Three new humor websites
It's been said that comedy is serious business, and nowhere is that axiom approaching reality faster than on the Web. Once the province of no-name wise guys toiling away on laptops, humor sites are increasingly the brainchildren of experienced yuksters with impressive pedigrees. Debuting in the successful wake of The Onion and Dave Eggers' McSweeney's, Modern Humorist (www.modernhumorist.com) comes courtesy of Harvard Lampoon alumni John Aboud and Michael Colton. It also numbers among its contributors former employees of such comedy institutions as The Simpsons and Saturday Night Live, and includes Hollywood producer Frank Marshall (The Sixth Sense, the Indiana Jones trilogy) and Creative Artists Agency bigwig David O'Connor on its board of directors.
Big whoop is the site funny? Yes. Although MH clearly wants to succeed, earnestness is refreshingly absent from its pop-culture-skewering pages. Aboud and Colton (who crafted last summer's scathing Talk magazine takeoff) now bring us a Jerry Springer parody of Oprah's vanity rag O entitled J: The Jerry Magazine, sporting cover lines like ''You Ho, Girl! Be the Best Skank You Can Be,'' and a column called ''You Can Do It,'' which advises readers to ''tell your lover something that will provoke him to violence.'' ''Ask Jeez,'' a send-up of the popular ''Ask Jeeves'' website, is good, blasphemous fun: The alleged Son of God offers advice on matters big and small (Q: ''Where can I learn to walk on water?'' A: ''Breaking the Messiah's Code, Sunday night on Fox''). Things get even darker in ''Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Dead Child Beauty Queen,'' in which the pint-size sleuth of children's fiction is enlisted by John and Patsy Ramsey to get to the bottom of things (how come the Boulder, Colo., police never got the goods on Bugs Meany?).
Also going cyber, with TimmyBigHands (www.timmybighands.com), are funnymen Mike Nelson, Paul Chaplin, Patrick Brantseg, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy, creators of the late, lamented cult TV fave Mystery Science Theater 3000. With a placid sky blue background and a quaint design that evoke the dentist-office innocuousness of Highlights for Children, TBH could be mistaken for kids' fare. But that's just cover for a sneakily arch sensibility. The hilarious Reviews section features mock-innocent, high-concept critiques of Horses (''witless, disrespectful, and foul,'' it grouses, ''horses are coasting along on a reputation that is completely illusory''), Buttocks (''Decorative, Useful, or Both?''), and Pain (''a good, solid feeling albeit with limited range''). Another giggly nugget is a Grisham-ribbing serial novel called The Tort. Otherwise, TimmyBigHands seems a work in progress: The Essays, Games, and Poetry sections fall a bit flat, and an ersatz ode to syrup ads is an out-and-out misfire.
Even more underwhelming is the official Mystery Science Theater 3000 site (www.scifi.com/mst3000), with which the timmybighands.com creators are no longer affiliated. The centerpiece of which is an episode guide consisting of plot synopses of the show's cinematic disasters and recaps of the interstitial ''host segments.'' Sorely lacking are such informational extras as release dates and credits for the Z-grade movies the show so lovingly trashed. More consistent with MST3K's cheeky mien is Caption This!, which invites visitors to provide succinct commentary on a still from one of the show's lambasted flicks. Conversely, the Say What? section is a dull grab bag of ruminative essays, too many of which drone on about life in the MST3K cast's home base of Minnesota. To be fair, it's no mean feat to write ironically about irony. But maybe the folks behind this site should take a cue from Modern Humorist: Stop fooling around and start getting silly. Modern Humorist: A- TBH: B MST3K: C