Behold the 2018 ThoughtsFromParis Holiday Card

It's not the most respectful place to sit, but at least she didn't pee on it.
Meepers D.J. Paris Stocking
It’s not the most respectful place to sit, but at least she didn’t pee on it.

I realized I had a crappy first name when I was five.

Our family was moving from Chicago to Peoria. One day, close to moving time, sitting shotgun, my mother was running errands. At a stoplight she turned and said, “We’re moving somewhere where nobody knows you. If you’d like to change your first name, now is the time.” I had always gone by D.J. (and still do today), but the message I received in that moment was clear. READ MORE

My Second Week With The Onion – Sophomore Slump

See, because Camel cigarettes have a Camel as their spokesperson, but he prefers the compet...

The average reaction to my headlines on Week 2

A few weeks ago I started a humor writing class with The Onion.

In this course we are taught about satire and how The Onion approaches comedy. The publication is known for its sharp, pithy headlines and these headlines are the primary focus of the class. Headlines, in fact, are so important, it’s how The Onion selects articles for publication. Every week hundreds of headlines are submitted by editors and five or so articles emerge from that list. Their very best writers only have about a 1 in 50 chance of their headline becoming an article. We are asked each week to bring our ten best headlines and one article to be evaluated by classmates and instructor.

I was pleased with my work in week one. The jokes went over in most cases, and I felt that I had the knack to keep knocking out decent work in subsequent sessions. This proved more difficult than I had anticipated. In week one it only took two hours to write fifty headlines. The reason to write fifty is that forty are bound to be terrible. For example I am 100% in love with this headline:

Study Finds Camels Who Smoke Prefer Kools

I’m clear that there’s not one person on the planet that will share my love of that headline. It’s dumb. So there’s no way I can submit it in class unless I’m interested in sucking all of out the funny of the room. And since I care very much what others think of me, I wouldn’t include that in my final list.

But still, two hours of work got me ten decent headlines which performed well in class. However, this past week, I spent ten hours to generate that same output. I’m not sure why it took three times longer, but I can tell you it was frustrating. When I whittled down my list of fifty, I wasn’t pleased with the final ten. By my estimate, only five of the ten were winners. And, I guess if I had put in another ten hours maybe I would have perfected all of them, but I don’t have that kind of time. Peaky Blinders doesn’t watch itself.

One bright spot was that my article came out stronger than last week. Read aloud in class most of the students didn’t laugh at the story, but that’s because I don’t think they understood the reference. My teacher thought it was good, and she’s the expert.

For your reading enjoyment (or non-enjoyment), here’s my submitted list, warts and all.

– Headlines –

  • Alexa Always Listening, Silently Judging
  • Man Encouraged Not To Ask Wife To Pick Up Dinner On Way Home From Women’s March
  • Guy At Work Who Brags About Never Getting Sick Needs to Shut The Fuck Up
  • Megyn Kelly Surprisingly Proud of Taking Down 80 Year Old Woman
  • Local Man “Pretty Sure” Ex-Girlfriend Is Still Using His Netflix Account
  • Multicolored Mystery Stain on Presenter’s Pant Leg Derails Corporate Meeting
  • Gayle King Cancels “Gayle for VEEP” Bumper Sticker Order With A Deep Sigh
  • First Monkey Successfully Cloned, Ready to Throw Feces At Zoo Patrons
  • Shirtless Selfie Guy On Tinder Believes Best Photography Lighting In Bathroom

    Hits (And Misses) From My Writing Class With The Onion

    national lampoon vincent van gogh cover

    In April 1992 I fell in love with National Lampoon Magazine.

    I bought my first issue at a local drugstore and raced home, excited to find out if this would be a worthy successor to my Mad Magazine fascination as a child. I had matured, albeit slightly, and was seeking a more sophisticated type of funny. I found it in National Lampoon. I decided after reading the issue that I would make it a life’s goal to write something worthy of the magazine’s inclusion. The problem was that as a sophomore in high school, I had never written anything. Plus, I was unfunny. Oh, and the National Lampoon quit publishing about a year later. I shelved the dream of being a writer and re-focused my efforts on trying to bone senior Ashley Ripley who once smiled at me in homeroom, to which I assumed meant she wanted this (note – pointing currently at self). She didn’t.

    About seven years ago I started ThoughtsFromParis because I figured I would DIY the dream of being a humor writer. Which sort of worked for the first few posts but then I ran out of stories. I knew that if I was going to continue I would need to talk more about myself. My blog became less about hilarious stories and more about finding the chuckle of everyday life. I have a normal job and not too much crazy happens to me on the regular.

    After many years of writing about myself I feel that I have developed a strong skill set in this type of writing. But it’s never been what I wanted to do creatively. My dream was always to make up funny and outrageous stories that weren’t about me. Thankfully, some old National Lampoon editors have revived the idea with the hilarious print magazine American Bystander, and I’m close to submitting my first piece, which (at least the title) was well received by their editor in chief.

    I also realized, in trying to complete the Bystander article, that I have very little ability in writing anything other than in the style of this dumb blog. I reached out to my friend Tim O’Malley for advice. Tim is one of the big-deals at Second City and knows what to do about such matters. He recommended a class that The Onion developed in partnership with Second City. I signed up immediately.

    Over the remainder of this writing course I’ll be honing skills on how to write headlines and articles in the style of The Onion’s humor. Each week we submit ten headlines and one article to be evaluated and discussed by the professor and students. As a blogger, I’m not used to instant feedback. If I think something is good, I write it and click publish. Being in this class I’ve learned that not everything I pen resonates with other human beings. Watching something I’ve written fall flat in a room of other funny people is humbling and humiliating. It’s also a lot of fun.

    Because I’m putting a ton of energy into this class I thought it might be interesting to post my weekly submissions. Please understand I know not all of these are winners. To get to ten headlines, I write close to fifty and edit down. I then take the strongest one of the ten and write a full article. This first batch was presented to the class the other night, and most of them were well-received.

    By the way, these headlines and articles are in a very specific Onion style, called News in Brief.

    – Headlines –

    • Neighborhood Rabid Raccoon Wondering When Persecution Will End
    • Study Finds Dogs Prefer Organic GMO-Free Kibble – Also Garbage
    • Man Bravely Reheats Last Night’s Salmon Scaloppini In Company Microwave
    • Chipotle CEO Admits He Has No Idea What Barbacoa Is
    • Old Country Buffet in Shreveport Snubbed By Michelin. Again.
    • Actual Shithole Countries Excited To Be In News
    • Local Area Sexual Harasser Thrilled He’s Not A Celebrity These Days
    • Study Finds High School Sex Down 44% – Teen Skanks Devastated
    • Whole 30 Promises to Be Next Diet You Fail At

    – Article –

    Kevin Spacey Fan Club President Undeterred That Membership Is Down 8000%

    SIOUX CITY, IA—Despite numerous shocking sexual abuse allegations against Hollywood actor Kevin Spacey, acting 2018 president of the a-lister’s fan club, Sherman Phillips, remains steadfast in supporting the celebrity through a fan-site and monthly print newsletter. “2017 was a tough year for our organization. Most of the management resigned, along with 97% of members,” Phillips said alluding to the actor’s troubles in the press, adding that they have begun selling rubber bracelets inscribed with WWFUD – What Would Frank Underwood Do in order to raise funds to keep the organization solvent. “Those [bracelets] are not selling well. However, we have a K-PAX temporary tattoo coming out next month which I believe will be a big hit with our remaining members.” When asked about the morality of keeping such a fan club active, Phillips deflected by launching into an impression of Spacey’s character from Glengarry Glen Ross where Spacey yells repeatedly at Alan Arkin to go to lunch. READ MORE

    Behold the 2017 ThoughtsFromParis Holiday Card

    If you know what this is, you've wasted your life.

    alan thicke candace cameron let it snow
    If you know what this is, you’ve wasted your life.

    I had to be talked into this year’s card.

    My girlfriend was certain it would land big with our friends and family, but what did she know? I’d like to think, for my own self esteem, that I’m the only one in the relationship with a rapier wit. Turns out she was right and the card was well-received. Many even reported that it was my best card to date. The credit for this success lands 100% in Liz’s lap.

    Here’s how the idea came to be.

    Months ago I took Liz to go see one of my favorite stand-ups, Jen Kirkman. At some point during her set, Jen turned her attention to Hallmark Christmas movies. While the jokes about these movies were funny, I had never seen one (nor heard of them). But as I looked around the audience was howling. I would estimate that 75% of the audience were female, so I chalked it up to something that women know about, but men don’t. Like heavy spotting days.

    Later that night Liz declared that this would be the theme of our holiday card. I tried to convince her that nobody would get the joke. Since I had never seen one of these movies, clearly the masses hadn’t either. Liz reassured me that, not unlike most of our arguments, she was correct. After more resistance from me, I was encouraged to shut up. Also, I didn’t have a better idea, so I relented and agreed to move forward.

    We took to Google Images which, if you’re not familiar, is the best place to steal copyrighted images. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you Liz and I looked at forty Hallmark holiday movie posters before deciding on a winner. This took hours and contained some heated arguments. Should we pick the cover where the two main characters were playfully throwing snowballs at each other, or the one where the guy is trying to balance seventeen packages in his arms while the woman is staring at the camera shrugging? Eventually we selected one, but for the life of me I can’t remember why it was chosen.

    Next, we needed a Photoshop expert. Via Fiverr I hired a graphic designer to do the superimposition. We had to go back and forth a few times, and ultimately he still made my face too big, but it was close enough.

    I went back to make sure superimposition was a word, because I was pretty sure I had fabricated it. Turns out it’s legit! Use that at your next cocktail party to impress the babes.

    Now again, I was concerned that the joke would fail. And I take a lot of pride with these dopey holiday cards. I try to make the jokes hit like a sledgehammer – obvious and vulgar. This time it wasn’t really a joke, per se. It was just a reminder of these dumb movies that Liz convinced me everybody (but me) knew about. A reference to a pop-culture juggernaut, if you will.

    The cards went out and we waited for response. And, to my credit, a few people didn’t understand the reference. But out of the 100 or so cards that we sent, it was almost universally praised (unlike the quality of these movies).

    I did finally watch one on Christmas Eve. It starred Alan Thicke (of course) and Candace Cameron (also, of course) and halfway through her trying save the ski lodge I nearly jammed a golf pencil into my jugular. If you’ve ever watched a Hallmark Christmas movie, you know how painful they are to absorb. But instead of ending my own life I retreated to the guest bedroom and yelled at the wall for a few minutes. That calmed me down and I was able to return in time to see dad and daughter reunite on Christmas day. Also, the ski lodge didn’t fold, so that was nice. And, even though the movie was complete garbage, watching Alan Thicke and Candace Cameron embrace while the credits rolled was admittedly satisfying. It felt like Christmas.

    So, here’s the card, for those of you who didn’t make the mailing list cut. Enjoy.

    Allison (But Not Allison This Time) and D.J. Fix Your Stupid Problems About Your Best Friend

    Nothing to add, here. The image is way funnier than anything I could ever write.

    D.J. and Allison fix your stupid problems about your best friend

    To be fair, Allison tried on this one.

    She wrote me a few days ago asking to bow out of this specific edition. Allison had just taken on two new clients and was now travelling a good chunk of the time. She kept attempting to write this piece but wasn’t happy with it. (After reading her drafts, I concur) Then she did that thing that all weirdos like her and I do – we go all or nothing. In a frazzled state she said, “I can’t commit to this any longer!” She was having a moment. I told her to have her moment, and that I’d handle this one. She’ll come back in the next one. She’s just a spaz.

    Here’s what I wrote announcing Allison’s temporary departure.

    In visiting Allison last week in her native Ronkonkoma​, we (D.J. and Allison) ate fondue at a local juke joint. Allison’s nerves got the better of her and she drank an entire fifth of white zinfandel during the appetizer course. We were asked to leave as Allison became belligerent when she suspected the waitress of “giving me a look probably because she’s jealous of my legs.” Allison, too intoxicated to drive, left her 2015 Honda Accord in the parking lot and we shared a Lyft back to her flat. Thankfully her roommates slept through Allison crashing into every piece of furniture on the way to her master bedroom. She passed out face first onto her duvet and I did the same next to her. In the morning, for a lark I told Allison that I had enjoyed our vigorous lovemaking, but that she should get tested in the coming weeks. She exploded with violent rage and accused me of sexual misconduct, but before I could explain the joke, I found myself outside her condo – door slammed in my face. She still has my iPhone charger, and I don’t dare ask her to mail it back. She’s pretty peeved about the whole thing, even though all I really did was peek through her underwear drawer for a few seconds whilst she snored. I’m going to give it a few weeks before I ask for her to write the column, and I suspect her self-esteem is low enough to consider partnering again. READ MORE

    Allison and D.J. Need Your Stupid Problems About Your Best Friend

    D.J. and Allison fix your stupid problems about your best friend

    A guy a know who I’ll call Cullen used to say, “I love you enough to tell you the truth.”

    After this proclamation, he would immediately follow it with a barrage of criticisms about how you’re doing things wrong. It was uncomfortable. You’d feel defensive. But after his assault concluded, you’d find yourself saying, “Dammit, the sonofabitch was right.” And he always was. A mutual friend of ours, Jen, was complaining about some shitheel she was dating. Jen is a psychologist and a strong, independent woman. However, she was dating a shitheel. He sucked. We all knew it. She suspected it, but stuck with him. One day, Cullen says to her (apropos of nothing), “What’s up with your self-esteem? You know better than to be with a loser. Get yourself together. Christ!” And Jennifer started to cry. Cullen didn’t flinch. He patiently waited for the sobbing to end. Then Jennifer said, “Yeah… I know.” Because she knew that Cullen was right. She dumped the guy a few days later.

    The reality is, like the Buzzy Lindhart song preaches, “…ya gotta have friends…” And maybe the job of a friend, aside from being there when the world collapses around you, is to be there to knock you down a few pegs. For example if I wanted to meet out some buddies and I showed up with a ten-gallon cowboy hat, I hope they would say, “You look like an asshole and aren’t allowed to sit with us. Go home and change.”

    But not all friends are created equal. Some downright suck.

    Or, rather, parts of them suck. Maybe they always hit on your girlfriend. Maybe they never pick up the check at Applebees EVEN THOUGH YOU SAW THEM EAT ALL THE WINGS. Perhaps they ask to borrow money. Or they’re just not there when you need them most. Or, God forbid, they didn’t “like” the video you uploaded to Facebook about your child’s piano recital.

    But, they’re your best friend(s) and you’re likely stuck with them. And they with you.

    Let’s help you figure out how to fix the stupid problems you have about your closest pals. Allison Arnone and I are, if nothing else, pretty damned smart. Also handsome. And we have hips that don’t quit for days.

    Below here you can enter in the issue you have with your best friend issue, and we’ll solve it. If you don’t see the form below, click here to submit.


    Allison and D.J. Fix Your Stupid Problems About Your Look

    Ooh, I like the way you work that spatula, Mr. Thomas.

    allison and d.j. need your stupid problems about your look

    Everyone wants to love what they see staring back in the mirror. And, I’m not referring to that inner-beauty nonsense that isn’t real. Well, inner beauty can be real, I guess. But your outer beauty is always being evaluated. Mostly by you. And I’d bet, if you’re like near everyone else on the planet, that you focus on the imperfections. When we check out our crooked nose or thinning hairline, it’s a reminder that not only are we imperfect, but we’re imperfect and aging. Those are two very heavy trips, dig? So, we asked for your questions about how to cope with said imperfections. Allison Arnone and I did our best to lighten your load. Read on, where we help you co-exist with your warts and all. (Oliver Cromwell reference, sucka!)

    Allison and D.J. Need Your Stupid Problems About Your Gross Appearance

    allison and d.j. need your stupid problems about your look

    I believed I was so ugly no woman would ever want to date me.

    I remember confessing this to a college roommate one summer. He was a handsome fraternity brother who had to fend off women when we went out. He was asking why I never talked to girls and I told him, “Well, I’m just not attractive enough, so why get rejected?” Now, the worst thing you can do if someone confesses their most vulnerable insecurity is to confirm it. Since I believed I was an ugly troll as much as I believed my name was D.J., the only hope that I had was that I might be wrong. But of course, he said the worst possible response.

    Look, at the bars, you just don’t go up to the most beautiful women. They probably wouldn’t be interested. Just go for someone who is okay looking. Not beautiful, though. READ MORE

    Allison and D.J. Fix Your Stupid Problems About The Holidays

    Allison and D.J. Fix Your Stupid Problems About The Holidays

    I’ve never made out with anyone underneath mistletoe.

    To be fair, if I’m at a friend’s home I’m not going to attack his wife because she happened to walk by the mistletoe plant on her way to the kitchen. Or sprig. Or whatever the hell mistletoe is. Nobody knows. What I do know is that it’s never helped me get over with the ladies. In the past I’ve even brought a tube of lip plumper to these parties, and taped it up next to the mistletoe so women can get their lips right for a kiss. I’m nothing if not thoughtful. But this column isn’t about me and my problems. It’s about yours. We got so many damn issues on this one topic, Allison Arnone and I are doing a part II next week. We started this advice column several months ago, and each time we do it we get more and more entries. It’s very much appreciated, and we respectfully bow to you. Now, go endure your family for the next week. It will be difficult, sure, but hey, your folks still load you up with some decent presents, and you’re thirty-seven years old. Just grin and bear it when mom starts in on your weight. Happy holidays!