'Veep' Boss David Mandel Pays Tribute to Mad Magazine: "A Club With Its Own Secret Code Words" (Guest Column)

David Mandel - Getty - H 2019
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Following news that the publication is folding after 67 years, the HBO comedy's Emmy-nominated showrunner recalls its iconic film parodies — and its hold on a young writer-to-be.

I have never seen The Towering Inferno. But I know the whole movie. Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, O.J. Simpson and the cat. Produced by Irwin Allen. It seems like a fine movie. But I don't ever need to see it because I read Mad magazine's "The Towering Sterno."

In just a couple of pages, I knew everything I needed to know about infernos and towers thanks to writer Dick DeBartolo and artist Mort Drucker. Drucker could make an actor look more like themselves than they did in real life, and he could not only draw funny, but every 9-year-old I knew will never forget the nude scene in Kramer vs. Kramer. Not the movie — we weren't allowed to see it — but the way Drucker drew JoBeth Williams in "Crymore vs. Crymore."

Did I ever see The Poseidon Adventure? I don't remember. But I know I read "The Poopsidedown Adventure," and it was hilarious not just because they said "poop," but also because they said "poop." Before I ever saw The Godfather, I knew all about "The Oddfather." When you heard a movie title, you couldn't help trying to guess what Mad would call it. But never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined "Star Blecch II: The Wreck of Korn." That is just poetry.

And it wasn't just the movie parodies. I laughed out loud at Spy vs. Spy. I relished all the snappy answers to stupid questions. I folded the back covers of every issue to reveal a secret image. Mad was like a club with its own secret code words. At summer camps and sleepovers, we kids revealed our membership to one another. I became friends with one guy simply because he had all these amazing Mad paperbacks including Mad for Kicks, which had a parody of every James Bond movie made to that point.

As I grew older, other parts of the magazine started making more sense to me. There was politics! We never got up to Watergate in my American history classes, but Nixon and Kissinger jokes were alive and well in Mad. And then there was "The Lighter Side … With Dave Berg." Dave Berg defined adulthood to me: dads with pipes and topics like real estate and the economy.

I went backwards, and learned about Harvey Kutzman and Mad's early days. I read reprints of groundbreaking comic parodies like "Superduperman." I even began to collect original art from Mad, including some of the amazing painted covers by Norman Mingo and Jack Richard.

So did I end up a comedy writer because of Mad? I'm sure there's a snappy answer to that question, but let's just say it didn't hurt. A few years ago, after Mad retooled yet again, I bought a subscription for my kids. They laugh at some of the same stuff I do — the movie parodies, Spy vs. Spy. They laugh at Trump. God, I will miss you, Mad.

This story first appeared in the July 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.