A typical example of a foolish question. Artist: Rube Goldberg.


Original medium: Newspaper comics
Appearing in: The New York Evening Mail
First Appeared: 1908
Creator: Rube Goldberg
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Rube Goldberg is not just one of the giants of the comics industry. He's one of the few cartoonists who can properly be described as "iconic". Not only is the Reuben Award, which has been given …

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… annually to America's top cartoonist for more than half a century, named after him — his "Rube Goldberg Devices" are famous even to people who have never seen one. But years before the devices came along, Goldberg's first big hit was a single-panel feature called Foolish Questions.

Goldberg was at New York's Evening Mail in 1908, where his duties had, for the past year, included producing Mike & Ike (They Look Alike). On October 23 of that year, he drew a man who had obviously been grievously injured by falling off the Flatiron Building. Asked if he were hurt, he replied, "No, I jump off this building every day to limber up for business." That was Foolish Question Number One. Thousands followed. They got far better reader response than Mike & Ike ever had. In fact, many of Goldberg's clever replies were given to questions offered by readers.

Much later, the cartoonist credited editor Franklin P. Adams with having suggested it. But Goldberg was the one whose career took an immediate upswing. His first book, published in 1909, was a "Foolish Questions" collection. More followed over the next several years. A 1921 collection depicted a man on the cover asking, "What's this, a book?"

The books weren't the feature's only media spin-off. There was a popular phonograph record as early as 1909, in which singer Billy Murray (who, a decade or two later, did the voice of Fleischer's Bimbo) proposed answers to such queries as "Is this for me?" (said by a young lady who has just been handed a box of chocolates) and "are you going to take a shave?" (said to a man who has just lathered up his face and is waving a manual razor). In 1919 there was a game version, where contestants would try to out-do each other with the replies. And as recently as the 1960s, cartoonist Al Jaffee (Ziggy Pig) inaugurated "Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions", which became a long-running department of Mad magazine, clearly inspired by Goldberg's classic. (By the way, Jaffee won The Reuben Award a century after the questions started.)

Readers' never seemed to tire of Goldberg's take on askers of the obvious. While his Lunatics I Have Known, Bobo Baxter, That's Life, and even the long-running Boob McNutt came and went, Foolish Questions chugged along. It finally ended in 1934. By that time, the famous devices had ensured that Goldberg's name will never be forgotten.


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Text ©2007 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Rube Goldberg estate.