Interview with Dick DeBartolo: The Outtakes
When I interviewed Mad writer Dick DeBartolo recently, he gave me so much worthwhile stuff, The Paris Review Daily couldn’t even use it all, in their published version of our talk. So I thought I should put it to good use elsewhere, beginning with DeBartolo’s thoughts on the unique talents of Mad artist Paul Coker.
In your memoir, you write about how you were incompatible roommates with Paul Coker on the Mad trips, and you know, I gotta tell you, it’s kind of funny because, although Coker is obviously a brilliant illustrator with a really distinctive style, I’m wondering if you’re compatible with him as a satire partner, because I think it’s the physical resemblance to reality that gives the written satire its traction. And so if you’re doing something less literal, like Coker, instead of, say, Mort Drucker or Tom Richmond or others who typically do satires… [trailing off]. And he obviously agrees with me, because he’s only done, like, seven satires.
I don’t remember—did Paul Coker do any of my movie takeoffs?
Well, he did a TV one—he did Frasier, for sure. And he did about six others—I don’t know how many with you. [Three of Coker’s six other film/TV satires were with DeBartolo.]
You know, the thing is, I think of Paul Coker as more doing panel jokes. Like, I absolutely love “Horrifying Clichés”—do you know that feature? I love that feature. Don Martin, I think, did only one—he did Gentle Ben—that I wrote, and I think that was the first time Don ever did a satire. [It was one of only three. Martin had done Big Town, in 1957, and he later did Conan the Barbarian, with DeBartolo.] And he did it [laughing] because you didn’t have to do a likeness of the bear, you know? And so they thought, “Well, let’s just have Don Martin do it and just draw some kooky kind of bear to be Gentle Ben.
So I do love Paul Coker’s work, but you’re right: I don’t think he’s the best fit for doing continuities like Mad movie satire that require likenesses drawn.
Counting the Panels
As you’re watching the movie, are you calculating, like, “Okay, there’re five pages, about seven panels a page, I need 35 gags”?
There are six panels a page, and sometimes, especially if there’s a rush and you’re trying to get it in a book [i.e., the magazine], the editor will say, “If it’s possible to write this in the next five days, we can get it into this issue.” And if they do that, they may tell you it cannot be more than four pages, or it cannot be more than five pages, because mostly the rest of the book is laid out already. Or they may be taking something out of the book to make room for the satire, and so the satire has to be the length of whatever they’re taking out of the book was going to be.
When you did the American Gladiators parody, you worked with another writer on that. I can’t remember the gentleman’s name—he’s not a very frequent parodist at the magazine [Andrew J. Schwartzberg; he’s worked on only one other continuity satire]. And I wanted to know: why did you work with another writer on that? Because you don’t typically work that way.
Yeah, I don’t. To tell you the truth, I bet you this is how it happened, is that it’s entirely possible that he pitched the idea, and I was already working on it, or it’s possible that they forgot I was working on it, and he was working on it, and they decided just to combine whatever panels they could. Because I never physically sat down with him.
And are you “Debbee Ovitz”?
No. The only [pen] names I’ve used in Mad are Dick Bic and Chick Glitz.
So you’re not gonna give us an exclusive on who did the Hannah and Her Sisters parody?
What’s the name on it?
Debbee Ovitz—“Debbee” spelled with two es on the end.
Yeah, no, I do not know who that is.
That’s a notorious thing, at least in some circles. That name appears nowhere else in the history of Mad, that I can find, and it’s known to be a pseudonym for somebody. I don’t know if it’s just somebody who didn’t want to piss off Woody Allen [who wrote and directed Hannah], or what.
[Laughing] It could be.
Avoiding Repetition Over the Years
It’s really interesting to see the sweep of Mad over time, which we’ve fortunately been able to do now because of the release of the DVD-ROMs over the last 15 years or so, and the constant updates. I’m able to see things and notice patterns that would be hard to access before. Like, The Fugitive was parodied as a TV series in the sixties, and then about thirty years later you parodied the movie. It’s amazing because there’s very little overlap, virtually none, in what got parodied from one to the other. Now, a lot of what had been parodied [by Stan Hart] about the TV show frankly didn’t apply to the movie, but a lot of it did. And it seemed that you’d side-stepped entirely just about everything that was made fun of about the TV show. Was that an intentional thing?
Well, you know what: yes. Yes, because sometimes when you get an assignment, John Ficarra or Nick Meglin will say, “Arnie [Kogen]”—I’m just throwing in a name here—“Arnie did a satire of so-and-so five years ago. Just give it a quick read so you don’t duplicate any jokes.” So, I mean you don’t sit down and memorize it, but you just read it quickly, and say, “Well, okay, he did that, I won’t do that. He did that, so I won’t do that.” So you do sort of make a conscious effort.
And it’s probably more important later on [in Mad’s history], because now, with the DVDs and collectors, you know, people go, “Oh, yeah, I have that issue from ten years ago right here. I just read that last night on my computer.” So you’ve gotta be a little more careful now.
Well, on that note: I couldn’t help but notice recently that when you parodied Batman: The Animated Series, in the early nineties, you made a joke about why Batman always crashes through the skylight: that it’s because Wayne Enterprises owns a window company and they get subsidiaries or residuals. Then, years later in the Batman Forever parody, a totally different joke but with the same setup—a pretty funny joke, I thought—you have Batman say: Well, if you dressed like this, you wouldn’t come through the front door either. Were you conscious of doing two different jokes on the same premise?
Yeah, yeah—that works for me. And obviously it works for them, because they published it. [Laughter.]
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