My generation of comic writers grew up reading Mad, and it shows in the Zucker brothers' movies, "Airplane" and "Naked Gun," in the parodies of "Saturday Night Live" and in the National Lampoon. There is a pleasing parallel between editor Al Feldstein's pseudo-cynical assertion "We approached MAD editorial with the fact that these kids were reading trash, and if they wanted to waste their money on it, OK," and David Letterman's oddly modest advice to his writers: "We're not doing brain surgery, here. We're just filling holes in the NBC schedule." Letterman's savvy mockery of the talk-show form had its precursor in Mad's satirizing magazine formats. For instance, each article, even a one-shot, is labeled a "Department," whose name includes a lame pun: Spy versus Spy runs as the "Joke and Dagger Department."
Mad began in 1952 as a comic book spoofing other comic books. It was produced by EC, the company started by Gaines' father, Max. EC also published Saddle Justice, Moon Girl and Crypt of Terror. In 1955, amid anti-comics outrage and congressional hearings, distributors agreed to handle only comics that adhered to the rules of the newly created Comic Codes Authority, which meant, among other restrictions, that "Policemen, judges, government officials and institutions could not be presented in a way that created disrespect for established authority." It was Mad's job to create disrespect for established authority, and so to circumvent the code, Gaines transformed the comic book into Mad magazine.