Jokes Review is a literary journal that publishes fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, and art. The journal is open to experimental works, humorous works, and scraps of writing that may or may not be classified as jokes. In addition to traditional prose and poetry, Jokes Review would love to see submissions of rants, rogue journalism, and manifestos. Shorter works are best, but the editors will consider pieces up to 3,500 words. Read the complete guidelines here.
SQF: Why did you start this magazine?
Peter Clarke: I wanted to create a magazine that combines highbrow quality with lowbrow entertainment value. There aren’t many places that publish truly wild writing. When they do, it’s usually gimmicky or full of genre stereotypes.
Plenty of great writers have a secret treasure trove of absurd writing. For example, James Joyce’s letters to Nora. Even Roald Dahl (author of “Charlie and Chocolate Factory” and other children’s stories) published several over-the-top comedies and even a few sex novels.
Weird and unhinged writing goes all the way back to the birth of the novel with Rabelais and Cervantes. Yet the average respectable literary journal shies away from anything edgy or unpolished. Drunken rants, absurd manifestos, and outsider scribbles can all be great literature. That’s what Jokes Review wants: we want Rabelais for the 21st century.
SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?
PC: Literary magazines tend to ask for a writer’s “best” work. For us, that’s the last thing we want. Writers should save their best work for The New Yorker. Instead, we want to publish a writer’s favorite work. As an editor, I can usually tell when a writer truly enjoyed writing something; likewise, I can tell when they wrote something because they thought it would make a “good” story.
Along with that, these are the top three things I look for in a submission:
3. Entertainment value
Voice, originality, and high entertainment value are things that can’t be faked. Everyone has a unique voice and original ideas, but it’s incredibly rare when someone can translate these things into a written work. You’d never confuse a George Saunders story for a Richard Brautigan story, just like you’d never confuse an Ishmael Reed story for something by J.P. Donleavy, Donald Barthelme, or Charles Bukowski. These writers with exceptionally strong voices are also some of the most entertaining authors out there.
SQF: What most often turns you off to a submission?
PC: Melodrama tops the list. Almost 100% of the time, melodramatic stories come off as cheesy. So, we don’t plan on publishing many love poems.
Also stereotypes. Reading a story with stereotypes is like listening to a cover band. Even if it’s good, it’s the product of a lack of imagination and it’s phony.
My last turn-off is pretty specific, but I have to mention it. If the words “my father” appear anywhere on the first page, I’m going to be skeptical. It’s hilarious how often “my father” is a character in stories. Do people really think their dads are that interesting? Along with “my father” stories, stories about family issues in general are usually boring, overdone, and full of melodrama and stereotypes.
SQF: Will you publish a work previously posted on a writer/artist's website/blog?
PC: We’re not entirely opposed to this so long as the writer/artist is upfront about it. We’d prefer to be the first place a work appears. But if George Saunders came to us with a story he’d posted on his website, there’s no way we’d turn it down. He could publish a story on a damn billboard first and we’d still publish it.
SQF: If Jokes Review had a theme song, what would it be and why?
PC: Our theme song would be “I’m the Man to Be” by El Vy (the musical project of Matt Berninger from The National and Brent Knopt from Menomena). This song is irreverent, weird, slightly vulgar, self-deprecating, and intelligent without being pretentious. It’s also modern, independent, and the kids dig it. If you need something to dance to alone with an overpriced beer in hand, this is your song.
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?
PC: What are our favorite literary journals? That’s a pretty great question I’d like to answer. I really like 3AM Magazine. Their aesthetic is cool, their website is easy to navigate, their stories are fun and unexpected, and they’ve got the best slogan: “Whatever it is, we’re against it.” Genius!
The editors of Jokes Review (Matt Kramer, Mark Dwyer, and myself) also admittedly crush out on The New Yorker every now and then (especially when they do something rad like publish Robert Coover, Denis Johnson, Joan Didion, or articles about quitting your lousy day job and traveling).
A few other favorites: McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Cheap Pop, Drunk Monkeys, Zoetrope All-Story, Joyland Magazine, Blunderbuss Magazine, The Café Irreal, A Public Space, ZYZZYVA, and Hobart.
Thank you, Peter. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.