You Decide: Ikea Product or 'Lord of the Rings' Character

The idea for McSweeney's latest release is a funny book about books, according to John Warner, editor of The McSweeney's Joke Book of Book Jokes, a collection culled from McSweeney's Internet Tendency.

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ALISON STEWART, host:

Know any good book jokes?

RACHEL MARTIN, host:

Not so much.

STEWART: Me neither.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: And then we saw the McSweeney's "Joke Book of Book Jokes," kind of like the Seinfeld, the one where Kramer's coffee table book about coffee tables, which is amusing in its conceit, but in the execution, I'm not sure.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: But this joke book is from McSweeney's, and little editorializing here, McSweeney's is pretty funny. So we opened it up. It's full of book-related hilarity culled from the archives of McSweeney's Internet Tendency.

Now, for the uninitiated, that's a website, and you don't have to be a book nerd to appreciate "Letters from Odysseus's College Roommate" and "Chuck Norris Erotica," just two of the samplings of this book. Our guest, John Warner, is editor of McSweeney's Internet Tendency and a writer himself. His new book is called "So You Want to Be President?" Hey, John.

Mr. JOHN WARNER (Editor, McSweeney's Internet Tendency; Author, "So You Want to Be President?"): Good morning.

MARTIN: Thanks for being with us this morning.

Mr. WARNER: It's good to be here.

MARTIN: I want to start with a little by establishing some flavor of this book. Let's start with a reading, shall we?

Mr. WARNER: Sure...

MARTIN: Let's go with one of my favorites, as I paged through this thing, Klingon Fairytales.

Mr. WARNER: Yeah. One of the favorite features on our website our lists. People just send us lists and we publish them. So here's some selections from one of them. "Klingon Fairly Tales," and this is by Mike Richardson-Bryan. Goldilocks Dies with Honor at the Hands of the Three Bears.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarves She Killed With Her Bare Hands, and the Seventh Dwarf She Let Away as a Warning to Others. Old Mother Hubbard, Lacking the Means to Support Herself with Honor, Sets her Disruptor on Self Destruct and Waits for the Inevitable. Mary Had a Little Lamb, It was Delicious. The Hare Foolishly Lowers his Guard and is Devastated by the Tortoise, Whose Prowess in Battle Attracts Many Desirable Mates.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Now, still trying to parse these. What - where is the Klingon-ness in these fairytales? The self-destructing parts?

Mr. WARNER: Right. Well, the Klingons, of course, us nerds know from "Star Trek," are the great warriors' race, and they're sort of like the Spartans of outer space. So their big thing is honor...

MARTIN: Worf. I had a big crush on Worf when I was young.

Mr. WARNER: Yeah, Worf was a Klingon, right, a particularly hansom Klingon.

MARTIN: Yes, he was. Thank you.

Mr. WARNER: They made him, and then his mate, I can't remember her name, but she was a pretty sexy Klingon.

MARTIN: I blocked her out of my mind. She did not exist in my mind.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WARNER: Only you and Worf are in the universe, yes...

MARTIN: Now what - go ahead, finish your...

Mr. WARNER: They're all about honor, and, if you're going to die, you must die in a spectacular warrior-type way.

MARTIN: So let's talk about the overall theme of these inclusions in this book is this kind of tension, this juxtaposition, clearly the Klingon honor versus something kind of lighter, like Old Mother Hubbard. This is clearly a theme throughout these submissions.

Mr. WARNER: Right. One of the things we tend to find funny is the collision of, often, a sort of high brow and low brow, or just two really unlikely things. Like, one of my favorite pieces in the book is called "Winnie the Pooh is My Coworker."

MARTIN: I love that one.

Mr. WARNER: So the idea of a honey-addicted bear showing up in your workplace, and his keyboard needs replacing because it's always stuck up with honey, and he can't do anything.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WARNER: And his friends visit, and you know, his depressive friend Eeyore, and his...

MARTIN: And this is all coming from his colleague, who's writing this journal about how annoying his colleague Winnie is.

Mr. WARNER: Right, and how everybody, all the women in the office, love Winnie because he's so cute and cuddly. But he's really worthless as his coworker.

STEWART: And he doesn't wear any pants.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WARNER: Or you know, another one I really like is - it's Hubert Humbert is on Dateline "To Catch a Predator." So "Lolita," you know, intersects with that sort of - highest of culture intersect with - I don't want to be too hard on "To Catch a Predator," but it's not necessarily Emmy Award-winning stuff. And to see Hubert Humbert caught by Chris Hansen while declaiming his love for Lolita, well, cracked me up when it showed up in our inbox.

MARTIN: So when all these started coming in, did you think, um, clearly there's someone else who thinks these are funny? I mean, have you had a lot of response? It's kind of a strange notion, these - there are takes - there are jokes about very, sometimes classic literary figures. It seems like it would be a small niche.

Mr. WARNER: Yeah, you know, it's funny, and part of it, I think, is just our image as being kind of bookish nerd types, and I think we attract our own. You know, sort of like Klingons being drawn to each other.

It's - you know, some of the pieces to back on nine or ten years, and it's the sort of thing somebody probably saw one of the first pieces from the book that was published on the site, called "I am Michiko Kakutani," the New York Times Book Reviewer who was very secretive. And that was one of the earliest pieces on the site.

And somebody must have read that and said, I think that's really funny, and I think, you know, Winnie the Pooh being my coworker would be funny, too. And they might like that as well. So it's kind of a like sensibility attracts similar stuff. And you know, over the course of seven or eight years, the stuff just keeps coming in and coming in and coming in. And the book is really just a distillation of all of the book joke humor we have on the site. It could be three volumes.

MARTIN: I want to try to get a couple of these in. There's a little bit at the end of this that's a game, if you will. It's called, "IKEA Product or 'Lord of the Rings' Character?"

Mr. WARNER: Yes.

MARTIN: Can you list out a couple of those and I will - Alison and I will guess whether we think these words are IKEA products or "Lord of the Rings" characters. And we only have a minute, so we only need a couple, John.

Mr. WARNER: OK. We'll just do - let's do three.

MARTIN: Great.

Mr. WARNER: First one is Faramir.

MARTIN: Faramir. What do you think, Ali?

STEWART: IKEA.

MARTIN: Uh, "Lord of the Rings."

Mr. WARNER: That is "Lord of the Rings."

MARTIN: Awesome, total guess.

Mr. WARNER: How about Grundtal?

STEWART: IKEA.

MARTIN: "Lord of the Rings."

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WARNER: That is IKEA.

MARTIN: Aw, good job, Ali. OK, one more.

Mr. WARNER: Final one, Sultan Hogbo.

STEWART: IKEA.

MARTIN: "Lord of the Rings."

Mr. WARNER: IKEA.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: What is that last one? I don't even want to know. I don't want to know.

MARTIN: Ah, good times, good times. Hey, John Warner, editor of McSweeney's Internet Tendency, a writer himself. His new book, "So You Want to be President?" Hey John, thanks very much. We appreciate it.

Mr. WARNER: It was my pleasure.

STEWART: Is that last thing like, a colander or something?

MARTIN: We're going to have to find out later.

STEWART: I'm not sure. Stormtroopers and Maasai warriors in London. Yeah, that's what this show is about, both coming up on the Bryant Park Project from NPR News.

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