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Most of us have to work like hell just to pull off "below average." Then again, some people are so talented you get the feeling they wouldn't even have to try to excel. And, sometimes, those motherfuckers go ahead and prove it to the world. For example ...

5
Stephen King Wrote Under A Pseudonym To Prove His Success Wasn't A Fluke

Joe Kohen/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Stephen King is the king of horror novels (it's right there in his name), but he's always been his own greatest critic. Back in the 1970s, when his bibliography was only three books long, King suffered a crisis of conscience -- what if he was actually a shitty writer and didn't know it?

Trinity Home Entertainment
At least he can take comfort in definitely knowing he's a shitty director.

His first novel, Carrie, was such a smash hit that it was adapted by Brian De Palma into a movie starring John Travolta, and King was concerned that people were buying his books more because of the power of marketing and name recognition than because they were any good. Surely, the bubble would eventually burst, and he would pull a Shyamalan decades before Shyamalan ...

So, King decided to perform an experiment to see whether he could start fresh and replicate the success of Carrie all over again. His fourth novel, Rage, was published in deep cover under a pseudonym: Richard Bachman.

Signet Books
And behind a cover that suggests a Harlequin romance gone horribly wrong.

At King's request, the only people who knew that he was Bachman were his editor and publisher, and, in every other sense, it was to be treated like some unknown hack writer's first novel. That meant as little promotion as possible -- just throwing it out into the discount section of a few bookstores and seeing what would happen.

And because King doesn't do anything by half measures, he invented an entire backstory for Bachman to satisfy the curious: He was a former marine who now lived on a dairy farm with his wife Claudia, and they had lost a child due to a tragic accident. He even went as far as to include a fake photograph of Bachman, which was actually a photo of the insurance agent of King's agent, Kirby McCauley:

Claudia Inez Bachman
Seen here about to ask you if you want to go hunting, drink whiskey,
and talk about life's greatest mysteries.

"Bachman" wound up publishing five novels, which sold poorly at first but gradually began to develop a cult following. As a result, the fifth book, Thinner, was a minor hit, and an unsuspecting reviewer actually described it as "what Stephen King would write if Stephen King could write."

One fan of "both" authors became suspicious enough to investigate and wound up discovering that the Library Of Congress listed King as the copyright holder to Bachman's novels. King gave up the game without a fight and dropped the Bachman charade (although, he would later release another two books as Bachman, presumably just to spite that one critic with his sweet burn.)

4
Nick Fury's Comic Was Given A Deliberately Stupid Title On A Bet

Marvel Comics

Nick Fury is the leader of The Avengers, which is a curiously lofty position considering his only superpower is the ability to shoot a gun with no depth perception. But, Fury was originally "Sgt. Fury" and looked more like Rambo than his current incarnation. He was created on a bet by Marvel heavyweights Stan Lee and Jack Kirby to prove they could sell a comic with the dumbest name they could think of.

Marvel Comics
The working title was Sgt. Fury And His Lunkhead Lead Getter-Outters,
Featuring Hamish MacAvocadoGrenadier
.

See, the vast majority of Marvel's titles, at the time, followed a strict and simple three-word formula: first word was "The," second word was some synonym for "Fantastic" (Amazing, Uncanny, Incredible, etc.), and the third word was the name of the superhero in question. The publisher Martin Goodman thought this rule was a significant factor in their success, but Lee and Kirby disagreed, figuring it had more to do with, you know, their integrity as artists and storytellers.

So, Lee made a bet with Goodman that they could release a comic with the stupidest, clunkiest title they could come up with and still make it a success. The result was "Sgt. Fury And His Howling Commandos." The title defied every convention that Marvel had for naming its comics. First of all, it was way too many words. Plus, "Howling" and "Commandos" didn't properly communicate how uncanny or fantastic its heroes were. Not to mention that "Sgt. Fury" was just a cheesy-as-hell name for a character -- really no better than "Private Dancer" or "Major Bummer."

Marvel Comics
Or Private Percival Pinkerton, beloved Fightin' Fireball of the
Howling Commandos and father of Waldo.

After stacking the cards against himself, Stan Lee proceeded to write a comic about a badass World War II fighting squad led by the eponymous Sgt. Fury. And, of course, the comic became one of their best-selling titles, running for almost 20 years and eventually having its main character adapted for the big screen in one of the most memorable and popular portrayals of a Marvel hero ever. We are obviously referring to the 1998 David Hasselhoff film.

20th Century Fox Television
"Hassel him, and all bets are hoff."

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3
Joss Whedon Made A Silent Episode Of Buffy To Prove He Didn't Rely On Witty Dialogue

20th Century Fox Television

Before Joss Whedon was ruling Hollywood at the helm of Marvel's The Avengers film franchise, he was ruling television with cult shows such as Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Firefly. But, one of Whedon's greatest strengths is also the source of his critics' most frequent mockery: his snappy, witty dialogue.

Kevin Winter/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
"Well, screw those jerk ... face ... guy ... jerks."

Whedon's detractors felt that dialogue was his only redeeming skill, so Whedon tried to figure out how he could prove them wrong. That's why he wrote an entire episode of Buffy with almost no dialogue at all, the season four episode titled "Hush."

Thanks to the show's bottomless pool of supernatural creatures, coming up with a conceit to explain the lack of dialogue was fairly easy -- a bunch of demons known as "The Gentlemen" float down to Sunnydale and use their powers to take away the voice of everyone in town so that they can't scream when the demons rip out their still-beating hearts one by one.

20th Century Fox Television
Critics then focused on his lack of drawing ability.

For Whedon, the prospect of writing something without dialogue was terrifying. Let's face it: That's like asking Tim Burton to write a romantic comedy, with the further stipulation that he absolutely cannot cast Johnny Depp. But, goddamn, did Whedon pull it off. "Hush" was nominated for an Emmy award, and it's consistently regarded by fans to be one of the best episodes of the series. Although, we guess that his critics could then just say, "See? He's way better when he shuts up." It's not a winnable scenario, Joss.

2
The Simpsons Dedicated A Whole Episode To Itchy & Scratchy After Fox Told Them To Abandon It

20th Century Fox Television

Six-thousand years ago, when The Simpsons was still in its relative infancy, the network executives at Fox began to have misgivings about the content of its most popular show. The idea of a cartoon for adults was still something that corporate bigwigs didn't really know how to handle, and, in particular, it was Bart and Lisa's own favorite cartoon, The Itchy & Scratchy Show, that had Fox wringing its hands.

20th Century Fox Television
Even though it won an Annual Cartoon Award.

The bigwigs at Fox thought it was crass and vulgar -- the sort of lowest-common-denominator humor that was bringing the quality of the whole show down. So, they asked The Simpsons' writers to get rid of it.

Of course, the writers of one of the most popular shows in television history didn't really appreciate the implication that they didn't know what they were doing, so they responded by writing an entire episode dedicated to their meta cartoon duo. The result was the season six episode "Itchy & Scratchy Land," in which the Simpson family travels to a bizarre Disneyland-style theme park populated by robots, only to be caught up in a Westworld scenario when the robots malfunction and go on a killing spree.

20th Century Fox Television
Many Borts were lost that day.

The episode packed as much Itchy & Scratchy-style gags as possible into 30 minutes, with Marge repeatedly commenting on the pointless and gratuitous nature of it all. And not only did it become one of the most popular episodes of the season, but it often also ranks among the best The Simpsons episodes of all time.

Fox backed off as a result and decided to trust the writers a little more in the future, which is probably one of the few times that's ever happened.

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1
Dr. Seuss' The Cat In The Hat Was Written As A Challenge

Random House

Dr. Seuss' classic The Cat In The Hat is one of the most enduring and memorable children's books in history, despite the fact that it's about an insane, naked stranger gaining unlawful entry into a house while two kids are home alone.

Universal Pictures
Sometimes, it has been even worse than that.

Seuss, real name Theodor Seuss Geisel, was already an accomplished children's author when an education expert, William Spaulding, who worked for Geisel's publisher, approached him with a special task: write a book that could be used in schools to teach kids how to read. But, there was a catch -- Geisel was limited to a list of around 250 words that Spaulding figured young children would be able to learn easily.

Geisel eagerly took on the task, but soon discovered that even an author who could write an entire book about one character's distaste for green eggs and ham struggled with composing a story out of no more than 250 simple words.

Pocket Books
Tragically, "boner" was not on the list.

His first idea was a cute story about a queen of zebras, only to discover that neither "queen" nor "zebra" was on his word list. He was also toying with an idea about an adventurer scaling Mount Everest at 60 degrees below zero. His publisher thought this was a great idea, but, for this project, he would have to pull it off without using the words "scaling," "sixty," or "degrees," and certainly not "Everest" -- like, what are you even thinking there?

In the end, Geisel -- probably throwing his pen across the room in frustration -- decided to write a story based on the first two nouns on his word list that rhymed. When those words turned out to be "cat" and "hat," he presumably rubbed his temples in a silent moment of personal defeat, and then got to work.

Random House
"This is no fun at all" was originally on every page.

It took nine months of work, but Geisel eventually cranked out The Cat In The Hat. Not only did he manage 1,702 words from less than the 250 unique words he was allocated, but he formed a coherent story with a complex moral message and packed it into an advanced poetic style called anapestic dimeter. If Dr. Seuss required a microphone, he couldn't have dropped it any harder than that.

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Dr. Seuss wasn't the only one to do something incredible on a bet. Some people land planes on a street while drunk. Others invent nanotechnology. See that and more in 6 Stupid Bets That People Won As Insanely As Possible and 5 Stupid Bets That Changed The World.

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