequently and mercilessly made fun of. For example, in the parody of Gremlins, the main character tries to get the gremlins to live in peace with their own kind, but one of the evil ones thinks that "You HUMANS shuold talk about living in peace with your own kind!"
I Have No Son: In the parody of "Superman II", Superman's mother does this to him, along with taking his powers.
I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: This is frequently parodied, such as one person complaining that "Durn thing don't wor-" before emptying an entire clip into his chest.
When you're poor, you vomit. When you're rich... you succumb to a sudden attack of nausea.
I Want Grandkids: In one parody of Cathy, Cathy's mom torches the abortion clinics in town and sends two pro-lifers to prevent Cathy from getting an abortion even though Cathy was gang-raped. She comments in the last panel that "the need to be a grandmother overrides all else"
I Was Told There Would Be Cake: And there is, sort of. Traditionally, they have an annual letters page where they display photographs sent from fans with Mad-inspired cakes, which are frequently mailed in.
Just Between You and Me / Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: In a feature discussing how movie scenes happen in the film and in real life, one scene had Lance Sterling and his girlfriend at the mercy of some mobsters. Instead of just shooting them, one mobster decides to take them outside to avoid drawing suspicion to the others (justified), then proceeds to tell him the plan (stupid) and then gives him a chiclet as his last request (completely unnecessary), allowing Sterling to jam his gun, defeat him and destroy the gang. In the real life version, Sterling and his girlfriend get shot on the second panel.
Karma Houdini: A major pet peeve of Mad's writers is when someone gets off without punishment, or a disturbingly light sentence.
A Running Gag is how first-degree murder will get the offender only a few years in prison.
Due to his huge amount of bad luck and his title of Buttmonkey, everyone in "Monroe and..." except for Monroe is this. However Laser-Guided Karma does occasionally strike Monroe's father, especially in the final strip.
Kick the Dog: In Dave, when "Bund" forges the President's signature to cut funding for children's shoes, he offhandedly suggests that if the funding's cut in half, the children can simply hop.
In the "NYPD Blue" parody, one character says that his boss was like a father to him, but it's pointed out that the speaker was abused as a child.
Nicky and Rockhead
Nicky:I've always treated you like a Father would!
Rockhead: What? You t'row my stuff in the street... you yell at me in front of everyone... you make me feel like a stupid useless little kid!
Nicky: See! I told you I treat you like a Father would!
Like You Would Really Do It: Invoked for humor. It's often pointed out that a certain outcome to a situation would make for a very short movie, such as Billy Jack getting killed at the four minute mark, and the cops being told to "shoot to miss" against Jack Napier in the Tim Burton Batman film parody.
Lonely at the Top: One "Lighter Side" strip has everyone, up the chain of command of a company hoping to take their immediate superior's job. The CEO says he wants nothing more than to be an entry-level stock boy again, since his position has brought him nothing but heartache.
Long Title: The original title of the comic version was Tales Calculated to Drive You Mad: Humor in a Jugular Vein.
The title for the parody of the movie Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice started out Boob & Carnal & Tad & Alas & and continued adding name after name of historical, entertainment, and political people running around the borders of the panels of the 6 page article, finaling ending next to the final panel with ...& Everyone Else in the World & Alfred.
The parody of the TV Series Room 222 became Room 2222222222ZZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzz.
Ludicrous Gibs: Used frequently in Spy vs. Spy ever since Peter Kuper took over. Also, nearly any one-page gag written by Michael Gallagher, especially if Tom Bunk is handling the art. (Oddly, Gallagher tends to avert this when someone else is drawing for him.)
Mascot: Subverted with the ugly Alfred E. Neuman. Covers often show Alfred inserted into various scenes, such as in the role of the main character, with everyone else reacting in disgust and/or horror.
The Masquerade Will Kill Your Dating Life: In their parody of the '60s Batman show, Robin's having to deal with his girlfriends leaving him because he's called away on crime-fighting business and can't adequately explain what happened without exposing himself, combined with Batman's lack of sympathy for him over having to do this, is the Boy Wonder's reason for his Face-Heel Turn.
Meaningful Background Event: In the Monroe story in which he goes to China and gets tricked into working for a sweatshop, you can see his actual host family trying to get his attention at the airport as he runs into the sweatshop people.
Morton's Fork: In "You Can Never Win With A Bigot," the prejudiced people spout off contradictory prejudices- if the elderly don't work, they are drains on society, but if they do work, they take jobs away from the young.
The Musical: The Mad Show, a 1966 off-Broadway production starring Paul Sand and Linda Lavin. With lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, no less.
Nepotism: In one children's rhyme parody, a congressman gives his family jobs.
His brother is his right hand man
(He's never worked before)
His father earns twelve grand a yearnote This was in the 1970s
Discussed in The Lion King parody when Simba, watching Scar flee into exile, tells his subjects to never speak well of him again, and The Simpsons in attendance note that people spoke well of Richard Nixon after his death.
After Michael Jackson's death, they first ran a "Brutally Honest Obituary" that pointed up all the strange and suspicious things he did in life and printed his mugshot (taken, as they put it, "in happier days") from his 2003 arrest on child molestation charges alongside it. The world essentially canonizing him as a saint was later declared the Stupidest Event of 2009.
One comic has a ventriloquist priest pretend to use the voice of a dead man to bring up his rapid promotion. The assembly at the funeral, including the murderer, angrily denounces him.
Sergio Aragonés' A Mad Look At... almost never uses dialogue; if a character needs to speak, it's usually represented through pantomiming or icons in a speech balloon, or very rarely, a "gesundheit." On one occasion, bodyguards listening to soccer on their earpieces scream "GOAL!".
And Spy vs Spy.
Some Don Martin installments qualify such as one with a motorist approaching a toll booth marked 'Pay Toll 50 Feet' .... And pulls 50 disembodied feet out of his trunk and hands them to the horrified tool taker.
No Endor Holocaust: In the parody of Tim Burton's Batman, Batman causes the gas spewing balloons to drift away, and says that even if they poison other people elsewhere, "That's their problem!"
No, Except Yes: In the "Ecch-Men" parody, the Mutant Control Agency is not run by the government- it just gives them a building, funds them, and looks the other way when they attack mutants. Beast calls it "Federal-speak."
Normal Fish in a Tiny Pond: One Nasty File article says the Police Academy movies "...prove that even Bubba Smith can seem like a talented actor if he's surrounded by a cast that's sufficiently untalented."
No Sympathy: Often played for comedy, with parodied characters and original ones.
Oh, Crap: In one page showing a nuclear power plant melting down, Alfred E. Neuman's smile fades, and he says "YES... ME WORRY!"
Once per Episode: Nearly every issue since the 1960s has featured a Mad Fold-In and A Mad Look At..., with several other recurring features coming and going over time. Also, Alfred has appeared on almost every cover.
"I hate watching my master cheat on his beautiful, trusting wife without feeling any pangs of conscience! He's acting like an animal! Not this animal, mind you- me he had fixed! Had he been fixed, it would've saved us all a lot of trouble!"
Parents as People: The most generous Mad will get with the parents it lampoons, showing them as benevolent, if misguided. When they're less charitable, they'll be depicted as low-grade Abusive Parents in their tendency to nag and belittle their kids, and hypocrites, if not worse.
Parental Hypocrisy: The parents are often portrayed as this, not letting children do the things they did when they were young. Additionally, parents are often made fun of for making children take on "adult" responsibilities but telling them they're still too young to do "adult" things.
Pet the Dog: Parodied and slightly deconstructed with the article on Compassionate Conservatives, which often shows them making compromises that tend to be hypocritical (sending all illegal immigrants home except for their gardners), or largely trivial (denying appeals based on DNA evidence for death row inmates, but allowing them to choose their manner of execution and last meal).
Plea Bargain: Often parodied, such as when a cop tells a suspect that if he pleads guilty to murder, he'll serve a light sentence, but if he takes a plea bargain, he'll be in Witness Protection for the rest of his life.
Politically Correct History: It's often mocked, such as in the parody of The Green Mile, it's pointed out that what's really unlikely about the story of John Coffey's arrest is how, as a black man suspected of murder in the Deep South, he wasn't lynched on the spot.note John Coffey was almost killed on the spot at the beginning of the actual movie, though
Politicians Kiss Babies: Mentioned in an article from 1962 (also an early version of the Russian Reversal): "Russian politics can best be understood by comparing them with American politics. For instance, in America, politicians have to kiss babies, and if they don't, the mothers can take their offices away from them. In Russia, the system is somewhat different. To get food, mothers have to kiss politicians and if they don't, the politicians can take their babies away from them."
Popularity Polynomial:invoked Foreseen in an article from the early 1960s predicting that when rebellious teenagers of the '50s have children of their own, the children will rebel against them by doing "square" things like refusing to put off studying, and pursuing careers in medicine. Then, when those offspring have children of their own, this new generation will rebel against them by practicing the same behavior that their grandparents did as '50s teenagers.
Prom Baby: One issue has a series of fake magazine covers, including one called "Prom Mom" with articles like "Drinking the spiked punch: What the hell, it's not like anyone expects good judgment from you at this point!"
Random Events Plot: Some TV show spoofs are like this. Others go through plot points in a given season, and still others create a new plot.
Rapid-Fire Comedy: Many of the comic book issues managed to overstuff every panel with little gags. It originated with Will Elder's work in the 1950s, when Mad was still a comic book; Elder and Kurtzman called these little gags "chicken fat." Kurtzman was reportedly pretty bad about forcing the other artists to follow Elder's example. The stalwart artists such as Angelo Torres and Mort Drucker often engaged in this to varying degrees, as does Tom Richmond in the present day. (Gary Hallgren also went all out in the two parodies he drew, of Pokémon and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?.)
Really Gets Around: At the end of the Pearl Harbor parody, every single pilot flying in to bomb Tokyo has the picture of the same girl in his cockpit, as the commander says that they're all fighting for the same thing.
Right Way/Wrong Way Pair: "Melvin and Jenkins". Jenkins, a nerdy-looking chap, is polite and intelligent and always tries to do his best; Melvin, on the other hand, is a gangsta wannabe hoodlum who delights in petty mischief.
Running Gag: Over time, the magazine has adapted a large number of icons that appear at random spots, such as a skinny bird named Flip, a potted plant named Max, a zeppelin with "MAD" written on it and the poiuyt.◊
The table of contents lists the articles in the magazine as being from various departments whose titles are various plays on words. The two constants through the run are the letters section, which is listed as being from the "Letters & Tomatoes Dept.", and "Spy Vs. Spy" from the "Joke and Dagger Dept."
Whenever they do a parody of Batman, Alfred (the butler) is always named Neuman, after the mascot.
In the comic book era, many protagonists bore the first name Melvin.
Sadist Show: Monroe and..., where something bad always happened to the title character.
Sadist Teacher: Often made fun of. There's even an entire catalog of school supplies that are designed to break at certain points for the purpose of causing kids frustration and/or getting them in trouble.
Self-Deprecation: The masthead's listing of the creative team as "the usual gang of idiots".
The magazine has done this a lot over the years, and they sometimes take their own affected self-deprecation to the extreme: In an article on how to make a food poisoning victim throw up (in issue #256), reading Mad magazine to him is described as the very last resort, because it's so effective that he'll drown the house with puke.
Their Christmas-season magazines suggest giving a subscription to Mad as a Christmas present. The ads rip the magazine as dumb and unpleasant, but conclude it's good to give to someone because it's a cheap present.
Even Bill Gaines, the magazine's owner, was constantly mocked in the magazine due to his stinginess and obesity. A man who strongly resembles him is often seen in "The Lighter Side."
Anthologies of Al Jaffee's work are all called "The Vastly Overrated Al Jaffee", volume ___.
Occasionally the parodies lampshade the fact that MAD's love of Parody Names is taken to such ridiculous extremes that a casual reader can't tell what the original character name was supposed to be.
Those who write in to the magazine are often mocked for reading something as bad as it.
After Al Jaffee did a feature where magazine titles are incorporated into descriptions of what's really in there (e.g., "if you enjoy self-PLAY,BOY will this magazine help!") a reader sent in his own art showing a typical Alfred cover and "I'MADummy for reading this magazine!"
Shoo Out the Clowns: Invoked on the Roseanne parody, when the kids are discussing their frustrations with their mother. "D.D.T." starts mumbling, which typically is an almost guaranteed laugh, but is told that "this is no laughing matter!"
Shot at Dawn: Another common theme in "Duck" Edwing's one page comic features.
Shout-Out: Many, such as the frequent cameos from Peanuts characters early on. Schulz later returned the favor by giving Alfred E. Neuman a quick appearance in his strip, as the punchline at the end of a story arc in which Charlie Brown kept seeing baseballs everywhere he went. Watching the sunrise, he doesn't see a baseball over the horizon, but Alfred's face!
Spin-Off: Mad Kids, a magazine with similar content for younger audiences.
Spoonerism: "Mad Switcheroos" were a couple of articles by Al Jaffee that had some nutty examples as jokes, and to make them funnier, left the punch line blank for the reader to figure out. (The illustration helped.) For example:
Set-up line: What's the difference between a spanking and a tourist in Mexico?
Punch line: A spanking Rattles the Buns. A tourist in Mexico Battles the Runs
Stating the Simple Solution: Quite frequently, when the characters of a movie they parody do something illogical, and the most common response is "It makes too much sense!" For example, in the Double Jeopardy parody, it's suggested that the main character could bring to light that her husband is still alive, clearing her name and getting custody of her son.
Stay in the Kitchen: Nivlem forces the Woman Wonder to do this, as he turns out to be her boyfriend and is jealous of her superior skills.
Stealing from the Hotel: In a "Lighter Side of" feature by Dave Berg, a husband and wife are traveling abroad, when the wife is suddenly alarmed that one of their suitcases was stolen. She rants about how those foreigners are all crooks. When her husband asks what was in that particular bag, she replies "The ash trays and the towels and the silverware" that they took from the hotel.
Stupid Crooks: The two protagonists of Spy vs Spy. When they debuted, the introduction claimed that they "taught James Bond everything he knows... about what not to do!" And it shows.
Suicide as Comedy: Frequently done, especially with completely outlandish suicide methods (such as eating until you become heavy enough to cause an elevator to exceed the weight limit).
A subscription ad on the letters page carried the headline "WHY KILL YOURSELF? ... Just because you missed the last issue of Mad. The drawing would be of a man or woman about to commit suicide in an outlandish way.
"There's still one final plot twist- you can't marry your own sister!"
Symbol Swearing: Shows up from time to time (most notably in the Deadwood spoof), because the magazine usually steers clear of certain profanities. However, since the writers (most often Arnie Kogen) leave in at least one letter in each swear, it's often blatantly obvious what words the grawlixes represent.
Lampshaded in the parody of E.T.s "penis-breath" scene. Elliot's Mum: "That's it! I will NOT have any asterisks, ampersands, or percentage signs spoken in MY house!"
In "Who In Heck is Virginia Woolfe"
Dick: Huh? %$?"...? What kind of profanity is that, Liz?
Liz: That's no profanity, Dick! I just wanted to know what percentage of the gross we're getting for this picture!
Sympathetic Murderer: In one Ventriloquist Priest comic, a receptionist falls in love with a mail clerk, who gets her pregnant but leaves her for the boss' ugly daughter in order to gain a promotion. She then poisons his coffee in retaliation.
Tailor-Made Prison: "Plastic Sam" is put in a freezer, essentially reducing him to a cube of plastic that can't do anything.
Take That: HUNDREDS. If we listed them all, we'd be here all day, since the magazine has been running for decades, and believes nothing is sacred.
Take That, Audience!: They often imply that anyone who actually reads their magazine has to be a moron (this goes hand-in-hand with their constant Self-Deprecation). They also insult anyone who writes them a letter when it appears in their "Letters and Tomatoes Department".
Take That, Critics!: Not necessarily their critics, but in the 80s, Mad ran a piece in which film critics made several promises concerning their trade, such as dismissing all Chuck Norris films as mindless violence, and deriding them as boring if they even try to have a plot.
Teeth Flying: A Running Gag in "Spy Vs. Spy". Whenever one spy is caught in an explosion, a set of teeth come flying out of the blast.
Mark Antony's teeth fly out of his mouth in the following exchange from the Julius Caesar parody:
Calphurnia: ...Very well, Tony! I will pay thine fee!... Now will you take my case? Mark Antony: ...I will answereth you simply... Effectively...and my answer is...my answer is... DOMM DA DOM DOMM!
Think Nothing of It: A response given at a few points, such as in one The Lighter Side strip and in the Batman Returns parody. It's then followed by the person thanking the benefactor revealing that he or she is not actually grateful. Below is a paraphrased exchange from one Lighter Side strip.
Birthday Girl: I must thank you for this gift!
Gift Giver: It was nothing!
Birthday Girl: (scowling) I know! But my mom said I should thank you anyway!
Twenty Minutes into the Future: In a 60s parody of TV Guide Commercials are listed in the listings. Many online guides now list infomercials by the program's name instead of the standard Paid Programming.
Twist Ending: Especially in the EC Comics era. Most movie parodies end with an altered version of the film's ending, sometimes revealing something about the plot that had been concealed all along.
"Drek-ula" mocks the 1992 adaptation's huge Romantic Plot Tumor when the title character is transformed by The Power of Love into the Beast from Beauty and the Beast. To make matters worse, Disney's lawyers arrive to sue Francis Ford Coppola and company for ripping off their movie, only for Drek-ula to counter that since it was a better movie, there's no comparison.
In the Pearl Harbor parody, this trope is suggested to be the reason why the film included a bombing mission on Tokyo; the way history is taught, viewers might have left theaters with the impression that the Japanese won the war after bombing Pearl Harbor.
According to this blog post, now-former writer Mike Snider recalls that his first printed piece in the magazine, a parody of "Let the Punishment Fit the Crime" from The Mikado, was greatly altered after submission because the editors thought that readers wouldn't "get" it:
Turns out that the editors had decided, after all of my work, that the lyrical meter of the original “Let the Punishment Fit the Crime” was so irregular (which is true) that only readers who actually knew the tune would be able to “get it.” And then they concluded that MAD-reading kids of the 1980s were far less likely to be familiar with Gilbert & Sullivan than, say, those of the 50s or 60s (also probably true). So, the editors themselves proceeded to rewrite the entire thing in regular, standard verse, as if it were just any old poem that never even met Gilbert & Sullivan…except that the article’s title itself (along with the great Jack Davis “Mikado”-artwork) would naturally lead everyone who did know the tune to try and sing these new “lyrics” to them — to their utter confusion and frustration!
Wham Shot: Gags commonly end with shots revealing more about those involved. For example, in one "The Lighter Side Of", a man talks with his friend about how he and his wife had "chemistry" when they met and "biology" when they married, but "Now it's all history!"- and the last panel shows that they're walking out of a courthouse, presumably after his divorce.
What You Are in the Dark: Defied on a few jokes regarding the church panhandle. In one "A Mad Look At" strip, a priest records the collection, prompting people to give generously out of fear of being seen. In a Ventriloquist Priest strip, the priest forces the statues to talk about how people who don't give generously are going to hell.
William Telling: Inverted on an early cover, which depicts Alfred with an arrow strapped to his head, and an apple being thrown at him.
World's Shortest Book: They occasionally had a shelf of these, usually political- or current events-themed. A few examples:
"Etiquette" by Lyndon B. Johnson
"Truths I Have Told" by Richard Nixon
Writers Cannot Do Math: The Ghostbusters parody, "Ghost-Dusters," (MAD #253) featured the characters explaining the $10,000 charge for capturing the parody's equivalent of Slimer. The individual prices actually totaled $11,000. A reader wrote in and the magazine had to admit its error.
Written Sound Effect: Don Martin was very fond of atypical ones, such as "Dingalinga" for a bell ringing, "Ferrap" for shuffling cards, etc. Sometimes he would use Unsound Effects: "Don't Walk," "Applaud," etc. He even had a vanity plate reading "SHTOINK." There's also a dictionary of them.
One had Archie Bunker facing the ghosts of Ratings Past, Laughs Past, Bigotry Past and Ratings Future, who confronted him over the fact that if his show is no longer bigoted, it's no longer funny, either.
Likely because a good chunk of the staff were Jewish, and many of them are still around.
Your Costume Needs Work: Averted in one "A Mad Look at Batman" strip," Batman chases a criminal into a costume party and walks out with first prize.
0% Approval Rating: Several people are mentioned as being close to this level. In the "Choose Your Own Adventure" book for the 2000 presidential election, one of the paths leading to the bad ending has your own mother refuse to vote for you, and you being so far behind in the race that the networks declare your opponent the winner eight hours before the polling ends.