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Dark comedy can be costly

January 24, 2001

Dark comedy can be costly



As many of you may have heard, this column was deregulated back in 1996 by the Maryland General Assembly when editors feared that the price per joke was escalating at a cost that customers would soon be unwilling to pay.

If I were allowed to plagiarize jokes from all over, and not be bound to the few scanty jokes originating in my own brain, regulators believed the competition for joke-space in this column would drive the cost-per-joke down, and readers would live happily everafter.

But things have gone hideously wrong.

Because of certain market factors and state regs, the demand for jokes is far outstripping the amount of jokes I am able to supply. I'm afraid my hands have been so tied by the government that I will be forced to resort to rolling joke blackouts in this very column whenever I can't think of anything genuinely funny to say.

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Obviously, this situation is the result of good intentions and botched policy. It's like the old saw:

Q. How many state regulators does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

A. Eight. One to climb the ladder and seven to

Sorry. These blackouts always come at the worst possible times.

See, deregulation of the column probably would have gone ahead OK, except the liberal-bias editors insisted on placing caps on the cost consumers would have to pay per joke. But consumers were still demanding lots of humor, so I had to go far and wide looking for material to steal, like the one about the Minnesotan who came home drunk and his wife told him to go out ice fishing until he sobered up. So he takes his ax and his fishing pole

thundering one more time "This is the rink manager! And I ASSURE you...THERE ARE NO FISH BENEATH THE ICE!"

So obviously, getting class, mega-yuk material like that ain't cheap. It got to the point where the time and cost of obtaining humor could not possibly be offset by what I was getting in return. And then to top it off, all the wholesale laugh brokers got together and jacked up the price.

Well, our "Smart Growth" governor insisted the public wasn't going to be made to pay the higher joke price I was paying and it became obvious there was only one thing left to do. I snubbed my nose at him and said "Grow this!" before making a deal on the black market for a lot of untaxed jokes that had been generated by dubious sources in Central America and flown here by small plane.

So after the deal we're sitting on a beach at San Carlos riffling through some unmarked, non-sequential bills when a manta ray, two sea urchins and a Portuguese Man O'War swim up. After looking us over for a bit the manta ray looks up and says

and the Mafia don pushes his white hat up off his brow, scratches his head and says "How do you start a flood?"

Well, the old ladies down at the cabana weren't going to like that one, you bet you me. But I'll be hanged if I'm going to go into bankruptcy until I've scraped the lint basket with a toothpick, so to speak.

So the lesson here is that you can't unilaterally cap the cost of jokes, because that gives humor consumers no cause to conserve. They will greedily lap up four jokes a paragraph when it strains me to come up with one joke every three.

And you can't trust the joke middlemen not to get greedy and raise the price unconscionably when they sense a joke shortage.

In the end, what was true before deregulation is true after deregulation. From where I sit, there's just nothing funny about government interference.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist

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