From the June 2010 Issue of Funny Times.
Cartoonist, writer, and radio personality, P.S. Mueller is the mad genius of Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been a regular Funny Timescontributor of both cartoons and stories for over 20 years. His cartoons have appeared in The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, Reader’s Digest, Barron’s, Field and Stream and hundreds of other publications. Two collections of his humor, Cats and Dogs/Dogs and Cats and Your Belief System Is Shot, are currently available from your favorite bookseller.
Pete is also a former radio announcer and DJ and, until its suspension this year, was co-writer and voice of the award winningOnion Radio News.
This month he begins a new radio/broadcasting project, News of the Great Re-Depression with Stanley Douglas (at Howdyland.com), teaming with his original Onion Radio producer, Steve Gotcher, to create daily one-minute newscasts “intended to provide listeners with hard facts about the hard times in which we live.”
Funny Times: At Funny Times we take all the cartoons that we like and file them by subject. We’ve got about 100 different subject folders, everything from such common subjects as Politics and Children, all the way to more obscure categories like Cavemen and Desert Island jokes. Then there’s one other folder called “Unclassifiable.” Whenever we want to find a P.S. Mueller cartoon, that’s the first place we go, because about half the cartoons in there are yours. How do you manage to come up with so many cartoons that have nothing to do with the 100 most common humor subjects?
P.S. Mueller: Part of the unclassifiable thing has to do with the sheer number of cartoons that I draw. I try LOTS of things. Plus, for me at least, the element of surprise is all-important, both going in and coming out. Sometimes the joke is nothing more than cracked internal logic, a kind of absurd literalism. Mainly, though, I truly enjoy making up crazy stuff.
FT: Two of your most commonly recurring characters are Toaster and Bowling Ball. Would you like to elaborate on that?
Mueller: I have fun creating antagonism between inanimate objects. A toaster and piece of bread are my Sylvester and Tweety; bowling balls and pins amount to predator and prey. I get a kick out of drawing familiar objects and then projecting either fear or malignant intent onto them. The process is a lot of fun for me, though I’ll admit that some folks are understandably baffled by the absence of a familiar context. These people can be re-trained to perform useful chores, however.
FT: When did you start drawing cartoons?
Mueller: I started copying cartoons out of the newspaper when I was a little kid. My dad had a knack for caricature, which impressed me greatly, especially when he quietly made napkin sketches of goofy-looking restaurant patrons sitting nearby and passed them over to me. He had no clue about what to do with a baseball, but the man had a highly developed sense of silly.
FT: Why did your parents send you to a Jesuit High School, even though you’re not Catholic?
Mueller: The high school I would have attended was new and didn’t have as much as a library. My folks were concerned about such things and gave me the option of quitting Loyola Academy after freshman year if I hated it, but I didn’t. The Jesuits actually encouraged me to draw cartoons and nobody laid a hand on me. They didn’t even lay on too much of the boogedy boo. Good people.
FT: Your first job after college was in radio. Could you tell us about that?
Mueller: Actually, my first gig after college was abject failure and near starvation. Then, about a year after I graduated I got involved with a little thing called nonSequitur Magazine that was associated with a little hippie radio station (WTAO-FM) in Murphysboro, Illinois. I began writing and voicing the magazine’s commercials and was later hired by the station to be its production guy. On Sunday nights I did a two-hour avant garde/classical show and during the week I wrote and recorded boatloads of commercials. When I moved to Madison, I worked as a deejay at two stations between 1980 and 1984, drawing cartoons the whole time as well. No one here actually laid eyes on me for the first four years I was in town because I was either on the air or holed up drawing cartoons.
FT: You worked with The Onion from its founding in Madison until this year when you were laid off. How did you become Doyle Redland, the voice of Onion Radio? Did you write the Onion Radio News yourself? How did Onion Radio begin, and then, after so many years of success, why did they drop it this year?
Mueller:I didn’t really become involved with The Onion until around 1989 when it was over a year old. At that time Scott Dikkers took the helm and hired the malcontented geniuses who made it a success. Scotty was a radio freak and a cartoonist, known quite well at the time for his strip Jim’s Journal. He assembled the Onion’s Radio Pirates and sucked me into that, where a group of us wrote and recorded sketch comedy for about three years. We failed to get any traction in radio and disbanded after releasing a CD titled Not For Broadcast. Scott called me back in 1999 to become Doyle Redland for The Onion Radio News. For the first year he and I co-wrote the segments, drawing from the Onion’s archive of published stories. Later, after he left the paper for the first time, I co-wrote the bits with various editors.
The recession has been hard on all of print and broadcast media, including The Onion. Though the Onion Radio News reruns remain as popular as ever, The Onion, Inc. was unable to sell ads to sustain it beyond last spring, and, at the end of 2009, Mr. Redland was folded up and saved for later.
FT: Your new radio project is News of the Great Re-Depression with Stanley Douglas. Could you tell us a little bit about your news anchor, Stanley Douglas, and the type of stories that he likes to report on?
Mueller: Stanley believes he is recording voiceovers for newsreels, unaware that they stopped making them in the early sixties. That’s how we got him so cheaply. Unlike Doyle, he’s an “up” kind of guy who bears an amazing resemblance to my dad, circa 1958. He’s a pleasant man, dedicated to focusing on the biggest story of the last 60 years — our floundering economy and the heroic ingenuity summoned forth by average middle class Americans to cope with utter ruination.
More to the point, we at Howdyland Productions wanted to produce the first and only daily satirical look at the current recession and the politics and culture that have made it such a winner as recessions go. If and when the middle class is permitted to return to a perilous restoration of “debt as lifestyle,” we also have plans to expand the Re-Depression News to include sadly underreported stories about celebrities and rich people.
FT: What do you love about cartoons and cartooning?
Mueller: Cartooning is the one profession where you can be famous and broke and completely free simultaneously. Plus, gag cartoons are a dying art form, which goes nicely hand-in-hand with the good old Baby Boom fade-out. The anonymity is great for people like me who enjoy sabotaging our cheesy culture but don’t want their mugs all over the TV. The freedom to be a brat, clown, idiot and sage all at once without ever leaving the house also has a lot of appeal to me.