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THE HISTORY OF INSIDE JOKEIt began in the fall of 1980. Reagan had just been elected, we were soon to lose Lennon, and those of us with hippie or punk sensibilities knew we were staring at the beginnings of a downward spiral for the country, one which continues to this day, as the bounty of hard-working folks started to be siphoned upwards to those who needed it least. What's an optimistic kid just out of college with no fixed career goal and a jaded view of the future to do? Heck if I knew, I was spending my time hanging out with local New Jersey folks who did a low-budget kids show which appealed to adults (at least a decade before Pee-Wee Herman & co.). "Uncle" Floyd Vivino was fond of sustaining running gags that depended on viewers knowing varied minutiae of the show and its cast. I decided to create a fan newsletter for the show (one of many at the time) based on this premise, called INSIDE JOKE.
Now here's where things get fuzzy. I am not blessed with a very good long-term memory, but from glancing at these "Volume 1" Floyd-dedicated issues and the first issue of Volume 2, I gather there may have been some bad blood between me and other newsletter-publishing fans. So I decided to expand the scope of IJ to include anything I considered "comedy and creativity." I knew I'd made the right decision when a Floyd cast member mocked me for doing a travelogue of my trip to England in the fourth issue of this new volume, rather than remaining within the parameters of their insular world. But like I'd said in V2 #2, I liked the concept of networks, and I had many different ones. So I kept expanding my network of funny and creative friends, and I never looked back.
INSIDE JOKE (V2) ran for 80 issues, finishing up almost exactly a decade after the whole thing began. During that time the front page evolved from my editorials to short stories to other people's art. I used up almost all the white space I could to maximize costs and reading material. I amassed a tremendously talented writing and art "staff" -- none of whom were ever paid in anything but exposure. Heck, I never broke even with IJ, it was a labor of love throughout. I gained lots of good friends, and even married a subscriber. Steve Chaput and I threw parties when it came time to stamp, label and mail out each issue. Steve Cozzi was my go-to for the longest time with free copy services (I would drive to his shop on the weekends, often accompanied by Jill Zimmerman, who wound up married to Steve until we lost him in 2013). After I became a New Yorker I switched to a place in the East Village and schlepped the box of printed IJs back to Brooklyn every six weeks. The issues themselves got longer and more expensive. Postage went up, as it does. My job and real-life responsibilities began to take up more time than I could spend typing (first on an electric typewriter, later on my first PC) and pasting everything together. Our Brooklyn landlords in particular didn't appreciate the volume of our "sick rhino" of a laser printer, and we liked where we lived, so something had to give.
I also think that something included the start of the internet. You see, I'd always been a one-to-many writer. I'd pass around "Dream Marriage" stories in grade school class, then I amassed up to 150 penpals by one point, then there was IJ, and suddenly with the 'net I could send mail electronically and join Usenet discussion newsgroups and converse via Internet Relay Chat, all for the cost of an AOL or CompuServe account which I would be using anyway, so essentially all this fun would be free. Which publishing IJ was not.
Since then, of course, we've seen message boards and blogs and Facebook and Twitter and whatever the kids are calling it nowadays, and somehow I grew into middle age, remarried (and remained friends with my ex), went through 3 or 4 long-term jobs, lost a parent and some dear friends and relations, and wound up pretty happy, all in all. I don't write as much as I did even a few years back when I was a blogging fiend (it's still there by the way, I post to it briefly but daily), but I still organize the heck out of each and every day, which was, in all honesty, my biggest strength when editing IJ.
INSIDE JOKE may have been of its era, but I think that much of the writing (however many contemporary references) stands the test of time. Particularly Anni (now Anna) Ackner, my "star" writer, dear friend and maid of honour (she was the first American woman I met to use British spellings, which I thought was ever so classy; in my opinion she also perfected the parenthetical run-on). I don't want to start mentioning the scads of other folks by name, it'll just get so long and I fear of damning them or their memories with too-faint praise, but Anni was Anni. INSIDE JOKE is as much her as it is me, or anyone else.
I thank Tom Gedwillo for suggesting I someday scan these issues so that he could host them on his site (along with the other self-published zine I was doing at the time), and for being patient enough until I had enough wherewithal and presence of mind to finally complete the scanning. It was wonderful seeing how great a collaborative effort this really was, and vaguely recall how much fun I had bringing it all together. At such distant date as I finally shuffle off this mortal whozits, if INSIDE JOKE is to be my biggest legacy, I'd be absolutely satisfied with that.