Stooples: Office Tools for Hopeless Fools is a hilarious office catalog parody. Creator Kevin Reifler tells how the book came to be and gives advice to aspiring humor writers.
Office humor: An interview with Kevin Reifler Kevin Reifler, author of Stooples: Office Tools for Hopeless Fools, is the CEO of the independent marketing and consultation firms LegalVoice and AccountingVoice. He also works as a consultant to HumorWorks, an organization dedicated to bringing humor into the workplace.
Jeff Faehnle: How did you decide to create the catalog form as a vehicle for your parody of the American workplace?
Kevin Reifler: Alfred Gingold did a masterful job parodying L.L. Bean catalogs in the 1980s with “Items from our Catalog.” I loved it. I wanted to create a parody catalog bookend, and I think Stooples captures the same nutty catalog spirit.
I loved the “Items…” sequel and hoped for more. But other than a scathing Pentagon Catalog by Henry Beard and Christopher Cerf, also created in the 1980s, little catalog humor appeared, and what came wasn’t too funny.
It’s amazing that the ubiquitous catalog has been relatively unparodied through the years. Maybe it’s a case of hiding in plain sight.
JF: Was there a specific moment during your time in the office setting when you decided that the corporate world was just too ridiculous to not satirize?
KR: Yeah, I think it was the muffin incident. I brought breakfast muffins one morning while visiting a friend at his company. He looked stricken when I pulled out the muffins.
“We can’t eat those here,” my friend explained.
“We have a ‘no-muffin’ rule. The crumbs get stuck in the keyboard.”
“What about bagels? Bagels make crumbs. And Corn Flakes, too.”
My friend shushed me. “Don’t give HR any new ideas.”
JF: What is your favorite product in the Stooples catalog?
KR: The Who Cut The Cheese Sodium Pentothol. “It’s only the middle of the meeting, but flatulence is a major problem. Just who cut the cheese? No one owns up, but you’ll get answers quickly…”
Attrition Helper is always fun, as well as Czech in the Mail and Fluorescent-Light Tanning Butter. But if I had to choose a second favorite it would be the Blackbury After-Death Communicator: “Just because you’re deceased doesn’t mean you shouldn’t answer your e-mails.”
JF: What was the most difficult part about writing Stooples , and how did you overcome it?
KR: The products were easy, because I just thought of the stupidest solutions for the most wicked office situations: mean bosses, dumb HR rules, disastrous holiday parties, and so on. However, I wanted Stooples to be more than a catalog. Luckily, I was joined by Dow Jones editor Adam Najberg, who developed the facade of a Stooples company: CEO Donnie Steintrumper, CFO de Krook and Assistant Operations Manager Ivana Bump. The book is full of official and unofficial e-mails and communications from our fictional executives. Working with Naj made it easy; I needed to collaborate with someone who knew finance and business and humor inside out.
JF: Are we going to see any new editions of Stooples?
KR: Don’t think so. There are so many other things to satirize: sex, money, power, the Bush Administration…oh, that one’s been done. Anyway, I’d like to move on to something new.
JF: The book was dedicated to a long list of comedians. Who was your biggest influence as a writer and as a humorist?
KR: Tie between Bob and Ray and Jean Shepherd. Dry humor, story telling, the works. They were my professors, and class was every afternoon and evening while growing up.
JF: Being the CEO of an independent marketing and consulting firm you must have had to juggle writing this book and your career. Do you have any advice for new writers who might be stuck in the rat race?
KR: Everyone says to write what you know. If you work in accounting, and you want to be a humorist, offer a humor column to Accounting Today. If you work for Vlasic, then be funny for Pickles Quarterly. Just write. Do it for free. Why not? You have a job. You are lucky, as well as chicken. If you had real moxie you’d quit fudging the books for Pickle companies and start writing humor for a living. Oh, you like to eat? Never mind.
What I have found if you have a job and humor is your passion, then the world is wide open to you. Everyone wants humor, cheap. But at least they want it, and you have a precious commodity.
Another piece of advice is while driving down the New Jersey Turnpike and a funny bit pops in your head, you might want to move to the shoulder rather than look for pen and paper at 85 MPH. Telling your bit to the state trooper and then the judge is only going to make things worse.
JF: With your marketing background how are you going about selling Stooples?
KR: Using some new techniques. I developed a database of media people and wrote funny spam. It is important to obey Can Spam laws and make sure people can opt out when they don’t want to hear from you anymore.
I spent a year sending out funny press releases of some of our “A” material products. Built a following, which has led to good media reaction once the book came out in October.
By the time I was finished more than 250 media folks asked for a copy of the book. Maybe a third of them will write something, but 80+ plugs for a strange book is pretty good, I think.
I also wear a red Stooples shirt wherever I go, but I make sure I stay out of bullfighting rings.
Currently I go to the Barnes and Nobles in my neighborhood and chase people around the parking lot until they buy my book. This is a highly successful technique and I’ve already lost eight pounds!
JF: Was it difficult to find a publisher interested in a book with such an atypical form?
KR: I chased publishers around the parking lot until…sorry, I already did that bit.
St. Martins Press went for it, why I can’t say. Must have been something the publisher ate.
I believe the key was to have developed the funny photos for the products so they could see the book in all its dimensions. And our book marketing plan was very aggressive, which made the publisher all warm and fuzzy. Plus they looked at our funny web site, examined my funny prison record, and laughed when I threw up on my editor. They have a great sense of humor, those St. Martin guys.
JF: Have you set your sights on any other institutions to parody?
KR: I’m thinking about The University of Dayton.
Jeff Faehnle is assistant editor of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop newsletter.