For the first time, our panel of judges did not include Bob Mankoff, who was busy preparing for his daughter Sarah’s wedding. Congratulations to Bob, his wife Cory, and especially Sarah. In the HBO Documentary “Very Semi-Serious,” Sarah recalls a time when she was much younger and told Bob that something he said wasn’t funny, and Cory pulled her aside and said, “You can never say that to your father.”
Subbing in for Bob this month was the cartoonist Ivan Ehlers, whose captionless drawing was the subject of our discussion. It’s set on a stage, where a guitarist is sitting on a stool and speaking or singing into a microphone. Behind him are a washing machine and dryer, both of which are shaking a bit. Ehlers’ original caption alluded to the way musicians introduce members of their band: “And on percussion, the neighbor’s laundry machines.”
A few of you went after the same joke:
- “And backing me up, what I didn’t lose in the divorce.”
- “And in drum, three quarters and a tennis shoe.”
I like the way that last caption changes the word “on” to “in,” but “drums” might have worked better than “drum” because the caption would then have sounded more like what musicians actually say, and because dryers and washing machines both have drums.
This next entry alludes to musicians who try to get the audience to sing along: “Now everybody, rinse and repeat after me.”
Laundromat machines run on quarters, which explains the next set of captions:
- “Don’t forget to tip your server…in quarters.”
- “Tips are welcomed. Quarters are appreciated.”
- “Your quarters keep the band working.”
- “This is a song about change. Quarters mostly.”
- “We’ve got time for just one more song, unless someone has a handful of quarters.”
- “This next one is called, ‘You broke my heart in pieces, now break a dollar in quarters.”
Like that last caption, many entries were song titles or references to song titles:
- “This next one’s called, ‘My baby runs, hot, warm, and cold.”
- “We are the Sultans of Spin.”
- “Your mama don’t wash and your daddy don’t fluff and fold.”
I respect how well that last entry follows the cadence of a lyric from a Loggins and Messina hit, “Your Mama Don’t Dance,” but I wish I’d never seen it because now I can’t get that earworm out of my head. I’m not much of a Loggins and Messina fan.
Speaking of musicians I could do without, someone submitted, “Still a better backing band than Dave Matthews.” As a Chicagoan, I haven’t forgiven Matthews for dumping 800 pounds of human waste from the backwater tank of his tour bus and onto a boat full of passengers as they passed under the Kinzie Street Bridge on August 8, 2004.
Here’s an entry from someone who apparently hates all rock bands: “Be honest. Can you really tell the difference?”
This entry has the musician acknowledging that the song he’s about to play is terrible—“Here’s one from my very worst album”—and made me think of Lou Reed’s “Metal Machine Music,” both because the appliances are machines and because that album is unlistenable. Just to be clear, however, I love Lou Reed and most of what he’s recorded.
Now it’s time for the puns:
- “Here’s one more song before I throw in the towel.”
- “We’re a cover band, but we also do sheets.”
- “I’d like to thank my band for helping me stay clean.”
That last entry, with its reference to addiction issues that some musicians struggle with, is terrific.
Another pun doubles as the month’s best sex joke: “We’ll be looking to hook up after the show.”
This next entry is perhaps the worst pun I’ve ever seen, but it’s also a fine example of something so bad it’s good—the caption contest equivalent of Plan 9 from Outer Space: “You Maytag me in your photos.”
Some cartoons have banners as opposed to captions, and the banners explain what’s happening in the cartoon. The following caption, which came out of left field, would work better as a banner, but Ehlers really liked it: “Early Chuck E. Cheese prototype before somebody thought of rat suits.”
One of my fellow judges, New Yorker cartoonist Trevor Hoey, did not like this next entry because he thought it was a blatant attempt to curry favor with me: “We’re Lawrence and The Machines.” Maybe it is, and perhaps we should discourage such attempts, but I really like that caption. It does a beautiful job of reconciling the disparate elements (bands and household appliances), it’s a terrific reference to “Florence and the Machine,” and, unlike most entries that mention my name, it’s not incredibly insulting.
The next entry is, I believe, a reference to the controversy Bob Dylan caused back on July 25, 1965, when he played his first electric concert at the Newport Music festival: “My washboard player couldn’t make it, so I’m going electric tonight.” It’s a good caption, but it would be better if it ended on the word “electric,” which is the punch line.
When I was in the ninth grade, my English teacher told the class that she had spent the prior evening at a Tom Jones concert, and that some women were throwing their underwear on stage. I’ve never seen that happen, but Trevor Hoey said that the woman he brought to a Prince concert a while back threw her bra on stage, so it’s apparently a fairly common behavior that inspired these two entries:
- “Feel free to throw your panties.”
- “Panties and bras are still welcome but the road has made me a tad leery.”
I like the way the second version suggests that the musician’s sexual experiences with the groupies he met on tour motivated him to bring a washing machine on stage, but the first version is punchier.
The idea behind this next caption is good, but the wording’s a little clunky: “We’re going to slow it down now and do something intimate from our Delicate Cycle album.”
This entry acknowledges just how much washing machines and dryers weigh: “We’ll need some volunteers later to help us get back on the tour bus.” The next entry, however, suggests that the musician has no need for a tour bus (at least not yet): “A few more gigs and we can finally move out of mom’s basement.”
A couple of you submitted jokes about the end-of-cycle signal:
- “Thanks, folks, my timer is up.”
- “We’re gonna entertain you for exactly the next 30 minutes.”
Trevor Hoey and I loved this reference to concert tour apparel: “Check out my merch table for some extremely clean shirts.”
This caption suggests that the musician on stage recently came in second during a competition for singers/songwriters: “First prize was a record deal.”
Finally, we have a caption that solves the comic puzzle by combining references to both laundry and things that singers often say during a rock concert: “I’m gonna take a shot break while I switch loads.”
Congratulations to JEFFREY LAUTIN, who submitted the winning entry: “We’re gonna entertain you for exactly the next 30 minutes.” The runners up are:
- “We’ll need some volunteers later to help us get back on the tour bus.”
- “Check out my merch table for some extremely clean shirts.”
- “I’d like to thank my band for helping me stay clean.”
- “Here’s one from my very worst album.”
- “We’re Lawrence and the Machines.”
For those of you who want to see how we made our selections, we recorded the process and is posted here.
From now until it’s released on June 4, 2024, I’ll be plugging my book, “Your Caption Has Been Selected—More than anyone could possibly want to know about The New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest.” My publisher just updated its pre-order page by adding a caricature of me by New Yorker cartoonist Benjamin Schwartz: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250333407. The book will also include Schwartz’s caricature of Bob Mankoff, who wrote the introduction.