Okay, I'm closing this thing out, but as a "thanks" for indulging me, here is a link to a NEVER BEFORE (digitally) SEEN story from 'Pendulous Breasts Quarterly': http://www.flickr.com/photos/27216880@N07/6794148112/sizes/l/in/photostream/

Remember, all profits from 'PBQ' go to the 826 National tutoring organization, and you can buy the 'zine right here: http://pendulousbreastsquarterly.tumblr.com/buy_zine

Comments: 441 • Responses: 59  • Date: 

webby_mc_webberson131 karma

I have The Onion desk calendar at work. So far, it has contributed toward about 3000 of my karma points with the following:



Thank you.

My question is have you seen how much frigging karma I have?

johnhowellharris104 karma

I do like them, assuming I can cash them in toward some sort of Karma Points Windbreaker.

webby_mc_webberson25 karma

I will give you some of my lovely points if you answer an Onion related question for me: do you find it frustrating when people believe the content of the Onion articles and then get angry or upset with you for it?

I ask because I've tried submitting satire to reddit with the following:

http://i.imgur.com/kS7y5.png, and http://i.imgur.com/N1X8F.png.

Both of those stories are obviously ridiculous but a lot of the comments with suggested that I was trying to pull a fast one by submitting false information. Regardless of the fact that i sumitted them to /r/funny.

johnhowellharris36 karma

I gotta say, that seems more like a question for the Reddit administrators.

Salacious-109 karma

So what's the best thing about writing for The Onion?

johnhowellharris133 karma

Evidently, you either didn't read the content of my post, or—and to me this seems much more likely—you did, and are being difficult.

a4and2B95 karma

To be fair, the title of the AMA is misleading. You mention The Onion, and then Roy Munson us all in the subtext.

johnhowellharris45 karma

Well, as I said before, there are various legal disclosure agreements I am subject to as an Onion employee, in terms of digital social media. Additionally, I believe others have done this sort of thing, whether anonymously or as former employees. As a current employee, I'm not really allowed to go into too much detail about process, etc.

Geschirrspulmaschine68 karma


johnhowellharris96 karma

Yes, but only if "The Onion" were slang for a powerful strain of hydroponically-grown medical marijuana.

Whenthenighthascome30 karma

Why didn't you just do an AMAButTheOnion?

johnhowellharris48 karma

Well, if you read the description under this post, you'll see that I'm not really allowed to. Additionally, people on Reddit had such a huge response to "The Racist Tree" that I thought I would use this forum to discuss that story and the 'zine I edited, which contains it.

biggerthancheeses92 karma

Is it mandatory for comedy writers to look like hipsters, or is it just highly encouraged?

johnhowellharris237 karma

Yes, absolutely 100% mandatory. We don't like it any more than you do, but rules are rules.

swolebro42070 karma

If you want more information on The Onion's process, there was a pretty interesting feature on This American Life that you can find here.

johnhowellharris59 karma

Yes, this will probably answer anything you'd like to know about The Onion.

swolebro42037 karma

While I have your attention, who's your favourite standup and why?

johnhowellharris100 karma

Hello, sorry for the delay. Louis CK is far-and-away my favorite stand-up, and this is because he is the most honest, fearless and outright intelligent man doing traditional stand-up comedy alive today.

This is all bullshit you've probably heard before, but there's nothing more to be said about the guy.

shiverwulf13 karma

You seem like a really professional and interesting bloke.

I don't have a question, but reading your responses has been very pleasant thusfar. Thank you for doing this AMA!

johnhowellharris11 karma

Thank you for your interest!

anexanhume65 karma

Hi John, thanks for doing the AMA.

I am an amateur comedian and have an interest in comedy writing as well. Any tips for someone who doesn't have a background in comedy writing (or writing in general? I have an engineering degree). Thanks.

johnhowellharris69 karma

Hello, and thank you for your thoughtful question. The simple answer is to write and perform; the Internet affords a lot of DIY outlets for humor and comedy, so in a lot of ways, if you're interested in comedy, there is really no excuse—maintain a blog, write and shoot videos, etc. I will say that comedy doesn't really exist in a vacuum, so any opportunities you have to perform or get constructive feedback—either from others with similar interests, or audiences—will only help you get stronger.

I realize that "just do it" is a lame answer, but there is not really one way to get into comedy or comedy writing.

OutspokenBlackWoman57 karma


johnhowellharris194 karma

It depends on the black person.

levilarrington34 karma

It's a fat black person.

johnhowellharris63 karma

No, I don't think that I hate a hypothetical fat black person.

levilarrington35 karma

You didn't let me finish - he wants to talk to you about his favorite band.

johnhowellharris96 karma

Hypothetical band or real band? In either case, I can't hate a hypothetical guy for trying to make real friends. In fact, I gotta admire the guy's moxy for breaking through into this realm at all.

levilarrington43 karma

He's totally quantum - he's only liking the band because some asteroid around Sirius likes it.

johnhowellharris73 karma

I guess he's starting to irritate me now, but I don't really hate him.

levilarrington32 karma

He thinks old cracked magazines are hipster cool

johnhowellharris58 karma

Do you really think he'd bring that up within the first few minutes of us meeting? I have to say, that seems more like information between close friends.

mcmurphy122 karma

So you're saying that you hate some black people?

...just trying to get a good quote here.

johnhowellharris49 karma

I can't off the top of my head think of any black people I hate; I certainly would never reserve my contempt or dislike for someone based solely on the color of their skin. That would be racist.

Gortos43 karma

I will ask you about being a satire writer in general then. Don't you feel bad for confusing all those poor, helpless fox-news-watching tea party people?

johnhowellharris133 karma

I think that, in this day in age, with all the resources at one's fingertips, if you don't do your research or if you have a kneejerk response to something without really trying to understand it, you sort of deserve to look foolish.

burningrubber38 karma

How did you sell the joke on Ebay? Can you tell us the joke or do we have to bid on it?

johnhowellharris63 karma

I posted an auction that I was an 'Onion' staff writer, and that I had an unused joke for sale. After that, it somehow found its way to Reddit and got totally out of control, with the bidding.

Unfortunately, part of the agreement was that I would not disclose the content of the joke; it became the buyer's completely, and I have never told anyone in the three years or so since I sold it.

cokeisahelluvadrug31 karma

Have you heard the joke used anywhere since?

johnhowellharris67 karma

No, never. It was a truly feeble joke, the structure of which would have made it impossible to use in most contexts.

I was very up front about that, but it still sold for way too much money.

runtheplacered26 karma

Did all of the proceeds go to corn nuts or what?

johnhowellharris35 karma

That money was spent before I got it, at that point in my life.

mike4132 karma

Man I hate that. It's probably sitting there, covetously guarded in the vault of some rich joke collector, never to see the light of day. I hope that you sent some sort of certificate of authenticity along with it so that when he/she dies, it will not fade into obscurity but will have the chance of being rediscovered again by the world.

johnhowellharris7 karma

The idea of that makes me immensely happy, for some reason.

The joke was handwritten and signed for that poor old Miss Havisham of jokes.

ramblerandgambler31 karma

Did you start your zine as a response to the decline in printed media, is that something you're worried about?

Do you subscribe to the idea that it's harder and harder to make a career out of writing or would you agree that it's still just as possible as before (more books were printed last year than ever before, but also more people subscribe to the NY times online than read the print edition) but you just have to be better in order to be noticed because every asshole with a blog calls himself a writer? Does genius always rise to the top?

Do you find it worrying that 'joke' news outlets (similar to and including the onion), like the daily show, have become a main source of information or for some people and that it forms people's opinions rather than people reacting to what they see ont eh actual news? (if that makes sense at all)

johnhowellharris34 karma

Wow, great question. In short, yes, I did start the 'zine as a response to the decline of print media, and to that end, I wanted to make something that was somewhat exclusive, and that everyone didn't instantly know about. Also, I wanted it to be a non-profit-motivated venture, in other words something that would exist for only for itself. This is why all the profits are going to 826 National.

I think that the cream will eventually rise to the top and break through all the noise. In a way, the new media is great because now there are people out there who you may never had heard from before, and they get their fair shot. In a lot of ways, entertainment is becoming a meritocracy.

In regard to your last question, I have never really subscribed to that theory of how people get their information. To understand a lot of those jokes, you have to already be at least somewhat informed, so I think that when people say that, it's not totally logically sound.

cerealrapist29 karma

How do you feel about onions? What's your favorite onion recipe?

How many mammaries would one expect to see on average in an issue of 'Pendulous Breasts Quarterly'? What would you consider to be overly pendulous or insufficiently pendulous enough?

johnhowellharris43 karma

I find those particular root vegetables to be an indispensable cooking item.

'PBQ', I'm sorry to say, only contains breasts implied; breasts hinted at; breasts alluded to in the most decorous and delicate ways.

But to answer your last question, I'm just glad to be invited to the party.

wort_hog49 karma

American Voices: "I find those particular root vegetables to be an indispensable cooking item." johnhowellharris, funny person

"I find that onion roots are useless, but I rather enjoy cooking the storage leaves like most people." wort_hog, botany nazi

johnhowellharris33 karma

I wish everyone would correct me in such a thoughtful and creative manner.

synonymous_with26 karma

What are some of the funniest complaint letters you've gotten?

johnhowellharris121 karma

Personally? This:

"John, you're a disappointment as a son. I'm not sure why I decided to write this to you in a letter, because I'm standing right here, in front of you. Sort of seems like a exercise in futility, but I guess I'm this far along, so I may as well finish it up and hand it to you. The gist of the whole thing is really in the first line, anyway, so just focus on that."

iShavedMyFaceForThis21 karma

I came here for pendulous breasts.

What a disappointment.

johnhowellharris37 karma

I will admit, the title of this post is misleading for only that reason.

InfiniteChicken17 karma

I think you signed my PBQ. Does your signature look like a bird hitting a windshield or like someone trying to clean the nib of a dry pen? I'm not sure which one is you.

johnhowellharris14 karma

That's probably me.

PlumbingSauce16 karma

I appreciate a relatively pleasant person, but only if he/she is pleasantly relative. Now, to prove your worth, please give me a solid Santorum-bashing joke. Or just your personal opinion on the guy. You decide.

johnhowellharris59 karma

It is impossible to bash Santorum any better than he routinely does himself. How the fuck do you even top that guy on purely devastating Santorum material?

Poolside_McGrundy16 karma

What was your major in college? Did it prepare you at all for your career, or was it completely unrelated?

johnhowellharris26 karma

I was a psychology major, and no—I pretty much fell into what I'm doing.

burningrubber9 karma

How did you fall into comedy writing? I'm not looking for a blueprint, I'm just wondering what your path was.

Did you start of with standup or writing?

johnhowellharris23 karma

I actually started as an Onion business intern, and then worked my way up from there. I only really started performing in the last two years or so, but I very much enjoy stand-up.

neuquino11 karma

Was it terrifying when you started standup?

johnhowellharris18 karma

I still have horrible stage fright. I did stand-up last Saturday at UCB, and for part of my set I faced away from the crowd for part of the time because I didn't want them to see the mic shaking in my hand. Weirdly, people really responded favorably to that.

drakegaming4 karma


johnhowellharris4 karma

Yep. It totally works.

ssmy15 karma

Any idea where the name "Pendulous Breasts Quarterly" came from? Because it is awesome.

Also, do you do any of the personalized insults? Can I have one?

johnhowellharris39 karma

'Pendulous Breasts Quarterly' came from 'Onion' features editor Joe Garden. He is in the habit of folding 3x5 index cards in half and making fake magazine covers, among which are "Loud Noises: The Jackhammer Issue" and "Pockets Monthly: What's in yours?"

Yes, I do a personalized insult on each copy that specifies "Zing Me!" on the order.

jkd4210 karma

Have you ever wrote a spec script for a tv show?

johnhowellharris14 karma

I have not. I wrote for both seasons of 'The Onion News Network' on IFC, but that was a much different type of writing than a narrative script (a lot more like sketch comedy writing).

I am hoping to have some time in the near future to get one together.

jkd425 karma

What shows would suit your writing style?

johnhowellharris34 karma

I'm not sure I have a great answer for that, but as for the comedy shows I enjoy the most right now, "Parks & Recreation" and "Archer" are way up there.

bulldog76410 karma

I personally think your "Hit 'Em Hard Boys" piece might have been the best part of the whole PBQ: http://splitsider.com/2011/12/hit-em-hard-boys-by-john-howell-harris

Great stuff. And since this is an AMA, I'll ask a question... What are some of your favorite non-TV (and obviously non-Onion) humor outlets that you are a fan of? I'm thinking other publications, websites, specific comedy clubs, etc.

johnhowellharris24 karma

I personally think Jack Handey is one of the greatest humorists of all time; his book "What I'd Say To The Martians" is one of my absolute favorite things, again, of all time.

I don't go to comedy clubs pretty much ever, but I do like a lot of the alternative comedy shows in New York. My favorite would probably be Kurt Braunohler and Kristen Schaal's Hot Tub at Littlefield every Monday in Brooklyn. If you ever get the chance, check it out. I've never been disappointed.

johnhowellharris10 karma

Also, thanks for the compliment!

iamadogforreal10 karma

I write comedy (unpublished), keep an online comic, etc and would love to break into comedy writing for reals. How do I get noticed? What's the modern digital equivalent of moving to LA, being a waiter, and handing out screenplays in the bathroom to a shirtless and coked up Bruce Vilanch? I'm too old and too scared of big pink man areolas (mareolas?) to be an LA waiter.

johnhowellharris11 karma

I honestly think Twitter has become sort of the great equalizer, in that you can use it both to show how funny you can be in that short format, as well as to promote yourself and drive people to other things you may have done. Again, this is very lame advice, but diligence is important, in my opinion; just keep at it, and regularly.

I personally suck at Twitter, but this is just what I've observed.

string97bean8 karma

What is your favorite "non-Onion" joke?

johnhowellharris16 karma

I would say Zach Galifianakis's joke about "The Amazing Race" is one of my all-time favorite jokes. Look it up, if you're not familiar with it.

jhaake8 karma

I used to make a Zine. It was insanely expensive and difficult to sell. Any tips on getting one off the ground?

johnhowellharris19 karma

I have experienced both of those things myself, and it really is hard as shit. That's (obviously) one of the reasons I'm doing this IAmA. I got really lucky that "The Racist Tree" made it onto Reddit somehow, and now I'm just trying to keep the ball rolling.

In my limited experience, having a theme for your 'zine really helps, I think; it should be about something, so begin with a mission statement of sorts. Then, the task is collecting enough quality material surrounding that theme, and tying it all into a cohesive thing. Also, I kept people updated every step of the way during the process of putting the 'zine together with a tumblr account, and then, I had a big release party with comedians and bands. So I guess, to that end, I would recommend an event of some sort when you release it—it doesn't have to be crazy, but make the 'zine a whole "thing," if you follow me.

But yeah, cutting through all the noise out there is really difficult, especially with something print-based, so definitely good luck!

ItGotRidiculous6 karma

Do you have any advice as to how one would one go about making a living from freelance comedy writing?

johnhowellharris14 karma

Boy, I really and truly don't. People get into that sort of thing in such disparate ways. I guess, again, is to always be writing funny things—maintain a twitter feed, a blog, whatever. Just always be writing, and take opportunities when they are presented to you.

Again, fucking lame advice I know. That is a really difficult question.

Hudlum5 karma

So how would you go about landing a comedy writing job - say for a fictitious newspaper that mainly deals with satire?

johnhowellharris14 karma

I would recommend spending lots of time on the IAMA section of Reddit.

helloimowen5 karma

Hello! I'm Owen.

I've been doing stand up for 4 years (That's a 4th of the time that Ive been alive!) Free sample: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F62T5Qxb-2w

Do you have any advice do a young comedian such as myself?

johnhowellharris6 karma

I'm certainly not a stand-up expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I think you're pretty great! Your jokes are obviously well thought-out, and you have a point of view. I think the rest is just keep writing jokes and practicing.

My only suggestion is to do as much stand-up as possible. The more comfortable you are on stage, the better you'll be able to honestly get across what it is you want to say, and that—again, in my very limited experience—is probably the most important thing.

Radderbburnin4 karma

I always imagined a comedy writer as being the guy who sat on a couch, smoked mad bongs, and wrote jokes.... how far off am i?
Did you buy weed with the $365???

johnhowellharris12 karma

I don't personally smoke weed, anymore, but that's because I don't really react very well to it. Also, comedy writing is kind of a grind. I work at least 60 hours a week, so personally, smoking weed would not really work out for me.

I do know people who can smoke weed and work really hard and be hilarious, but I'm just not one of those people.

Radderbburnin7 karma

so do you or dont you write jokes from a couch?

johnhowellharris71 karma

No comedy writer in history has ever written a joke from a couch. They are statistically the least funny piece of living room furniture. The vast majority of jokes are written while perched on a credenza.

fiffers4 karma

Have you always been a "hat person," or was it a conscious decision you made later in life?

johnhowellharris8 karma

I'm sad to say, that's not a hat. But hopefully with the radiation treatments and time...

[deleted]2 karma

Hat expert here with 5 years experience in the worlds most advance interactive hat simulator.

Based on my experience, I can confirm this is not a hat.

johnhowellharris4 karma

Nope. Pure malignant mass; it has its own pulse.

jpreeves3 karma

Hi John, thank you for your AMA.

What was the hardest moment in your early (or current, I guess) career? Was there ever a moment when, getting started, you thought "Oh shit, I should just go to law school"? What fixed that?

johnhowellharris4 karma

I would say getting used to the constant, constant rejection. I'm not sure, but I would guess that this is the reason a lot of people get ground out of creative fields.

For myself, I just got better at dealing with rejection in a way that wasn't completely self-destructive. I think it's imperative to let stuff roll of your back, but at the same time, redouble your efforts. It sounds like trite bullshit, but in my case, that what kept me plugging ahead.

joeyconrad3 karma

does Tim Harrod still want to kick your ass?

johnhowellharris2 karma

I don't think he ever did! Tim is a sweet, lovely man. I don't think I've ever even seen him miffed.

AnxiousLurker3 karma

What is your opinion of other Satire outlets? Like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert?

johnhowellharris9 karma

I'd have to say I'm more of a Colbert guy, myself. The character is just so endlessly brilliant, and can be satirical from any angle.

I sort of get the feeling that Jon Stewart has become a bit enamored with his own cult of personality. But, to be quite honest with you, I haven't watched 'The Daily Show' in a very long time.

skabrina3 karma

when did your comedy really start to blossom? High school, college, dead-end job perhaps?

johnhowellharris4 karma

Dead-end job, for sure. I valet parked cars for two years underneath the Brooklyn Bridge, and that really puts you in a particular mindset. For me: "Holy fucking shit, what can I do to get out of this?"

Colinfucius3 karma

Is comedy the sort of job that is still fun after grinding at it for 10 years? Or like everything else does it become passe?

johnhowellharris4 karma

I haven't been at it that long, but any job becomes a job, even if you absolutely love it. Conversely, if you do love what you're doing, a lot of the times you'll just keep plowing ahead without always knowing why, because there are those moments that are really, really satisfying and worth it.

DragonStomper13 karma

True story - I showed my friend the racist tree and he read it in class today in our foundations of education class. It was the most awkward class discussion following that - we often talk about racism and social change.

johnhowellharris2 karma

Holy shit, that is amazing. When the story went to the front page of Reddit, the discussions like that blew my mind. Alex intended it to be a silly story (albeit with a little edge), and really nothing more.

[deleted]2 karma


johnhowellharris3 karma

Much more awesome, of that I can assure you.

[deleted]2 karma


johnhowellharris7 karma

No, my pot stories are really lame. I usually just have to immediately go home and go to sleep.

Louis C.K., of course, I would completely fan-out on. I've seen him perform many times, but have never met him. Woody Allen would be another one, but I think I would be way too scared to even say anything to him.

itscauseimcool2 karma

Are those Warby Parker glasses you're wearing?

johnhowellharris3 karma

Nope. Moscot. Great little shop in New York.

[deleted]2 karma


johnhowellharris3 karma

Thank you, friend.

FortyFs2 karma

I need something to write about (creative non-fiction) for next week's workshop. Can I have one of your rejected ideas?

johnhowellharris2 karma


"Pizza Blood"

That's as far as I got. Go nuts.