Jack Handey says he can picture in his mind a world without war, a world without hate. And he says he can picture us attacking that world...
NEW YORK — Jack Handey says he can picture in his mind a world without war, a world without hate. And he says he can picture us attacking that world because they’d never expect it.
I’ve known Jack for more than 30 years, and I never actually heard him say that out loud. He’s an entertaining guy to be around, but when he’s being professionally funny, he does it in writing.
The “world without hate” is one of the widely appreciated “Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey,” goofy aphorisms that start out sweetly philosophical but then take a sudden dark turn toward the ironic, the caustic or, now and then, the psychopathic.
For example, here’s one of Jack’s personal favorites: “I believe in making the world safe for our children. But not for our children’s children, because I don’t think children should be having sex.”
On Sept. 1, the former “Saturday Night Live” fixture turned a significant corner with the somewhat belated launch of Jack’s first Web site, DeepThoughtsbyJackHandey.com.
“That may sound like a long name, but actually it started out DeepThoughtsbyJackHandeyAndOtherIdeasHe’sHadOverThePastFewMonths.com. And we worked on it and worked on it, and that’s as short as we could get it.”
“Deep Thoughts” appeared on “Saturday Night Live” in the early ’90s, when Jack was an anonymous sketch writer but persuaded the show’s high command to let him recite them while his name and a picture sunset or waterfall occupied the screen.
“I started writing them as sort of parodies of those ’70s kind of journal books, those touchy-feely kind of books,” he says. “Then they kind of took on a life of their own.
“I did it for blatant self-promotion reasons. I hadn’t had much success getting them published on their own, and I knew anything that’s been on television is going to get published.”
Sure enough, with the SNL momentum behind him, Jack produced four Deep Thoughts books, plus a fifth called “Fuzzy Memories.” The product line quickly expanded to Deep Thoughts greeting cards, coffee mugs and refrigerator magnets. “We’ve got a whole mini industry — riding lawnmowers, golf clubs, beer.”
“It slices, it dices”
Well, things haven’t really gone quite that far. But he has acquired a modest fame. Stepping into restaurants with Jack, it’s not uncommon to see the hostess recognize his name before she leads us to the special table we’d have gotten anyway.
He will encounter stiff competition online — from himself. Copying Deep Thoughts wholesale and posting them on personal home pages is a popular hobby. A recent Google search on “Deep Thoughts Jack Handey” turned up thousands of hits. Searching “Deep Thoughts Jack Handy,” without the “e,” produces links to thousands more whose Webmasters spelled his name wrong. Some sneak homemade deep thoughts in among the real ones.
“Here’s a good way for my fans to tell if they’re mine or not,” Jack says. “If they’re funny, they’re mine. If they’re not funny, they’re somebody else’s.”
Many people say it’s OK to rip Jack off because he isn’t a real person anyway, an urban myth that Jack says “makes my mother sad.”
“I guess it sounds like a funny name. The first jokes I sold were to the comedian Steve Allen years ago. He wrote me a long funny letter back, and he said, ‘First of all, your name sounds like a product. Get the latest Jack Handey, it slices, it dices.’ “
All-out for the Internet
If you’re one of the skeptics who thinks Jack Handey is a commercial figment like Betty Crocker or Aunt Jemima, it’s time to start believing. Jack is definitely a real guy. I’ve known him since we sat together at the same copy desk in the early 1970s at the San Antonio Express-News. He was funny back then, too.
These days, Jack’s not worried about online competition from the copycats. There will be multimedia features on his site that he’s sure will quickly make it the top choice of deep thinkers everywhere.
“The advantage that this site will have is that it will actually have my voice on it. It’ll have studio recordings that I did for Deep Thoughts.
“We’re gonna have a Deep Thought of the Day, Deep Thoughts for the past week. There’ll be nice photos. Good-looking graphics. And for the first three months, we’re running a thing about, ‘Is there a real Jack Handey?’ We’re gonna let people vote. And we’re going to have some old home videos of mine for the Fuzzy Memories.”
Jack’s recent work has consisted mostly of humor pieces for the New Yorker, Outside and other magazines, along with some screenplays.
Writing Thoughts is harder work than some might think. Jack says he tossed out 10 not-Deep-enough Thoughts for every one he published. But if the Web site shows there’s still big interest in the Thoughts, who knows?
“Lately I’ve been thinking maybe I’ve got the energy to do some more,” he says. “Maybe this could be the forum for that.”