A Handy Guide to Jack Handey and “Deep Thoughts”

Jack Handey’s Deep Thoughts were pretty popular when I was in college. With that in mind, I found this New York Times piece by Dan Kois a very handy (haha) guide to his development as a joker:

Handey initially had a great deal of difficulty persuading the show’s producers to run “Deep Thoughts,” which he previously published in National Lampoon and in George Meyer’s legendary comedy magazine Army Man. “They were reluctant to give a writer something with his name on it, you know?” Handey said. “The ironic thing, of course, is that people still think Jack Handey is a made-up name.” He submitted the jokes to a read-through, where “Lorne gets his big basket of popcorn, and he reads the stage directions, and then the actors would read the parts.” Joan Cusack read the Deep Thoughts, and, Handey recalled, response was so-so. Still, he kept lobbying for the spot to make the show. “I would go through Jim Downey, and he would take it to Lorne. ” The answer was always the same: “No.” (“Lorne wasn’t as big a fan of them as I was,” Downey remembered.)

“I guess eventually they sort of felt like, let’s throw him this bone,” Handey said. “Deep Thoughts” made its debut on Jan. 19, 1991, in an episode hosted by Sting. It was this gem: “To me, clowns aren’t funny. In fact, they’re kinda scary. I’ve wondered where this started, and I think it goes back to the time when I went to the circus and a clown killed my dad.”

Jack Handey has just published a novel, The Stench of Honolulu. Joke-writing was easier, though: “For each one that works, I throw away 10. I find that easier than rewriting. I’d rather just scrap it and start over. That’s why the novel was so hard — I really had to rewrite things over and over.”

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