Laugh Riot: Rejected 'New Yorker' Cartoons

For every cartoon that makes it into the tightly guarded pages of the New Yorker, hundreds are dismissed. New Yorker cartoonist Matthew Diffee has figured out how to get even with his fickle editors: He publishes the rejects — his and 30 or so others' — in The Rejection Collection.

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MIKE PESCA, host:

Each week, The New Yorker's cartoon editor, Robert Mankoff, judges his fellow cartoonists from on high. He's in a - maybe he sits on a comically exaggerated high horse, it's hard to say - but no man so carefully treads the line between the witty, the pretty witty, the not un-witty and obscure reference to Conway Twitty. For every dog on the psychiatrist's couch that makes the cut, there is a piece of talking broccoli Rob left on the cutting room floor.

Enter Matthew Diffee, himself an accomplished cartoonist. Right now, he's furiously sketching away. I think he liked my idea about talking broccoli Rob. Wait, is the guy's name Rob? How does the reader know he's not an asparagus?

How are you, Matthew?

Mr. MATTHEW DIFFEE (Cartoonist, The New Yorker): I'm doing very well. How are you doing?

PESCA: Mathew Diffee is out with his second collection of something called "The Rejection Collection." The - well, I don't even know if I could say the subtitle, but these are all the cartoons or the best of the cartoons that were rejected by The New Yorker.

Mr. DIFFEE: Yeah.

PESCA: Oh, so take me through the process. Let's say I'm a young cartoonist. It's always been my dream to be you, rejected by The New Yorker. What are the steps?

Mr. DIFFEE: Well, that's easily done, although if you're - it depends where you live. If you live in New York, apparently, you're free and able to come in to The New Yorker offices on Tuesday and pitch your ideas of the week to Bob in person, and by Thursday you'll be rejected.

PESCA: Do you pitch them as concepts or do you draw them out and show him?

Mr. DIFFEE: Yeah, you draw them up like in what we call a rough, which is just a sketch form, just enough to get the idea across.

PESCA: And if you live elsewhere, do you fax them in or?

Mr. DIFFEE: Yeah, you can fax in or send in the old-fashioned way.

PESCA: So what kind of for - a cartoonist who gets in a lot? What's a good ratio of accept to reject?

Mr. DIFFEE: Yeah. We all do 10 ideas a week, that's kind of the recommended amount, and on a really, really good week when you're really, really, funny, you'll sell one. So 90 percent of your work gets rejected when you're at the top of your field.

PESCA: How many weeks go by where you don't get one in?

Mr. DIFFEE: Often, yeah, weeks, too many to count sometimes. I guess I've gone like 13 weeks without selling?

PESCA: Oh, man. And what…

Mr. DIFFEE: I mean, that's now that I'm sort of a little more established. The first year, I only sold four, so…

PESCA: And also they know that since you have the outlet to put it in the book, "The Rejection Collection," how does that change Matt Mankoff's judgment? Does he say, oh…

Mr. DIFFEE: Yeah.

PESCA: …he's got to let this one there anyway and embarrass me for passing on it?

Mr. DIFFEE: Yeah, a little bit. Yeah, he knows.

PESCA: That's good.

Mr. DIFFEE: He can see it coming, I think now. But I think the difference for the cartoonist is some of these ideas that we would think of and say there's no way.

PESCA: Yeah.

Mr. DIFFEE: And before we may have drawn him just to make Bob laugh, you know, you know, off record but now, we'll go ahead and do him and spend some time drawing him properly he may need…

PESCA: Oh, that's good it must help…

Mr. DIFFEE: …place to go.

PESCA: …it must helped the creativity then, if you know that there's an outlet, maybe some of the ones that you say, oh, he'll definitely reject it just because this book exists…

Mr. DIFFEE: Yeah.

PESCA: …you draw it and he says yes. Does that happen?

Mr. DIFFEE: I don't know. I don't know if that's true or not. You have to ask Bob that. I sometimes see racier, rowdier cartoons in there, lately, and I'm like, I secretly, you know, think maybe.

ALISON STEWART, host:

I wonder about that. Is there - are there guidelines they kind of give you about what's acceptable, what's not, you know, stay away from this? Or is that just sort of like, urban legend that goes through all the cartoonists?

Mr. DIFFEE: I don't think - I've never been sat down, I never gotten a memo, but I think we all are pretty clear on what is inappropriate for The New Yorker. Anything that is politically incorrect or, you know, bestiality jokes don't go over well with The New Yorker, you know.

PESCA: You know, it's funny that you say that…

STEWART: Really?

PESCA: …because I went to "The Rejection Collection…"

Mr. DIFFEE: Yeah.

PESCA: …I went through "The Rejection Collection" and I did an index in a way. And there are one, two, three, four, five, six bestiality jokes. It's - other than tush jokes…

Mr. DIFFEE: Right.

PESCA: …it is the number one category of rejected cartoons.

Mr. DIFFEE: Very interesting.

PESCA: But you cartoonists still go for the bestiality joke, you know.

Mr. DIFFEE: Yeah, there's nothing funnier, is there? No…

PESCA: And then there were two dogs on a date in one of the cartoons…

Mr. DIFFEE: Yeah.

PESCA: …and there was a debate in the office. Well, if it's two dogs talking about having sex with each other, is that bestiality?

Mr. DIFFEE: Hmm. I would say no.

PESCA: Okay. You're the cartoonist.

Mr. DIFFEE: It's perfectly appropriate.

PESCA: That's just beast, beast, beast…

PESCA: But the question is should they be wearing human clothing, can I say it?

STEWART: Or smoking cigarettes…

PESCA: Right.

STEWART: …in bed next to a woman. Like this one chicken, who the caption says, that's it, mister, you just lost your free range, status, is the - farmers…

Mr. DIFFEE: Yeah, yeah. The chicken has slept with the farmer's wife. Those are both by Harry Bliss, who's just a really crude, fantastic cartoonist.

PESCA: That you go together. You know, sometimes it's hard to describe a cartoon, but we tried…

Mr. DIFFEE: Yeah.

PESCA: …and we had THE BRYANT PARK players give voice to a couple of the cartoons in the collection. Let's hear one of my favorites.

Unidentified Man #1: (Reading) A family of eight is sitting on a couch. The father is reading from a book that says, O'Farrell family album. The father says, so kids, you should be thankful we don't live during a potato famine, especially you, Jimmy. As we scan the faces of the children, we notice that Jimmy's eyes are wide and his mouth is frowning. He also has the body of a giant potato.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DIFFEE: Very nicely done. That's right, that's right.

PESCA: Oh, what? Was that anti-Irish or anti-potato?

Mr. DIFFEE: I think just stupid.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DIFFEE: That's by Paul Noth, who is…

PESCA: If you reject for stupid, I don't want to know you.

Mr. DIFFEE: Yeah. Paul Noth, incidentally, is also the creator of an animated, sort of sensation called "Pale Force" with Jim Gaffigan.

STEWART: Oh, sure.

PESCA: Oh, yeah.

Mr. DIFFEE: So he's a…

PESCA: Well, that - if you get rejected from The New Yorker, I know there are used to be more magazines that carried cartoons, maybe I got even - I miss remembering it - but it seem to me that, you know, I know Playboy did cartoons - and some of them, it seems, used to be better or funnier maybe every once in awhile, a cartoon that would appear there could appear in The New Yorker. But you have any other outlets for your rejected cartoons?

Mr. DIFFEE: Yeah, there's very few now. There's a few sort of specific, like there's Harvard Business Review, who does cartoons but, you know, I think they're quarterly…

PESCA: Yeah.

Mr. DIFFEE: …if I'm not mistaken…

PESCA: …and there are "Laugh Riot."

Mr. DIFFEE: Yeah.

PESCA: And if The New Yorker is conservative, think about…

Mr. DIFFEE: Right.

PESCA: …the Harvard Business Review.

Mr. DIFFEE: Right, yeah. It used to be 20 magazines…

PESCA: …if you get the Sarbanes-Oxley reference wrong, you're axed, yeah.

Mr. DIFFEE: Yeah. But there's not - yeah, there's not that many places anymore. Playboy is the next biggest place. And, you know, they have certainly opened the doors to a lot of more racier cartoons, I would think.

PESCA: Yeah, including the eight different tush-related cartoons…

Mr. DIFFEE: Hmm, sure.

PESCA: …in "The Rejection Collection."

STEWART: Not to mention the toilet humor, literally.

Mr. DIFFEE: Yeah. The potty jokes.

PESCA: Yeah, toilet actually cracking jokes (unintelligible), right?

STEWART: The toilet-cracking jokes thing, I think this is just going to be a better day-to-day, like us in the BPP.

Mr. DIFFEE: Yeah, yeah. Today is going to be different I can feel it.

STEWART: …does…

Mr. DIFFEE: It's the optimistic pie.

PESCA: Let's hear another one from THE BRYANT PARK's players, giving voice, breathing life into these cartoons.

Unidentified Woman #1: (Reading) A man is taking a drink next to a water cooler in hell. A demon prods the man with a pitchfork and says, hey, get away from the urinal. As there is no urinal in the scene, we are left to assume that the water cooler is, indeed, filled with urine. The man's surprised expression seems to confirm this theory.

Mr. DIFFEE: I love that, the post-cartoon explanation.

PESCA: Well, on the New Yorker Web site, you could, you know…

Mr. DIFFEE: Yeah.

PESCA: …that you could order cartoons on a shirt or a mug and the ones that don't have captions, there actually are these explanations and…

Mr. DIFFEE: Yeah.

PESCA: …man to those - I don't know who they hire to do it, but they - I don't know if they outsource it to Bangalore but they certainly kill the jokes.

Mr. DIFFEE: Yeah. I felt that as well. But I guess you got to explain it to some folks.

PESCA: Let's hear one more, and then I want to ask you about what I think. Well, why was that one a rejection? Is it potty humor, I guess? (Unintelligible)?

Mr. DIFFEE: Yeah, yeah. I mean, it's disgusting.

PESCA: Oh, yeah. Just run off, you're the expert.

Mr. DIFFEE: Yeah, yeah. That's by Pat Burns, too, we should mention.

PESCA: All right. Now, let's hear the third one that we have on tape.

Unidentified Man #3: (Reading) A tiger is perched atop the carcass of a freshly-killed zebra. Blood drips from his fangs as he remarks to a smaller tiger cub, presumably his son. Quote, "Sure, it was a sweet gig, but I'm a carnivore, for Pete's sake." The loquacious predator in question looks remarkably like beloved Frosted Flakes pitchman, Tony the Tiger.

PESCA: Was that a copyright issue? You can't tweak Frosted Flakes?

Mr. DIFFEE: Yeah, I don't know. We didn't even - I'm sure somebody looked at that at the book publisher but I didn't deal with it..

STEWART: I think it's - don't mess with Icons.

Mr. DIFFEE: Yeah.

STEWART: There's one about the seven dwarfs. There were eight and the last one was Malignancy.

Mr. DIFFEE: Yeah.

STEWART: And instead of Dopey, like don't mess with certain, not children - child like Icons.

PESCA: There are two Snow White jokes in the collection I have had. Here's - this is what I think is the most brilliant thing. This is - it's called "The Prophet Mohammad" and it says, D-I-Y blasphemy, and I'll describe it. It's a picture of what looks like the chest and torso of Mohammad but it's a connect the dots picture so if you do connect the dots, I presume you have just drawn the prophet Mohammad, which is blasphemy.

Mr. DIFFEE: Yeah.

PESCA: Was this the sort of thing that Mankoff said, this is brilliant but you know why we can't run it. We'll get in too much trouble. We will be affected.

Mr. DIFFEE: Yeah.

PESCA: We'll be doing exactly what you're saying.

Mr. DIFFEE: Yeah. So, yeah, they thought about that for half a second and talked that out.

PESCA: Really? And then they backed off?

Mr. DIFFEE: Yeah.

PESCA: Well, this "Rejection Collection," which you, Matthew Diffee, have put together, is a fantastic book. I'm not bragging when I say it's many ways, these things are a lot funnier than the ones in New Yorker because they're a lot more daring. And thank you very much for coming in.

Mr. DIFFEE: Yeah, thanks for having me. It was fun.

STEWART: Heritage turkeys, remember it for next year.

PESCA: Could be funny.

STEWART: Heritage turkeys.

Mr. DIFFEE: The exploding (unintelligible) bladder. There's lots of humor there.

STEWART: We've given you a flutter of ideas.

Tegan and Sara coming up on THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT from NPR News.

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