“Dig the groovy new humor craze that’s sweeping the country!”
I have to take a week off, I’m afraid, because I’m out of town at a conference. Plus, I’ve finally moved past the “writing about Ron Sproat” phase of my life, so it’s a good time to take a moment and reflect.
But I can’t just leave you with nothing to read all week, so instead of episodes, I’m going to post excerpts from Barnabas Collins In a Funny Vein. Allow me to explain.
A while back, in a post called “The Ladykiller“, we discussed the strange and rather depressing line of Dark Shadows gothic novels that were published by Paperback Library while the show was on the air.
The book series was very successful, and by Ferbruary 1969 the show was a blockbuster hit, so naturally the great minds at Paperback Library turned their thoughts toward diversifying the line.
There are three components of the Dark Shadows target demographic — housewives, teenagers and the young set — and Paperback Library’s first novelty book is aimed squarely at the middle-schoolers. On screen, the children of Collinwood are being tormented by an angry ancestor, while the children of America are busy saving up nickels for their very own copy of the Dark Shadows joke book, Barnabas Collins In a Funny Vein.
It’s an odd piece of work — 91 pages of vampire jokes (kind of), written in big print to maximize the humor. Now, you may ask yourself, how can somebody write 91 straight pages of vampire jokes? The answer is that you can’t.
There are maybe four possible vampire jokes, and once you’ve done puns on “blood”, “coffin”, “bat” and the Vampire State Building, you’re pretty much out of options. Funny Vein gets through three out of four on the first page, with 90 pages to go.
So, while I’m away this week, I will share with you some of the sublime insanity of my favorite book of all time (not really), Barnabas Collins In a Funny Vein.
To start with, here’s the introduction.
Barnabas Collins likes his part as a vampire. He says:
This is a part I can sink my teeth into.
I always thought the show needed new blood.
I knew this would be my ghoulden opportunity.
This has the possibility of being a fangtastic show.
The work on the show is very hard. From time to time I sit down and take a coffin break.
First thing I did was open an office for my fan club at the Vampire State Building.
Anyone who wishes to send me fang mail can send it to the dead letter office. I also want to hire a secretary, to file my teeth.
Barnabas also says: “You can clean up acting in soap operas.”
And then it kind of just goes on from there. I’m going to skip around for a while to give you a taste of the comedy.
Is Barnabas ever late for work?
No, he always gets there just in the neck of time.
What does he do when he has a cold?
He takes coffin medicine.
Does Barnabas like to talk to people?
He likes to talk a lot. He likes to engage in die-a-logues.
Why is Barnabas like a cosmetic?
His lips stick.
Does Barnabas eat oranges?
No, but he is very fond of neck-tarines.
If you read these one after the other, you start to build up a picture of Barnabas as a jet-setting celebrity, whose activities and preferences are worthy of examination in pitiless detail.
Who is Barnabas’ favorite president?
He likes Franklin Pierce.
Is Barnabas interested in art?
No, he’s more interested in artery.
Do you know how Barnabas travels when can’t fly?
He drives a bloodmobile.
Why doesn’t Barnabas like victims with coal dust on their bodies?
He says they try to give him the coal shoulder.
What did Barnabas do when he wanted to go on a diet?
He bit The Thin Man.
What does Barnabas say after he bites a girl?
He always tells her, “Fang you very much.”
Yeah, I know. The coal dust, right? It gets super weird.
Also, Barnabas knows that he’s on TV:
Why did Barnabas take the job on Dark Shadows?
Because he was told he could drink on the job.
Who writes his dialogue for Dark Shadows?
A staff of ghost writers.
What does Barnabas tell the models who want to be on Dark Shadows?
He tells them to come by for a scream test.
Do Barnabas’ fellow actors like him?
Yes, except when he makes biting remarks.
Does Barnabas use makeup before he goes on TV?
Of course, otherwise he would have dark shadows.
What happened when Barnabas forgot his lines on the show?
There was dead silence.
When Barnabas’ fans meet, what do they say?
And he’s perfectly comfortable with everybody knowing that he’s a vampire:
While I was on a flight to England, a stewardess asked me if I would like to see a menu. I told her no, I’d rather see the passenger list.
A lot of students like to come and listen to Barnabas talk. They find that his conversation is always pointed.
Why doesn’t Barnabas like Dracula?
We don’t know for sure, but we hear there’s some bad blood between them.
I get embarrassed when people see my fangs and tell me it’s impolite to point.
Barnabas likes to go to tooth sales. He always likes to buy cuspids.
Why doesn’t Barnabas get his teeth filled?
The dentist doesn’t fill Barnabas’ teeth; Barnabas’ teeth fill him.
What is different about having lunch with Barnabas?
You don’t pick your teeth after the meal, his teeth pick you.
How is a picnic different when Barnabas is along?
When Barnabas goes on a picnic, the ants don’t bite him, he bites the aunts.
Barnabas is 175 years old. When he has a birthday party, he turns off the heat in his house. The candles keep the house warm.
And then this happens:
Recently at a party we tied up a beautiful woman and drank her blood. She wouldn’t come to our next party. Said she was tired of being stuck for the drinks.
Where you just don’t know what to do with it. I mean, it just sits there on the page and dares you to come up with a reaction. There are so many jokes like that.
Barnabas likes to go to England and listen to cockneys talk about painting. He especially likes to hear them talk about works of h’art.
What happened when Barnabas bit a rabbi?
He told him, “You certainly don’t taste Jewish.”
Does Barnabas have any hobbies?
He’s a printer. He makes imprints. Tooth imprints.
What happens when Barnabas bites a Chinaman?
He finds that he’s hungry again in about two hours.
So. Many. Jokes. Like that.
Does Barnabas like jokes?
He’s just a sucker for a gag. Or a female gag-writer.
You should hear Barnabas talk about Gore Vidal. He says he’d like to drain Gore of his Vidality.
Who is Barnabas’ favorite Chinaman?
Does Barnabas have a record player?
Sure. He has a hi-fang set.
At a certain point, it actually becomes kind of a hypnotic experience. Just this, for 91 straight pages.
Does Barnabas use any makeup on television?
No, he just dies his hair.
A lot of entertainers are thinking of going into politics. Is Barnabas?
He won’t run for office. He knows he doesn’t have a ghost of a chance.
You don’t have to worry about biting your nails when Barnabas is around. He’d bite them for you.
Why doesn’t Bob Hope ever watch Dark Shadows?
Because Barnabas has a sign over his door which states: “All Ye Who Pass Here, Abandon Hope”.
How does Barnabas make money?
He sells ballpoint pens — which are guaranteed for life — to his victims.
What kind of protest button does the world’s greatest vampire wear?
His button says: “Blood Power”.
So, obviously I have a deep and complicated relationship with this book. It is objectively terrible, like so many things that Dark Shadows touches, and yet there’s something about it that transports you into a unique and perplexing new dimension.
This joke is a particular favorite of mine:
When I dress up, I always wear a tie. When it’s a formal party, I just kill a bat and tie it around my neck.
Of course you do. Anyway, this is what we’re exploring all week, so stay tuned for more. Blood Power!
Tomorrow: Why Did Barnabas Become a Vampire?
— Danny Horn