The campers in Benjamin Schwartz’s cartoon are in their sleeping bags. They’ve been awakened by a bear, who’s performing a stand-up routine just outside their tent. The male camper is reaching into his backpack for his cellphone, and his girlfriend is saying something to him.
I first made references to killing and dying, words that mean one thing in the context of bear attacks and something very different in the world of stand-up comedy.
- “Let’s hope he dies out there so he can’t kill in here.”
- “Oh, God. He’s killing out there.”
- “It’s OK. He’s dying out there.”
I then focused on the cellphone. Stand-up comics are starting to ban such devices to prevent audience members from recording and posting routines that are still being fine-tuned.
- “Don’t record him when he’s workshopping new material.”
- “Don’t…Chris Rock says cellphones are killing comedy.”
Some comics rely on scatological humor, and I thought a bear might, as well.
- “Are all his jokes are about shitting in the woods?”
- “His humor’s so scatological.”
- “He puts the scat in scatological.”
Stand-up comics hate hecklers, and they delight in destroying them from the stage, as Patton Oswalt did to one reckless audience member who foolishly interrupted Patton’s story about the morning after pill. (You can listen to Patton absolutely grind this heckler into dust on the wonderful CD, “Werewolves and Lollipops.”) My memory of their exchange—which I’ll never forget—led to this caption: “No heckling.”
I’m a 58-year-old Jew, so I grew up listening to comedy albums by Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner, Richard Klein, Woody Allen, and Lenny Bruce, all of whom honed their stand-up skills while performing in what was known as the Borscht Belt—summer resorts in the Catskill Mountains, and popular vacation destinations for New York City Jews. (“Dirty Dancing” and several episodes of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” were set there.) Because the Catskills have the highest density of black bears in New York State, I came up with this caption: “I forgot there were bears in the Borscht Belt.”
Now let’s see how you did:
There were a lot of references to killing and dying. These were the best:
- “I hope he doesn’t kill tonight.”
- “At least he’s not killing.”
- “Who knew bears could kill in a good way?”
- “We’re safe. He’s dying out there.”
There were even more references to the dangers of heckling:
- “The field guide discourages heckling.”
- “Do not heckle him.”
- “Don’t heckle him.”
- “Stop heckling him!”
- “Would you stop heckling him?”
- “Do. Not. Heckle.”
One of you, however, suggested heckling as a survival tactic: “I think you’re supposed to make yourself look big, bang pots together, and heckle.”
Speaking of heckling, one of you submitted this insult: “I should have known camping in Larry Woods would expose us to unfunny one-liners.” If I were Patton Oswalt I’d respond with a devastating put-down, but I’m not that mean. Also, I can’t think of anything.
I like this twist on one of the most tired conventions in stand-up comedy: “If he says he’s hungry, do not ask how hungry.” I would, however, have italicized the word “how” instead of “not.”
Here’s an allusion to the line that second-rate comics use when their jokes get no response: “He knows we’re in here. He can hear us breathing.” And here’s a clever reference to one of the most overworked subjects in stand-up comedy: “How would he know anything about airline food?”
Does a bear shit in the woods? That line, used to sarcastically imply that the answer to whatever question has just been posed is obviously “yes,” inspired these entries:
- “Apparently bears do shtick in the woods.”
- “Who’d have thought they do this in the woods?”
- “A bear isn’t the only thing that shits in the woods.”
- “Bears aren’t the only ones that shit in the woods.”
I like the way those last two (nearly identical) captions address not just the cliché about shitting in the woods, but the terror of encountering a bear in the wild.
I love this reference to testing a microphone: “I wonder if we’re the one two, one two.”
This common statement takes on an entirely new and fitting meaning in the context of Schwartz’s drawing: “I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.”
There were no good sex jokes this week, so let’s move on to the best puns:
- “Most of his material is garbage.”
- “It’s open mic season.”
Here’s a clever twist on a line from Yogi Bear, who considered himself smarter than most of his kind: “He’s funnier than the average bear.”
Comedians who end their set by saying, “Thanks, I’ll be here all week,” inspired this next set of captions:
- “Uh oh. Did he just say he’ll be here all week?”
- “Will he be here all week?”
- “All week?”
That fist caption would be even better without the words, “Uh oh.”
I like the following allusion to Smokey The Bear’s advice about how to stop forest fires–“Only you can prevent another encore”—but substituting the word “an” for “another” would cut out two syllables. That might not seem like much, but every syllable counts in a short caption. I also think the campers would have tried to stop even the first encore.
Here’s a terrific reference to the awkward silence that follows a bad joke: “All I hear is crickets.”
Two of you alluded to the fact that bears are notorious campsite thieves who take anything that’s left unattended:
- “I told you not to leave the microphone out there.”
- “She’s stealing my material.”
And here’s the last caption I’m highlighting this week: “Don’t worry. I think this is his last set.”
What a strong showing. Choosing the best caption is not easy—it never is—but I’m going with, “We’re safe. He’s dying out there.”
Lawrence Wood has won The New Yorker’s Cartoon Caption Contest a record-setting seven times and been a finalist two 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.