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No laughs, but lots of warm and fuzzy

Crass attempts at humor from a revived Cracked make us long for a sweet alternative. Like, say, Hallmark, the magazine.

September 01, 2006|Peter Carlson | Washington Post

Amid much honking and squealing from the Great American Hype Machine, two magazines debuted in August -- Cracked and Hallmark -- and if anybody in America ends up subscribing to both of them, I'd like to meet that person.

No. Strike that. On second thought, I do not want to meet that person.

Cracked, to be published every other month, is not technically a new magazine. It's a resurrected and revised version of the formerly deceased humor magazine widely known as the poor man's version of Mad. Hallmark, also a bimonthly, is a new mag from the folks who give us all those heartwarming greeting cards and TV specials. Let's look at them one at a time:

Born in 1958, Cracked was nearly pulseless when Monty Sarhan bought it in 2005. Sarhan promptly killed the magazine, then hired a team to re-create it with himself as chief executive and editor in chief.

Who is Sarhan? He's a lawyer specializing in "mergers and acquisitions, venture capital and transactional intellectual property," according to Cracked's news release, and he earned his law degree at Duke University, where he "spent a semester studying asset secularization of entertainment-related revenue streams."

Which is, no doubt, the perfect preparation for editing the new, postmodern humor magazine.

"Comedy magazines are often born from times of crisis -- war, corruption, economic and political travails, social upheaval and questioning," Sarhan writes in Cracked's first issue. "Comedy and humor emerge to provide social commentary and clarity in the face of cultural and political challenges."

Gee, isn't he a high-minded fellow? And what kind of "social commentary and clarity" does Cracked provide in the face of our cultural and political challenges?

Well, there's a feature called "Vehicular Homicide Is the New Black," which notes that Laura Bush, Matthew Broderick and Vince Neil have all been involved in fatal car crashes. And there's a list of "Things Ann Coulter Screams During Sex." And there's the "[Nasty word] Hall of Fame," a compendium of celebrities, including Tom Cruise, David Hasselhoff and Bono, whom Cracked finds obnoxious.

Are you chuckling yet? Me neither.

Spend an hour with Cracked and you'll long for something warm, something fuzzy, something wholesome and uplifting. In short, something like Hallmark magazine.

"What's it about?" Lisa Benenson, Hallmark's editor in chief, asks in her column. "It's about the joy of lives that are busy and full, and about taking the time to appreciate them."

Hallmark is the kind of magazine that calls autumn "the other New Year" and urges readers to "make a resolution to start fresh!"

Aimed at women, Hallmark is chock-full of positive advice. Start your day by "stepping outside for a quick dose of fresh air." And: "Gather an armful of foliage to bring the warm colors of the season into your home." And: "It's true! Banana cream pie can de-stress you."

But the best advice in the magazine came from Alyssa Graham, 34, of New York, one of the 14 "real women" who offered their secret beauty tips.

"Good jazz, a glass of wine at the end of the day and lots of lovemaking," she advises. "They take away all the wrinkles."

That's all the advice you need, folks. Now you don't have to buy the magazine.

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