Sunday, August 17, 2008

Comic 463: Always Practice Safe Comedy

[Make sure you also see our very first guest post, which is about this comic but focuses more on the drawing than on the words]

Vote fraud is, as I said in my introduction to Stanley Sptiz's post, Very Serious Business. It's especially pathetic because an electronic voting machine with a paper ballot trail is a simple and effective way to have the efficiency of an electronic voting system with the accountability of a more traditional method.

But I digress.

When I read this, I felt like there was something off about it. I couldn't quite place it, but something about the delivery of the joke just felt wrong. And in my painful but necessary trip to the Forums (the things I do for you people...) someone posted what was apparently another version of this comic. It looks like this other version was posted first, and replaced by the one up now.

See if you, you budding Humor Analyst you, can tell the difference:

FINE it took me a while to see it too. Look at the third panel: In the new comic, the third panel reads:

"Imagine you're at a parent teacher conference, and the teacher reassures you that he always wears a condom while teaching."

In the original version, it reads:

"Imagine you are at a parent teacher conference, and the teacher reassures you that he cares about student safety. Which is why is always wears a condom while teaching."

For a fun game that YOU can play at home, which of these is better and why?

I would say that the original one is far superior. Its timing is exactly right - the perfectly innocent set up line - "the teacher cares about student safety" - and then a pause, which is actually represented by a little line in between the two sentences, and then the punchline: "so he always wears a condom." It works, you realize that "safety" in the first sentence meant safe sex, not general safety, and then the analogy dawns on you and you laugh at the joke. The analogy, it probably goes without saying, works especially well because both McAfee and condoms are designed to protect from viruses, albeit of different kinds.

The first one is much too clunky and confusing - he wears a condom while teaching. But you don't know where it's coming from; it's too direct.

Of course, both versions of the comic have the wholly unneeded 4th panel explaining the joke to you. "OH I'M SORRY LET ME EXPLAIN IT TO YOU. I WANT TO BE SURE YOU GET THE JOKE." It quite frankly ruins both, because you end up with the punchline in the second to last panel, not the last where it should be, and this extra little nothing tacked on to the end. (the alt text in comic 29 is basically the same deal)

I would say though, that if you cut out the last panel of the better version, you have a pretty good joke told pretty well. The question, of course, is why this was taken down in favor of the inferior one. I GUESS I WILL JUST HAVE TO ASK RANDALL WHEN I SEE HIM.


  1. Maybe it's just me, but I'm very computer literate and I usually get the jokes here, but I was wholly confused by the version he posted. I spent like five minutes going... "Okay, I don't get it. What am I missing?" When I read the other version you posted, however, I got it. I actually laughed, too.

    No idea why Randall is going out of his way to make his comics suck more, but, ah, some people are just determined.

  2. Newer version goes more over to the fact that things that require protection shouldn't be being done in the first place. A well isolated machine that will only accept input from it's interface and at the end have it's data exported would have a rather hard time getting a virus.

  3. So, other than your problem with how he decided to deliver the line, which some would argue is an artistic choice, you don't have a problem with this comic?

    I've seen nationally syndicated comics with spelling errors in them. Everyone makes a mistake once in a while; you don't have to be so nitpicky.

    Even with the original line, I got the joke on the first reading, but then again, I'm smarter than the average bear. I got the Traveling Salesman comic (#399) on the first read as well.

    Also, in now way does the fourth panel explain the joke, which is about the teacher having sex with the student. It only serves to underline that the idea in the previous panel is right for all the wrong reasons. While it may not be necessary, your analysis is incorrect, and for someone who make a blog out of telling Randall Munroe when he is incorrect, I thought you might appreciate the constructive criticism.

  4. Jenny -
    Yes, I think the comic in it's redacted form, minus the last panel, is good. I do agree that it was an artistic choice; everything an artist draws in an artistic choice. I think it was a dumb choice.

    This was not a spelling error (I do believe that "McAfee" was spelled "MacAfee" at one point, but I don't have a copy of that so I'm not sure), this is not (I assume) something that Randall would consider a mistake. He did it on purpose; I don't think he should have.

    The redundancy of the 4th panel (again, in the good version) is this: Imagine the comic without it - you end on the analogy. The analogy is funny. The fourth panel is basically saying "Here is why the analogy makes sense, IN CASE YOU DIDN'T GET IT." It even has a character "getting" the joke - the word "ah" signifies that he is understanding. What bugs me is that the timing and phrasing of the punchline are basically exactly right, so it should have just ended.

    Also, I am glad you are smart, as you mentioned. This is a relief. Are there any other comics you understood? Or any math problems you have been able to solve? Inquiring Minds want to know.

    But yes, criticism is welcome (even if I am sometimes sarcastic about it...)

  5. Newer version is superior. Why? Becuase a condom is for saftey as is antivirus software, and the man is obiviously using an analogy. I can't be the only one that made the connection between condoms and safe sex right away. So you're wearing a condom while teaching, you're being safe, but the wrong kind of safe. as for the fourth panel, I like it.

  6. I prefer the new version - simpler and more elegant. The old version is a little clunky and follows the setup-punchline cliche a little too closely for my liking.

    Just because you don't *get* a joke doesn't mean it's not a good one; I know several people who got - and liked - this one straight off. Funny that the first conclusion you draw is that the ~joke~ is the thing that's stupid...