Sunday Mailbag

November 28th, 2010 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: How old do you have to be to read MAD Magazine?

A: I could take that question one of two ways… either you are:

  1. A parent asking about MAD‘s age appropriate suitability as it pertains to allowing your kids to read the magazine, or
  2. A kid asking how old you have to be to read MAD.

If it’s the former, then that is an impossible question to answer because all parents have different ideas what is appropriate for their kids. The best I can do is describe what kind of stuff you can expect to find in MAD and let you decide for yourself. MAD has always reflected the outer boundaries of what I call “prime time humor”, meaning it really never goes beyond what you might see on prime time network television. Of course, these days that includes shows like “The Family Guy”, so take that as you will.

What you can expect to find in a typical issue of MAD:

  1. “Bathroom” humor and jokes based on various bodily fluids\excretions
  2. Minor swearing with words like “ass”, “bastard” etc. and implied swearing with words like “f*#@ing”, “A-holes” etc.
  3. Very minor cartoon nudity (usually that naughty Sergio guy)
  4. Humor with sex/drugs as the subject matter, especially pertaining to pop culture scandals/phenomenon
  5. Political humor and subject matter (which right winger’s will say has an all-liberal agenda and left wingers will say unfairly bashes Obama)
  6. Jokes about Carrot Top

What you will NOT find in MAD:

  1. R-rated swearing
  2. Nudity or pornography
  3. Funny jokes about Carrot Top
  4. Anything approaching good taste

Essentially MAD has always been something parents don’t usually approve of but doesn’t contain anything they can really point at as being totally inappropriate… especially if they let their kids watch cable TV. In fact, I’d argue that today’s MAD is relatively tame compared to many TV shows like the previously mentioned “Family Guy”, many sitcoms and some of the pretty violent crime shows you see on network TV. Humor is pushed much farther in other media than MAD is willing to go these days, so it’s “edginess” is much less edgy than it was in the 60’s and 70’s, when it had a more subversive reputation and yet was really even tamer than it is today. It’s all relative to the rest of the world.

Still, your own perspective is most important when it comes to what is objectionable in MAD or any other form of entertainment you may or may not want your kids exposed to. If I had to relate MAD to a scale like that used with movies, I’d say it was PG 13, and not near pushing the envelope to “R”.

For what it’s worth, I let my kids read MAD starting at about age 11. My parents never let me read MAD at all… and they still don’t know I read it let alone work for them. If you happen to know my parents, the official “story” is I draw cartoon bunny rabbits for Nickelodeon. Don’t blow my cover.

I hope that helped you decide whether or not to warp your kids brains by allowing them to read MAD. Hopefully the kids you are wondering about are in grade school and not 30ish, still living in your basement and claim “Attained level 80 with 142 characters” on World of Warcraft” on their resume. If so, it’s possible allowing them to have read MAD at age 10 might have actually helped your current situation… if that is conceivable.

Oh, and if the original question was taken as the latter?

A: Any age you can get your hands on a copy. Enjoy.

Thanks to Neal for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me your questions and I’ll try and answer them here!


  1. Lee Fortuna says:

    LMAO!!! That was a GREAT answer Tom! As tired as I am raising three teens that drive, I really needed that laugh, Thanks! By the way, do you draw bunny rabbits?


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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