In observance of National Columnists Day, I’m running a post from a few years ago that I feel captures the essence of what it means to be a humor columnist, and why it’s a good idea to keep a current Food Handler’s Card available…
Being a journalist, I naturally have journalist friends who, whenever we get together, want to talk about (yawn) heady issues facing the nation and the world. This is done in a discussion format similar to “Meet the Press,” except that our debates are often interrupted by someone’s beer getting knocked over.
Aside from that, it’s just like the show on TV.
As you can imagine, our exchanges get pretty heated as each of us presents an important topic of debate:
What is our stance on the Middle East?
Should we overhaul social security?
How do we deal with North Korea?
Or, as I challenged:
Why does the new Bugs Bunny look like he’s been shooting steroids with Jose Canseco?
That’s usually when our debate comes to a screeching halt and I’m forced, once again, to defend my journalistic integrity by explaining the value of what I do, then underscoring it by offering to pay for everyone’s beer.
Admittedly, I have it easy compared to other journalists who must worry about gathering “facts” and finding “sources” while I, on the other hand, can “make” things up without “leaving” my desk. Which isn’t to say I’m not held to the same journalistic standards as everyone else. I can’t claim, for example, that dipping your head in Frito-Lay bean dip can promote hair growth similar to that of a Tibetan Mountain yak. At least, not without some kind of corroborating evidence, such as testimony from an actual mountain yak. But even then, ONLY if it happens to be from Tibet.
If I were a less responsible journalist who tried to substantiate his claim with testimony from a yak living in, say… the San Gabriel Mountains, I could open myself up to litigation from Frito-Lay, the state of California, and, quite possibly, every bald person smelling of bean dip.
The fact is, what I do comes at great personal risk. Not just in terms of potential lawsuits, but also in terms of actual physical danger — particularly when you consider how often I mention my editor in my column. This is an occupational hazard my “real” journalist friends never have to contend with. Chances are they’ll never write a story, be sitting at their desk, and have their editor smack them in the head with the newspaper.
Yet, week after week, at the risk of returning to an angry editor’s office and facing total financial ruin, humor columnists like myself sit at their keyboards, surfing the net until an hour before deadline.
Because each of us REALLY AND TRULY believes we’re making the world a better place by doing everything we can, as humor columnists, to stay out of the skilled-labor work force.
Let’s face it, for every culinary position a humor columnist takes up, there are at least a dozen people hurling into a commode. Countless people (i.e., there’s no time to count them before my deadline) owe their lives to the fact that I — and others like me — are sitting in a newsroom making stuff up. Imagine being stuck on a mountainside knowing that the person repelling down a rope to save you is the same person who, if they had a choice, would rather be writing about glow-in-the-dark mice.
Would you be willing to put your life in that person’s hands? Or would you go ahead and take a chance that a giant Slip-N-Slide will suddenly sprout from the mountain?
If it were me, I’d take my chances with the Slip-N-Slide. Even if it wasn’t wet, and it meant sliding down half a mile of dry plastic.
The point is, we humor columnists know our place in the world. We understand the risks involved in what we do. Which is why, as a humor columnist who actually worked in the food service industry, I can say with some authority:
(Ned Hickson is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. His first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, is available from Port Hole Publications, Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.)
29 thoughts on “Never had food poisoning? Make sure to thank a humor columnist today”
As always, you just made me smile. Was just sitting here daydreaming, er, providing high quality health care and your little post reminded me of the many things that are important in life. Namely, viable employment and hand washing.
That said, what I wouldn’t give to be sitting at my desk writing instead of wading through the Affordable Care Act documents. Do you need a typist?
After wading through the ACA, you’ll definitely need a good hand washing. In the meantime, I can always use a good typist with clean hands. 😉
Now that you mention it, I do see a certain similarity between being a writer and ladling slop. At least, writers don’t have to wear hair nets.
WHAT?! My editor has been lying to me about the hairnet?!?
But what about unpaid humor columnists, or, in other words, humor bloggers? Do you realize that the fact that they are not getting paid for their writing means that they are out there somewhere, actually making their living by preparing your restaurant lunch or rappelling down a mountain to save some unlucky person’s life?
Before I got paid for writing humor, I called myself a “volunteer humorist.” It was usually a topic of conversation that came up while I was deveining shrimp.
Humor is best served cold on a plate of blue with mustard and relish. Served by a person with buns of steel and a person of zeal to take away the dishes after you have eaten the meal.
If you can settle for buns of aluminum foil, I’d be happy to serve you.
You set the bar pretty high, Ned Hickson.
Keep up the devilishly good work.
Thanks, Robert. I’ll try not to pass along any salmonella in the process 😉
I remember this entry from your book. Loved it. Sometime you’ll have to repost the old (and now tight…) jeans piece. I laughed out loud more than once during that story. 🙂
Thanks, Carrie — I will. I’ll spare you any pictures, though 😉
Awww, no fair. A picture’s worth…
… hours of psychotherapy?
In May, I started a new job in the New York Times building. Our company has access to the Times cafeteria, which is a beautiful, two-story open space with glass walls that look out onto the city. There’s always some cool journalist thing going on. Informal meetings about story projects. Sometimes they’re conducting interviews. I sit nearby and pretend I’m reading but I’m actually eavesdropping. It sounds WAY more interesting than what I’m doing for a living. So…yeah…I’m jealous of journos.
It’s exactly like that here at Siuslaw News; meetings, interviews, windows with glass that overlook the recycling bins in the parking lot…
You joke but the work is more interesting than what I’m involved with and that counts for everything. All else is just aesthetics.
It’s true. I’ve always considered myself fortunate that the careers I’ve had have always been rewarding in terms of creativity and challenging (chef, corporate trainer, journalist). I make enough financially to get by, but going to work without a feeling of dread is better than a pay raise.
Fortunately I don’t dread my work. I’ve had those kind of jobs. But it seems nothing I’m passionate about is a money-making venture. Instead, they suck money.
I think your job is far more difficult, ignoring the life at risk aspect, because trying to come up with something funny is hard, at least I would think it is, on the other hand I could be completely wrong and funny just comes out of every part of your body.
That’s exactly why I wear a strong antiperspirant.
You know, if you did at least three years in prison you could take a culinary arts program AND learn enough street law to deal effectively with any lawsuit that might stem from the possible career change. Just sayin’.
I like the idea of combining law and culinary arts! Maybe a prime rib place where portions are weighed on Scales of Justice at each table. You can have dinner and get law advice at the same time! I could call it “Prime and Punishment.” Greg, you’re a genius!
Now if I can just get some jail time…
You’re a riot, Ned! 😀
Thanks, Anawni! After visiting your blog, I can tell I’m going to like it there 😉
Can’t guarantee that you will fall off your chair laughing like I did on reading your posts (at least on one occasion – even though the chair was sorta kinda already broken) but I think we’ll get along just fine! 😀
Damn, I forgot to wash my hands before I read this…
Don’t blame me if someone gets sick… not that it’s uncommon after reading one of my columns or posts.
Well you should have put it at the beginning of the post. 😉