by Michael Gerber
Right off, here’s something you should know: We aren’t doing this to be popular. We expect no one to read this magazine. In a media world that measures audience in billions, we predict a readership in the hundreds. And it will decline from there.
Now, today, no one in their right mind would start a print humor magazine as a business. That is the kind of idea that makes an artisanal pencil shop seem like crass commercialism. And anyone who contributes to it — well, they should be added to some kind of watch list. Not just the ones we’re all on already, but new ones. More watchful watch lists.
Any backers will lose scads of money, that’s for sure. We’re preparing an investor packet now, and the cover reads: “You will lose scads of money.” That’s only fair. But the illustration is of a smiling older white couple, so maybe people will invest anyway.
“Oho, what about all this advertising?” you ask. “Surely that brings in a bit?”
First: nobody actually says, “Oho,” but who are the proprietors of a print humor quarterly, to criticize self-conscious anachronism? And second: it isn’t advertising, it’s subversion — that is, free ads for stuff we like, mostly by people we know. Maybe they’ll sell a few more; maybe they won’t. But we’re not making money from any of it. How could we? None of these products are even remotely addictive.
“Oho,” sadder now, wiser. Things are becoming clear to you. This isn’t a business. It isn’t even really a magazine. This is willfully re-launching the Titanic, knowing full well it will sink, in some vague attempt to bring back the golden age of transatlantic travel.
But don’t misunderstand. We embrace our all-too-inevitable destiny. After you reach a certain age, you realize that cataclysmic failure isn’t the worst thing that can happen to a person. If the Titanic hadn’t sunk in 1912, it would’ve ended its life being cut up for scrap. The Bystander deserves better — by which we mean worse. We’re just trying to be honest, so loss of life is kept to a minimum.
Please don’t overthink this. We aren’t being ironic, nor are we working some sitcom-grade reverse-psychology. “We’ll say we expect to fail, and they’ll be charmed, and then we’ll have them.”
When you live in the world of people, as we do, you get a sense of what’s popular. If this magazine ever gets popular, we’ve made a terrible, terrible mistake. That’s as close to a motto as we’ll ever have.
So why are we doing it? Simple: for the last four years (and it really has taken that long), every time we’d mention we were thinking of doing a print humor magazine, people would get very excited, and share fond memories of National Lampoon or SPY. And then we’d get excited too, forgetting for a second that all these people really meant was, “I used to love being in college.” A time machine that transports you back to college? Now that’s a business idea. But this? This is a recipe for heartbreak. Listen to me: what we’re doing here will wear on you. Halfway through every article, you’ll long to be back on Twitter. Because Twitter is freaking addictive. Print humor is more like a splinter, the kind that sort of aches.
Paper doesn’t talk or move, and reading makes your brain sweat. (You can feel it now, can’t you?) To laugh under those circumstances, you pretty much have to be high. So just hold on until pot is legal, right? Wrong. Even this isn’t in our favor. Marijuana is considerably stronger now, so two puffs and you’re too baked to follow anything. We might as well be telling jokes to a geranium.
Still — you’re here, for now, and since you’re here we want to say “thank you.” We genuinely hope you enjoy this first issue. We worked hard on it, and tried to ignore all the little voices that said we should’ve done something useful with our skills, like gone to law school (writers) or become counterfeiters (artists).
Instead, we were bystanders — watching everything, staying quiet, taking notes. The American Bystander will not change the world, we guarantee it. But it will be harmless fun, for however long it lasts. I personally give us until Tuesday.
Freed from the burden of expecting success, our hearts are light. Here goes nothing — and who knows, life could surprise us. Maybe this Titanic will float.
P.S. We are much more sanguine about the prospects for “Big Ship Radio,” The Bystander’s prospective podcast.
Our marvelous Mr. McConnachie explains the premise: “We bought a WWII battleship and have converted it into a cruise ship. Mostly. Shortcuts were taken. The destination is Bermuda but the Captain can’t seem to find it on any of his maps. So like the Flying Dutchman, it wanders the seas.”
Will the ship ever reach safe harbor? Will the guys make their deadlines without my having to fly to New York and stand underneath their windows with a bullhorn? Subscribe to “Big Ship Radio” on iTunes, and find out. I’ve heard the first one, and it’s aces. ◊
(Originally published in The American Bystander #1, October 2015)