The Annual wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for crowdfunding, so we aim to boost up other comedic projects whenever possible.
The American Bystander is a new humor magazine that came to publication following a successful Kickstarter campaign last November. They’re just about finished with the second issue and need your help to bring it to print. Last week we spoke to Michael Gerber, a founder and publisher of The American Bystander.
In your publisher’s letter from Issue 1 of The American Bystander you wrote “It isn’t even really a magazine. This is willfully re-launching the Titanic, knowing full well it will sink…” Do you still feel this way going into issue two?
Well, it’s funny because people have asked about that. I was partly trying to play against type because those letters are like the statement of principles in Citizen Kane. A guy sits down and scrawls the way that they’re going to change the world, and I really felt like that was not the right mindset to be going into this with. The first thing that you should know about me is that I’ve been trying to do a magazine like this since I was 22 years old and I’m 46 now. I’ve seen them come and go and I know a lot about how The [National] Lampoon worked.
Maybe five years ago, I heard from a friend of a friend that Rob Hoffman, one of the three people who founded The National Lampoon, was very ill and was probably going to die. So I called him up out of the blue, he didn’t know me from anybody, and I called him up and said “Mr. Hoffman, I just want to thank you because nobody knows that you were the person who put together the money, put together the deal, worked with Matty [Simmons] to get it all set up so Henry [Beard] and Doug [Kenney] could do their work. Nobody knows how important you were” The difference between The Lampoon and every other humor magazine before and since has been someone like Rob Hoffman at the front.
I’m no Rob Hoffman but I guess I wanted to say in that letter that we want this to turn into whatever our readers want it to turn into. If that means that it’s a grand success and has a lot of money to spend and heralds in a new golden age of this material, great! If it turns out to be just one issue or two issues, that’s okay, too. Because we’re really just following what the audience seems to want.
The typical way that people do this is they come up with a business plan and a way of repeating what the Lampoon guys did, which is pump it up into something huge and sell out after five years or whatever, and walk away never having to work again. That’s a very contemporary way of looking at things; “I’m going to start a humor magazine so I can get rich.” That’s not how Punch was started; that’s not how Mad Magazine was started. For anything that lasts over a decade you have to have a different kind of attitude. So I was poking fun at that vain, glorious situation. But I was also trying to check myself to sort of say “the point of this isn’t in five years to have The American Bystander’s version of Animal House. The point is to follow our staffers and say what do you want to do? What’s interesting and challenging? What does the world need? Not what can we sell for a big pay day.” We know what that is and we know it’s what already exists out there. It’s the lowest common-denominator stuff. By saying that, I want to say to us on a managing side and to the contributors: Look, we don’t expect to walk away millionaires from this. We expect to make beautiful stuff and that’s what we expect from you. And that’s what we expect from our readers too. We want them to enjoy it on that level, not be perceived as something we’re selling to advertisers. Their attention and their eyeballs. That’s very different than a corporate magazine or a corporate website, and I want to start out with that idea.