Savant of silliness cracks up The New Yorker

Opinion: Columns

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By John Rice

Columnist / Staff reporter

Terry Keshner is fortunate to have a weird sense of humor. The longtime Forest Park resident loves silliness and enjoys writing "goofy stuff." This makes him well-equipped for the New Yorker magazine's Cartoon Caption Contest. Each week, the magazine runs a caption-less cartoon on the last page. Contestants submit their caption online. Readers rate the captions as "Unfunny," "Somewhat Funny" or just plain "Funny." Terry's caption in the Aug. 26 issue cracked up enough people to win First Place in the contest.

This was not Terry's first brush with comic success. His caption in January 2010 took 2nd Place. The cartoon depicted a doctor examining a man in his office, while making shadow rabbits with his hands. Terry's caption read: "Yes, Mr. Rabbit also needs to quit drinking." Alcohol-related humor from a Forest Park contestant. Perfect.

This year's winner features a cartoon showing two urban bicyclists. One man is dressed casually while the other is wearing a full suit of armor. Terry's caption shows the knight saying: "It started as a crusade. Now it's just a commute." Like most New Yorker cartoons, it's subtle and quirky. Winning the contest is no small feat, if you consider the late Roger Ebert submitted a caption every week for years and never finished in the top three.

Terry started submitting captions 20 years ago when the contest was held only once a year. It later became a weekly feature. They run cartoons that didn't make the editor's cut, but they stimulate Terry's imagination. He pictures himself in the situation the cartoon depicts and writes down a bunch of captions. He selects one to submit. In the case of the knight cartoon, he knew it was a good one. 

Terry has fun writing humor because there is nothing funny about his day job. He has been a freelance reporter and editor for WBBM Radio for the past 17 years. He covers fires, crimes and environmental issues. He also does sports updates on Chicago teams but doesn't actually go to their games.

Terry's voice can be heard on the radio at various times of the day and night. He constantly monitors social media, especially Twitter. He was following Mayor Lightfoot's Twitter account when she blasted Sen. Cruz for his remarks about gun violence in Chicago. His electronic "scoop" made national news. 

He is also an on-site reporter and records interviews that play on the air. He records interviews with his phone and edits them at the station. Terry enjoys digging up stories and writing copy for news broadcasts. He also likes working out of the station's offices, which are located near Millennium Park. 

Creative writing, though, remains his first love. He likes writing fiction and has completed a number of short stories and a yet-to-be-published novel. He also writes humor pieces but points to his winning caption as his biggest success in humor writing. It also served another purpose: "As a reporter, I want to put words in people's mouth," he quipped. "This way I can."

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