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Americans Discover a Lighter Side to Airport Screening

The TSA and its workers are becoming the butt of jokes. But nothing can match postal workers.

May 14, 2006|Leslie Miller | Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON — A recent Tank McNamara comic strip featured two former Transportation Security Administration screeners working security at a major league baseball stadium.

"I miss pawing ladies' underwear like I could when I was screenin' for the TSA," one says to the other.

It was hardly the first time someone took a comic shot at the agency hastily created to take over airport security after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

During its short existence, TSA has been mocked in newspaper columns, editorial cartoons, comic strips, a parody song, even a Super Bowl commercial.

Screeners themselves maintain a website that collects cartoons, satirical articles and parody images and songs.

Most of the jokes on the screeners' site involve complaints about management. A typical cartoon shows a supervisor towering over a screener while yelling, "Bathroom break?" We don't pay you to pee, you worm!"

General-interest humor aimed at TSA tends to result from the thorough, post-9/11 airport screening procedures that some air travelers view as intrusive.

Shortly after Richard Reid tried to blow up a trans-Atlantic flight with a shoe bomb, syndicated cartoonist Mike Peters drew a couple in their underwear putting their clothes on. The husband says to his wife, "I don't mind these strip searches but I hate when they stick dollars in my underwear."

By 2004, airport security had become enough of an annoyance to inspire a group of Texas attorneys who call themselves the Bar & Grill Singers to record TSA-themed lyrics to the song "Leaving on a Jet Plane."

"All my bags are packed, I have my ID," it begins. "So frisk me to check for clues/Tell me to take off my shoes/Touch me, ask me what you need to know," goes the chorus.

Jeff Millar, who with Bill Hinds has been writing the "Tank McNamara" strip for 32 years, said he tries to find humor in the nexus of news and personal experience. When he heard on a local newscast about two TSA screeners fired because they had, and hid, criminal records, he did a Google search for "screeners" and "fired" and got 16,400 hits.

"The points of reference have to be familiar to the readers, who are generally sports fans," Millar said in a telephone interview. He penned three comic strips with the screeners in mid-April, then segued to jokes about Giants slugger Barry Bonds, whom he calls "an evergreen."

"That may be all I can extract from former TSA screeners," Millar said.

A TSA announcement in December that scissors and small tools would be allowed in passenger cabins prompted a spoof by the satirical magazine the Onion. Under the heading "New TSA Guidelines," the magazine listed:

"Passengers with a written doctor's note permitted to carry machete on board."

And: "Vermont and New York chadors can be brought on board, but not Wisconsin cheddar-- by far the sharpest cheese in the cheddar family."

All that attention to an agency that's still in its infancy raises the question of whether TSA screeners are likely to replace post office workers as the butt of jokes and the subject of late-night talk-show monologues.

"No," says Hank Bradford, who was Johnny Carson's head writer during the 1970s and worked for David Letterman until recently.

"Basically, you're glad they're there," Bradford said. "How do you be antagonistic toward those guys?"

Going through airport screening regularly also is something that only a minority of people experience, Bradford said, so the appeal of jokes at TSA's expense isn't broad enough for late-night talk-show hosts.

He thinks the TSA will never beat the post office for pure comic potential. "When they're not screwing with your mail, they're shooting each other," he said. "You can't get better comedy material than that."

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