‘Guy Walks into a Bar’ by Simon Rich

And I love this one in a very different way. It makes me laugh out loud. Before I read it, I carried exactly this story in the back of my mind – something that riffs on the fact that jokes are essentially stories. It works brilliantly – at least for someone with a mind as puerile as mine – by balancing the shift between two modes. You have an out and out gag-based structure, with a series of punchlines, that are then undercut by deadpan seriousness about their implications. 

First published in The New Yorker, 2013, and available to subscribers to read online here. Collected in Spoiled Brats, Serpent’s Tail, 2014

‘Sell Out’ by Simon Rich

I love it when a writer has a brilliant idea and is able to carry it a long way without once fumbling it. That’s what Simon Rich is doing here. It’s a high-concept comic piece about Herschel, a Jewish immigrant to Brooklyn who is pickled in a brine barrel in 1912 and revived in the modern day to find the borough crawling with hipsters: “They tell me they are ‘conceptual artists’ and are ‘reclaiming the abandoned pickle factory for a performance space’. I realize something bad has happened in Brooklyn.” Rich puts himself in the story, as Herschel’s great-great-grandson, looking on bitterly as Herschel’s artisanal pickle business takes off (a Williamsburg blog reviews the product: “The pungent taste is not for everyone. And the floating salt scum takes some getting used to. But guess what? This is what pickles are supposed to taste like. If it’s too much for you to handle, head to Walmart, I guess.”). The clash of values than ensues is less predictable than you might expect. This isn’t a one-joke story, or if it is it’s the most brilliant and drawn-out one joke I’ve ever heard. The fish-out-of-water stuff and Borat lingo would soon pall were it not for Rich’s ability to push the concept forward on each page, testing its elasticity, cranking out new sub-ideas, showing off a staggering capacity for invention.

Collected in Spoilt Brats, Serpent’s Tail, 2014