So long to a nonpartisan national court jester

1960s USA Mad Magazine Cover
1960s USA Mad Magazine Cover Photo Credit: Li Yakira Cohen

What, me worry?

Yes, my worst nightmare has come true. An iconic and cherished American publication will shut down.

After 67 years, Mad magazine will leave newsstands at the end of August. From then on, it will be available only through comics stores and mail order, and except once a year, include only old, “vintage” material. Boo!

For those unfamiliar with the publication, Mad is the bible of satirical humor, helping set the stage for “Saturday Night Live” and other edgy fare.

Learning about the shutdown took me back to my rehearsal for junior high school graduation, when all the misfits and wiseguys were shunted to the back row of the auditorium so as not to contaminate the wholesome, obedient kids. I was proud to be seated in rebel row beside a kid reading a stack of Mad magazines. I borrowed one, and it altered my life forever.

Some writers cite Shakespeare, Dickens or Hemingway as their inspirations. For me, it was comic George Carlin, Bugs Bunny and Mad’s Alfred E. Neuman, the magazine’s gap-toothed mascot, whose catchphrase was “What, me worry?” All three cut pomposity down to size in his own irreverent way.

Unfortunately, the P.C. crowd has no use for Mad, and it has been losing popularity for a while. When President Donald Trump compared Democratic presidential contender Mayor Pete Buttigieg to Neuman, the 37-year-old candidate had no idea what Trump was talking about.

Mad satirized everyone and everything, from pop culture to politicians, skewering both liberals and conservatives with glee. Staff writers were listed as “the usual gang of idiots” on the masthead. Guest writers included TV host Jimmy Kimmel and actor Jason Alexander.

The magazine influenced countless humorists, including writers for “The Simpsons” and song parodist Al Yankovic.

“I can’t begin to describe the impact it had on me as a young kid,” tweeted Yankovic, who guest-edited Mad magazine in 2015. “It’s pretty much the reason I turned out weird. Goodbye to one of the all-time great American institutions.”

So to the Alfred E. Neuman I knew and loved, R.I.P. Your non-worrying days are just about over.

Correction: An earlier version of this column incorrectly spelled the last name of Alfred E. Neuman. It has been updated.

Follow playwright Mike Vogel at @mikewrite7.