Once upon a (noun), there was a (adjective) (noun). The (noun) (verb ending in “ed”) as (adverb) as possible. (Exclamation)!
The idea seems simple enough, perhaps even half-baked considering that it’s premise is based on finishing half-sentences. Mad Libs brings out the grammatical wiz in everyone by asking them to offer up a few off-the-cuff words in order to fill in the missing pieces in a few paragraphs. And while the results often resemble utter nonsense, they can also be unexpectedly hilarious. As a result, Mad Libs has endeared itself to millions and remains on store shelves some fifty years after its introduction.
The Mad Libs brainchild was born in the back rooms of The Steve Allen Show where Roger Price and Leonard Stern worked as comedy writers. Price had already made one claim to fame with “Droodles” and Mad Libs would cement his legacy. With “Ridiculously Simple Directions on Back Cover,” Mad Libs entered the mainstream at full steam. A Mad Libs booklet contained several pages, each dedicated to some form of writing: Short stories, beauty tips, movie reviews, letters to the editor, essays like “Why You Should Go To College,” – anything was fair game.
The common denominator were the blank spaces strewn throughout each piece. As a player read the passage, certain missing words had to be filled in according to the dictates of the game. For example, players would have to insert missing nouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, exclamations, colors, person in the room, and so on. The fun of Mad Libs was inserting whatever came off the top of the head without reading the story first. Then, when every blank had been filled, one read the story to the gut-busting delight of everyone in the room. The commonly enjoyed method for a round of Mad Libs features a kind of “Mad Libs Master of Ceremonies,” or someone who goes round the room eliciting responses from those present. But for the solo artist, Mad Libs came with a list of every blank space on the back of each page, allowing for sincere brainstorming undeterred by coy peeks at the story.
Mad Libs exploded onto the scene in 1958. The success was so immediate that several sequels and specialty versions have followed over the years. Holidays and events proved ample fodder for releases like Christmas Mad Libs, Bridal Shower Mad Libs, and many others. Comic book icons like Spider-man and The Incredible Hulk made their way to the Mad Libs along with other famous characters such as The Flinstones, Barbie, Popeye and Scooby-Doo. One of the best-selling children’s books of all time came out in 1974 in the form of Sooper Dooper Mad Libs. Of course, The Original Mad Libs #1 still rules as the popular word game to this day. Oh, and if you have a fleeting memory of a game show with the same name, you aren’t imagining things. Appearing on The Disney Channel in the late 90s, the show was a bizarre combination of word puzzles and physical challenges. Suffice to say, it only lasted a year.
The dynamic duo of Price and Stern released new Mad Libs every year for over thirty years until Price passed away in 1990. From that point forth, Stern continued the fine tradition until his passing in 2011. We can only hope that others will continue in their footsteps.
Mad Libs have accompanied millions of us to summer camp, on family road trips, slumber parties, birthday parties, dinner parties, and just about any other gathering that needed an easy injection of collective laughter. They continue to be sold in stores throughout the world, with countless varieties available. With any luck, future generations will still be filling in those endearing blank spaces for years to come.
If you fondly remember playing a few rounds of Mad Libs with friends and family back in the day, we welcome all of your thoughts in our comments section. And may the rest of your day be filled with (adjective)(noun).