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"Intelligent Humor" Appreciation

- by Peter Höflich

Lots of people are lucky enough to be part of a scene. For example, they may find out about a great band before they record their first CD, they follow their career, they go to all the shows, the meet the guys, and years later they can say that they were one of 20 people who saw the Pixies play their home town the first time, or whatever.

Where I come from there was never much of a scene unfolding. I spent four years in the University of Waterloo in southern Ontario, which for me were kind of like four years of suspended animation with nothing to break the monotony, except for two exciting things that I got turned on to: the first one was sitting in on classes taught by the great Eric MacCormack, and then later reading his fantastic mind-bending short stories and first novel; the other one was reading weekly installments of "Intelligent Humor."

Friday afternoons at UW usually signified two things - the opportunity to turn off our minds for a few days, and the weekly "Imprint," which was UW's weekly student newspaper. We'd always flip to the back and read the record reviews, which were usually either smart and funny or annoying and fun to laugh at. Then some time during my freshman year a little comic strip called "Intelligent Humor" began to appear. It was a rival to the popular Jack Lefcourt political cartoons that were also in the paper. Lefcourt cartoons were OK since they were sharp and the man had his personal style, although they did get cheezy with time. "Intelligent Humor," however, was something completely different than anything any of us had ever experienced before, and we were hooked instantly. None of us knew what drugs Chris Williams was on (so to speak) but wherever it was his brain resided it was way way WAY out in left field, or some part of the galaxy between Space 1999 and the voyages of the Battlestar Galactica. Whatever!

The funny thing about the episodes is that however creative they were, they generally followed a pattern: each episode had a title, six out of eight or nine panels developed a story, and two others had nothing to do with the story. There were superheros with dumb names like "E-Man", "P-Man", "the Strongest Man In The World", the list goes on and on. Main characters were regularly getting killed off and making reappearances the following week, and this was way way WAY before anybody had ever heard of that new show, what's it called. "South Park" or something? Just mentioning some of the characters could have us giggling. Rusty the Cat and Gummy Nummy were probably the main ones, although the Cynical Fish and a few others were beloved and lasted for a while as characters. Rusty is probably the ugliest cat in cartoon history, rivaling even Bill the Cat: a silhouette blob with googly eyes, his very design is a fit of genius, he was also quite EVIL! Chris Williams' drawing skills and layout sense were also top quality - just look at the episode that is done in the dark with flashlights to see what I mean. Among the students of UW there were actually some students who hated the series, claiming that it made no sense whatsoever, but we laughed at those humorless people even more. They were just like record reviewers in the art section who gave the new Iron Maiden live CD a bad review - I mean, how could an Iron Maiden live CD have been any good anyway? We were proud to have this great comic as part of our scene, but at the same time it was always frustrating that once we left Waterloo. Nobody for miles had ever heard of "Intelligent Humor," and their eyes would glaze over when we attempted to describe what he had done. Chris Williams was definitely undeserving of that type of anonymity. Why wasn't he a superstar?

Maybe the thing that I appreciated the most about Intelligent Humor was the way that it poked fun at commercials and commercial society. The world's biggest French fry in McDonalds, pro-sports figures, "Three's Company" references, things like that. One of the episodes is titled "My philosophy, food shouldn't be a hassle." A lot of people might not catch the reference, but the line comes from what I believe may be the most obnoxious commercial ever, and it was for a product called Pizza Pops. This smartass punk kid is smirking as he tells you about microwaveable Pizza Pops. A lot of us had better ideas about where he should put his Pizza Pops. But Chris just used it as a title and then ignored it. He did the right thing by showing us how very irrelevant it was.

When a friend of mine met him once, she said that he had a room of people in hysterics the way he explained the in-jokes and references in the recent installment. I wish I could have been there. I imagine that each episode included a record of something surreal that had actually happened to him, which he then made even more surreal. I have heard that he works at Disney nowadays, I wonder what he is working on. Maybe he is still drawing a funny cartoon just for himself and his friends. It would be a shame if he wasn't.

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Ralph Höflich
Last change: 2000-03-21