‘Snide Remarks’ 10th Anniversary Feature: My favorite angry letters

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[In lieu of the weekly “Snide Remarks” Classic, today we bring you a special anniversary feature. There will be more special features in the weeks to come, leading up to the official “Snide Remarks” 10th anniversary on Sept. 29, which is recognized by most major religions as a high holy day.]

Almost since the beginning, one of the most entertaining parts of “Snide Remarks” has been the angry letters that people sometimes write in response to it.

The perception is that I get these letters frequently. In truth it’s been ages since I got one. Ever since the column became online-only, where it could not assault unsuspecting readers from their morning newspapers, it’s been read pretty much only by people who like it, or who at least know what they’re in for.

But back in the old days, when it was in The Daily Universe, the student paper at BYU, angry letters were commonplace. In fact, of the 64 columns I wrote for the Universe (1997-1999), 22 of them got angry letters. That’s 34 percent! BYU is a hotbed of righteous indignation, and probably always has been.

I wrote 305 columns for the Daily Herald (1999-2003), of which 57 inspired angry letters. That’s only 19 percent, although it’s worth noting that the Herald’s website allowed people to post anonymous comments during much of that time, and nearly every column got at least one negative comment. In fact, there were some people who hated “Snide Remarks” so much, they read it every single time it was published, just so they could comment on how much they hated it. I AM NOT MAKING THAT UP.

(I only wish that, when the Herald administrators redesigned the website a couple years ago, they had not deleted all the old threads of anonymous comments. Many of them were classic.)

In all, 81 columns have elicited angry letters. Here I have chosen my favorite eight. I hope you find them as entertaining as I do.

COLUMN: “Clash of the Titanic” (Feb. 9, 1998)
CAUSE FOR ANGER: I made fun of “Titanic.”

These are certainly the most famous angry letters, so maybe they’re an obvious choice. But think about it: These girls were mad because I MADE FUN OF A MOVIE. And not just mad, but emotional and furious and hysterical. Over a movie! I cannot possibly choose one letter that is best. They are all wonderful in their own ways.

COLUMN: “A Keane Sense of Humor” (Jan. 21, 2000)
CAUSE FOR ANGER: The Boy Scouts are famous for teaching you how to tie knots, but knot-tying isn’t really that useful a skill.

What’s marvelous here is that the column is ACTUALLY about how to make “The Family Circus” funny, and most of my suggestions are offensive and horrible. Yet Lorraine Underwood of Salem, Utah, missed all that and went right for the thing I mentioned in passing, about the Boy Scouts — something that wasn’t even a slam against Scouting, but merely an amusing observation.

The best part is in her second letter, where she begins to wax nostalgic on the good old days of comedy, when people like Art Linkletter and Red Skelton ruled the airwaves. She is, in other words, the quintessential Humorless Old Person.

COLUMN: “Born on the 24th of July” (July 21, 2000)
CAUSE FOR ANGER: I made fun of the way Utahns overdo their Pioneer Day celebrations.

Pioneer Day is a big deal in Utah. It commemorates the day the Mormon pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. Because it happened to occur on July 24, so close to Independence Day, it tends to get lumped in with July 4, and somehow it becomes a “patriotic” holiday, i.e., lots of flag-waving, fireworks, and parades.

This column got three letters. The first was only concerned about my use of the word “suck.” The other two were upset about my supposedly derogatory comments toward Pioneer Day. It’s the middle letter that is my favorite (the one that begins “Dearest Eric”), because he or she seemed to think I was opposed to ALL holidays. He or she lists all the holiday-related activities he or she will continue to engage in, and then says this: “Oh yes, and by the way, I will still honor you on ‘Totally Stupid Day.'”

Ever since then, my birthday, Aug. 26, has been known among longtime “Snide Remarks” readers as Totally Stupid Day. Celebrate it by missing the point of a humor column!

COLUMN: “Girls on Film” (April 4, 2001)
CAUSE FOR ANGER: ?????

The column was about “chick flicks” and “date movies,” and how to tell them apart. Somehow, this led to a lengthy, vitriolic letter in which the writer never indicates why she’s so angry. It’s truly baffling.

COLUMN: “Balloon Fest 2001” (July 4, 2001)
CAUSE FOR ANGER: Language regarding the Founding Fathers is insufficiently reverent.

When noted local crazy person Sue Maxwell read my column on July 4, 2001, she immediately grabbed the nearest pair of panties and got them into the biggest wad she could muster. Why? Because of the opening line, which began, “When the Founding Fathers slapped together this great nation of ours…” Or more specifically, because of that one verb phrase: “slapped together.”

“Slapped together”? The Founding Fathers “slapped together” this nation?! How monstrously disrespectful!

Seriously. That’s what she was mad about. I’m not even joking. She even got her neighbors to sign a petition agreeing with her.

The best part? Hers isn’t even the most awesome angry letter I got for that column! The best one came from one Helen Broadbent. She said she was “sad and sickened” by my “slapped together” sentence. “What disrespectful and infantile thinking the author and the one who put this article on the front page have,” she added. And then, suddenly, out of nowhere, she said:

“I love this country so much.”

And that was the end of her letter. The randomness makes me laugh every time I read it.

COLUMN: “Winning the Pews” (Aug. 29, 2001)
CAUSE FOR ANGER: Making jokes about ways to make church meetings more interesting.

Throughout “Snide Remarks” history, no subject has created more angst than poking fun at Mormon culture. Since I was writing first for the BYU student newspaper, and then for a paper in a valley where 90 percent of the people were Mormon, it made sense that Mormonism would come up at least occasionally. And since I was a Mormon, too, I felt comfortable making jokes for the benefit of my fellow Latter-day Saints. We wouldn’t want an outsider coming in and cracking wise at our expense, but if it’s one of our own, that’s OK. Right?

Not always. This column offered some joking suggestions about improving Mormon sacrament meetings (that’s the main Sunday church service). I suggested things like not joining the choir if you can’t sing, and ending your sermons with cliffhangers to keep people guessing until next week. (“Why was there only one set of footprints?!”)

My suggestions were taken by some Mormons to be out-and-out mockery of Mormonism, and they let me know it. I got three angry letters, from one Alanna Wilson, a Bill Levingston, and — wait for it — Janice Kapp Perry.

For non-Mormons, the name Janice Kapp Perry means nothing. But Mormons know her as a prolific songwriter and composer, mostly of sappy, simplified inspirational pop songs. (Her songs for children, as found in the church’s children’s songbook, are quite lovely, though. Their simplicity serves their message well.) And here she was, writing to me!

And hoo-boy, was her letter ever a doozy. How sad did my column make her? “Sad enough to even have a tear roll down my cheek as I read my early morning paper all alone at 5:30 a.m.” To my knowledge, this was the first time I had ever made anyone cry, and I couldn’t be prouder that the victim was Janice Kapp Perry.

COLUMN: “The Stupid Agenda” (June 14, 2002)
CAUSE FOR ANGER: Not getting the joke.

The column took all the things that people say against gays and turned them against stupid people instead. “I’m sick of all these stupid people everywhere I look, flaunting their stupidity, wanting to marry each other. Stupids marrying each other will just result in more stupid kids!” Etc., etc. The whole point was to make fun of intolerance, of course. It’s one of my favorite columns.

Some people missed the point altogether and took what I was saying at face value: that I really just hate stupid people. That may be true (it is true, actually), but it wasn’t the message of the column. These same people, I assume, believe Jonathan Swift was advocating the actual eating of babies in “A Modest Proposal.”

Other readers at least got half of the column’s point, recognizing that I was substituting “stupid” for “gay” — except now they thought my anti-stupid tirade was really an anti-gay tirade, and they took me to task for being intolerant. Sigh.

COLUMN: “Ann Landers’ Final Column” (June 17, 2002)
CAUSE FOR ANGER: Belittling the death of an old woman.

The best part about these angry letters is that I totally deserved them. The column appeared just after advice-columnist “Ann Landers” (not her real name) died, and the premise was that it was her final column, being written right up to the moment of her death. There is no excuse for such an appalling comedy premise being printed in your local newspaper, and that’s why I did it.

The best letter came from a very self-righteous woman named Megan Hall. Look for that one and for the dialogue between us that ensued.

Also, two letter-writers pointed out that “Snide Remarks” is indeed a fitting name for my column, since it is often so snide. They said this like it was an insult. Other offended people have done this over the years, too, and I never really understood it. “Oh, man, you totally got me there. I guess my writing IS a little snide sometimes. I … I’d never realized that before. I’m sorry. I’ll be more careful from now on not to be so snide … in my column that’s called ‘SNIDE REMARKS,’ YOU STUPID, HUMOR-IMPAIRED UTAH COUNTY JACKASSES.”

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