The contest that ended last week featured a drawing by Benjamin Schwartz. Through a two-way mirror we see a baby in a police interrogation room—he’s sitting in a highchair—while outside this room a male cop says something to his female partner.
In movies, cops who are frustrated in their efforts to get a suspect to provide information say, “He won’t talk.” Babies, of course, can’t talk, so I initially considered the following captions:
- “He’s not talking.”
- “He won’t talk. He doesn’t know how.”
- “He won’t talk—not until he’s two.”
- “He won’t talk. He’s preverbal.”
Because suspects try to appear innocent, and no one looks more innocent than a baby, I considered:
- “Sure, he looks innocent.”
- “He’s not as innocent as he looks.”
- “He only looks innocent.”
Smart suspects also lawyer up, and that led to, “He wants a lawyer . . . and his mommy.”
Then I thought about a good cop/bad cop scenario: “I give him the teddy bear, and you take it away.”
I then thought of a dark caption that referenced both the highchair and the death penalty: “I misunderstood when you said they gave him the chair.”
While thinking about baby-faced killers, I came up with, “He hates that nickname. Just call him Nelson.”
Anyone my age (I’m fifty-six) will remember the ’70s TV show “Baretta,” about a cop who always said, “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.” Adding one word to the end of that line led to a caption that works in the context of this drawing—“Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time-out”—but is not good enough to submit. I’m including it because, as Bob Mankoff once wrote, “Quality of captions emerges from quantity of captions.” Don’t censor yourself when trying to come up with a winning caption. Write down everything you think of, and then eliminate the Baretta-inspired ones.
Now, let’s take a look at some of the more than 3,300 captions you submitted.
Like I did, many of you went for the idea that the suspect was too young to talk. Several of you submitted one of the very captions I considered: “He’s not talking.” A few of you added a single word to that caption—“He’s still not talking,” and “He’s not talking yet”—and I can’t decide whether that extra word helps or hurts. Good variations on the same joke included, “He’s not ready to talk,” “Can’t talk, or won’t talk?” and “He’ll talk. Eventually.” That last caption is very similar to another entry—“Don’t worry, he’ll talk. Eventually”—but the shorter version is better because it omits the first two words, which are unnecessary. When it comes to captions, less is often more.
Another caption focused on a baby’s developing motor skills and connected it beautifully to the setting with, “Eventually he’ll walk.”
There were a lot of “innocent baby” captions, including two entries I like because, again, they’re identical to mine: “He’s not as innocent as he looks,” and “He only looks innocent.” Good variations on the same joke included, “He’s acting all innocent,” and “I think he’s innocent.”
One of my favorite entries was similar to the “innocent baby” captions but put an interesting spin on the concept by referencing suspects who deny any knowledge of wrongdoing: “How much could he know anyway?”
Congratulations to whomever submitted, “We gave him the chair,” similar to but far pithier than and thus superior to my death penalty caption.
Suspects often avoid responsibility for their crimes by flipping on someone else, and a few of you addressed that phenomenon. The best such caption was, “He blames his parents.”
Some of you submitted “baby-faced killer” jokes. The best was, “His name? Nelson,” which is far shorter and better than my own Baby Face Nelson caption.
A few of you made shit jokes. There’s nothing wrong with scatological humor, and I especially liked, “Something doesn’t smell right,” “Kid’s dirty. I can smell it,” and “I’m too old for this shit…literally…someone has to change his diaper.” That last caption is long, but I don’t know how to shorten it—every word seems necessary—and I was glad to see someone send up a line that’s become a cliché ever since Danny Glover delivered it in “Lethal Weapon.”
One of you improved on my “lawyering up” caption with, “He wants his lawyer and a blankie.”
Good puns are rare, but two of you came up with slightly different versions of a really fine one: “He’s a little suspect,” and “He’s more than a little suspect.”
Better than my Baretta-inspired “time-out” caption—and that includes most everything—was this entry: “I told him he could be looking at some serious time out.”
I’ll conclude today’s post with several terrific captions that, in addition to addressing police work and babies in a clever way, delighted me because they came out of left field:
- “I know at least two people who will rest easier with him behind bars.”
- “I read him his rights and a story.”
- “He recently completed nine months in confinement.”
- “We may have to hold him.”
- “I checked. No priors.”
- “Tell me if he tries anything cute.”
- “Resisting a rest.”
If I were in charge of selecting a winner, I’d give it to, “Resisting a rest.”