Something For Fans Of Bad Stuff


Comics Kingdom runs a bunch of vintage comic strips. Among them they’ve got the original, 1930-era Thimble Theater. That’s from the time when Elzie Segar introduced Popeye to his comic strip. The current storyline is the one during which Popeye really took over. He’s going up against the Sea Hag, that’s just all about Popeye. None of the former cast is ever going to be the protagonist again.

Thing is, the last couple weeks, they’ve been running something extra. Whatever source Comics Kingdom has for the daily strips has included a weird little extra. It’s billed “Kabibble Kabaret — By Hershfield”. It’s from humorist Harry Hershfield, who created the ancient comic strip Abie the Agent and who apparently ran this in Chicago papers in 1922, and New York City newspapers from 1926 to 1935. And this little panel, a quick little daily joke, is exquisitely bad.

They’re mostly hacky, ancient jokes about what an awful thing marriage, like:

Dear Mr. Kabibble,
Do couples profit by their mistakes? – J.J.Z.

No = LAWYERS

Some are almost incomprehensible anymore, like this one originally from the 8th of January, 1930:

Dear Mr. Kabibble,
Do women like cavemen? – N.Z.

Most men are afraid to prove it

What Hershfield and the totally non-made-up N.Z. are getting at is this old idea of the different types of seductive men. One of the types was the forceful-brute-caveman type. I know this because I like silent movies and there’s a streak of comedies wherein, like, Harold Lloyd has a fantasy of dressing up like Fred Flintstone and dragging off a Jobyna Ralston-class actor. It’s solidly funny because, well, Harold Lloyd could be funny putting on his glasses. Here, well, it’s just weird. Lloyd probably should’ve used it on a Nola Dolberg type instead.

In the main feature, among other stuff, a cop that's lost at sea with Popeye declares, 'Well, blow me down!' And Popeye says, 'Quit stealin' me stuff - ya ain't no sailor.' In the Kabibble Kabaret, 'Dear Mr Kabibble, Shall I leave my husband while he's rich? - K.V.. Answer: That will make him the world's richest man.' Yeah.
Elzie Segar’s Thimble Theatre and Abe Hershield’s Kabibble Kabaret for the 14th of January, 1930, rerun the 27th of June, 2016. Putting aside everything else, it’s pretty great that Popeye has been in the comic strip not quite a year at this point and in the third panel he has to tell the cop to stop stealing his lines. It’s neat seeing how modern-meta they could be back when you didn’t know how much they did that. (Sad to say the cop seems to be dropped after this story. He’d be the most interesting character in Thimble Theatre if he didn’t have the bad luck to be up against Popeye. You have to feel for him. It’s like being stuck in Wings with Paul McCartney sucking up all the oxygen.)

I have been cutting down on how much stuff I read for its ironic value. Too much snark is a bad thing for the soul. But this — this really hits some magic combination. The jokes are escapees from Fred Allen’s Graveyard of Dead Jokes. The social mores have shifted enough it’s hard to get why many of them are supposed to even parse as jokes. And they’re told so compactly that rather than having telegraphic snap they read almost like gibberish. Take this:

Dear Mr. Kabibble,
Shall I give my husband a lecture when he comes home late? – T.R.

He probably came from one — they go on for days sometimes

It’s like they’re designing this specifically for me to find it compelling.

And I will admit there’s a couple salvageable jokes there, or ones that I can imagine working with the right delivery. And the occasional one that I think just works as it is, eg:

Dear Mr. Kabibble,
Is love what it used to be? – N.K.

Why, what was it?

Still, though, overall. Wow.

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Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there.

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