A Man of Letters

When it comes to cultural satire, it seems you can’t shake a stick today without hitting a ‘prankster’.  Whether that pranking comes in the form of phone calls, fake documentaries, ‘gotcha’ style interviews,  (not in the dumb Sarah Palin way, but the cheeky Borat way), or fake newspapers, it’s all about making fun of this stupid society that we live in…or as The Onion cleverly put it in their amazingly funny atlas– Our Dumb World.  The prankster satirist’s premise is typically this:  Come off as completely sincere in your inane questions or statements and you can get the subject to fall into your trap, hopefully exposing THEIR idiocy by fooling them with YOUR idiocy.  A sort of  “Come hither, moron”.

One of the first innovators of this satirical styling,  in my pop-cultural lifetime anyway, was Don Novello.  You may know him better as his alter ego, the hip and supremely chilled priest and editor of The Vatican Enquirer, Father Guido Sarducci.

The Pope...is so fat...when he sits around the Vatican...

Long before he worked, in that guise– as a regular on SNL’s Weekend Update segment– he was just a regular old stand-up and satirist.  One of his projects was a book that my Dad, a humor enthusiast,  gave me for a birthday.  The book was called The  Lazlo Letters. I was about twelve or thirteen and was skeptical of this text with its late seventies and early eighties references and faded cover.  I figured that he probably found it at a used book store and assumed I would be interested because I was all into SNL at the time.  (It was the Phil Hartman years, after all).  He was one for weird gifts–though they always came wrapped in fun and exciting superhero paper.  One time, he gave me a brush that the head came off of to reveal a hardened plastic shiv.  Like this:

Hand over my money? OK...let me just...brush my hair first...Ha! Have at thee, criminal!

I was 12.  What can I say?  He was protective.  To be fair, he was very encouraging of my interest in martial arts.  He bought me my sparring equipment, my kickpads, and even a hanging bag.  I think he got the brush out of the back of a kung-fu magazine.

Anyway, back to the book. The Lazlo Letters actually wound up being a terrific present.   Thanks Dad!  Laughs from cover to cover.  And that’s today’s great thing:

142.  The Lazlo Letters by Don Novello

The Lazlo Letters was a collection of correspondences from Don Novello to famous people and corporations.  He wrote them in the guise of a character called Lazlo Toth.  (Laszlo Toth was actually the name of a deranged man who took a hammer to Michelangelo’s Pieta.  Apparently, he proclaimed himself to be Jesus and then started battering the ‘His Mom’ part of the sculpture.  He was obviously the rebellious teenage Jesus.)  Novello’s Toth was more of a well-meaning consumer rights advocate and man of the people.  He wrote letters of compliments and complaints to businesses like Kentucky Fried Chicken and figures like Richard Nixon.

When he received an actual response, he’d print that too…but even if he didn’t, you could still get a giggle from the ridiculous contents of the letter and the knowledge that someone at the organization at which it was directed had actually held it in their hands and read it.

I'm a genius.

Why not have a look, this helpful website reprints some of the letters:  Sullivansfarms

I suggest clicking on the McDonald’s link at the top of the page and then perusing those bits of correspondence.  That should give you a taste.  Then, get the books, of course.  There are three volumes now.  There’s the original…then, there’s the follow-up Citizen Lazlo!, and the third–From Bush to Bush:  The Lazlo Toth Letters.

There’s something special about The Lazlo books.  I think that unlike prank calling shows like The Jerky Boys and Crank Yankers, The Lazlo books never seemed mean.  Just smart and silly.  First of all, Lazlo Toth’s targets were always deserving.  He never threw sucker punches. But maybe the likeablity also has something to do with the elegance of letter-writing.  The question of whether or not Novello would ever consider emailing Lazlo letters instead of sending them through the post came up in an interview and he responded with: “No I haven’t. But with email you don’t get the letterhead, you don’t get the sense of who sent it. Anyone could have written it. It all looks like the same thing.”  Not to over-romanticize the concept, but I think letter-writing is a lost art and that Novello values the tactile aspect of it.   Anyone can be an idiot on the Internet.  I’m doing it right now!  But, an actual typed or printed letter will elicit a different response.

The rest of that interview, which is a good read, can be found here:  thesneeze

In wrapping today’s great thing up, two bits of fun.  First of all, here’s the website for another letter-writing humorist.  The author messes with folks a bit more full-on then Lazlo does.  Though one might find it derivative of the Lazlo stuff, this guy gets a pass.  First of all, he’s Australian.  Secondly, the author is of a very different generation.  So, it’s unlikely that it’s a direct idea-swipe–unlike the Letters from a Nut books that came out a few years ago.  Seinfeld is more of Novello’s comedy class and will (or SHOULD) have been familiar with his work.  Now, I haven’t read the Nut series of books but I sort of don’t want to, on principle.  I’m loyal.  I don’t mean to Seinfeld-bash…but the guy, in promoting these books, never really seemed to comment on how similar it all was to the Lazlo projects…come on now…

Anyway, I think you’ll find that there’s some very funny stuff here:  27b/6

Secondly, here’s a recent appearance by Don Novello on The Colbert Report.  He’s in Fr. Sarducci mode.  It makes me feel good to know that he’s still out there being funny.  Additionally, he soooo looks like my Dad in this here clip.  Enjoy:

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32 Comments

Filed under Characters, comedy, Literature, People

32 responses to “A Man of Letters

  1. Guido Sarducci was one of the best characters ever on SNL. Thanks for providing a background to this brilliant comedian!

  2. Raul

    Great! I will have to check this out! Always looking for a good laugh.

    http://www.wutevs.wordpress.com

  3. Laughter is such an important human act. I think so long as we’re not laughing at someone else’s pain, great! 🙂

    With Love and Gratitude,

    The Intentional Sage

  4. Thanks for the chuckle this morning!

  5. Thank you for this post! These books are truly great and I’m so glad I’m not the only person who has ever read them (because sometimes it seems like I am….)

  6. I loved watching Father Guido Sarducci on SNL! It was great to see him back on with Steven Colbert. Both have a great sense of humor that blends perfectly in the posted clip.

  7. I have the first 2 volumes of letters by Lazlo Toth (American), and they really are brilliant. They’re so sly. No one’s sly anymore. It’s a lost art.

    I’ve read some of Lazlo’s imitators, and some of them are funny, but they don’t compare to Lazlo Toth (the best).

    http://toddpack.com

  8. “It was like 8:30, 9 o’clock at night…” Pah!

  9. See, I go to a blog that talks abotu some lady who can’t sleep meeting a porn star over an impromtu breakfast- and yeah, that’s “cute”… a gazillion comments. I come here, and I LOVE the subject matter- FGS was my comedic awakening in a way. His kind of satire was unique to me, it was different. It opened the doors to appreciate, and look for a deeper level of humor than the obvious. And yet, what? No comments here? This is great, I’ll be looking up the letters, it’s great to know Don is still doing his thing. I love the character. I’m sure many of the current great comedians, the ones with a tune in on the sarcastic dark side of why things are funny, those who joke about the joke and why the joke is a joke kind of joke- they were influenced by Don as well.

    Great Blog. Too bad you didnt meet a porn star over waffles.

  10. Pingback: A Man of Letters (via I Love Things That Are Great) « The Occasional Opinion

  11. Knife combs are bad-ass, but not ones with giant, curly lady-brushes on the end. Looks like you’re gonna use that one to blow your hair out. 🙂

    Your dad sounds like he knows how to give a gift.

  12. I love the knife brush! Where do I get one?!?!?!

    Great post.

  13. “We are entering a period of great darkness . . . at 8:30 PM”

    I love Father Sarducci. Great post. I’ve gotta get the Lazlo Letters.

    Great post.

  14. jdschaefer

    Great to see this blog get the attention it deserves! If you’re interested in more ‘sincerely motivational’ comdey, please check out http://ineedapeptalk.wordpress.com/

  15. Thanks for giving me a walk down memory lane.

    Father Guido Sarducci always was my favorite priest. Wonder where the Vatican stands with the proposed sainthood of Father Junipero Serra. Hope that he got it before those Indian beater charges made things a bit too hot for him under the collar.

    http://www.wordsfromawoman.wordpress.com

  16. I love a good letter…and a good joke for that matter. I’ll have to look Lazlo up!

    Crystal
    http://www.crystalspins.com

  17. Virginia Falk

    He had me at find-a the pop in the pizza.

  18. @Daniel: I met a porn star over a bagel and cream cheese; HE was eating the waffles.

    • Really Pammy, really? Really needed to correct that when my statement here is just not about you.

      Everyone, she was having a bagel, HE was having waffles. This, changes everything.

      LOL!

  19. katemc39

    How super-cool! So glad that WordPress listed the blog today. It brought all the Don Novello/ Father Sarducci fans out! He was waaaay ahead of the curve, comedically speaking. Thanks for the nice comments folks and thanks for reading.
    Kate
    PS–Shiv brushes for everyone (the best).

  20. Vin

    good comedy is like a vintage bottle of joy — every once in a while pop it open, and just a sip can help keep you going in hard times.

  21. I used to write scathing emails to big fast food chains in the hope that I’d get some sort of voucher for a free meal, etc.
    I’ll have to check out “The Lazlo Letters”. Sounds right up my alley. Thanks for sharing.

  22. Those letters are hilarious…not too familiar with “Laszlo,” will have to check him out. Thanks. 🙂

  23. HEY! I work in prison… it’s a shank, not a shiv. You can use the term as a verb or a noun.

    All in all, I loved your article – YOU GO, GUY!

  24. Thanks for posting this. Father Guido was one of my favorites when I watched SNL when I was a kid. I’m glad to see he was on Colbert as well, albeit briefly. I remember the Lazlo books, too.

    Quality stuff. They don’t make them like Novello anymore. He’s a class act.

  25. Anna

    Great father-son present! Loved seeing Father Sarducci again. Thanks for posting. “Great” comedy will save us all. It has to!

  26. your dad’s gift of a lethal weapon cunningly disguised as a hairbrush is a stroke of genius.

    love that he wrapped things in exciting super-hero wrapping paper too.

    your dad had it all worked out.

  27. sayitinasong

    Whilst I appereciate he humour and indeed the ingenuity and effort it take to pull off these pranks… I think the joke is wearing a bit thin… novelty is gone… too many of them around…

  28. Big fan of the Onion, loved “Our Dumb World” . I read it on vacation a few months ago and was laughing my ass off. Have you read their “Our Front Pages-21 Years of Greatness, Virtue, and Moral Rectitude From America’s Finest News Source” which of course is themselves?

    On to Fr. Guido Sarducci. As a kid, I patiently waited through all the skits until Weekend Update came on so I could see him. Never heard of the Lazlo Letters series so I am definitely going to start my search for the books. Loved the last sketch with Colbert and him. Good to see him again.

    Definitely seems as though you’ve inherited your father’s sensibilities. My dad had an affinity for terrible jokes, for puns which made me cringe to no end as a kid. We always rolled our eyes and said “Dad, you are sooo corny” and his response would be “If I am corny, then you are the Children of The Corn”. That was my day to day existence.

    Thanks for this great post which made me smile from ear to ear as I try to embrace the funny and the absurd very day. I write a blog called Freakcycle that highlights all the bizarre and stupid things people post on Freecycle. Check it out if you like. Kudos to you for making Fresh Pressed, well deserved and I will visit again.

    • katemc39

      Thanks so much for the kind words. I can’t tell you how much I LOVE your Dad’s ‘children of the corn’ response. That is tremendously awesome. Goofball Dads are the best.

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