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Lazlo Toth bookthe lazlo letters
by Don Novello (Workman)

Have you noticed lately that everyone and their uncle is writing prank letters to famous people or big companies, and publishing the results? It's the equivalent of calling the drugstore to ask if they have Prince Albert in a can. Besides my own feeble efforts to score free coupons, I've seen at least two sites on the Internet and a dozen books that archive goofy letters written and the replies. I'd love to ask the corporate lackeys who have to answer this crap if they get any letters from actual consumers. If they reply to these joke letters with anything besides a form response, they risk being mocked in some humor book. Those that show courage by wryly dissing the writer in their responses are often British, though a few stateside entities like Ringling Brothers have played along. The authors of one prank letter book said that companies who acknowledged that their outrageous requests must be a joke seemed more human. Lucy Kellaway, a columnist for the Financial Times, begged to differ: "It is surely a better strategy to risk looking foolish by falling into an occasional trap than offend a customer by making a joke out of their request."
The popular form of the modern prank letter dates back at least 20 years, to Don Novello, the comedian who portrayed Father Guido Sarducci on Saturday Night Live. Posing as an average American named Lazlo Toth, he wrote to dignitaries and corporations from 1973 to 1976. The punchline was always in his letters, so it hardly mattered if or how anyone replied. Lazlo was classic because he created a character that bordered on unbelievable but never crossed the line where you couldn't imagine your nutty uncle at the typewriter. His book opens, for instance, with a letter to President Nixon that simply reads, "Fight! Fight! Fight! I'm with ya!" and is signed "Lazlo Toth, voting for Richard Nixon since 1952!" Later Toth wrote to Mobil Oil to thank them "for all that the oil companies have done for this country." And even the most vile dictators seemed pleased to hear that Lazlo was a lifelong fan.
The letters written and sent by Novello's imitators sometimes are so off-the-wall that it's hard to believe any self-respecting consumer correspondent wouldn't smell a rat. For his book Idiot Letters, Paul Rosa wrote Xerox asking for a job and claiming a boating accident had left him with a weird affliction that made him type everything twice ("Dear Dear Xerox Xerox....,"). And wouldn't you suspect a put-on if you worked for the Denver Broncos and some fan wrote suggesting tackle football be changed to touch? Prankster brothers James and Stuart Wade are closer to purity Drop Us a Line, Sucker when they write American Business Lists asking how much it would cost to buy a mailing list of all businesses with the names World, Hut or Shack in their titles. Or when they attempt to register their dog in the TWA frequent flier program. Or when they contact Hormel to ask how the Strait of Hormel got its name. The meat people weren't surprised at Wade's mix-up with the Strait of Hormez because Hormel "is becoming more and more of a household word around the world." That's the kind of quick-thinking consumer affairs drone who deserves a promotion.


visitor feedback

From David Greenberger:
I have been a fan of the Lazlo Letters since it was first published. An extra joke in the whole thing was that the name Don Novello used, Lazlo Toth, was the name of the guy who attacked the statue in Rome, the Pieta I believe it was, in the late Sixties.

From Johnny Vaselino:
The Lazlo Letters is similar to a book called Modest Proposals, by Randy Cohen. Most of his letters date from the late Seventies. Cohen was a staff writer for Letterman through much of the Eighties, and Novello has always moved in those circles, so it's likely their paths crossed. Cohen's book is hilarious. In a letter to the New York subway commissioner he proposed raising revenue by adding a bar car and dining car to each train of subway cars, like on Amtrak. He asks President Carter if, as president, he still carries his wallet with him. He writes the director of the U.S. Bureau of Printing & Engraving with his reasons as to why the Susan B. "Anton" dollar coin failed, and suggests redesigning the U.S. currency to feature Charlie's Angels. It's one of my favorite books.

From Johanna van Lieburg:
Lazlo is an inspiration to all — even our four-footed friends, or at least Daniel O' Mara of Austin, writing to CEOs as Steven the Irish Setter, such as this excerpt (in McSweeney's) from a letter to Peter Bijur of Texaco: "I bark all night at least once a month. In cars, I'm quiet. I run around trees like a stick in a current around rocks that are smooth. Hoooo! Hoooo! Yeah you got me now, yeah! Man I wish you could have seen all this. Mr. Bijur, you are too kind. Keep up the work." Very nice.

From Christopher Jorgensen:
I thought you might enjoy checking out my site, Jackassletters.com. Lazlo wasn't the first, and I won't be the last, but I am running with the idea.


prank letters bookstore

Bush to Bush by Don NovelloThe Lazlo Letters, by Don Novello (1977)

Citizen Lazlo, by Don Novello (1992)

From Bush to Bush, by Don Novello (2003)

Consumer Joe, by Paul Davidson (2003)

Letters From a Nut, by Ted L. Nancy (1999)

More Letters From a Nut, by Ted L. Nancy (1998)

Sterling Huck LettersExtra Nutty!, by Ted L. Nancy (2000)

Hire Me, Dumbass!, by Joe Mozian (2002)

The Sterling Huck Letters, by Sterling Huck (2002)

Idiot Letters, by Paul Rosa (1995)

Complete Idiot Letters, by Paul Rosa (1998)

Wilbur Winkle Has a Complaint!, by Wilbur Winkle (1997)

Drop Us a Line, Sucker, by James and Stewart Wade (1995)

P.S. My Bush Pig's Name is Boris, by James Wade (1991)

The Complete Henry Root Letters, by William Donaldson (2001)

Modest Proposals, by Randy Cohen (1981)


This review first appeared in my fanzine, Chip's Closet Cleaner, Issue 13.

See also: Celebrity Postal Test; No First Date (site)

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