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) 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, Sergio Aragones, 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 Mad Tv, 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:
Accidentally Accurate: They once did a parody of Cathy called Amy!, which depicted Amy Winehouse hiding drugs in her behive hairdo. Then someone filmed her pulling a vial of cocain from... guess where?
Actor Allusion: 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.
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), by old age (e.g. Dave Berg's style becoming sloppier due to old age). 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 staid in the 1950s, even stalwarts like Mort Drucker and George Woodbridge.
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 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.
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.
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.
An earlier example is an article for a board game called "Gringo," written back in the 1950s, with intentionally silly rules.
Which was guest-written by Ernest Kovacs, the famous TV comedy pioneer.
MAD also did this again with "Three-Cornered Pitney".
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.
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.
Depending on the Artist: Most artists who drew front covers stuck close to Kelly Freas's design of Alfred E. Neuman. Sergio Aragonés's two 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".
Disney Death: Frequently mocked in parodies, especially if the writers know the death will be reversed.
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 he cannot divorce her.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Betty hurl herself at Archie. 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.
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.
All right! If we're going to win against the humans you need to listen up and stop embarrassing me! For example, when I tell you to put on your shoes and socks, I don't mean in that order!
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.
Last-Second Word Swap: One feature showed how to turn an offensive statement into a non-offensive one, often the complete opposite of what was about to be said.
Lonely at the Top: One Lighter Side Of 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.)
The Masquerade Will Kill Your Dating Life: In the Adam West Batman parody, 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.
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!".
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.
Popularity Polynomial: 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?.)
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 gangasta 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."
Sadist Show: Monroe and..., where something bad always happened to the title character.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!"
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.
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".
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.
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!
"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, and they'll probably win, because it was a much better movie!
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.
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
Writer Revolt: A running joke in the magazine, and somewhat true behind-the-scenes occasionally.
Write What You Know: Dick DeBartolo was working for Mark Goodson Productions when he was tapped to write the Family Feud parody. Naturally, he took that opportunity to knock down every trope that show presented (and submitted the parody under a pen name).
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.