One Punch Reviews #19: Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal

Fellow webcomic blogger Ben Gordon recently wrote a post about the different forms of humor at the Floating Lightbulb. This led to a link that itemized humor in pat little categories. I come from the point of view that humor cannot be delineated, mainly because it’s evolving year after year. (Try to find someone who genuinely thinks Much Ado About Nothing is funny AND isn’t a stuffy English major and/or professor.) So it was a small surprise that I couldn’t think of any humor that didn’t fit at least one of the types on the list. (Before you argue that “pun” isn’t on the list, I should tell you it’s right there under “conundrum.” A better argument is whether or not puns belong on a list about types of humor at all.)

One of the more interesting humor forms is something called “switching”: “a common form of switching is changing the main parts of the story, such as the setup or the punch line, and creating a new joke.” Is it something like those Seinfeld “yadda yadda yadda” jokes? Or could this be referring to Zach Weiner’s Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, where, oftentimes, the punchline actually changes the meaning of the drawing itself?

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal
Usually when I write these reviews, I make it a point to plow through the entire archive of a comic. I figure it’s only fair. Today, however, I make an exception for the very first time. Why? For starters, the most obvious of reasons: the comics is too damn long. The strip updates every day since 2002, and right now the archive is over 1000 strips long. Yeah, **** that noise.

Second, it’s a gag-a-day strip. There a no continuing plotlines. Just the single panel joke, like you’d find in The Far Side, Bizarro, and Non Sequitur. Typically, gag writers go to the well to the same types of jokes multiple times. I mean, if you’ve built your reputation on jokes about guys putting on fun costumes before plummeting to their death, you’re not going to suddenly switch to cute puns your two-year-old made up while he was in the park chasing pigeons. It’s not a bad thing: it’s easier for the writer to think up of new jokes within the template, and loyal readers get what they want. It’s just that if you try to read several at a time, the jokes become more and more telegraphed. You can only do so many jokes about wacky, insensitive and inappropriate props before the novelty wears off. So you gotta read SMBC in small portions, the way Zach intended you to.

And finally, I soon came to realize that long term exposure to SMBC can actually eat away at the very soul. There are many ways to practice dark humor. Webcomics like Lucid TV and 1930 Nightmare Theatre unrelentingly go for the jugular. SMBC belongs to the same school of humor as Perry Bible Fellowship: lull the reader into the illusion of a comfort zone, making the denouement all the more shocking. The key difference is that PBF takes 3 to 4 panels; SMBC accomplishes its task in one. And make no mistake, SMBC is dark. Not blacker than the blackest black, times infinity, but dark nonetheless. Weiner throws you off at first by the generally friendly character designs and the lack of any overt images of gore. But the punchline is usually about hopelessness, shame, anger, adultery, and ultimately death.

So why do I give this five stars? Because it’s hilarious! Weiner puts some clever twists on old jokes, and, despite being churned out on a routine basis, the punchline almost always blindsides you. There’s the switching: Zach plays with your expectations by setting you up on the most cliche of panels, and then dings you with a punchline that you never saw coming. It’s hard to find a webcomic out there that’s this consistently funny … as long as mildly dark humor is up your alley, that is.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

About El Santo

Somehow ended up reading and reviewing almost 300 different webcomics. Life is funny, huh? Despite owning two masks, is not actually a luchador.

Posted on September 23, 2008, in 5 Stars, comedy webcomic, One Punch Reviews, single panel webcomic, The Webcomic Overlook, webcomics and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. So you don’t subtract a star when something “can actually eat away at the very soul?”

  2. I meant it in a good way. 🙂

  3. What do you mean Much Ado About Nothing isn’t funny? It’s friggin’ hilarious. Next you’ll say Pride and Prejudice isn’t witty.

    I don’t really know about that list (other than the font made me want to choke someone). I couldn’t really define the kind of humor used in my own comic from it. Maybe it’s because I use a variety of these and they’re all just very low-key (although one of the characters is much in favor of the understatement). Of course, humor’s not the driving force of the comic. It’s a drama that happens to have humorous bits along the way. I guess that’s probably my favorite kind of humor.

    I tend to find SMBC funny on occasion. I think I found 2-3 of the PBFs funny. For the most part, it’s just horrible and I blink at it. >.>

  4. English major spotted!

    And Jane Austen … witty? Pfah! PFAH, I say! George Bernard Shaw, that’s where it’s at. “Arms and The Man” be all up in your grill!

    I find, by the way, that it’s hardest to explain why I like one form of humor over another. Delos and Anthony (and quite possible Brad Guigar) will probably slam me for disrespecting the pun. Others will probably give me the evil eye if I mention that I thought “Fat Guy Stuck on Internet” was funny. (It appears I may be the only fan in the whole wide world.) And Tim & Eric fans make me wonder, sometimes, if I’m even watching the same show.

    Humor may be the most subjective and least quantifiable aspect of anything ever — which is, incidentally, why I probably found those categorizations fascinating in the first place.

  5. Ha, got you! I’m no English major. I majored in linguistics and Japanese literature. Genji up in your grill!

    And if Jane Austen wasn’t witty…why the heck does everyone read her books? They’re boring as limbo – the only thing going for them is all the clever remarks. That’s it.

    I think I’ve read or seen something or another by Shaw, but it’s not coming. Maybe I just think I have, as I’ve seen a lot by Oscar Wilde?

    Now here’s a curiosity: I’m 120% more likely to find a joke funny if it’s on stage. TV or big screen do not tend to do any better than a comic or prose format, but the stage tends to just win. Especially if it’s a musical.

  6. Hey, thanks for the mention. After my wife read that post she brought to my attention the results of an ambitious attempt to define humor scientifically. Scientist brought in comedians, jokes were tested for funniness, the works.

    In the end, the conclusion was that humor is the element of surprise.

    It seems the element of surprise can extend beyond humor, but humor can’t extend beyond the element of surprise.

    Ben Gordon

  7. Heh. I think that’s the same study where Dave Barry encouraged his readers to mail in jokes that had the punchline “A weasel is chomping on my privates.” I think those scientists ended up getting thousands of jokes with that punchline.

  8. Hey, I ain’t a stuffy English major (hence the “ain’t”), and I could find the humor in Much Ado About Nothing. Then again, compared to being forced to read Wuthering Heights or the Great Gatsby in my high school English classes, I could appreciate The Bard’s work a little more.

    But back on topic, how could you not give SMBC 5-stars? It’s a classic as far as gag-a-day strips go, combining a regular picture with the perfect non-sequitor almost every time that springs up and smacks you in the face like a loose rake in one of those Simpsons episodes with Sideshow Bob.

    Bah, my extended similies are slipping. I gotta get back in the groove.

  9. I’d like to say, I’m a fan of SMBC. I find gag-a-days usually aren’t that great, but like golf, there will always be one that keeps you coming back for more 🙂

    As for shameless self promoter DRAGON … did you get your comic strip idea from

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