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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Aug 23, 2008
wow, had no idea so many of your "intelligent" fans were NASCAR and Iraq war fans.. i guess they don't see the connection between humor and other things that keep the masses entertained.. Go Cowboys!!!!
Aug 20, 2008
Or in the case of the runaway turd, dangerous to others as well. I love the new emails informing me on new posts there. Every day I wake up to a new message on turds.

+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 18, 2008
Snaptee - love the cat comment!

Truly inspired.

It's also a pretty good criteria for finding a new employer. If you go somewhere that has an "office cat" or similar, then they can't be all bad. ;)
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 18, 2008
Any celebrity gets death threats from psychos. I'm fairly sure that has nothing to do with their 'art' but rather with the simple fact of their celebrity. Do we admire film stars for their courage in facing the danger of death threats? Um, no. We just want to hear all the details and shudder in sympathy, smugly telling ourselves that that's the price of fame.

And the guy chalking beautiful scenes on the sidewalk isn't being thrown coins for the 'danger' involved,(getting tripped over? bus swerving onto the sidewalk?) but for the skill he's demonstrating. I would argue that his art is more relevant than the stuff in the galleries, at least to the majority. We're fascinated by the tormented artists, those pushing the edge of sanity for their art, but that doesn't make them more relevant. It just makes the rest of us more voyeuristic.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 18, 2008
Of course it is humorous to portray the "boss" as an overpaid, incompetent, idiot. To know others feel the same way, as us and that the boss is clueless about how we feel, gives us some sort of sense of revenge. Like the whole group laughing behind someone's back...better yet right to their face without them knowing.

But whenever we circulate Dilbert strips that describe our boss around the office.....he thinks he is one of the peons andhe is thinking the strip applies to HIS boss......not him. Kind of takes the wind out of the sails.

Perhaps this is that eastern karma reincarnation stuff, where every person whether boss or peon thinks he/she is normal and his boss is the real idiot. Until it reaches the CEO who hates Dilbert and all his employees and thinks he has more important things to do than have social awareness.
Aug 18, 2008
I remember an old strip (vagueness indicated by hand gesture here) of woman holding ESTRO magazine, remarking to Dilbert and Wally that it says here that men earn 25% more than women, $0.75 for each dollar men earn. Wally says ``Actually, that's 33% more.''

Gone are the days of Dilbert glory.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 17, 2008
Scott....you are the "wind beneath my wings" I own my own business,
It is a small business that deals with HUGE companies. They are my clients, they pay the bills and then some. But for the most part they drive my out of my mind. And for the most part they have no sense of humor. Recently I was asked to complete a vendor survey. In that survey they wanted to know about our security system and had 17 qeustions about our network backup system and immediate threat security system.

I told them I have three vicious cats.

They did not laugh......at all.

Aug 17, 2008
Is this why George W. Bush is so funny? Must be!
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 16, 2008
Yes, it's funny reading Dilbert when you own a company (in my case, J-List). I try, try to avoid being the PHB and imagine my employees are thinking. "Will this linger like a dead woodchuck under the porch?" when I suggest something. I replaced my university degree with one featuring the PHB I got in a Dilbert calendar, but since I'm in Japan, where no one knows Dilbert, none of my employees got the joke. Ah well.
Aug 16, 2008
During a massive, critical Y2k project, I used cartoons - often spoofing management - to entice fellow computer programmers into actually opening important technical emails (it worked). Of course some PHB's were offended - or pretended to be. I was praised for all the wonderful work I did (it was), but afterwards transferred to a dead-end department where most of my foreign co-workers barely spoke English, and where my Indian manager gave me poor reviews and no raises (I am a Vietnam vet - and I had to wonder how many Indians fought with us there, or in Iraq, or in Afghanistan). I hung in until my retirement was vested. They eventually "downsized" me. They offered to pay me several thousand if I'd sign a waiver of my right to sue. I refused (but didn't sue). That was over five years ago and I haven't even tried to work in the industry since. The company has been in the news a lot because of the mortgage crisis. They had to sell out to Bank of America. My retirement funds were devestated when the stock crashed. (I'm sure this is going to be a funny story some day!)

Even when you don't mean it the wrong way, humor can be dangerous in the work place (or the bedroom).
Aug 16, 2008
Dare to insert a muslim caracter in your strip and call him Muhamed, then I'll laugh and you'll gain "relevance"
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 16, 2008
I've loved Dilbert of years - since before I went to Uni and therefore way before my career started properly.

Since finishing university 8 years ago, I started at pretty much the bottom and have done fairly well career-wise (although nothing stellar), but have always been haunted by the prospect of becoming the pointy-haired boss and wondering to what extent this can be avoided - especially if you look after people with a wide skill base - you'll never know as much as the, and to my mind all you can do is to listen and to try to be as fair as possible, but sometimes you won't agree with them, sometimes you will p*** them off, and sometimes you will be as wrong as hell, although I always make a point of apologising when I realise I have been wrong.

What's worse is that sometimes you don't know which is the right thing to do and you have no real way of knowing. I've seen too many people panic in this situation and do nothing, which is almost always the wrong thing to do. I'd rather try something and have a 50% chance of being right than do nothing and have a 0% chance.

But still, the move towards PHBness is inexorable.

I think the day I know I'm doomed will be when I read a dilbert and don't find it funny, or am unable to laugh at myself. That's when I'll give up and do something else.
Aug 15, 2008
"If art doesn't seem dangerous for the artist, it probably isn't relevant."

Exactly! That's probably why I love street art so much.

M. Tekel
Aug 15, 2008
"Art" as danger is a developing social construct in our society were there is so little danger compared to the past. Reality shows, "Jackass," and video clip shows online or on TV supply us with the visceral element of danger that we lack. But is it really art?

While creating "Dilbert" may seem dangerous to you, it doesn't to us, so I don't think that is what makes it funny, though the danger may add to your enjoyment.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 15, 2008
Storytellers have known for a while about the importance of the risk factor. For your character to engage an audience, they have to be putting themselves at risk to get what they want. Seems to be the same with real life - the people who we pay attention to, and the things they do that amuse or impress us, all involve them taking a risk. The bigger the risk the more we're intrigued.

It's true for the action hero diving into a room full of terrorists just as it's true for the nervous trainwreck getting up the guts to talk to some girl for the first time in his life. Doesn't matter how big the risk is objectively - it just needs to be a big risk for the person involved.

Some obscure webcomic artist making fun of important people isn't as entertaining as a Dilbert strip because the artist isn't really risking anything - important people don't care about the opinions of unimportant people. But the still unknown Scott Adams risking his job to make fun of his bosses? That's entertaining, because there's a direct risk we can engage with.
Aug 15, 2008
Perhaps that it is telling THE TRUTH that is funniest...

and there is the danger. Many people operate in non-truth

and get where they are, stay where they are, by maintaining

the illusion. Everyone must believe the illusion for it to stay intact.

And most people will go along with it, but The Clown must be destroyed.
Aug 15, 2008
This is true about sports fans too, NASCAR especially. I can't imagine people watching NASCAR if the consequences for the drivers making a mistake weren't so high. Its probably also true about a lot of fans of the Iraq war.
Aug 15, 2008
Actually, I laugh at the Dilbert strips when I can actually see it happening in real life.
Aug 15, 2008
Death threats and complaints? About a comic strip? Are you serious?
Aug 15, 2008
"If art doesn't seem dangerous for the artist, it probably isn't relevant."
Interesting definition.
I think this fills the bill (I laughed out loud at it).......

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