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The 50 Worst Things About America: An Exclusive Preview From MAD Magazine

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The usual gang of idiots at MAD Magazine have set their sights on the worst things in America and they do it with their usual, hilarious aplomb. (Aplomb... Isn't that just a great word that doesn't get used enough?)

The issue containing all "50 Worst Things About America" hits newsstands later this week, but they wanted to give readers of The Huffington Post a sneak peak.

I balked, and then held out for an interview with the executive editor of MAD, John Ficarra. They granted me the interview after much arm twisting. And possibly black mail.

Either way, here's my conversation with John Ficarra:

Bryan Young: First, I want to ask what the process is like when the MAD staff comes up with a list like this, is there a process? Or are there just monkeys at typewriters and with drawing pads in a large room?

John Ficarra: First off, our monkeys have computers, not typewriters! It's the 21st century. Seriously, most days at MAD begin with me and my staff sitting in my office throwing around ideas. (The monkeys tend to throw something else, which is why we don't invite them to the meetings.) We'll see what's in the news, what makes us laugh and if the comments we're making are valid. (Even if the comments aren't valid but make us laugh, they're in.) At that point we turn our notes over to our freelance writers and see what they come up with. From there, it's a back and forth process until we arrive at something hilarious that we love or the deadline arrives and then we just run it anyway.

BY: What does MAD look for when it sets its sights on an issue or a topic? Why "The Worst Things About America?"

JF: The 50 Worst is a great vehicle for us to comment from many different directions about things that piss us off. It's a franchise we've featured many times over the years. We've done the 50 Worst about Movies, TV, Video Games, Comedy, Sports and even the Internet. (Luckily for you, we didn't know about your blog when we wrote that one!)

BY: What is MAD's target audience these days and how does MAD compete with the copycats that have stolen your schtick's over the years, from The Onion to The Daily Show?

JF: MAD's target audience is well-informed, highly educated, culturally savvy, media consumers. We've yet to hit that target. Contrary to your point, we do not view The Onion and The Daily Show as "copycats", but rather equals... colleagues... brothers-in-arms in the world of comedy. They do no share this view.

BY: As a professional satirist, why do you think it's important to not lose that tool in the discourse of our country? What role does MAD play in that discourse?

JF: Satire is very important! Historically, ridicule is one of the most important checks and balances available against the rich and powerful. Imagine a world where Kim Kardashian is a celebrity and you're not allowed to make fun of her. That's not a world I want to live in.

BY: Am I taking MAD or this interview far too seriously? Because I see MAD as a relevant and important mirror for society... am I reading too much into that?

JF: I'm sorry. Could you repeat that question? Whenever interviews become too serious, I tend to doze off, as I suspect many of your readers are doing right about now.

BY: Nevermind. Moving on. What's your favorite part of coming to work at MAD?

JF: The elevator ride. Whee! MAD's on the seventh floor. If I had to make those stairs several times every day, day after day, week after week, that would be a real deal-breaker.

BY: How has the MAD app invigorated the magazine? Tell me about the app... Is it a place just to read the magazine, will it have bonus content?

JF: The MAD app is terrific! It allows readers to experience the magazine on a whole new level, with interactive features such as the MAD fold-in that you now swipe to "fold" and solve. Also, articles such as "Make Your Own Twilight Movie" are much more fun and interactive. There is a second classic MAD fold-in with every issue and other bonus content available exclusively on the app. Plus, you can buy digital back issues of the magazine through the app. I'm pretty sure having ridiculous humor clogging up the 4G networks is just what Steve Jobs envisioned when he invented the iPad.

The one thing I'm not happy about is management's decision to give a free digital subscription to anyone who subscribes to the print edition of MAD! I'm never going to get a raise if they continue with this kind of wrong-headed generosity!

BY: With the upcoming election cycle, can we expect to see more cutting political satire than we did in the last election? I thought you guys were on the top of your game for '08...

JF: Political satire has always been one of the hallmarks of MAD (along with movie satires and tasteful fart gags). These days more and more people of all ages seem to follow politics like they do sports teams. Who's up, who's down? The public is much more informed. So it's only gotten better for MAD. In fact, our political covers are generally our best sellers. The great thing about politicians, especially in a presidential election year, is that you can always count on them to do something exceptionally stupid. This year will be no exception and MAD will be there ready to pounce and write some exceptionally stupid political humor. It's a win-win.

BY: What's the most entertaining bit of backlash you've received from running a political piece? I mean... a list like "The Worst Things About America" is going to piss somebody off.

JF: One of my favorite "backlashes" was several years ago when we ran a scathing piece on the NRA. They promptly ran an article about it in their magazine, urging their members to boycott our advertisers. Unfortunately for them, this was back at a point when MAD wasn't taking ads, so it turned out to be one of the NRA's less-effective boycotts. Now that we are accepting ads, I hope the NRA will consider advertising with us!

See? Proof the National Rifle Association has no sense of humor.

For those who read this entire interview just for the preview, I might as well give you what you came for:

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Message from the shameless self-promotion department: Bryan Young is the editor of the geek news website Big Shiny Robot! and the author of the hilarious, critically acclaimed novel you should totally buy, Lost at the Con.

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