Pretty much all the readers of this blog come from Pointless Waste of Time, the forums at Cracked.com, so no doubt John Cheese needs no introduction. However, since he insisted on drawing up a legal document before this interview began, I am now contractually obligated to write one.
Mack Leighty was born, like so many great men before him, in a log cabin that he built with his own hands. Then, like Jesus (and Shakespeare!), his childhood years are lost in a fog of mystery, until we finally catch up with him joining his best friend David Wong to write for Wong's website Pointless Waste of Time, writing articles as John Cheese (also like Shakespeare!). This incarnation of John Cheese was a little different than the John Cheese his newer readers might know and fear today. John then started the website Juvenile Comedy after an argument with Wong over whether or not to spend the ridiculous amount of money they'd accumulated on illegal mongooses or a nice set of Wedgwood china.
John Cheese later became a regular article writer, and then a columnist, at Cracked, while also gaining a permanent layout job behind the scenes and offering his services to the Editorial team as a contract killer.
He usually does all three jobs without pants. (Again, like Shakespeare. The parallels are downright spooky.)
I had the contractually-obligated pleasure of sitting down and talking with John a few days ago, and managed to get a fairly professional interview. We discussed his early work; his opinion on the old media vs. new media issue; his friendship with David Wong, the man who made the FBI's Top Ten Most Wanted Criminals list famous once he was added to it; John's upcoming marriage; giving him one good reason not to kill me where I stood; why he was holding a knife; me not being a hired assassin, really, John, I swear, I've never even heard of the League of Squancho; and which was the quickest way to get to the hospital.
* * * * * * * * *
I arrived at the restaurant ten minutes early, eager to begin.
As I waited for John to show up, I looked over my notes once more, steeling myself for the most important and so far only interview for a blog that I need to pay more attention to, and would if I got more feedback,which I think you'll admit is quite an obvious hint.
He entered the restaurant and I tried to catch his eye, but the hostess had begun talking to him and so his attention was routed to her. Their exchange lasted an unusually long amount of time, and when it was over her eyes were different colors and he had somehow exchanged his necktie for a bow tie that closer inspection would prove to be made of construction paper.
He sat down, de-napkined his silverware, and spent a moment glaring at it. When he had finished, he looked up at me expectantly.
I started with the most important question.
"Did you manage to see where the restrooms are?"
He pointed me in a direction that was somewhat correct, and when I returned from my adventure, I discovered that John had already ordered for both of us, and that he'd already eaten the food he had ordered for me.
I sat back down at the table and cleared my throat. John settled himself into an attentive pose.
Suddenly I realized that somewhere on the way back to my chair I had become extremely tense. I clutched my legal pad like a life preserver and felt my panic-freeze sweat soften its edges. This man was one of my idols. Not, like, in a Martin Luther King, Jr. way, where you idolize him for a world-changing achievement--
--but more in the way that doesn't make him or her into a legendary figure. I guess a closer phrasing would be that I looked up to him.
I decided to launch into my first question before I could think about all the ways I might end up disappointing him.
Nimby: How do you think your writing style has changed over the years?
John Cheese: When I first started out on the net back in 1997, all of my writing was based on the surreal. I used to set up innocent sounding, fictional situations and then make them progressively more corrupt and bizarre as the article went along. Since it was all character based, I could take an article like that anywhere I wanted. There was no research. No facts. Just silliness.
Not long before I came to Cracked, there was a transitional phase where I mixed reality with surreality. For instance, I'd write about finding a new girlfriend, but during the course of the article, I'd have it break down into a ninja type of fight, complete with back flips and ridiculousness.
Now, I've stripped out the fiction completely. There is no character. And it turns out that the reality-based articles that have a personal touch pull an absolutely insane amount of traffic. People want to read something they can relate to--and though my old fiction pieces had value on a comedy level, they never had the support and following like my Cracked pieces.