I love smart-alecky humor.
This is the kind where you stick a needle in someone. The needle can be long and sharp if someone has done something to deserve it, or it can be short and painless for those who deserve only harmless fun to be poked at them.
The best way to enjoy smart-aleck humor, of course, is to be the smart aleck – the guy dishing out the humor – rather than the guy on the receiving end.
So when my friend Tim Maier tried to be a smart aleck with me, I had no choice but to be a smart aleck back. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Let me start this tribute to smart-aleck humor by saying that I’ve found Twitter to be perfect for smart alecks like me.
The social network limits the messages you send to only 140 characters.
You can’t disseminate “War and Peace” with that character count, but you can unleash some pithy gags on the unsuspecting public. The kind of concise one-liners you hear on comedy shows.
When I was reading the English-language version of Tengrinews one day, I ran across a story that cried out for me to be a smart aleck. It was about Almaty police announcing they would arrest those they caught having sex in cars.
If a smart aleck couldn’t have fun with this story, he’d have to give up being a smart aleck.
So I tweeted: “Almaty may nab those having sex in a car. This is short-sighted because Kazakhstan must do all it can to raise its birth rate.”
For those of you living outside Kazakhstan, here’s some background: The country is the ninth-largest in the world but has only 17 million people. The government wants the birth rate to increase.
But I was just warming up with my car-sex tweeting. I next chimed in: “I have a personal reason for disliking the Almaty car-sex ban. If it had been imposed in Omaha a few decades ago, I wouldn’t be here today.”
I got back a cackling response from one of my Twitter followers, who said something like: “Ha, ha, ha – hilarious!”
I was so revved up by this response that I couldn’t wait for the next opportunity to be a smart aleck on Twitter. Happily, it came just a few days later.
Kazinform ran a story noting that the World Health Organization had declared Almaty one of the world’s smoke-free cities.
Now I know from experience that Almaty is not smoke-free. In fact, a lot of its restaurants, cafes and nightclubs defy the national law that prohibits smoking in places where the public gathers.
As a non-smoker, I’m really irritated by establishments that thrust a middle finger in the faces of customers who want the law enforced.
So I began tweeting that Almaty was NOT smoke-free, and I gave an example, a popular eating place with a large patio area.
On every table in the outdoor area is an ashtray the size of a battleship, and on any given day, about half the diners are puffing away, bothering the non-smokers.
I’m not going to mention the restaurant’s name in this blog. I’ll just call it Restaurant X, and say that it’s located near the intersection of Kulnayiva and Tolebee streets.
I decided to vent my frustration at this restaurant’s defiance of the anti-smoking law by promulgating some smart-aleck tweets.
The first was: “In fact, smoking is so bad in (Restaurant X’s) patio, when you order ham, you’re gonna get it smoked, whether you want to or not.”
A Twitter follower responded that my Tweet was really funny.
So I decided to continue the momentum. My next gag was: “(Restaurant X) sprays a water mist on patio clients on hot days. The mist & smoke combine to give you a London-style fog.”
I thought this was a clever line, with just the right smart-alecky tone, but I got back no tweets of gushing praise. So I decided to do a crossword puzzle for awhile.
Given my success in making a few Twitter followers laugh with my car-sex and smoking-ban tweets, you can be sure I’ll keep being a smart aleck on Twitter.
Now back to my buddy Tim Maier. He’s one of the founders of the Baltimore Post-Examiner that covers a little bit of everything.
A few weeks after founding the Post-Examiner, Tim did an article about online news portals killing newspapers.
It was an excellent nostalgia piece, and I wanted to give it a five-star rating on the Post-Examiner Web site. Being a techno-klutz, however, I mistakenly gave it a poor two-star rating.
I emailed Tim that I had really liked the piece, so I asked him to have Erik, his technical guy, give it the five stars I had intended.
“I should have said in the piece if ace reporter Hal Foster, who covered the Civil War, is getting turned on by Facebook, then hope exists for everyone,” Tim responded.
Ouch! But then he became even more smart-alecky.
“Who was the easier interview — President Grant or Robert E. Lee?” he asked. “Just wondering.”
I couldn’t let this smart-aleck broadside go unchallenged. So I shot back: “It was a tie. Lee’s Southern accent versus Grant’s whiskey-induced slurring.”
Tim knew that my message was that Lee had a Southern accent that was difficult to decipher but that Grant’s drinking – the general who would become president was known for hitting the sauce – made his speech hard to follow as well.
This time Tim didn’t try to out-smart-aleck the master smart aleck with a new shot across the bow.
But my guess is that this contest isn’t over, that he’s just biding his time, like a rattlesnake coiled and ready to strike.
(Writer Hal Foster appears here under a partnership with Tengrinews)
Hal Foster is a longtime journalist and journalism professor who has worked in the United States, Japan, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. His news career has included writing and editing at the Los Angeles Times and nine years as a journalist in Japan. He is an associate professor of Communication at the new Nazarbayev University in Astana, Kazakhstan. Catch one of his other blogs at en.tengrinews.kz.