Firing Pretenses

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(Department of Justice conference room, sometime in January 2007)

Paul McNulty: All right, we have to move quickly on this. We’ve got to put something out there right away about firing these eight attorneys, so don’t get hung up on consistency, but everyone has to stick to the story.

Kyle Sampson: I’m still worried they’re going to start talking to the press and cause us problems. This could look pretty bad.

Monica Goodling: Are we allowed to cut out their vocal cords?

William Moschella: That’s an interesting question. John Yoo has written a memo arguing that the law doesn’t explicitly say vocal cords can’t be cut out. But you have to worry about blowback because of the lack of precedent.

Kyle Sampson: I feel funny bringing this up, but when we were all around the Ouija Board, sometimes it felt like Alberto was pushing the planchette toward the letters. Like it was really him spelling out the names instead of Reagan. I also peeked once and he didn’t have his eyes closed like we were all supposed to.

Paul McNulty: Regardless, this process allows the A.G. to state truthfully that the list was compiled — not by any actual person — and he simply approved it. You just aggregated the names and presented them for him to sign off on. But as I mentioned, the process is a little too faith-based for some Americans, so we’re better off finding some common trait among them that we can hang this on.

Kyle Sampson: You could make the connection that most of the attorneys are in border states, and DOJ is unhappy with immigration prosecution. Mexicans settling illegally in New Mexico, Arizona, and San Diego. Canadians coming into Washington state and Michigan. Mormons from Utah sneaking into Nevada, and heterosexual Hawaiians coming into San Francisco.

Monica Goodling: No, look, I have something more compelling. I plotted the districts of all the attorneys in the Western states on a map. If you draw a line from the New Mexico district through the one in Nevada, and then up to Seattle, and then draw a second line from New Mexico through Arizona, San Diego, and San Francisco up to Seattle, you end up with a crescent shape. One of the symbols of Islam. Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening —

Paul McNulty: Monica —

Kyle Sampson: What about Arkansas and Michigan? You left them out.

Michael Elston: I think we’re covered there. The Michigan woman did not aggressively prosecute jaywalkers. The Arkansas guy has credit card debt, according to paper we fished out of his trash.

Kyle Sampson: Speaking of Cummins, the Arkansas guy, that situation is very delicate and will be scrutinized to death because of Hillary’s run in ’08, but let me bounce something off you. I rented this movie, The Manchurian Candidate, the other night, and I was wondering whether we had a true Bushie all prepped and…wait, why are you all…Okay, forget I brought it up.

William Moschella: Let’s forget DOJ for a second. What about DOD? I thought they had technology that would bail us out of this.

Paul McNulty: No luck. My contact over in DARPA says the time machine is bollixed. They steered the contract to a big RNC donor in Alabama, who, it turns out, just makes vending machines.

William Moschella: Can we assume they invent it at some point and have already gone back and fixed our problem?

Paul McNulty: These are government personnel.

Michael Elston: Where’s Karl, by the way? Shouldn’t he be here?

Monica Goodling: They’re resurfacing the tunnel that leads from the White House to our basement. He can’t get through.

Paul McNulty: Can’t he just come above ground?

Monica Goodling: The sunlight…he can’t…

Paul McNulty: Oh, right. (Sighs.) Look, we can’t waste any more time on this. I’m going with Monica’s idea. It has an elegance that may distract enough people to buy us time. Just 18 months to go. Okay, we’re officially finished discussing this. Will someone go out into the hall and tell Alberto he can come back in?

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It Seems I Made a Critical Error While Editing the Wikipedia Entry for “Elves”

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Although no older or contemporary descriptions exist, the appearance of beings etymologically related to álfar in various later folklore strongly suggests that the belief in Elvis was common among all the Germanic tribes and not limited solely to the ancient Scandinavians.

English folktales of the early modern period typically portray Elvis as small…

Several minor forces, the servants of gods, are presented such as Byggvir and Beyla, who belonged to Freyr, the lord of the Elvis, and they were probably Elvis, since they were not counted among the gods.

Full-sized famous men could be elevated to the rank of Elvis after death, such as the petty king Olaf Geirstad, whereas the smith hero Wayland Smith was titled as “ruler of Elvis” while alive…

In order to protect themselves against malevolent Elvis, Scandinavians could use a so-called Elf cross (Alfkors, Älvkors or Ellakors)…

…just outside of Reykjavik, Iceland, a soccer game was called to a halt when a misled ball rolled off the beaten path, and stopped right next to a sign that marked the home of Elvis, believed to dwell near the stones where the ball was resting.

Although first attested in the sense “sharp pain caused by Elvis,” it is later attested denoting Neolithic flint arrow-heads, which were used in healing rituals, and alleged to be used by witches (and perhaps Elvis) to injure people and cattle.

The Elvis could be seen dancing over meadows, particularly at night and on misty mornings.

In the USA, Canada, and Britain, the modern children’s folklore of Santa Claus typically includes diminutive, green-clad Elvis with pointy ears and long noses as Santa’s assistants.

The grim Norse-style Elvis of human size introduced in Poul Anderson’s fantasy novel The Broken Sword from 1954 are one of the first precursors to modern fantasy Elvis, although they are overshadowed (and preceded) by the Elvis of the twentieth-century philologist and fantasy writer J. R. R. Tolkien.

If a human watched the dance of the Elvis, he would discover that even though only a few hours seemed to have passed, many years had passed in the real world.

Half-Elvis and divergent races of Elvis, such as high Elvis and dark Elvis, were also popularized at this time; in particular, the evil drow of Dungeons & Dragons have inspired the dark Elvis of many other works of fantasy.

The American cookie company Keebler has long advertised that its cookies are made by Elvis in a hollow tree…

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Great Moments In Standup

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Garden of Eden, Dawn of Time. Adam awakens to find Eve lying beside him. In no time he is riffing on the differences between men and women (“She’s got me wearing this fig leaf now — what’s up with that?” — Genesis 2:27).

Lascaux, France, c. 15,000 B.C. In a fire-lit cave, an unknown Cro-Magnon Man pantomimes the first crude mother-in-law joke. Through grunts and gestures, he suggests a similarity between his own mate’s mother and a wooly rhinoceros. The bit goes over big with the tribe, but his mate is not amused. He spends the night in the cave of the domesticated dogs.

The Babylonian Empire, c. 1800 B.C. The Fertile Crescent between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers brings forth an abundance of produce. It is here, in this land of plenty, that a sledgehammer is first used to smash a watermelon, splattering the multitudes and causing great hilarity.

Athens, Greece, c. 1500 B.C. Daedalus addresses the elder statesmen, telling them: “I just flew in from Crete and, boy, are my arms tired.” The line gets a big laugh even though he is telling the truth—he has just flown in, using wings of his own design. Then he adds: “And what about that in-flight food!” and the place goes nuts.

Egypt, c. 1400 B.C. The venerable tradition of Jewish standup begins with Moses. Appearing regularly at Pharaoh’s court, he gets big yuks with his signature line, “Let my people go!” His Ten Plagues routine also knocks ’em dead. With his brother Aaron as straight man, he develops a large following and takes his act all over Sinai, in a career that spans some forty years.

Sparta, c. 1200 B.C. Menalaus, king of Sparta, entertains Paris of Troy with a monologue about married life that concludes with the line: “Take my wife…please!” Everyone enjoys a good laugh, then Paris excuses himself and absconds with the queen of Sparta. The Trojan War ensues; thousands are slaughtered. Menalaus’s witticism becomes known as “The quip that launched a thousand ships,” though this is bowdlerized over the centuries.

Athens, 428 B.C. Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, also fathers the doctor joke. As recorded by Pythagoras in his treatise Jokes, Riddles and a Theorem, it goes like this:

Patient: Well, Doctor of Physic, have you identified the nature of my ailment?

Hippocrates: I fear you have but a short span of life remaining.

Patient: What! I think it would be wise for me to seek another opinion!

Hippocrates: Very well — your features are displeasing to the eye as well!

Rome, First Century A.D. With the rise of the Roman Empire, standup thrives, though most routines of the era rely on familiar Greek jokes with the names changed. Caesar’s Palace becomes the leading showcase for standup, and comics from every corner of the empire come to amuse the rulers of the known world. Most of the Caesars are receptive, but Caligula is a notoriously tough audience who feels that comedians are funniest when torn apart by wolverines.

York, England, c. 1350. The Black Death is ravaging Europe, and even a good comedian can expect 30% of his audience to succumb before he completes his set. In this grim setting, a jester named Festes, sensing the crowd has become unresponsive, first says: “I know you’re out there — I can hear you breathing!”

Madrid, 1492. Torquemada, the Grand Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition — a man renowned for his frequent flights of whimsical japery — tells a series of jokes that all begin: “A priest and a rabbi are out in a rowboat…” Torquemada’s first attempts suffer from a certain predictability, as they all conclude with the priest rowing back alone. The form has since been refined by other hands.

London, 1618. Awaiting execution in the Tower of London, Sir Walter Raleigh invents the knock-knock joke. He attracts the attention of a guard, and the following exchange takes place:

Raleigh: Knock knock!

Guard: Who’s there?

Raleigh: Doublet.

Guard: Doublet who?

Raleigh: Whatever they pay you, I’ll doublet if you get me out of here.

James I is so amused by these antics that he immediately calls off Raleigh’s hanging and has him beheaded instead.

Washington, 1844. Samuel Morse offends conventional sensibilities with his “Seven Words You Can’t Send in a Telegram” routine. Outrage is so widespread that Morse is reduced to performing his routine in code to avoid persecution, though his punch line “dot dash dot dash dot dash!” remains a classic.

Boston, 1876. Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, also invents the one-sided phone conversation. His punch line “Watson, come quick! I want you!” — followed by the bustling entrance of his breathless assistant — never fails to get an ovation.

New Jersey, 1878. Thomas Edison holds patents on more than 500 items still used by prop comedians today, including the arrow-through-the-head, the giant baby pacifier, and the hat with rearview mirrors. His invention of the light bulb popularizes two separate but equally fertile comic themes, light bulb jokes and New Jersey. More significantly, Edison’s light bulb evolves into the stage spotlight, which in turn provides the iconic image of the standup comedian: eyes shielded with the edge of the hand, looking out into the audience to ask, “Is anyone here from Brooklyn?”

Paris, 1882. Louis Pasteur, addressing the French Academy, opens by saying “Good evening, ladies and viruses!” The distinguished audience reacts with confused silence. He then tries “ladies and bacteria,” with the same stony results. Drenched in flop-sweat, Pasteur has a sudden inspiration and says: “Good evening, ladies and germs!” The crowd, the building — indeed, the whole arrondissement — are convulsed in wave after wave of bellylaughs, which can be heard as far away as Marseilles.

Vienna, 1910. Sigmund Freud entertains at a psychoanalysts’ smoker, performing under the name “Siegfried Roy.” He slays them with a joke that concludes: “So Oedipus says, ‘That was no woman — that was my mother!'” Carl Jung, appearing as “Henny Jungman,” provides the rimshot. Jung later broke with Freud over the question of whether the audience was laughing with them or at them. Jung believed they were laughing with them; Freud believed they are laughing at Jung.

Chicago, 1923. Elliot Ness, perhaps the greatest comedian of the Roaring Twenties, pioneers the “man walks into a bar” joke, a staple of the comic’s repertoire to this day. Ness’s very first “man walks into a bar” joke, in its entirety, reads: “A man walks into a bar.” This was enough to send Prohibition audiences into stitches. With the repeal of the Volstead Act, Ness’s career falters.

London, 1939. Winston Churchill emerges as the first full-fledged insult comic. A master of the form, Churchill’s put-downs range from the elegant (“He’s a modest man with a good deal to be modest about”) to the devastating (“Have a cookie, you hockey puck”).

Boca Raton, 1986. An unknown called Carrot Top takes the stage during Open Mike Night at Florida Atlantic University. A new Golden Age of Comedy begins.

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Excerpts From Diary of a Rejected McDonaldland Character

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Oct. 16, 1970 — Just got back from auditions for that new McDonald’s campaign. Man, they weren’t kidding when they said they wanted “colourful characters” — there were clowns, burglars, pirates, guys with cheeseburgers for heads, and a bunch of midgets who looked like pubic wigs with eyes — but I was the only talking owl, so I must’ve stood out. Fingers crossed!

Nov. 9, 1970 — First day of rehearsal. Met the rest of the cast, including some kind of purple mutant named Grimace. Seriously, who names their kid Grimace? And he’s so fat, he looks like he couldn’t crack his knuckles without getting winded. I shouldn’t have any trouble acting circles around those freaks.

Nov. 16, 1970 — Another tough rehearsal. I think I twisted an ankle during the human pyramid, but after downing half a bottle of Tylenol in the washroom, I was good to go. No pain, no gain.

Nov. 23, 1970 — I really misjudged Grimace. He’s a sweet guy, much smarter than his jolly fat monster shtick would have you believe, and he really knows his stuff. I bet he’s got a big future ahead of him if the weight doesn’t kill him first.

Dec. 2, 1970 — Unbelievable! I showed up for the shoot, raring to go, but the producer pulled me aside and told me I was cut. Cut! He said it’s something to do with my name not testing well, so I offered to work under another name — any name they wanted — but that wasn’t good enough for him. So, just like that, I’m out. But I’ll show them. The world hasn’t seen the last of CholesterOwl!

Dec. 4, 1970 — Grimace dropped by to see how I was doing. I wasn’t doing so well (oh, sambuca, you can be a cruel mistress), but it was nice to see a friendly face. Haven’t heard a peep out of anyone else.

Jan. 25, 1971 — Saw the first McDonaldland commercial today. I hate to admit it, but it looked good, real good, and everybody was in fine form. They gave my part (sigh) to one of the midgets.

July 16, 1972 — Keeping busy. Doing five shows a week at the dinner theatre, and I’ve gotten nothing but positive feedback about that public service announcement I did for the STD clinic (thank God mom didn’t see it). Climb, climb, climb…

Dec. 7, 1973 — Did lunch with Grimace today. He looked bad, sick and pale and fatter than ever, but he ate like a horse. I didn’t want to say anything, but when he ordered his third slice of pie, I suggested he slow down. He started to cry and said he feels sick all the time, but that whenever he tries to lose weight, that producer threatens to fire him if he drops a single roly-poly pound. God, I’d like to peck that jerk’s face in!

Jun. 22, 1975 — Grimace’s funeral is tomorrow. The synagogue isn’t on a bus route, but Poppin’ Fresh said he’d give me a lift if I chipped in for gas. I hope Lynn and the twins are holding up okay.

Sep. 23, 1975 — Just saw the “new” Grimace on TV. They didn’t waste any time, did they? I hope the guy in that purple fatsuit gets cancer of the tongue and testicles and dies.

Jul. 15, 1977 — Checked myself into rehab. The next time you hear from me, I’ll be clean and sober and back on track. Fingers crossed!

Jan. 16, 1980 — Knocked over another McDonald’s. Was on the way out when the manager mouthed off. Should’ve let it go, but for a second there, in the glow of the heat lamps, he looked a little bit like that producer, and that was it. Not sure how long I was on him, but when I finally got off, there was a bloody hole where his face used to be and he was dead. Sure hope I didn’t leave any clues behind.

Feb. 13, 1980 — Saw my lawyer again. He says my history with McDonald’s is gonna hurt me at trial. What am I supposed to do? Admit that I’ve also robbed two Dairy Queens and a Kentucky Fried Chicken? The system is stacked against a guy like me.

Mar. 13, 1980 — Expecting a verdict tomorrow. Lawyer keeps saying I never should’ve taken the stand, but I think I came off pretty well, and besides, Juror #10 was totally coming on to me, which can’t hurt. I feel lucky!

Mar. 17, 1980 — First day of prison. I was worried at first, after all those stories I heard in lock-up about birds in prison being ambushed in the shower and gang-plucked, but so far everyone’s been real nice. Maybe I’ll be okay in here after all.

Mar. 31, 1980 — Feathers finally starting to grow back.

Jul. 8, 1993 — Just came from the best Mascots Behind Bars meeting ever! Spuds McKenzie read some more of his poetry, Sugar Bear and Toucan Sam settled their differences and had a good cry afterwards, and the Noid finally came to terms with his unspeakable crimes. The healing has truly begun!

Oct. 24, 1993 — Had to shiv the Noid. I know he’s the one who raided my stash, plus I just couldn’t take the nonstop giggling anymore. He won’t have anything to giggle about for a while, that’s for sure.

Mar. 16, 2005 — Free! After twenty-five long years, I’m finally free! And mark my words, things will be different this time. No more ego, no more anger, and definitely no more drugs. This time it’ll be all about the craft. I’ve already landed an audition for a reality TV show about troubled product mascots. Fingers crossed!

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