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Humor Writer of the Month: Michael Gerber

Michael Gerber has been writing, editing and publishing comedy professionally for nearly 35 years.

After getting into Yale on the strength of his humor column in Oak Park's famed Trapeze high school newspaper, he resurrected The Yale Record, America's oldest college humor magazine, which just celebrated its 150th birthday on — no joke — Sept. 11.)

In the 1990s, he was a Manhattan-based magazine consultant specializing in print comedy, working with everyone from MAD to National Lampoon and SPY, none of which ever recovered from his advice. With his writing partner Jonathan Schwarz, he wrote comedy for every major outlet, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Village Voice, Slate, and of course The New Yorker. His 1997 parody The Bull Street Journal circulated Army Man-style through the New York media world, and led to a brief-but-successful stint contributing to Saturday Night Live.

In 2003, his self-published parody Barry Trotter and the Shameless Parody became a phenomenon, reaching #2 on The London Times bestseller list and racking up over 1.25 million copies sold in 25 languages. Little-known in the US, Barry Trotter has secretly become one of the most successful parody books of all time, and was largely responsible for a five-year spate of longform print parodies throughout the UK, Europe and Japan.

In 2012, he was asked to resurrect Brian McConnachie's legendary American Bystander  magazine, using the hyper-efficient publishing models he'd developed for The Yale Record. (He has subsequently taught this model to college students at UCLA, DePaul, Ohio State and Cambridge.) The Bystander was launched in 2015 and has generated over $375,000 in crowdfunding, creating the model for many subsequent micro-magazines. In addition to publishing a one-of-a-kind collection of funny writers and cartoonists — a typical issue features contributors from MAD, The New Yorker, National Lampoon, SPY, SNL, The Simpsons and The Onion The Bystander has had a tremendously positive impact on the post-web comedy space, encouraging McSweeney's and others to pay for content, and changing the contracts offered by The New Yorker so that they are more favorable. After 24 issues and counting, Bystander is an important pipeline of young talent to places like Airmail, The New Yorker and TV. Happily overcommitted, he currently runs Bystander's print mag, oversees its biweekly Substack ("American Bystander's Viral Load") and the sister site, and plans to expand into book publishing and podcasting in 2023.

Gerber has begun offering one-on-one coaching to a handful of young writers and editors — it's THAT time of his career — and is constantly threatening a memoir, but gets tired just typing that. 

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