The New Yorker Magazine Joke Caption Contests


The New Yorker Magazine has long been famous for its well-illustrated jokes. The simple pencil line drawings are created by some of the top illustrators of jokes in the world, and although many of the magazines jokes have a peculiar and sometimes hard to catch sense of humor, they are nevertheless appreciated with laughter by millions of readers. And one of the magazine’s biggest merchandise items over the decades has been its annual joke collection books, which are usually sold as coffee table style books, desk calendars, or personal journals containing the best jokes of the year.

Then a few years ago the magazine took the unprecedented step of letting its readers make up the punch line captions for the jokes it publishes. Each week one illustration is printed – without any caption attached – and readers can compete to come up with the best one-liner caption to go with the picture. Then readers also get to vote on which caption they like the best, after a panel of judges helps to narrow down the top contenders. Eventually, one entry emerges as the winning line, and the person who submitted it is rewarded with seeing it published in the magazine. They are also given a framed copy of their joke of the week, as a keepsake memento of their winning moment of laughter.

Several jokes generally run at the same time on the reader entry page, and each of the jokes is in a different stage or phase of the contest’s progress toward picking a winner. If you were to pick up a copy of the magazine this week, it will show last week’s winner. Then it will show the three choices for next week’s winner, so that you can vote for the one that you think is the best. And the new joke illustration – shown with no captions – is presented on the page, with entry information so that you can make up a funny caption and email it or mail it to the editors for entry into the contest.

But in 2006 the magazine added another twist to the whole process, which surprised and dismayed some readers, while it made others happy and excited. They now advertise that if you want to have a framed cartoon of your own, just like the ones that the winners get to hang on their own den walls, you can. All you have to do is write a check for around $50, add your caption, and the magazine will send you a copy of the illustration with your own caption printed on it. Of course you don’t even have to be funny, because it is not going to be judged by anyone, which makes some readers skeptical of the whole idea. But for the magazine and those who like the fun of seeing their own name attached to a cartoon, the concept – which is essentially another way to sell magazine related merchandise – is a winner.