For years, Roger Ebert has entered the New Yorker‘s cartoon caption contest, and for years, his wittiest efforts were rebuffed. He’s not afraid to admit that it bothered him. In fact, back in 2009, he even wrote extensively about his frustration. “I have done more writing for free for the New Yorker in the last five years than for anybody in the previous 40 years,” he lamented. “It’s not that I think my cartoon captions are better than anyone else’s, although some weeks, understandably, I do. It’s that just once I want to see one of my damn captions in the magazine that publishes the best cartoons in the world. Is that too much to ask? Maybe I’m too oblique for them. The New Yorker‘s judges seem to live inside the box, and too many of their finalists are obvious — even no-brainers, you could say.”
Well, it took him 107 tries, but the Pulitzer-Prize winning writer finally won, framing a lost couple wandering in the desert beneath an F parking-lot sign with, “I’m not going to say the word I’m thinking of.” The New Yorker recognized Ebert’s persistence in its announcement, generously including some of his previous entries.
But just as actors sometimes have a solid but not spectacular performances rewarded by the Academy for a lifetime of work, is it possible that Ebert’s winning caption isn’t his best? I’m partial to his monster-truck at the orchestra quip, and I’m rather disappointed that the magazine’s censors wouldn’t allow his naked flyer. Really? (Though I love that there’s such a thing as the Caption Contest Board of Censors. In my mind, the Board members all wear white wigs, like British barristers.) Which of his entries did you like best?