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The humor that makes me laugh hardest is the material I know would offend or insult someone else. Apparently I am not alone in this view because my entire career is based on that universal law. The Dilbert comics that work best are the ones you can imagine your boss or coworker looking at and saying, "Uh-oh. I think that's me."

But offending isn't enough. The audience gets more out of humor if the messenger is putting himself in danger. When Dilbert first launched, I was still working my day job. Readers loved knowing that I was on the verge of getting fired every day. The order to fire me was actually given at one point, but in the end my employer decided to give me hopeless assignments and wait for me to quit. They figured it would look better.

Dilbert is still a dangerous job. This week I got a bunch of angry letters because of a comic where Alice says she realized her job was like a dung beetle trying to mate with an epileptic cow. I think I was added to a few extra death lists. If you laughed at that comic, it's probably at least partly because you knew I was taking a risk in creating it.

You also imagine that it must be awkward for me to publicly mock managers and executives and then bump into them socially, which happens daily. It probably would be awkward if I cared about that sort of thing. So while it isn't particularly scary for me, as a reader you can imagine what it might be like for you, and it probably translates as more dangerous that it is.

I think something similar is true with other performers. We enjoy jugglers more when they use chainsaws and torches. And no matter how much you hate it when a musician grabs his crotch while dancing, on some level it still works because you know other people hate it way more than you do, and you know the artist is getting complaints. He's paying a price for the crotch-grabbing, even if the rewards are greater.

Movie stars have inherently dangerous jobs, in terms of potential embarrassment for movie flops, or getting caught on film doing something odious. And even the most seasoned professionals get scared to death when performing live. Most people couldn't handle that sort of pressure and know it. I think it is partly the perceived danger that makes celebrities exciting to us.

If art doesn't seem dangerous for the artist, it probably isn't relevant.
 
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Photos
Aug 14, 2008 | General Nonsense | Permalink
I just saw the photos from my recent vacation. There were photos of me looking hungry while desperately wishing I were eating instead of posing in front of a table full of delicious food as it got cold and the flies attacked it. There were pictures of me looking at the camera instead of gazing at the breathtaking views behind me. There were pictures of me thirstily posing with my drink instead of drinking it. And there were pictures of me standing in unnatural positions while wishing I could be slouching or sitting. Ironically, we managed to capture all of the moments of the vacation that I wish hadn't happened. Everything that happened just before and just after the camera started flashing was great.

Being the only one in my marriage who dresses for efficiency over fashion, I usually get nominated to carry the camera and the cell phone in my voluminous pockets of my shorts. Add to that my wallet, keys, and maybe some sea shells and you can see the issue. The merchandise bangs against my leg every step. I feel like Rodney King jogging through LA during a hail storm.

For me, posing for pictures is the opposite of being on vacation because getting photographed is part of my job. This afternoon, for example, a photographer will be at my office taking pictures for several hours. When a lawyer goes on vacation he doesn't have to sue someone every time he walks past an interesting landmark. A dental hygienist doesn't have to clean any teeth every time the sunset looks pretty. But I have to pose for a picture, sometimes three. It doesn't seem fair.

One thing you don't want on your vacation is anyone telling you what to do, as in "Stand over there" and "Smile" and "Straighten your shirt so it doesn't look like a food baby." It's more than even Pinocchio would put up with.

I like having photos of my vacations, but there has to be a better way. My proposed solution involves buying stock photos of landmarks and using Photoshop to superimpose stock photos of me looking happy. It's not dishonest if I was actually at those landmarks, and both the landmark and I look exactly the way the photos suggest.

Am I wrong?
 
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I like to spot sentences that have probably never been uttered. This hobby is like bird watching but without the inconvenience of the outdoors. The trick is that the unique sentences have to be natural, not just a bunch of random words strung together. Take for example the following question: Did you hear about the inflatable Swiss dog turd that attacked an orphanage? That sentence qualifies even though I wrote it myself, because the event actually happened.

http://www.cbc.ca/arts/artdesign/story/2008/08/12/poo-sculpture-escape.html?ref=rss

Luckily no orphans were injured in the attack. And no one is more relieved, so to speak, than the artist who squeezed out that masterpiece. I mean, if just once in your entire life you create a huge inflatable turd that injures an orphan, it sort of erases anything else you might do. You'll always be that guy.

I wonder how you get rid of a huge inflatable turd when you no longer want it. Do you take it to the dump just to be ironic? Or do you rent it on weekends for kid parties?

I'd probably put stucco on it and make it my home. That way when company came over, and I hadn't bothered to clean up, I would just say, "I'm sorry our house looks like crap." Everyone would laugh and laugh, and not even care that the floor is seven layers of toys, clothing, and miscellaneous remote controls. Anyway, if you accept a dinner invitation inside a giant turd, you probably started out with low expectations.

And what if the inflatable dog turd gets punctured? Would the first person to notice exclaim "Holy crap!"? And if not, would that person regret the missed opportunity for the rest of his natural life? I know I would. I have trouble releasing that sort of thing. For me, it would be like training all my life for the Olympics and forgetting to set my alarm on the day of my event. It would haunt me.

 
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I spent the past week in Fiji with my wife, on Turtle Island. http://www.turtlefiji.com/, for what was our extremely belated honeymoon. It's a 500 acre island with about 100 staff and generally no more than 20 guests. At one point last week there were only eight guests, but that was unusual.

The experience is indescribable. There is no TV, no BlackBerry signal on most of the island, and no Internet unless you borrow some time on the gift shop computer. Each couple can book an entire private beach, complete with picnic lunch, almost any day you want. And these are no ordinary beaches. Any one of the several choices is the best beach you have ever seen. In fact, the movie Blue Lagoon was shot on this island. By the second day, your regular life becomes a faint memory. You are completely immersed.

The temperature hovered about 80 degrees and it was sunny every day. Apparently that is normal. The water was warm, clear and blue, and you could walk a hundred yards into the ocean before the water level was over your head. The sand was perfect, and never too hot on your feet. You can go barefoot from the minute the seaplane lands to the minute you head home. I am not exaggerating when I say it felt like I was in some sort of "Total Recall" simulated vacation where everything was too good to be real.

The staff memorizes the names of all guests, and you are on a first name basis from the moment you arrive. Every time we saw one of the Turtle Island staff, from any distance, they greeted us with the traditional "bula," huge smiles, and often our first names. The first day it seems freaky. By the end of the week you feel like family.

The guests eat most meals at a common table, on the beach, feet in the sand.  Everyone is extra friendly because there are so few of you in this shared experience, and you are all relaxed and happy. Somehow the physical beauty of the island makes everyone a better person. And the staff is so genuinely happy and warm that it rubs off on you. No kids are allowed on the island, except for a few "family weeks" each year. Our week was mostly honeymooners, anniversary celebrants, and couples who hoped to be married soon.

Each guest cabin (called a bure) has a dedicated "mama" who literally acts as your mom while you are on the island. She answers all your questions, arranges your picnic lunches on the beach, does your laundry every night, and cleans your room. If you want something, you just ask your mama. Our mama, Adi, was amazing. She made sure I got my vegetarian meals, and was our personal paparazzi. At the end she gave us a scrapbook she made with the photos she took during the week.

One of the guests reported seeing a couple that was about to leave the island, sitting on the beach weeping. I didn't understand that until it was our turn to leave. We wept too.

Best vacation ever. Now back to work.
 
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An alert reader busted me for creating essentially the same comic twice.

http://digg.com/comics_animation/Boo_to_Scott_Adams_for_reusing_old_jokes_PIC


After drawing about 7,000 Dilbert comics, you might wonder how many times this has happened before. My best guess is that is has happened at least 70 times, some instances more egregious than others. That's because there are only about 100 different jokes in the universe. All jokes are rehashes of something that came before.  The best you can do is disguise them.


It makes me wish I had been born around 1,900 B.C. when the first great innovation in humor was invented: the fart joke.


http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/7536918.stm


After that, every seemingly new fart joke was nothing but a rehash. I've used the fart joke several times in Dilbert, with just enough subtlety to get published. Here's one



And another...




The joke in both Dilbert comics is about 4,000 years old. And that assumes the Sumerians didn't steal the joke from someone else.


My strip that runs today (August 1, 2008) is only a second cousin to the fart joke, and maybe the naughtiest thing I ever got away with.

 
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A Dilbert reader sent me this true story:

I have a funny story for you about the security people at (company name deleted). I was leaving on a Friday afternoon with my laptop in hand (not in the case) and was stopped by security and told that I cannot take the laptop with me and that it had to be inside a bag.

I asked why and they said that there had been a lot of computer thefts. They asked where the bag was. I told them that it was attached to my bicycle which I had to leave at another building because they (security) won't let me take it (the bike) in with me. After a momentary standoff, they said I could fill out a form to take the laptop with me and I said that I would.

They then said that I could not fill it out - my manager had to. I told them that my manager doesn't work in the building, nor does anyone in my management chain. This posed a problem for the crack security team. At last, they formulated a brilliant solution to the problem. They told me that if I had grocery bag in my office I could put the laptop in it and everything would be okay . Of course, I don't have grocery bags in my office. Who would? I did have a windbreaker, however. So I went up to my office, wrapped up the laptop in my windbreaker, and went back down.

I don't see how this prevents theft because now it really looks like I am stealing the laptop. Satisfied that they had performed in the line of duty, the crack security team let me go on my way. Right-click here to download pictures. To help protect your privacy, Outlook prevented automatic download of this picture from the Internet.
 
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I can't decide if I prefer the candidate for President who says we should consider all the facts before deciding when to withdraw troops from Iraq or the one who says we should consider all the facts before deciding when to withdraw troops from Iraq.

On a marginally related note, I can't help wondering whether McCain and Obama are both closet atheists. My hunch is that they are.

McCain is famously quiet about his faith, which is strange for a Republican candidate. And you have to wonder what five years in a prison camp does to your belief, assuming his buddies who didn't make it out were praying too. My hunch is that he's not a believer.

Obama came to Christianity about the same time he realized it was useful to his future ambitions. He seems like a pragmatist to me. The majority of people at his education level aren't believers. My hunch is that he isn't a believer either.

I won't quibble if you disagree. It's just a feeling I get by watching how they operate and how they present themselves. The truth will never be known. What's your hunch?
 
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I fantasize about running for President, but in the same way I fantasize about being Batman. I wouldn't want either job, but it's fun to think about how I'd handle certain situations. One situation that pops up all the time is when a reporter asks a candidate to respond to his opponent's campaign promises to do the impossible. My fantasy answer would be "My opponent thinks voters are stupid."


The great thing about that answer is that it would generate world headlines. Second, it would resonate as being honest and accurate. You'd have to make sure you weren't making unrealistic promises yourself, and that's the hard part. But it would be a killer line.


Calling your opponent names, like flip-flopper, clearly works to some extent. But telling voters that your opponent thinks THEY are stupid would work even better, especially if it is clearly true that he thinks that.


I've also been working on good sound bites for both Obama and McCain. Obama's sound bite is easy. He took heat for suggesting a specific timetable for withdrawal before he had visited Iraq and talked to the generals. That seemed dumb. Then he made the best political move I have ever seen, by saying a President has to see the bigger picture, so generals in Iraq can't be the ones to determine when we leave. Agree with him or not, it was a brilliant political move. He needs to capture that in a soundbite: "Generals fight wars. Presidents make peace." It sounds like universal wisdom. That's a good sound bite.


Now that the Iraqi Prime Minister wants the U.S. to leave on Obama's timetable, McCain's biggest issue is gone. Even if you think McCain was right about the surge, it is no longer relevant to the election. No one cares that an old guy once made a good decision. The average voter doesn't know enough about economics to make the economy a powerful issue for McCain, and it's too late for him to start hammering on social issues. So McCain's sound bite needs to be something vague yet persuasive. I suggest: "Do voters prefer words or actions?"


The great part of that sound bite is that everyone is programmed to automatically prefer words to action. And to the extent that Obama is viewed as a great orator, and McCain is seen as more of a man of action, you start thinking the sound bite actually means something. And phrasing the sound bite as a question forces the listener to automatically answer it, thus reinforcing it in the irrationsl part of the brain. It is the political equivalent of "If the glove doesn't fit, you must acquit." It sounds like a reason to the unreasonable part of your brain, which unfortnately makes most of your decisions.


The other sound bite I have been thinking about wouldn't work for the election, but it's funny: "Change is good until it's your turn to be the diaper."


Do you have a better sound bite for this election?


[Disclaimer: I don't think either candidate meets the minimum standard to be president. And I won't have a preference until I complete a poll of economists that I'm working on now.]

 
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I spend a lot of time trying to concoct arguments that are so persuasive that even a hardcore unreachable will say, "Golly. Not only was I wrong, but probably stupid as well, and perhaps a little bit insane. I now adopt your viewpoint as my own. Would you like a bite of my sandwich?"

My favorite fantasy in this genre is imagining what I could say to a kid that would make him think he should substitute his own judgment for mine. My fantasy argument goes like this:Kid: Can I climb on the roof?


Me: No. You'd get hurt.

Kid: I'll be careful. And my friend Brian climbs on his roof all the time. He never falls off.

Now at this point you realize that regular reasoning isn't going to win the day. You have to resort to the "Because I said so" fall-back, but while effective, that never seems like a clean win to me. To the kid it appears you don't have a good reason and you're just being an ass about it. That's why I fantasize about the rest of the discussion going this way:

Me: Do you know who invented the roof?

Kid: No.

Me: It wasn't a kid. In fact, nothing important has ever been invented by a kid. Do you know why that is?

Kid: I don't care.

Me: It's because your brain won't be fully developed until sometime in your twenties.

Kid: I'm not listening TRA-LA-LA-LA-LA!!!

Me: You don't understand why you can't go on the roof because your brain isn't developed enough to understand the risk involved.

Kid: You suck. I hate you.

Me: I'll make you a deal. If you can find anything in this house that was invented by a kid, I'll admit that kids know as much as adults and you can climb on the roof. Use my computer, which incidentally was invented by adults. Go nuts.

(seven hours later)

Kid: Golly. Not only was I wrong, but probably stupid as well, and perhaps a little bit insane. I now adopt your viewpoint as my own. Would you like a bite of my sandwich?

Me: Thanks, but the last time you washed your hands was in amniotic fluid.

 
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Dogs
Jul 25, 2008 | General Nonsense | Permalink
I have not spent much time around dogs, so our new puppy is quite a learning experience. For example, I have learned to exist in a sleepless stupor that is neither living nor dead. My IQ has dropped about 60 points and I find myself forming strong opinions on topics I don't understand.

Puppies are essentially little factories that take in small pellets and convert the raw material into barking and poop. My job, as foreman of the factory, is to make sure the output happens in the designated grassy area. I'm sure I would have gotten a bad performance review yesterday, as little Snickers delivered a pallet of product behind the dining room table and decided it was a chew toy. I got the roll of paper towels, placed it near the hazardous waste area, and left to get my hazmat suit and chemicals. This was a mistake. When I returned, one minute later, the roll of paper towels had been beavered into confetti. The dining room floor looked like New Year's Eve in Times Square, assuming the mirrored ball is actually an exploding turd.

I have watched enough episodes of The Dog Whisperer to know that I must establish myself as the alpha dog. I do this by trying not to cry when she bites me. I think it is working. Yesterday when she took me for a walk, I saw a leaf and didn't pick it up with my mouth. And I'm getting used to wearing the harness.

I had no idea that a dog would become the organizing principle for the household. From now on, all decisions are based on what is best for the dog. I was already lowest on the family hierarchy behind my wife, kids, and cats. This latest demotion stings. I have tried to adjust to the situation by merging in my mind the concept "what I want to do" with the concept "things that won't happen." My strategy is to wait it out. A dog lives what, 15 years? I tell myself I can do that time standing on my head. Wearing a harness.
 
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