“Important” is a relative term, of course. Not one of these columns had any impact on the world outside of my life, and many of them didn’t even go that far. But they’re “important” in the sense that, if you were writing a history of “Snide Remarks” — and heaven knows why you would be doing that — these are the ones you’d have to include as key points in the timeline.
As I read over them, I see a lot of entries that involved my getting in trouble. This might give the reader the false impression that I love causing controversy and trouble, or that I am reckless and irresponsible.
There are 15 columns listed here, a few of which involved trouble. In my defense, those few aftershock-producing columns represent, what, 1 percent of all the columns I’ve written? Usually when I write something, nothing happens at all. Usually people don’t even read them, much less get angry about them.
But here are the ones that played a key part, for good or bad, in the history of “Snide Remarks.”
A TIMELINE OF IMPORTANT “SNIDE REMARKS” COLUMNS
Sept. 29, 1997, “Fly Like a Weasel (aka ‘The Superheroes Column’)”: The first “Snide Remarks” column.
This was the ninth humor column I’d written for The Daily Universe, but it was the first one to bear the “Snide Remarks” name, and so it is from this date — Sept. 29, 1997 — that we mark the official birth of “Snide Remarks.”
More important than the name, though, was the fact that the previous columns I’d written for the paper had been one-offs. This marked the beginning of an actual, official, weekly feature.
I don’t think it’s a very good column. The “tangents” that readers loved so much in those days are really the sign of bad writing, not good. But it struck a chord with students, and “Snide Remarks” was an instant hit.
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Jan. 12, 1998, “Crock of Ages”: First “Snide Remarks” to be censored out of existence.
Because this entry dealt with matters of religious doctrine, and because BYU President Merrill J. Bateman — who had inserted himself into the campus-newspaper-publishing process — was a humorless tyrant, it never saw the light of day. It was a sign of things to come, too, as another column’s censorship was the reason I quit writing “Snide Remarks” for the paper a year later.
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Feb. 9, 1998, “Clash of the Titanic”: The “Titanic” column.
The column read ’round the world! Thousands and thousands of people read this after it became one of those “anonymous” e-mails that you forward to all your friends. At its peak, it was re-posted on more than 500 other websites, almost always without attribution, since the people who posted had gotten it via e-mail and didn’t know where it originated. Even now, if you Google “Kate’s weaselly fiance” (a phrase that probably only appears in this column, and nowhere else in all of literature), you get close to 300 different sites that have reprinted the column.
One curious aftereffect of the column’s wide distribution: High school kids like to use it for their forensics and debate competitions. I hear from three or four students a year who mention they have done it, or are asking permission to do it. My high school didn’t have a forensics or debate team, so I’m not exactly sure what they’re all about, but hey, anything I can do to help the kids of America is fine with me.
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Jan. 11, 1999, “Slime and Punishment”: The column whose censorship led me to quit writing “Snide Remarks,” in protest.
The issue this time was BYU’s Honor Code Office, whose unfair tactics I decried in the column. Administrators thought that if an inquiry into the HC Office was warranted, there were better ways to launch the investigation than by mercilessly mocking it. I could see the point, but I was more concerned about the precedent being set. Telling a writer he’s not allowed to make fun of the Honor Code Office seemed far too strict. Religious faith or doctrine is one thing; the Honor Code Office was just an administrative wing. When the administrators wouldn’t let me publish it, I quit writing, though we burned off the last few columns I already had in the can. And of course I was graduating in three months and would have stopped writing for the campus paper anyway, so it wasn’t like it was a HUGE act of protest.
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Aug. 13, 1999, “Mrs. Angry”: The non-“Snide Remarks” column that led to the Daily Herald resurrecting “Snide Remarks.”
After graduating from BYU in April 1999, I started working full-time at the (Provo) Daily Herald, where I’d been freelancing theater and music reviews for a few years. One of my duties was to write a horrible weekly column called “Steppin’ Out,” in which I recommended weekend entertainment options for the readers. I had been slowly injecting humor into the column over time when, in this particular entry, I abandoned the real purpose of the feature altogether and just made fun of a letter I had gotten in response to one of my theater reviews. It was a very “Snide Remarks”-esque column.
The next day, our managing editor told me he had liked the column, which indicated to me that he didn’t mind how far astray I had gone from the original purpose of “Steppin’ Out.” I said I’d like to change the name, and he said he hated “Steppin’ Out” and would welcome anything different. I said, “What about ‘Snide Remarks’?” He knew what I was really saying here — he knew about “Snide Remarks” at BYU, and he knew I missed writing it — and after thinking a moment he said, “Let’s do it.”
And so the following week, “Steppin’ Out” was gone and “Snide Remarks” was in its place, reborn after a six-month absence. And all because I made fun of an old lady!
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Aug. 20, 1999, “Education Weak”: The first official “Snide Remarks” column at the Daily Herald.
As mentioned, “Steppin’ Out” was abandoned and “Snide Remarks” was revived, with this entry — about BYU’s annual Education Week, a series of lectures and workshops for Mormons — as the inaugural edition. Fittingly, it inspired an angry letter, which meant the new “Snide Remarks” was apparently just like the old “Snide Remarks.”
Remember, of course, that most Daily Herald readers had no idea what “Snide Remarks” was, since it had previously been published only in the BYU campus paper. So when all of a sudden there was this satire column making jokes about the local culture … well, you can see why they’d be alarmed.
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Jan. 7, 2000, “Wyoming2K”: Evanston, Wyo., gets mad at me.
I spent New Year’s Eve with a friend and his family in Evanston, Wyo. The column I wrote about the experience somehow made its way up to Evanston and enraged the entire populace. Fuel was added to the fire when Evanston’s local paper reprinted the column (with permission from my bosses), thus ensuring that anyone who hadn’t already seen it would see it now. My friend’s family feared for his life, should the locals figure out who he was by my references to him. I just called him “Other Eric,” and I guess lucky for him there was more than one Eric living in Evanston at the time.
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Aug. 11, 2000, “Big Bad Guru Daddies”: A pun-filled paragraph about a Mormon-themed restaurant gets forwarded around the Internet.
The column was actually about a new restaurant in Provo that served really good food but did so in an atmosphere of stifling pretentiousness. For some reason, I spent the last one-fourth of the column tangenting to the restaurant I wanted to open, which would be called The Steak Center and would serve dishes with names that are puns on Mormon cultural terminology. No one but Mormons got the jokes (which was fine, since 95 percent of the Herald’s readers were Mormon), and apparently the Mormons liked them, because soon that paragraph was being forwarded around the Internet in much the same way that the “Titanic” column had been two years earlier (i.e., without the author’s name on it). There are still occasional sightings of it to this day.
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Sept. 22, 2000, “UVSC What I Mean”: UVSC’s “True Wolverine” event, where some kids made out in a tree and this old guy sat and watched them.
Utah Valley State College was always a favorite target of mine when I wrote for the Daily Herald. It used to be a trade school, then became a college, then became a state college, and in 2008 will become a real live university. For the time being, though, it has open enrollment and is viewed by many as the place you go when your grades aren’t good enough to get into Brigham Young University, two miles down the road.
In this column, I made fun of two things: UVSC’s “True Wolverine” event, and the UVSC campus paper’s news article about it. The event itself involved students kissing random strangers, and it sounds like a typical college freshman activity, i.e., stupid but mostly harmless. The news article, however, contained a quote from one of the students that I latched onto instantly: “We made out in a tree, and this old guy sat and watched us.”
Something about that quote — its rhythm, its cadence, its absurdity despite probably being 100 percent true — something about it delighted me. I instantly registered the domain name WeMadeOutInATreeAndThisOldGuySatAndWatchedUs.com and launched the site as a collection of odd or amusing twists of the English language. I ran it for a while, then turned it over to my brother Jeff, who runs it now. I recommend visiting and browsing and laughing.