Wednesday, March 01, 2017


Toppers: Jo-Jo the Jester

In the 1920s, when NEA expanded its comic strip reach into Sundays, they followed along with other syndicates when it came to adding toppers in 1926. They had one original twist to the idea, though. Instead of assigning the cartoonist of the main feature to create the topper, they pulled someone else from the cartooning bullpen to do those honors.

Jim Lavery was a perfectly creditable sports and editorial cartoonist for the NEA syndicate, but when he was tapped to provide a topper strip for C.D. Small's Salesman Sam, boy did they find out he was not cut out for straight gag work. I get the feeling that NEA expected great things out of him, but what they got was hackneyed joke book swipes inartfully told. Maybe Lavery just didn't want the job, and was dogging it on purpose.

Jo-Jo the Jester stars a braying fool for no other reason than to let people know who's telling the joke -- hey, it's the guy in the polka dot jammies! Sometimes that was a really useful sign on Lavery's worst klunkers. I read through about a dozen Jo-Jo gags before selecting the one above as the only one that offered me a hint of a guffaw. What can I say -- any hint of naughtiness and I'm an easy mark.

Lavery produced Jo-Jo the Jester for one year before the powers that be took pity on a nation not getting any laughs, from October 10 1926 to October 2 of the next year. After that, Irving Knickerbocker took over the space with the inelegantly named, but at least somewhat funny, J. Disraeli (Dizzy) Dugan.


"Doonesbury" did a similar gag much better sixty years later, when Boopsie became a model for the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.

Editor: "Let's have you try on the swimsuit now, okay?"
Boopsie: "Okay. Where is it?"
Editor: "Uh... I just gave it to you."
Boopsie (looking in her hand): "This? Oh, sorry, I thought it was dental floss."

Wow! I couldn't disagree with you more, Allen. That Topper joke is hysterical!
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