Beth Lawler, who co-hosts the Cartoon Caption Contest Podcast, immediately recognized this drawing by Jason Patterson. “This week’s contest,” she wrote to Bob Mankoff and me, “[features] a published New Yorker cartoon from 2005.” She urged us to refrain from choosing the published caption as the winning entry and even suggested that we scrap this contest and post a new one. Don’t worry, Beth. Bob’s decision to recycle an old New Yorker cartoon was just an experiment—one he has promised to never repeat.
Patterson’s original caption (“How soon do you need these?”) was perfect, so the challenge for this contest is to come up with something almost as good. I tried to meet this challenge by focusing first on the pandemic, during which many people got used to appearing on Zoom without pants. That recent phenomenon creates captioning opportunities that were unavailable to Patterson when his cartoon appeared in the magazine more than fifteen years ago, so here are my two attempts to capitalize on those opportunities:
- “I bet you wish you could work remotely now.”
- “You must really miss Zoom.”
My next caption suggests that the customer is an attorney who must physically appear in court: “Does the courtroom have a lectern?” That caption is (as Beth Lawler surely knows) similar to the winning entry in a contest featuring this drawing by Lee Lorenz:
Finally, here’s a caption that suggests the dry-cleaner offers a service similar to one provided by car rental companies: “I can give you a loaner, but they’re white.”
Now let’s see how you did.
Beth Lawler correctly noted that it would be unfair to choose, as the winning entry, a caption identical to Patterson’s original. Fortunately, only one person submitted that caption, but many of you went after the same joke:
- “We don’t do one hour cleaning.”
- “How does Thursday sound?”
- “You’ll have to leave them.”
- “When do you want these?”
- “Come back tomorrow.”
- “Are you in any rush?”
Several of you noted that a popular video-chat application has made it possible for people to communicate, even in professional settings, without pants:
- “Have you thought about making it a Zoom meeting?
- “Haven’t seen any of these since they invented Zoom.”
That second caption is especially good because it perfectly matches the dry cleaner’s expression, as well as the way he’s holding and looking at the pants.
The pandemic has changed our language, and “Zoom” is apparently now a verb:
- “Have you tried Zooming?”
- “I’d recommend Zooming.”
A couple of you noted that when the pandemic ends, so will the option to work remotely and without pants:
- “Returning to work?”
- “Back to the office?”
Like I did, a couple of you suggested that the dry-cleaner could provide his customer with a temporary pair of pants:
- “I can give you a loaner.”
- “You need a loaner?”
I didn’t like this week’s puns—most involved the word “pressing”—but there were a couple good sex jokes:
- “It’s five dollars to remove the lipstick, and fifty dollars to forget how it got there.”
Though I love one-word captions—nothing better exemplifies the maxim, “brevity is the soul of wit”—I actually prefer the first of those two entries.
This next caption suggests that the customer has removed his pants at the counter before: “Thanks for wearing shorts this time.”
Here’s a good example of a caption that highlights the speaker’s obliviousness: “When’s the last time you wore them?”
And here are a few strong entries that don’t fit neatly into any category:
- “I’d recommend putting the receipt in your jacket pocket.”
- “I would be more worried about the hole in your boxers.”
- “Will that be all?”
This week’s winner is, “Haven’t seen any of these since they invented Zoom.”
Lawrence Wood has won The New Yorker’s Cartoon Caption Contest a record-setting seven times and been a finalist four other times. He has collaborated with New Yorker cartoonists Peter Kuper, Lila Ash, Felipe Galindo Gomez, and Harry Bliss (until Bliss tossed him aside, as anyone would, to collaborate with Steve Martin). Nine of his collaborations have appeared in The New Yorker, and one is included in The New Yorker Encyclopedia of Cartoons.