When some people reach their 65th birthday, they might move to a sunnier climate like Florida, either for the harsh winter months or permanently.
In a similar vein (or, as its early slogan declared, “in a jugular vein”), MAD Magazine – which officially hit the 65-year mark in November – will soon make its way to the sunny shores of California after publishing out of New York City for its entire existence.
You see, ever since 1992, MAD has operated under the ownership of DC Entertainment, the folks behind Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. DC moved its headquarters to Burbank nearly three years ago, but allowed MAD’s editorial operations to remain in New York. However, earlier this year, DC made it official that MAD would also migrate west, with its new office opening within DC HQ on New Year’s Day.
Now, I completely understand that this barely raises an eyebrow for most of you. But as a MAD fanatic who bought his first issue 31 years ago this week, I’m experiencing a lot of bittersweet emotions as I contemplate the end of MAD’s time in The Big Apple.
I learned upwards of 70 per cent of my entire NYC knowledge, including everything from deli culture to obscure Yiddish slang, from MAD’s artists and writers. One of my most memorable moments as a performer at the Gaelic College’s annual Festival of Fiddle and Folk in the early 2000s was an animated backstage conversation I had with a Celtic music lover from New York who also happened to be a MAD fan, rhyming off the colourful Jewish vernacular that coloured so much of the early MAD and remains ingrained in its 65 years’ worth of punchlines.
When Cathy and I made our own trip to New York City just over two years ago, veteran MAD artist Ray Alma met us for lunch at Katzenstein’s Deli on the Lower East Side. It’s a spot immortalized in such movies as When Harry Met Sally and Across The Universe. At the end of our nosh (which would be better known as a “scoff” here in Nova Scotia), Ray affectionately called me a “schmendrick.” It’s an insult, but I took it as a compliment. It’s a word I never would have known without MAD or its New York flavour.
That U.S. visit cemented MAD’s long-time relationship with the city it called home. Visiting a Nathan’s Hot Dogs outlet and seeing the Statue of Liberty were special to me partly because they were both obsessions of MAD’s publisher for its first 30 years of operation, the late William M. Gaines. (Hours after seeing the statue ourselves, Cathy and I visited the man known for decades as “MAD’s Maddest Writer,” Dick DeBartolo, at his home near the Hudson River, and had a chuckle about how the portly Gaines got stuck in Lady Liberty’s arm during a tour in the mid-‘80s.)
And, as this column’s regular readers might remember, I was extremely grateful to visit what has now become the last incarnation of MAD’s New York presence prior to the impending move to Burbank. As we took the elevator to the 30th floor of 1325 Avenue of the Americas, I had no idea that so many of the personal and professional heroes we were meeting that Friday afternoon in late September – including art director Sam Viviano and our tour guide, senior editor Charlie Kadau – were entering their final 30 months with MAD. None of the magazine’s current editorial staff will make the move west, so the New Year will bring a true turnover of personnel, talent and direction for this comedy institution.
Now, that’s not to say I’m pessimistic about MAD’s future. The magazine’s incoming editor, Bill Morrison, knows a thing or two about bringing the funny – between 1993 and 2012 he headed up Bongo Comics, the company responsible for the comic-book wings of The Simpsons and Futurama. Morrison is pledging an increased on-line presence for MAD when the magazine’s first entirely-Californian issue hits the stands on April Fool’s Day 2018. And he’s already met – and vowed to keep working with – several key members of “The Usual Gang of Idiots” in the magazine’s new editorial era.
Still, the concept of MAD being published out of La La Land seems a little odd, just as many of us couldn’t picture This Hour Has 22 Minutes operating out of Toronto instead of Halifax, and just as something seems off about the phrase “Live from Baltimore, it’s Saturday Night!”
Merry Christmas, MAD, and good luck in your new era. To quote one of the great songwriters from my part of Canada, Ronnie MacEachern: “Here’s to kindness on your journey, here’s to joy in your new home.”