Army Man: The Comedy Zine That Helped Launch 'The Simpsons'
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Before there was an Internet, practically before there were personal computers, there were typewriters and copy machines. And if you wanted to share your quirky personal interests with like-minded weirdos? You might publish a ‘zine.
It’s unclear if George Meyer, legendary writer for The Simpsons, would consider Army Man a ‘zine (he dubbed it “America’s Only Magazine”), but its photocopied, cut-and-pasted pages sure make it look like one. In the late 1980s, Meyer’s DIY comedy magazine was shared with a select audience of comedy aficionados, who in turn faxed the hell out of it all over the coasts, making Army Man a cult hit among entertainment hipsters.
With little thought to design, Army Man was stuffed with mini-bits, micro-jokes, and one-off cartoons, made extraordinary by the “magazine’s” writers, old pals from Meyer’s days at the Harvard Lampoon, Late Night with David Letterman, and Saturday Night Live. We’re talking names like Mark (Hairspray) O'Donnell, Andy (The Borowitz Report) Borowitz, Spike (Seinfeld) Feresten, Merrill (Letterman) Markoe, and Bob (Mr. Show) Odenkirk.
Sam Simon, one of the developers of The Simpsons, must have felt like he struck oil when he got his mitts on a copy of a copy of Army Man. He signed up three of its writers -- Meyer, John Swartzwelder, and Jon Vitti -- to write for the show’s first season. Meyer in particular was instrumental to the show’s success -- a New Yorker profile claimed no title could adequately describe how important his role was in shaping the comic sensibility. Other Army Man contributors soon joined the show’s writing staff.
Which is nuts, because only three issues of Army Man were ever published. Lucky for us, Meyer sent them to a Tumblr user who uploaded them all to share with the world. Check ‘em out!
If you’d prefer a preview here, we could start with Jack Handey, whose Deep Thoughts became Saturday Night Live staples a few years after showing up first in Army Man. You might remember this joke, found in Army Man #1, from SNL -- it def made it to Jack Handey’s Twitter:
Dad always thought laughter was the best medicine, which I guess was why several of us died from tuberculosis.
Other comedy could be deliciously cruel, like this “Prank of the Week” from Issue #1:
Casually remark to your friend that he looks pale. Tell him he needs a shot of B-12. Then, secretly give him a shot of Novocaine. A few minutes later, tell your friend you’re going to drill a hole in your foot. Instead, secretly drill the hole in HIS foot. Then just sit back and in an hour or so -- Yowee!
Simpsons legend Swartzwelder weighed in with Jolly Comedy Jokes, like this dark gem from issue #2:
DISGRUNTLED MAN AT BREAKFAST: They can kill the Kennedys. Why can’t they make a cup of coffee that tastes good?
Meyer loved the Kennedy joke: “It’s a horrifying idea juxtaposed with something really banal—and yet there’s a kind of logic to it. It’s illuminating because it’s kind of how Americans see things: Life’s a big jumble, but somehow it leads to something I can consume. I love that.”
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