A friend of mine rails against the New Yorker's weekly cartoon caption contest, insisting that while the reader-submitted entries are universally bad, the winner is always the weakest of the lot.
I disagree, agog at people's cleverness. Any line I come up with feels too obvious or too obscure. Unlike my friend, I never feel I could do better.
Cartoon editor Bob Mankoff's recent TED Talk offers some key insights into what the magazine is looking for (incongruity, dispositional humor, cognitive mash ups), as well as what it's not interested in (gross-out jokes, mild child-centered cannibalism) He also cites former contributor and author of my father's favorite New Yorker cartoon, E.B. White on the futility of analyzing humor.
Frequent contributor Matthew Diffee's short satirical film Being Bob suggests Mankoff editorial selections owe much to gut response (and a jerking knee). Such intuition is hard won. Mankoff gleefully alludes to the 2000 rejection letters he himself received between 1974 and 1977, following an unceremonious dismissal from psychology school. Then, finally, he got his first acceptance.
That acceptance letter is something to see.