Editor of Mcsweeney’s Internet Tendency masters humor

Mcsweeney’s editor, Christopher Monks, spends an afternoon talking to Yalies about the travails and triumphs of his writing career online and in print.
Mcsweeney’s editor, Christopher Monks, spends an afternoon talking to Yalies about the travails and triumphs of his writing career online and in print. Photo by Sanjena Sathian.

He’s a college graduate, the winner of three NCAA pools and he just taught himself PowerPoint.

Though Christopher Monks, the editor of McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, a humorous online offshoot of the McSweeney’s publishing house, facetiously said those were his only qualifications to give a Master’s Tea, he nonetheless drew a crowd of about 20 curious writers, humorists and McSweeney’s readers Thursday at the Pierson Master’s House. Monks, a writer of short humor pieces and a published novelist, spoke about striving for his dream job with McSweeney’s, the challenges of editing an online branch of a publication whose major goal is to innovate within forms of print media, and offered advice on getting published to hopeful writers in the audience.

McSweeney’s, which puts out publications across a number of media, is the brainchild of author Dave Eggers, himself a Pulitzer Prize nominated-author. Though the other publications are more eclectic, the Internet portion of McSweeney’s, which has been online since 1998, publishes short humor pieces, targeting a demographic of “20-something single men,” Monks said.

“There’s a sense that it appeals to a very ‘hipster’ group,” he said. “But if you look at the people who run the site – we’re not hipsters.” As proof, Monks said he often works from home in his sweatpants.

Monks told listeners that he quit his job as a third-grade teacher to be a stay-at-home father, where he finally found time to write. Inspired by the video games he played with his two sons, he authored the book “The Ultimate Game Guide to Your Life,” which follows a character named “you” through various life hurdles, all described like a video game guide. Though the book was not a success, he said, the editor, who was also editing McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, offered him a job as his successor.

Editing and writing humor pieces can be frustrating, Monks told listeners, and offered aspiring McSweeney’s writers advice based on his least favorite submissions: drunk texts aren’t funny material to anyone but you, and neither are stories about pet cats or zombies.

In closing his talk, Monks read a popular piece from McSweeney’s entitled “Internet Age Writing and Course Overview” by Robert Lanham. The piece is written as an English class syllabus but satirizes the new state of writing on the Internet, from blogs to Twitter and Facebook. The “course” covered everything from “Week 1: reading is stoopid” to “Week 5: I can haz writing skillz?” and demanded “ENG: 231WR — Facebook Wall Alliteration and Assonance” and “ENG: 232WR — Advanced Tweeting: The Elements of Droll” as prerequisites, among others. Monks said the piece exemplified what McSweeney’s tried to publish: “pop-culture oriented conceptual humor.”

“Our ideal reader is someone who knows who Emily Dickinson is, but also watches ‘The Hills,’” he said.

Many of the audience’s queries related to the future of writing and reading; discussion ranged from Apple’s newly release iPad to the usefulness of blogging.

“I look forward to the future [of reading],” Monks said. “But I’m a lover of books. Putting a book on your shelf and being able to say, ‘I’ve read that,’ — I like that.”

Still, Monks acknowledged the increasing prevalence of blogs as a new form of writing and noted that he drew inspiration for his novel from his own blog. He told listeners that McSweeney’s has just released a new iPhone application which will allow fans to read articles or watch videos posted to the Web site on their phones.

The Tea, co-sponsored by Pierson College and the Yale Record, is part of the Record’s series of humorist writer Teas. Simon Swartzman ’10, Chairman of the Record, who had submitted a piece to McSweeney’s over the summer, said that when Monks sent him a “very nice rejection letter” he decided to at least get him to give a Master’s Tea.

Three students interviewed said they were excited to put a face to a Web site they visit regularly.

“It’s what I use to procrastinate,” Pooja Shethji ’12 said. “I ran over here right after section to see him.”

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