When We Went MAD! examines the 60+-year history of MAD, the best-known humor magazine in American publishing. This doc — which you can help support — illustrates the pub’s rise, as well as the skillful writers, editors, and illustrators who fueled its iconic status.
The film project was conceived by Alan Bernstein, a writer/director with over 20 years of experience in the entertainment industry. In the course of his career, he’s worked on a number of television series, documentaries and films, including Thank You for Not Smoking, One Half Gone, and Judicial Consent.
Flower Street Docs — headed by our own Adam Carolla, Nate Adams, and Mike August — will be managing and helping to fund the doc.
Here, we talk with Alan Bernstein about the lasting legacy of MAD, and its impact on the culture:
RON: How did you come about creating this doc?
ALAN: I’ve been a MAD fan, reader and collector since I was six. That makes it 44 years. My background is in film production, and, quite honestly, I kept waiting for someone else to make the documentary. At the same time, we started losing some of the [MAD] artists and writers. I thought, if someone doesn’t do this now, we won’t have the opportunity. So I started it on my own.
RON: I guess many people would be surprised to learn that MAD magazine is still actually publishing.
ALAN: It’s still in publication, but it’s no different from any other story: there are so many different avenues of humor [in the digital age]. What took [MAD] two months to put into an issue would take The Daily Show one night. It’s hard to compete with that, but they still put it out. It’s still published. And I think that’s a great thing.
DC Comics took the reins of MAD, and they moved everybody from New York to L.A. a little over a year ago. And as a result, they pretty much brought in a whole new staff. So it’s a truly new generation.
They started renumbering it, so they’re up to Issue #8. It seems that at least in every issue, there is a direct reference to the old MAD. I don’t mean in terms of articles, but photos of the original publisher. They’re paying reverence to the original, but they’re making it their own as well, which I think is the right thing to do.
RON: I guess there are a lot of people like us, who fondly remember the original MAD.
ALAN: I truly believe that. Even if they can’t name off the top of their heads a specific moment, I run into people who say, “I read that when I was six,” or “my older brother read that when he was six, or twelve.” It left enough of an impression that they have a fond memory of it.
RON: To what do you owe MAD‘s success?
ALAN: It didn’t pander. If you want to “get” MAD, you had to step up your game. That’s when things last — if they challenge you.
RON: What was this filmmaking experience like for you?
ALAN: It is the true definition of “labor of love.” These writers, artists and editors were my true heroes growing up. Growing up, it never occurred to me that I could meet them, that I could approach them. I put them on such a pedestal. They were kind of untouchable. When I set out to interview, there was only one person who turned me down, and that was because of a health issue. Everyone was excited to be interviewed and have their story told. Every moment was a “pinch yourself” moment. I got to meet these people!
One of the great things about the MAD story is Bill Gaines, the publisher, who was such an eccentric and held his staff in such high regard that they had nothing but the best memories. A good handful of the earliest writers, who were there during MAD’s heyday, moved out to California and wrote for Carol Burnett and Mary Tyler Moore and All in the Family. These guys were winning Emmys left and right, and yet they were always called back to MAD for an article. They changed the mindset of several generations of writers.
RON: Being lampooned in MAD is a badge of honor. Was that always the case?
ALAN: At first, it seemed like an insult: why would I want to be associated with this subversive, anti-American rag? Over time, it became “look at me, I’m on the cover of MAD! I’ve made it!”
RON: What to you is MAD‘s lasting significance?
ALAN: Every issue of MAD is a physical piece that is documenting the moment. It has a place; it has an importance to it.
Like the kind of comedy that makes you laugh? Be sure to check out our own Adam Carolla in concert. Not Taco Bell Material is Adam’s first stand-up special, which is based on his New York Times bestselling autobiography. It’s a chock-full of tales from Adam’s youth, which prove to be both hilarious and inspiring.