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The Affection of Aficionados, An Ability to Gently Poke Fun

David Bruce Bozarth

WARNING: This article is rated "parental guidance suggested" because of adult subjects or themes which may be inappropriate for younger readers.

It is not unusual for those who love a thing to also express their enjoyment by having fun (poking fun!) at the same time. The "thing" that is the basis of this article is the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950), who is most famous for creating Tarzan of the Apes and writing many books about the jungle ape-man, and almost as famous are his other series novels such as war-like Barsoom (Mars), Pellucidar (Earth's core), Amtor (Venus), and two lesser series about the Moon and a strange island continent known as Caprona, and all the fun and humor we've enjoyed over the years.

Readers are intrigued and thrilled by these tales of wonder, honor, and love. Yet, Burroughs did not take these fanciful adventure romances too seriously and we were humorously entertained by Burroughs' pen when Tarzan was unable to land a leading role in a Lion Man movie because he did not fit the part, or was later mistaken as Johnny Weismuller during a WWII adventure. The author's own spirit of fun inspired a multitude of fan authors and artists to stretch their imaginations to create a whole genre of ERB humor.

The parodies, jokes, and art go back nearly as far as the books themselves. Today's fans of ERB have great fun when they find these spoofs, parodies, and asides poking fun at the tremendous volume of work penned by Burroughs, but that fun goes back much further than today. When I was a young teen during the 1960s a common Tarzan joke making the rounds was:

Q: What is black and white and red all over?

A: A sunburned zebra.

The "little kids" also liked:

Q: Why is a banana yellow?

A: So Tarzan can find his lunch box.

Recall that lunch boxes were still a feature of American public schools, and at that time were luridly illustrated with a variety of entertainment characters. I had a lunch box through the late 1950's, but it was red with no gimmicks. Hated that lunch box but did like the thermos and hot soup. Fortunately, mom grew tired of making the daily lunch, dad became more prosperous in his line of work, and I started to get an allowance to buy lunch at school. This was a rite of passage, dear readers. You would have had to have been there and my then tender age to understand the importance. Howsomeever, it was not long after that rite of passage I began to hear the "bigger kids" whispering these Tarzan jokes to each other:

Q: Why do elephants paint their nuts red?

A: So they can hide in the strawberry patch.

A two beat for the expected chuckle imagining an elephant hiding in ankle-high crops was allowed then immediately followed with:

Q: How did Tarzan die?

A: Picking strawberries!

A variation of the joke used apple trees and picking apples.

Pretty racy stuff for an eleven year old!

Convoluted Shaggie Dog stories of Tarzan painting black or white stripes on zebras, thus making them monochrome in appearance, had the the pun(ch) line: "Tarzan Stripes Forever," possibly inspired by the then popular "Sing Along With Mitch" (1961-1966) tv show which performed Sousa's musical piece rather frequently. Another shaggy dog had the Weismuller Tarzan hunting dinner for Jane of the tree house, who bemoans yet another meal of "Finch and Chimps" as provided by her husband.

The most avid young readers of Tarzan during that era also had a copy of a crude mimeograph of a startled Tarzan swinging on a vine with Jane swinging just below holding onto something beneath the ape-man's loin cloth. The sight gag had made the rounds years earlier, but it found new life as students working overtime on school newsletters with access to hand-cranked "mass-media" machines churned out multiple copies. Recently the gag was revived in honor of the Disney animation feature (see right).

There were few readers aged 10-16 in the 1960s who did not know that the famous MGM Tarzan yodel should be followed by an equally yodel-distorted WHO GREASED THE VINE? , the addition of which might have been inspired by the kooky, campy, and off-beat George of the Jungle cartoon (1967-1970). George of the Jungle's most often used gag was "Watch out for that tree!" whereupon the lantern-jawed jungle man, George of the Jungle, Jay Ward Productionsclinging to a vine, slammed face first into an imposing giant tree. Jay Ward's George spoofed not only the works of ERB but actively pursued parody of the still popular Weismuller, Barker, Scott, Henry and Mahoney movies regularly produced by Hollywood during the 1930s to 1960s.

Despite the adventure and thrills in these early Tarzan movies, the script writers injected a generous amount of humor--usually the chimp--that clearly parodies some of the themes found in Burroughs' Tarzan novels. One of the most common gags passed around by the public from generation to generation never actually happened:

"Me Tarzan, you Jane!"

Viewing the movie reveals the truth of "Tarzan...Jane!" with finger pointing between the two principle characters. The viewing audience, and subsequent generations remember the former--and also chuckle over the apparent incongruity of a muscled moron dictating a relationship with his gal. (See Porges, Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Man Who Created Tarzan)

Word and pictures were not the only forms of ERB humor parodies from the 1960s. Ray Stevens' hit song "Gitarzan" was released shortly after the ERB reprint boom began and contained such erudite lyrics as:

He's free as a breeze, he's always at ease

He lives in the jungle and hangs by his knees

As he swings through the trees without a trapeze

In his BVDs


He's got a union card and he's practicing hard

To play the guitar, gonna be a big star

Yeah, he's gonna go far

And carry moonbeams home in a jar


He ordered Chet's guitar course C.O.D.

Makes 'A' and 'E' and he's working on 'B'

Digs 'C' and 'W' and 'R' and 'B' and

Me and the Chimpanzee agree

That one day soon he'll be, a celebrity

Git it, git it, git it, git it, ow!

In recent years Hank Williams, Jr. mentioned Tarzan and Jane in the hilarious country rock tune entitled "Buck Naked."

Some of the Tarzan jokes in the early 1960s were not kind, though these jokes as a whole do illustrate an innocence of humor not yet educated by civil re-engineering. Many of the themes are considered racist or "politically incorrect" in today's enlightened times. However, one should place this humor in the perspective of the 1960s as the gags generally spoofed the Tarzan movies (Weismuller to Henry) and the Gold Key Tarzan comics and did so without our present hindsight point of reference or understanding toward the real Africa or what has now become known as Civil Rights. A few less egregious examples of this kind of humor are presented below:

Q: What is the brown goo between an elephant's toes?

A: Slow natives.

Q: What did the cannibal chief say to Tarzan?

A: "We'd like to have you for dinner."

During the 1970s-80s a series of one liners (tag lines) began to appear on FidoNet (a public broadcast email service that predated the current public-access Internet) which not only poked fun at ERB heroes but other public icons either in advertisements or the then current culture. (See Taglines - Tangor Responds)

I will swing no vine before its time. - Tarzan

The above tagline spoofs not only Tarzan but a series of wine commercials starring Orson Wells. In later years we find similar one liners which link Tarzan gags to Star Trek.

Tarzan of Borg - "Me assimilate. You assimilated."

Dead City, Tangor

Some of the late 1960s and early 1970s ERB-type books by Philip Jose Farmer are Burroughs puns or spoofs, but there is no doubt that David Bruce Bozarth's Dead Cities of Mars (1985) is one such. Deliberately written to be 180° of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom Series, Dead Cities of Mars is one of the more overt ERB fan parodies. Andrew J. Offett's Ardor on Aros (1973) injects a humorously girm sexual twist to the Burroughsian tale. For a romp which presents pure ERB fan insanity with a strong nod to slapstick comedy, nothing comes close to The Ratnaz Files by Bozarth and Hillman. Ratnaz embraces all the previous parodies and introduces a few new concepts of ERB humor as well.

The release of the Disney Tarzan (1999) unleashed an explosion of humorous (and not so humorous) erotic art. See Disney Not For Kids.

The most active punsters, however, are the day-to-day posters on the ERB listservers, ERBList and ERBCOF-L. The Internet fun is nothing new. Jeff Long, for example, produced a parody newspaper on the Internet called THE BARSOOMIAN BLADE back in 1996. Prior to that Bozarth published WHIZZLE'S CLASSIC SF (soon to appear at Tangor's Fan Fiction due to a server move) and these two sites enjoyed an overlap of amusements, spawning a number of other ERB fan websites which concentrated on the pun and humor yet also embraced the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Alas, the majority of those sites have vanished. The Web posts up to 100,000 web pages per hour and loses about half that in the same time period. But it is the unexpected and off-the-wall one-liners or short paragraph humors on the list servers that deliver the most "bang for the buck."

The listservers remain fairly constant in membership and spirit. When the group funny bone gets tickled there can be some fun exchanges. Flem Chapman's "Cheeseburger Men of Mars" resulted in a hilarious series of exchanges. Tangor's Limerick contest for the Barsoom Poet's Corner unearthed a previously unsuspected batch of poets.

Tartzan sample

Tartzan parody cover by Tangor, 1999. One of a limited series of extremely low circulation image parodies and political speak. NO REQUESTS FOR TARTZAN IMAGES WILL BE HONORED. Read text at left. Sometimes fan fun goes too far.

The most amusing set of puns on the listservers, based upon a typo in a message from a long time member, was TARTZAN. The typo spawned upwards of sixty pun titles such as "Tartzan and the Tartzan Twins." For nearly two months, during a time when the theatrical film "Tarzan and the Lost City" (1998) was released and the Clinton and Lewinski scandal were winding down, and Disney's Tarzan (1999) was ramping up, the list members had great fun in posts to the lists. Less commonly known among fans was a series of 13 Tartzan images created by various fans in the spirit of fun. However, though the Tartzan pun titles were benignly risqué and the images generally uncirculated, the Tartzan gag faced trickle down pressure from ERB, Inc. The unamused threat of legal action by ERB Inc. effectively quelled the Tartzan tide of creative parody by Internet fans.

It must be stated that ERB Inc. DID act correctly AND politely. These few exhibits of the Tartzan gags clearly illustrate the corporation's need to protect the Tarzan Trademark, and at the same time indicates that while fan humor has embraced new sophistications as found in the computing environment the humor continues to be as marginally off-beat and juvenile--and as insightful!--as ever.

Occasionally the Tarzan story is re-told on the lists in various odd and humorous allegories:

Joking???? Surely you jest! It is a well-known fact that ERB's other famous character was Carlo Borgia, a master Italian navigator of the 1500s. Raised by Alpine Apes, young Borgia spent part of his early youth learning pike and watch making. These extraordinary skills were put to good use when he reached civilization via the chance meeting of master magician Por-tur and his lovely daughter-assistant Jayne, a fabulous blond who took after her Nordic mother. The Italian royalty welcomed the powerfully built Carlo back into the family and immediately sent him to sea to expand the greatness that was once the Roman Empire. He set sail in command of a small fleet, the Margarita, Pinyacolata and Ninafoch. Heading East instead of West, Carlo Borgia, with second in command Sean Cartier and sub-lieutenants Kars Karkas, Davido Insa and Kar-Zan the Hun, had a little trouble moving the fleet across the Isthmus of Suez on olive tree rollers, but once in the Red Sea their adventures began in Earnest. Earnest was a Celtic colony long lost from the mother country and which was at war with Xopar, the only Aztec colony in the old world. Earnest was ruled by a mad queen named Anemone and Xopar was ruled by Lala. Like all empire builders of the age, the crew of the Italian expedition raped and plundered before moving on into the waters of the Indian Ocean.

Other typos in recent months have led to madcap visits to other famous series novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

There were two ERB Venice novels, PIRATES OF VENICE and LOST ON VENICE.

Or... was that the lost REH novels? Maybe the ERB Venice novels were about contemporary drug life in Venice, California? Drats! I've slept since then. Now I'll have to look this up. Brain's fuzzy.


Well, I couldn't help myself. Last week it was the "hurdling moons of Mars" at the Barsoom Olympics, today the VENICE stories of ERB. Those with fat fingers should know by now that Tangor rarely misses an opportunity to muddy the waters!

Tarzan of the Grapes

The Apes of Wrath

Pirates of Venice

Lost on Venice

Tartzan (who can only be mentioned occasionally else BAD THINGS HAPPEN).

Fun does abound, especially when something so innocuous as a typo at Ebay produced a series of responses humorous. Recently an ERBList member noted that a seller at was offering "A Fishing Man of Mars." As expected, a slew of title puns followed.

Ebay has one copy available (perhaps the only copy) of A Fishing Man of Mars:)

Here's a short list of the "fishy" responses we fans cannot seem to ignore:

Ghak, OJT, dbilirash, Tangor, Fabio, Tars Tarkas, Vandor, and Tantor provided the above.

The 'net makes fun immediate--fun we do embrace wholeheartedly! Sometimes we are age Six, sometimes age Sixteen, sometimes age Sixty. Ed Burroughs, I believe, had as much fun as his fans and, perhaps if he's looking on now, might be grinning hugely over how MUCH fun we are STILL having!