Comedy is All About Timing

Whenever there’s a prominent death in the news, I always fear that I have something coming up in my strip that will seem inappropriate in light of it.

For example, during a week of strips where Rat was running for election against a dead U.S. senator, a U.S. senator died tragically in a plane crash.

Another example was in the summer of 2006, where one of my crocs was so annoyed by Steve Irwin’s accent he hoped he would die.  Irwin died two months later.

So it would stand to reason that in a week like this, Rat would be conducing a seance to try and talk to a rock star who has died tragically.  (Not to mention that in this same week of strips, Rat plays “schlocky pop hits from the ’70s” to try and lure fans of that music to their death.)

People think you can pull these strips, but you really can’t.  The next two weeks of daily strips and the next four weeks of Sunday strips are pretty much set-in-stone.   In theory, if an absolute emergency occurred, my syndicate could try and call all 600 papers where Pearls runs and try to get them to pull a given strip, but even then, they wouldn’t be successful with all of them (some editors would still goof and run it; some wouldn’t get the call, etc.).

All I can do is thank God the stars I mentioned were Jim Morrison and Barry Manilow.   And not you-know-who.

UPDATE:  Someone just wrote to me and pointed out the irony that the dead star Pig is thinking of has on white gloves.  He adds, “It’s a good thing you gave Humpty two white gloves or there would be a torch-and-pitchfork mob forming outside your house right now.”

People That Mourn People

As you may have already heard, mourners gathered at Michael Jackson’s star on Hollywood Boulevard yesterday to light candles and cry.

Here is a photo of the Michael Jackson they mourned.


Now while I knew Michael’s appearance had changed to more and more of that of a Caucasian man, I was shocked to see that it had changed that much.

But no.

The star they surrounded did not belong to the King of Pop.  It was that of Los Angeles radio personality Michael Jackson, who must surely have been shocked to learn of his own death, to say nothing of the devotion he inspired among fans on Hollywood Boulevard.

Predictably, this mistake led to a few jokes about the fans of the King of Pop for gathering at the wrong Michael Jackson star.

Frankly, I thought this criticism was inappropriate.  I, for one, was moved by their gesture.  And by what it meant.

It meant they could read.

Now if we could just get them to stop lying down on the dirtiest street in Los Angeles.

Me, Ice Cream Shops and the Special Energy Known as Stupid

New-age types believe in energy fields known as “spiritual vortexes.”  They believe one exists in Sedona, Arizona.

They believe that in Sedona, this energy flows free.

I don’t know if they’re right.  I don’t know if there really are spiritual vortexes.  But I know this.

Last night, I took my kids to an ice cream shop.  It was next door to a video rental store.  Both places are part of big chains, but I won’t give their names, due to the next sentence.

It was a stupid people vortex.

A fake-blonde with bad tattoos texted like she was solving the crisis in Darfur.  Two obese people made out like they were in an ice-cream-themed motel room.  A slob in a tank top sneezed all over his arm.

And a pale white guy took four minutes to decide on the right topping.

No need to hurry.  There were only 26 people in line behind him.

And then there was the coup de grace.

An Asian couple blocked the front door with their bikes.

There was at least a hundred feet on either side of the storefront for them to put their bikes.  A fair amount of space for two bikes.  They chose the space in front of the door.

They never noticed me and the other six people trying to get out of the store.  But eventually they wanted to get in.  And with their bikes there, they couldn’t.  So they moved them.

Otherwise, I’d be writing this from an ice cream store.  Trapped and fighting with the stranded obese people for the last remaining tubs of ice cream.

But these are the risks you take.

When the stupid flows free.

The Things I Do for Entertainment, or Why You Should Always Wear Your Cal Shirt

My eleven-year-old son goes to school with twins, Zach and Max.  They fear me.

I’m not sure when the tradition started, but when I see them, I chase them, as though I’m going to beat them up.  I don’t know why they think that.  Perhaps it was due to the few times I caught them and beat them up.   I’ve pushed them down, thrown them into the mud, sat on top of them and pulled their hair.

Now before you judge me because I weigh three times what they do, consider this:  There are two of them.

Consider this as well:  I give them immunity if they are wearing a t-shirt that bears the name of my alma mater,  the University of California.  They now each have several.

Last week, they attended a basketball camp with my son at a local high school.  Each was wearing a Cal shirt.  I indicated my satisfaction by uttering our school motto:  “Go Bears.”

The next day, only Max was wearing a Cal shirt.  Life-risking Zach was not.  So as they were both walking to their mom’s car, I went after Zach.

I chased him all over the campus of the high school.  He kept yelling, “My mom forgot to wash it.  My mom forgot to wash it.”

Sadly, the kid could run.  Fast.  I could not catch him.

So Zach returned to his mom’s car.  He sat down in the front passenger’s seat, next to his mom.  His brother Max was in the back seat.

And so was I, crouching down on the floor.

I leaped up and over the seat.

Zach screamed and popped out of his seat like he had been electrocuted.  He popped up so high that the momentum carried him right out the open passenger door.   Due to my cat-like reflexes, I managed to catch his head before it hit the sidewalk, but I had to hop over the front seat to do it.  Both of us went tumbling onto the curb and down into the gutter.

Laying on Zach in the gutter, I noticed the boys’ basketball coach standing on the sidewalk.

He seemed displeased.

I’m not sure why he was displeased.  Sure, a 41-year-old man was crumpled up in the gutter on top of one his star basketball players, who had just screamed at the top of his lungs because that same man had leaped onto his head from the back seat of his mom’s car.  But these things happen.

I haven’t seen Zach and Max since, but I hear Zach fears cars.

And I hear he wears his Cal shirt every day.

Go Bears.

Meet Me and Be Oh So Disappointed

At long last, I have my schedule for this year’s Comic-Con, taking place this July 23 – 26 in San Diego, California.

I will be on two panels.  The first is this one on Friday, July 24:

Friday, 4:00 – 5:00 pm Spotlight on Stephan Pastis: Stephan Pastis (Pearls Before Swine) shares his unlikely tale of how he went from being a full-time lawyer to one of the most popular syndicated cartoonists in newspapers today, including a rundown of some his most popular strips, and some that weren’t so popular.  Room 2

The second panel is a group panel on Saturday, July 25:

Saturday, 12:00 – 1:00 pm  Comic Strip Syndication is Dead: Long Live Syndication!: Q and A Session with Stephan Pastis (Pearls Before Swine); Richard Thompson (Cul De Sac) and Keith Knight (The K Chronicles) on the pros and cons of comic strip syndication and the challenges and options for aspiring comic strip creators in this era of declining newspaper readership.  Room 7AB

I will be doing two signings also, both at the Comic Relief booth.  My signing schedule is 5:15 pm on Friday, and 2:oo pm on Saturday.

One word of warning:  I am a profound disappointment in person.  Ask anyone who’s met me.   On the upside, I can sign books, plush and body parts.  Depending on the body part.  And the body.

me mad at rat

A Free Book Report for Cheating Students Everywhere Who Would Otherwise Be Forced to Trudge Through “Romeo and Juliet”

I just read “Romeo and Juliet.”   I had not read it since ninth grade.  I had not read it since being taught it by the same English teacher who would somehow turn me off to all literature for the next 25 years.

I remembered being taught it was a tragedy.

It is not.

I will summarize.

Romeo is in love with a girl.  It is not Juliet.  It is a girl  named Rosaline.  He thinks Rosaline is meant to be his eternal love.

But Rosaline does not love him.

He wants to die.

He hears Rosaline will be at a party.  He goes there.  Runs into a different girl.  This is Juliet.  He thinks Juliet is meant to be his eternal love.

But Juliet is from a different family.  He can’t be with her.

He wants to die.

Juliet fakes her death to escape her family.  Romeo is supposed to meet her when she awakens.  Gets there too soon.  Thinks she’s dead.

He wants to die.

Decides that rather than listen carefully for a heartbeat, he should kill himself.   He does.  He dies.

Big mistake.  Juliet wakes up refreshed.  Which he doesn’t know because he’s dead.

Romeo is not romantic.  He is mentally challenged.

That is why I say this is not a tragedy.  It is a comedy.  Romeo should have carried a seltzer bottle and popped out of a crammed Volkswagen with fifty other Italians.  He is Harpo Marx minus the horn.

But he should have carried a horn.  He could have honked it after each scene to tip off the comedy.

If there is anything tragic about “Romeo and Juliet,” it is that my ninth grade English teacher didn’t double over in laughter when Bozo the Italian couldn’t tell a dead person from a living person.

Because that was comedy gold.

Honk honk.

It is Dancing That I Fear

I was the best man at my cousin Louis’ wedding last summer.

Upon their arrival at the reception, the bride and groom began to spontaneously dance.  This was before the dinner.  This was tragic.

You see, I fear dancing like a normal person fears swimming with piranha.

I fear dancing because I am not good at dancing.  My dancing scares children.

So I had a plan.

When dancing began after dinner, I would disappear.  The reception was being held in the backyard of a large mansion and I was going to go inside and hide.  Like Richie Rich, I was going to get lost in rooms no one had known existed.

But this spontaneous dance, it ruined everything.

For one thing, all of us in the wedding party were surrounding the bride and groom on the dance floor.  Behind us were 400 guests all standing and clapping.  Had I known this was going to happen when we assembled on the dance floor for the introduction of the bride and groom, I would have dug a hole in the nearby lawn and crouched down in it.

Worse, the dance was some traditional Persian number.  Louis’ bride was Persian.  And the woman could dance.  Better than I had ever seen anyone dance in my life.

I had just one ace-in-the-hole.  His name was Louis.

Louis was lame.  Louis would suck.  Like me, he was Greek.  He didn’t know Persian dancing from Persian rugs.  So Louis would suck, and then I’d have to dance, and I’d suck, and everything would be fine.

But no.

Louis was phenomenal.  Louis was professional.

Louis had been tipped off.

You see, what looked like a spontaneous dance to everyone was nothing of the sort.  Everyone else knew it was coming.  Everyone else had received training.  This wasn’t a wedding.  It was “Dancing with the Stars.”

And that was just the beginning.  Done with their opening number, the bride and groom pulled the maid of honor onto the dance floor for the next Persian tune.  And she was better than both of them.  If Louis and his wife had been trained, this was their trainer.

And this was where the tragic turned cataclysmic.

Because this wasn’t just anyone dancing.

This was the woman with whom I had been paired throughout the wedding.


If she was dancing, you-know-who was next.

It was as though the tornado I had been watching destroy the next town just took out my neighbor’s front porch.  The natural disaster that is dancing was now at my doorstep and I was trembling in the fetal position at the bottom of my bathroom tub.

And the guests could not have been happier.  They were ecstatic.  It was as though they were being treated to a Vegas show.  And they were.   They were being entertained by professionals, and each act was better than the last.   Had someone just dangled from a rope above stage, this would have been Persian Cirque du Soleil.

And then there was me.  Clapping like an angry monkey with a nervous disorder at the edge of the stage.

And then the inevitable happened.

The maid of honor turned her head to look for me.  Her dancing partner.  Someone the crowd would surely expect to have been trained like the previous three entertainers. Only better.

And suddenly, it was 1986.

Church hall.  Height of the break-dancing craze.  Crowd of onlookers encircling two of my cousins doing the “worm” across the center of the dance floor.  For those unversed in the phenomena that was break-dancing, the “worm” was a popular break-dancing move where a person lies face down on the dance floor and rolls their  body from their toes to the tip of their head, like a smooth wave is passing through their body.

And here I admit something about Stephan circa-1986 that I have never admitted to anyone.

I had been practicing this move in my bedroom.  For weeks.

This was my move.  I could do the worm.

And so, without given it a further thought, I spontaneously got down onto my stomach from where I stood at the edge of the dance circle.  And began to do the worm across the dance floor.

In my memory of this moment, the music stopped.   All anyone could hear was the awkward slapping of my stomach against the cold, tile dance floor as I tried desperately to get to the other side.

I don’t know exactly what I looked like at that moment, but from the reaction of the audience, I’m guessing it was as if a trout had fallen from the rafters and was trying to make its way to the front door.

Making it worse, I ran headlong into someone who was doing the worm well.  Mortified, I kept worming, as though the collision hadn’t happened.  But I knew that it had, because my head started bleeding.

My spontaneous dance had shocked, mortified and drawn blood.  And it would be the last spontaneous dance of my life.

Because as the maid of honor reached out her hand, I was not there to grab it.

I was upstairs, locked in a bathroom, peeking my head between the lace curtains of the small bathroom window.

For the well-being of everyone.

An Entertainment News Scoop That You Read Here First

Three weeks ago, I went to a taping of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

I sat in the third row.

Before the show, the producer told everyone in the first three rows that when Jay walked out we needed to rush the stage and high-five Jay.  And we had to be enthusiastic about it.

I could not do it.  I could not act excited just because someone wanted me to act excited.  I would make a bad trained seal.

So when Jay came out, everyone from the first three rows rushed forward and high-fived him.

Except for me.

I was the only person in the first three rows who was still in his seat.  Which was fine.  Except for the fact that in choosing this to be my Rosa Parks moment, I hadn’t calculated how odd it would look for one guy to be sitting all by himself while everyone else was screaming enthusiastically in front of the stage.

I tried to clap, but it looked fraudulent.  If I liked the guy so much, why wasn’t I rushing the stage?  So I stopped clapping.

Then I looked really odd.

So I stood up and put my hands in my coat pockets.  But then I looked like an assassin.

So I took my hands out of my pockets and just stood there.  I looked up intently, like I was a maintenance man checking for leaks.

I stared at all the heavy lighting equipment that hung over my head.  I thought about how much it would hurt if one of those lights fell on my head.  I thought about whether someone could make one of the lights fall on a person’s head if that person was not rushing the stage enthusiastically.

Then I looked straight ahead.  I saw Jay high-fiving all of the enthusiastic people that used to be sitting around me.

And then Jay saw me.

At least I think he saw me.  The lone guy who refused to rush the stage.  The one person who was not as enthusiastic about him as everyone else.

One week later, Jay Leno quit the Tonight Show.