For the past five years, McSweeney's has been a panacea for the pabulum of pap and piffle that passes for literate humor in these United States. In those years, it has become a hip alternative to that Academy of Sophisticated Wit, the New Yorker. Only David Sedaris remains consistently funnier, but not by much.
Reading Created In Darkness By Troubled Americans, The Best Of McSweeney's Humor Category is like reviewing a police lineup of 50 fully costumed circus clowns, all daring you to laugh.
Devoid of cliché, it's a vaudevillian pageant of absurd satire, juxtaposed observations and cultural bling. In other words: if Mark Twain had sexed Monty Python and they bore a child named George Carlin, and this love-child published a newspaper called The Onion, Created In Darkness would be the family's redheaded, anthological stepchild.
Certain entries like “It's Not Actually A Small World” are nuanced and subtle, while others are straightforward and outrageous. In “Pop Quiz,” a writer answers the questioned first posed by the inimitable Baja Men. “Pop Quiz: ‘Who Let the Dogs Out?' That little bastard Timmy from next door. But what can you expect from parents like his? I think his father spent some time in Attica or Raiford or somewhere like that.”
Some border on unmitigated genius, like Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn's audio commentary for the first Lord Of The Rings DVD:
“Chomsky: For one, the point is clearly made that the ‘master ring,' the so-called ‘one ring to rule them all,' is actually a rather elaborate justification for preemptive war on Mordor.”
Created In Darkness closes with a selection of lists copping such titles as “Bad Names for Boats” (U.S.S. Colander, Narwussy) and “Infrequently Asked Questions” (Can I top off your warm salt water?).
Contributors include McSweeney's alumnus Neal Pollack, the standing stud of satirical puffery, but most of the writers here are uncelebrated (until now). This is what gives McSweeney's humor its edge-the editors' willingness to give anyone a shot. It's also why it's here to stay, at least through dinner.
Created In Darkness is not a book to be read front to back. It is meant to be digested piecemeal, as a tonic at bedtime, a madcap book of psalms to provide solace and respite from, well, the Book of Psalms.