A Conversation with Chris Monks, Managing Editor of McSweeney’s Internet Tendency >>> Part 3: Playing Favorites
In this final installment of my three-part interview with Chris Monks, he plays favorites and that includes, of course, a list.
Kimberly Harrington: I know you said you’re not writing short humor pieces anymore, but are there pieces on the site that you feel jealous of, that you wish you had written?
Chris Monks: Oh yeah. Pretty much everything Seth Reiss submits I wish I had written.
One of the funniest things we’ve ever run is this piece of his that’s a parody of lead-ins to the 11 o’clock news. The whole joke is that the regular anchors aren’t there and so the rest of the news team is filling in. But most of the fill-ins aren’t there either, so the reasons for their absence are explained as well. And the reasons just get more and more absurd as the piece goes on. It’s a one-hit joke but what it does with that one joke is pretty brilliant. That’s the type of humor I would try to write, just come up with one absurd little premise and try to get the most out of it that I could.
There’s a piece Ellie Kemper wrote that’s also great. It’s an op-ed article but the joke is that she hasn’t really worked out her ideas yet. So she’s seeing every issue from both sides and is constantly second guessing herself. And you can see how she’s crafting the lovable, but slightly ditzy characters she would eventually go on to play in The Office and Kimmy Schmidt.
And there’s this other thing by Steve Etheridge that’s a series of personals ads from a 1733 Colonial newspaper. The ads are written in Old English and the whole thing is R-rated but in a really ridiculous way. I’ve re-posted it to Facebook a few times since it ran — I’m forever finding excuses to run it — and it just doesn’t go anywhere. And I’m like, Are you people crazy? This is the funniest thing! I cried when I first read it — and very few times do I cry [laughs] but that was the one that made me laugh more than anything. I’m still confused by why it hasn’t gotten more traffic. It has sex, history, and a funny old-timey accent. What more do you people want?
KH: And yet…
CM: It STILL doesn’t go anywhere! We were coming up on doing the anthology and I really wanted to put it in there, but we were only using pieces that had the most traffic sooo … [laughs]
Another writer whose work is great is Dan Kennedy, who was one of the first “internet humor writers” I followed. When I started writing humor pieces early on in my career I basically just tried to write like him. His characters are so committed and unwavering to whatever inane cause they’re championing.
There’s this piece on the site he wrote about pitching a TV show that’s hilarious (called “I Just Found Out ABC Family is Going to Pass on My Pitch”). The show is about a family of drug-addicted vagrants who live in an abandoned junkyard and have sex in the back of burned-out cars. The perfect show for ABC Family! It’s another one of those pieces that takes one joke and then just builds on it in ridiculous ways. The descriptions of the plot get more and more ludicrous and through it all, the narrator remains perplexed as to why ABC Family didn’t buy the show. Comedy gold.
With pretty much everything that I accept, there’s a part of me that wishes I had written it. I think that’s the mark of a really funny piece. It’s immediately accessible because it shares your sensibilities and creates a kind of jealous joy when you read it.
It’s not often that I get to ask the Managing Editor of McSweeney’s to send ME a list, so there was no way I was going to pass up that opportunity. The next time you’re trying to George Costanza your way through the work day, dig into these (in between naps, natch):
“Five Hidden Gems on McSweeney’s Internet Tendency” by Chris Monks
1. “Declarations of Conjugal Interest from the Massachusetts Federalist, 1733” by Steve Etheridge
4. “Production Rider For Kate Kershner’s Holiday Visit Home Tour” by Kate Kershner
5. “Terrence Malick at the Delicatessen” by Chris Okum
Thanks again to Chris Monks for taking time for our interview and for allowing me to share three Panera-related portraits. I’m guessing he’ll never go back there again. Sorry Panera!
Can’t get enough of McSweeney’s-related articles? I KNOW. Here’s more:
For a look back on how the site became what it is today, check this piece from former McSweeney’s Internet Tendency editor, John Warner: “My McSweeney’s / Education Story”
For an interview that hones in more on humor writing vs. performed comedy, this one in Splitsider is for you: “Inside Humor Writing with McSweeney’s Internet Tendency Editor Chris Monks”
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Chris Monks is the Managing Editor of McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and the author of The Ultimate Game Guide to Your Life. If you meet him at Panera he might buy you an orange juice. No promises. Follow him on Twitter.