the lazlo letters
Don Novello (Workman)
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
The Lazlo Letters,
by Don Novello (1977)
by Don Novello (1992)
Bush to Bush,
by Don Novello (2003)
by Paul Davidson (2003)
From a Nut,
by Ted L. Nancy (1999)
Letters From a Nut,
by Ted L. Nancy (1998)
by Ted L. Nancy (2000)
by Joe Mozian (2002)
Sterling Huck Letters,
by Sterling Huck (2002)
by Paul Rosa (1995)
by Paul Rosa (1998)
Winkle Has a Complaint!,
by Wilbur Winkle (1997)
Us a Line, Sucker,
by James and Stewart Wade (1995)
My Bush Pig's Name is Boris,
by James Wade (1991)
Complete Henry Root Letters,
by William Donaldson (2001)
by Randy Cohen (1981)
review first appeared in my fanzine, Chip's Closet Cleaner, Issue
also: Celebrity Postal Test; No First Date (site)
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