I'm sure everyone remembers their first issue of Mad Magazine. It was odd, uproariously funny, and immature enough for everyone. My first issue was when I was about twelves, when my mom bought me an issue to read at the orthopedic surgeon's office (I had broken my arm about a week prior). However, I'm no kid anymore (or so the judge tells me). I'm a college student, looking to become a professional teacher, and I'm a respected reviewer for this website. How can I like something as immature as Mad?
Simply put, Mad is the most dead-on entertainment magazine available. Through a combination of peurile humor, self-deprication, excellent art, and witty writing, Mad has seperated itself from the pack of low-end satire mags (like Cracked) and made itself a true piece of American culture. Stop groaning out there.
First, Mad brings itself to attention primarily for its spoofs of popular movies and television shows. I think this results in the "Weird Al" syndrome - you pay more attention to the obvious mockeries than the subtle ones. As time has gone on, Mad's style has cleaned up considerably - which means that now, you can catch marginal jokes even better than before, and the magazine fits more in. While occasionally lewd, Mad also recognizes that sometimes, humor is best left suggested, and many jokes are subtle innuendos, much beyond what people would initially give the mag credit for.
Mad's jokes work so well because they first did what Mystery Science Theater 3000 became famous for - finding what everyone makes fun of about in a given piece of entertainment and finding the perfect gag to make about it. For a classic example, in their parody of "Big Daddy," "Big Bladder," they have someone go up to the kid and complain about his wooden delivery. Who would be such an expert on bad childhood acting? The block of wood that played Anakin in "Phantom Menace." I couldn't have come up with a better gag myself, and generally, Mad gives this kind of performance consistently. While it does occasionally foul up - I found some of their Pokemon parodies lacking the punch of other shots - Mad creates gags much better tha, say, your average night of NBC's "Must See TV."
However, Mad also has a rabid following because of their regular gags that appear often. Of course, despite the passing of its creator, "Spy vs. Spy" is going on as strong as ever, with a new airbrushed style that doesn't detract from "the famous duo of double-cross and deceit." Dave Berg still puts in regular duty with his clever "The Lighter Side Of..." which has modern lampoonings of everyday situations. Newer additions to this mix are sure to become classics - "Jenkins and Melvin," an answer to Highlight's "Goofus and Gallant," brings me to tears laughing every time. While Jenkins is even more of a proper gentleman than Gallant, Melvin is sure to provide a situation even more ridiculous than Goofus ever could. Almost frighteningly educational.
However, nothing showcases Mad's continued tradition of excellence like one new feature and one classic. Al Jaffee is still around, and he still makes a new, highly entertaining "Mad Fold-In" for the back cover of every issue. Therre is sure to be an off-beat answer to the fold-in, and the art is rather cleverly done - I still wish I knew how Jaffee does it. On the opposite page from the fold-in is a new regular feature which has quickly become a favorite of mine - the Celebrity Odds of Death listing. When I first saw it, it listed the various odds of the Spice Girls dying in various ways - "Terminal Giggling" had a 1:1 chance, while "Choking on a chicken bone during a dinner celebrating their 5th year in the music business" had over a billion to one shot. I enjoy this feature so much, I start with it first whenever I pick up a new issue.
One thing about Mad, though, is that the humor is aimed for all levels - I wonder if the writers had a steady diet of "Rocky and Bullwinkle" when they were younger. While there are plenty of obvious jokes for all ages, there is plenty of subtle humor, especially political humor, in each issue. Looking back on older issues I have, I'm surprised at how many jokes I didn't get because I didn't know much about politics then. If Mad felt like trying a bit harder, they could probably make a sister magazine that concentrated on politics. Of course, that would just scare people afraid of the magazine multiplying.
Mad isn't totally perfect. There are still occasional rough spots in the art, and sometimes, a whole section will just lack laughs, such as the first parody of Pokemon that Mad put together. Also, a new feature, "Monroe," usually lacks the punch and humor of the other segments - you can generally skip it. Also, Mad sometimes skimps over parts you wish were mocked, due to the limited amount of space the magazine has. I sometimes wish the magazine would expand and maybe carry a few ads (from Archie McPhee and other such companies) to pack in more sufficiently wickedly barbed jokes.
But in all honesty, this doesn't detract from the magazine as a whole. It consistently gives you more laughs than anything since Monty Python. Moreover, unlike most topical humor, it ages like wine, getting better with the passing years. And with the new humorous monthly features, the magazine is insuring that it will have a healthy continued existence. From 61 Man Squamish to Superduperman, from Spy vs. Spy to the Fold-In, Mad has helped define itself as a prominent piece of our culture. Find out why - while America may be going somewhere in a handbasket, Mad is here to save our sanity.