It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad Mad World by
(118 Stories)

Prompted By Magazines

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Well, no awards for originality this week.  Not only is Mad Magazine referenced in the prompt, it is the prompt’s featured image (that great cover of Alfred E. Neuman carved on Mt. Rushmore).  But that only means that great minds think alike (wink, wink, Retro administrator) because, at least for us Boomers, there was no greater magazine than Mad.

My parents may have gotten my brother and me subscriptions to Humpty Dumpty and Highlights for Children when we were quite young, and I recall dutifully reading them and doing all their stupid puzzles, but Mad was the first magazine that I ever subscribed to myself.  And I am happy to say that I subscribed to Mad with my parents’ blessing — to say nothing of their money, of course. Perhaps not to the same extent as I, but they “got it” and I never heard any question from them to the effect of “What are you wasting your time on that junk?”

And what was it in Mad to “get?” To me, first and foremost, it was to see the humor in a situation and try to be humorous about it.  Even when making a serious point, Mad was always funny, or always trying to be funny — with about a 98.5% success rate, at least to a male adolescent mind of the 50’s and 60’s.  And it was always popping the over-inflated balloons — typically, politicians and Hollywood — but, somehow, never meanly.

Though Mad was not in any sense revolutionary, it made clear that “Authority” was not to ever be entirely trusted, and often not even taken seriously.  Again, perfectly in sync with my own, if not rock throwing, at least casual cynicism. It also, perhaps subliminally, sent the message: never take yourself too seriously either, you pompous ass.

And I loved the fact that, while Mad was written and illustrated by a bunch of seemingly old guys (“The Usual Gang of Idiots,” as they mockingly referred to themselves in the table of contents of every issue), they didn’t talk down to us kids.  Maybe they were themselves permanent adolescents, but I think they just knew what was funny at any age.

Not to get too ponderous about it, but Mad profoundly influenced my own appreciation of humor and made me try to infuse my own speaking and writing with self-deprecating humor, if at all possible and appropriate.  OK; not so much in my high school and college papers, and certainly not in my many legal briefs over the years — clients and judges aren’t necessarily wild about such things — but pretty much everything else I’ve ever written, and a lot of what I’ve spoken.*  Anyone perusing my Retro stories would be hard-pressed to find one without at least an effort at a humorous theme and a few quick laughs. And I think the same goes with my emails and other written correspondence — save, perhaps, the occasional condolence note.  Simply put, to this day, when I write, I check out the imaginary copper bracelet on my wrist and ask, “WWMD?”  What Would Mad Do?

Indeed, I so bought into Mad — both its surface humor and its deeper messages — that I was sorely tempted to write my college essay on its profound impact on me.  However, I totally wussed out on that — to my parents’ relief — and instead wrote about my work in inner-city poverty programs.  Though that worked out fine, I could just imagine Mad’s Usual Gang of Idiots razzing me mercilessly.  I deserved it.

Unfortunately, I let my subscription to Mad lapse after high school.  I think I was a bit worried that it would be viewed by my roomies and college pals as insufficiently sophisticated and/or political for the late 60’s.  Stupid moi; I should have remembered that, in its own snarky, funny way, it was as subversive as any underground newspaper. And I read it only sporadically in future years, though still always enjoying it when I did.

Sadly, Mad finally shut its doors for good last year.  Fortunately, however, it had sniffed out the awfulness of Trump early on, as this cover from 2015 illustrates:

In my perfect imaginary world, Mad would still be around — God knows I have plenty of time to read it these days — and the cover of its January 20, 2021 issue would be a picture of Trump being put in handcuffs, and probably a straight jacket, and carried out of the White House by the Secret Service to an awaiting helicopter. I can dream, can’t I?


*I knew early on that girls/women were not likely to be attracted by my rugged good looks, charming and roguish smile and/or awesome athletic prowess.  I better be funny.

Profile photo of John Shutkin John Shutkin

Characterizations: been there, funny, well written


  1. Excellent story, John, and I always look forward to your humor. This makes me wish I’d read my brother’s Mad Magazines…I was way too serious for way too long. Now I crack myself up all the time.

    WWMD…love it!

  2. Marian says:

    We could use Mad now, John. Suzy and I are “Mad Girls” and had experiences similar to yours. While my mom was neutral about the magazine, my dad and I often bonded over its contents, and the anarchy fit my sense of humor. Interesting how we followed parallel timing, because I stopped the subscription when I went to college. I’ll always remember it fondly.

    • John Shutkin says:

      We sure could use Mad now — though, as others have noted it is almost impossible to do satire about Trump because the reality is so bizarro. But delighted to learn that you are a “Mad girl.” Great minds think alike!

  3. Suzy says:

    Great story, John, but I’m still struggling with the sex stereotyping around Mad. Why do you say in your 3rd paragraph, “at least to a male adolescent mind”? I’m here to say it was just as funny to the female adolescent mind!

    Probably the fact that we were both under the influence of “the usual gang of idiots” at a young age explains why you and I have such similar senses of humor. But since your Retro stories tend to be funnier than mine, I guess I need to get one of those WWMD bracelets. Will you send me one in exchange for one of my issues of Mad?

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks, Suzy. Actually, I am getting a real education here from you and Marian, albeit belatedly. Though there was nothing overtly sexist about Mad, it always seemed to be geared to boys and not girls; sort of like video games. Offhand, I don’t recall any girls reading it, at least as avidly. And I am pretty sure that almost all of its writers and illustrators were men. But I am delighted to hear that you and Marian were “Mad girls.” It does reflect on our similar – -as in brilliant — senses of humor.

      And now I am going on Etsy to see if there is such a thing as a WWMD bracelet (or if one could be made). I would happily trade it for your issues.

  4. Betsy Pfau says:

    I can tell from your writing that Mad has infused you with a sly wit, John. You do try to lend a certain sense of humor to everything here (I’ve never read anything legal that you’ve written and am not inclined to do so). And I agree, we could all use some humor in this bizzaro world. I love your image of Trump being hoisted out in straight jacket and handcuffs. May it only come to pass!

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks much, Betsy. As you can imagine, I am living for that January 20, 2021 image, though I wouldn’t mind if he just got in a golf cart and putted away.

      As to my legal writing, in fact, in hunting for memorabilia in response to our recent prompt, I came across a few briefs I had written over the years and perused them. If you ever want a cure for insomnia, let me know.

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    Now I regret how I let Mad become my younger brothers’ property, John. I could have used some snarky humor growing up in a world in which girls were not supposed to be funny. I LOVE that last cover featuring Trump and share your wish to see him perp walked out of the White House in January 2021 after being resoundingly defeated in November. Well, a girl can dream.

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks, Laurie, especially for confirming my view that, when we were growing up, Mad was considered to be more of a boys’ magazine — sort of like comics books were. And may at least this dream of yours come true!

  6. Thanx John, and I too await that Mad cover with the travesty in the White House being led out in handcuffs.

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