Entertainment

Cracked: The Home of Satire

Satirical site pushing hilarious books and movies, too

Something really funny is going on over at Cracked.com. You wouldn’t think the guys behind the click-bait content provider would have some real talent behind them, but the editors there have been turning out some remarkably funny and readable novels in recent years.

The Magazine
For those of us of a certain age, we remember Cracked as a magazine. Founded in 1958, Cracked was like the younger sibling of Mad Magazine, offering gentler if more juvenile humor than its counterpart, Mad, and later, the National Lampoon. Ten years ago, Cracked was launched as a separate website and soon fell under the umbrella of Demand Media, a content aggregator whose acquisitions include Livestrong.com, eHow and Charles Saatchi’s art marketplace.

It’s doubtful that Demand Media knew exactly what they were getting into. Under the stewardship of Editor-in-Chief Jack O’Brien and Executive Editor Jason Pargin (more on him shortly), Cracked grew into one of the most popular sites on the Internet, regularly co-opting the readership of The Onion, College Humor and Funny or Die.

Who is David Wong?
In Pargin’s pre-Cracked life, he worked as a copy editor at a law firm and posted funny things on his own site, Pointless Waste of Time (PWOT). Among these posts were a series of bizarre, interrelated stories from his pseudonym, “David Wong.” Wong is the author of the subsequent novel, “John Dies at the End.” Wong is also the protagonist of the novel, in which the heroes battle supernatural forces under the influence of a weird drug called soy sauce.

Originally adopted to keep his personal writing separate from his professional life, Pargin’s pen name eventually took on a life of its own.

If it sounds bizarre, it is, and it’s worth checking out because it’s laugh-out-loud funny. It is, in fact, much better than its 2012 film adaptation directed by cult movie genius Don Coscarelli Jr., co-starring Oscar nominee Paul Giamatti.

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The high jinks continue in Wong’s sequel “This Book is Full of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don’t Touch It,” which contains sound advice like: “Just for future reference, if you’re ever at a party and a Rastafarian offers you a syringe full of a shiny black substance that crawls around on its own like the Blob, don’t take it.”

This fall, Wong took a break from his paranormal pursuits to deliver a full-on cyberpunk adventure in “Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits,” a stand-alone novel about a Utopian city, which protagonist Zoey Ashe describes not-so-eloquently: “This whole city is a butt that farts horror.” Yes, some of the humor in Wong’s novels is juvenile, but it’s also propulsive, funny, and wildly entertaining.

Breaking the Internet
We started to see a pattern when contributing writer Wayne Gladstone sold his first novel, “Notes from the Internet Apocalypse,” last year. The author’s funny and profane take on the Internet finds a mysterious nonevent has collapsed the entire online world. In its midst, our hero Gladstone is suffering from the breakup of his marriage and may in fact be losing his mind.

But the book’s humor comes from the fact that people, desperately addicted to their online habits, simply recreate the Web in the real world. Facebookers “poke” each other in real time. A librarian sets up shop in Central Park, dubs himself “Jeeves,” and answers questions at five buck a pop. Redditors, as is their habit, simply sit in circles and scream at one another. The conspiracy gets deeper in this year’s sequel, “Agents of the Internet Apocalypse,” as Gladstone’s celebrity makes him a central figure in a quest to reclaim the Internet.

The Intersection of Horror and Humor
If Wong and Gladstone were simply anomalies, Cracked’s influence might be seen as an outlier, but the literary offerings just keep coming. The next book to slither out from the magazine’s depths was Robert Brockway’s “The Unnoticeables,” a new novel whose take on “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” is set in the seedy depths of New York City’s punk-rock glory days.

Add to that the success of Cracked’s branded 2010 book, “You Might Be a Zombie and Other Bad News” and “The De-Textbook: The Stuff You Didn’t Know About the Stuff You Thought You Knew,” in 2013. And the trend doesn’t look to be slowing.

Then there was that time a Cracked writer was confronted by the Secret Service.

In a four-year plan to become an overnight success, Cracked writer and comedian Daniel O’Brien penned the popular feature, “How to Kidnap the President’s Daughter.” As it turns out, the Secret Service frowns on this sort of thing and approached the writer about his funny little project, which he later documented on Cracked’s popular video outlet, Agents of Cracked.

Naturally, O’Brien, obsessed with the simple question, “How crazy do you have to be to think you’ve got what it takes to be president?” turned his burning riddle into a book. In 2014, he published “How to Fight Presidents: Defending Yourself Against the Badasses Who Ran This Country.” It includes chapters like “How to Fight Andrew Jackson: The Deadliest President Ever,” and “Ulysses S. Grant is the Drunken, Angry John McClane of Presidents.”

So what makes the site such an excellent breeding ground for unique (if slightly off-kilter) talent? Most likely, it’s the environment. Cracked offers a platform where writers are encouraged to challenge the status quo, and each success seems to encourage even bolder, more unapologetic humor from other wordsmiths.

That’s not to say it’s not a challenge for these boundary pushers. Cracked writers certainly take their fair share of flak. Pargin is regularly criticized by the denizens of Reddit and 4Chan for his influence over the site, and Cracked’s so–called “war on plagiarism” (throwing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and T.S. Eliot under the bus, among others) has raised a few eyebrows as well.

Nevertheless, Kirkus Reviews summed up the site’s influence well when they said of Gladstone’s novels: “There’s a lot of brains behind all those dirty jokes.”

Pargin/Wong summed it up best during his “Ask Me Anything” session on Reddit:

“If anyone claims to be purely apolitical, they’re either lying to you, or to themselves — even when we try, we can’t help it. Batman is conveying a certain political attitude about the nature of crime and the best way to deal with it … You can’t write about video games or Aquaman comics without revealing something about yourself and how you see the world.”

Humor is always personal, and Cracked seems to excel at facilitating an environment in which personal takes are encouraged.

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