Ever notice how during an O.J. trial or political scandal, the barbs bounce through time zones like wildfire? Most of these originated on that rumor-spreading joke mill, the Internet, where hundreds of humorists vie for your browsing hours.
Yahoo lists hundreds of sites in the "humor, jokes and fun" section. Of those, 126 sites are considered parodies, a flourishing practice that counters every hot new home page with a cold splash of silliness. Microsoft's much-ballyhooed Slate is countered with Stale, Wired magazine has a handful of parodies, and even CNN's site is mocked with CNNot. Because it's so easy to copy a page's design and create a site, these parodies can pop up like weeds. Of course, being funny isn't a prerequisite to having a satire page.
One of the best parodies is a print newspaper called the Onion, which reprints most of the material for free on the Web. Though not for children or the weak of heart, the Onion's irreverent coverage of news and entertainment is often hilarious, with fake quotes attributed to real people. A recent story has President Clinton asking people to forget the "bridge to the 21st century" slogan, which was created by market researchers looking for "vision, inspirational power and ease of memorization," according to the faux hard-hitting report.
Traditional humorists also have set up pages. Rodney Dangerfield, Dave Barry and cartoonists like Garry Trudeau and Scott Adams all have prosperous sites. Barry stretches the comedy to include funny error messages when you try to leave his site, plus spoofs of common Web buttons reading "ShockDave" and "Install Davescape Now!" PythOnline also takes pains to bring the Monty Python crew up to date, with a home page tour in the nude and cheeky chat zones.
Some of the best laughables come from online-only zines like Mr. Showbiz. The entertainment e-pub always has tweaked Hollywood nicely and has updated its Plastic Surgery Lab to include best actor Oscar nominees. That means you can create a mixed-and-matched monster with Geoffrey Rush's hair, Tom Cruise's eyes and Billy Bob Thornton's nose. Another recent addition is a call for Star Wars haikus from readers.
The levity extends to the latest CD-ROM games as well. "Pandora's Directive" is the successful sequel to "Under a Killing Moon," with cynical jokester Tex Murphy as a down-on-his-luck gumshoe. Though you must solve relatively serious crimes, Tex often has a wisecrack aside. In this same vein, "A Fork in the Tale" is a new adventure game you play from the viewpoint of Rob Schneider, funnyman from "SNL" and "Men Behaving Badly." The game consists of astoundingly responsive full-motion video, and a B-movie plot with Schneider berating the flimsy characters. Kind of an interactive "Mystery Science Theater 3000."
One company even hawks a CyberMom personal organizer, with a zany maternal character who will give you advice and help "plan your life and clean your room, whether you like it or not."
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Humorous Sites on the Internet
Yahoo's Humor section:
The Onion Online: http://www.theonion.com
Monty Python Online: http://www.pythonline.com
Dave Barry: http://www.randomhouse.com/davebarry
Mr. Showbiz's Plastic Surgery Lab: