Digital Home Interview Series: Dick DeBartolo

In a new series that will be featured each Wednesday here on The Digital Home, I will be interviewing industry experts and icons to talk about how they made their rise to the top and what The Digital Home means to them.

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CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
5 min read
Dick DeBartolo Giz Wiz Biz

In a new series that will be featured each Wednesday here on The Digital Home, I will be interviewing industry experts and icons to talk about how they made their rise to the top and what The Digital Home means to them.

In the very first installment of the interview series, I had the opportunity to talk to "MAD's Maddest Writer" Dick DeBartolo. With a career that spans more than forty years of comedy, gadgets and TV, Dick the longest running writer for everyone's favorite comedy magazine, and is one of the most renowned gadget lovers in the world.

So, without further ado, read on to see what makes this man tick.

DR: Can you offer a little background into how you got started writing, and when your love affair with gadgets began?

Dick: I started writing for MAD when I was in high school. I was reading MAD and loving it, but I felt I WANTED to be a part of MAD. So I wrote a sample script (A TV AD WE WOULD LIKE TO SEE) and sent it on to them. I had read in an article that writers should always send a self addressed stamped envelope along with a script they were submitting. That way, if the script was rejected you would get it back. Otherwise it is just tossed out. Weeks later I got back my own envelope. I was so disappointed. Then I figured I would open it in case it was a "nice try" kind of reject. But inside my envelope was cardboard. And scribbled on the cardboard was a note from associate editor Nick Meglin. It said: "Ha ha, thought we rejected your script, but we bought it! Stapled to this cardboard is your check! Please call us about writing more stuff for us!" That started a 40 year plus relationship that continues today. I've been in every issue of MAD for more than 35 consecutive years.

Gadgets? When I was a kid I had trains, an erector set, anything with lights and sound. I read the Radio Shack catalog from cover to cover - just about every week! In addition to writing for MAD I got a job writing TV game shows. I helped create The Match Game by taking the MAD Magazine approach and coming up with those Dumb Dora and Weird Willie questions. I wrote them for 18 years. During that time one of the producers at Mark Goodson-Bill Todman Productions left to produce a local show here in New York called SATURDAY MORNING LIVE. She asked if I would ever consider going on the air and showing some of the gadgets that were every where in my office. I said "sure" and before long I had another whole career showing new gadgets on TV. From Saturday Morning Live I went over to several years of showing gadgets to Regis and six years of showing gadgets on Good Morning America. Now for the past 7 years I've been showing gadgets to insomniacs on World News Now, the overnight network news.

DR: What do you think the Digital Home is all about?

Dick: I live in a 2.5 room apartment. And outside of a 37-inch Olevia LCD HDTV, the basic Bose home Theatre System, and a Radio Shack X10 system to turn things on and off in my backyard, I don't have much other digital home equipment. Well maybe 3 cell phones and 2 iPods, and 6 other MP3 players and 4 computers and G scale trains that run in my backyard, and some Bluetooth headphones, and the flying alarm clock, etc. But to me a Digital Home is a place you walk into and have EVERYTHING controlled from one place. I don't have that.

DR: Where do you see this industry in the next year? Five years? 10 years?

Dick: Who knows what's coming down the pike. For about a year I tried to write a piece for MAD on the "Gadgets of Tomorrow", but every time I picked up Popular Science or some other Tech magazine I would see that there was a company about to come out with something very close to what I had written. So I gave up on that particular premise.

DR: Who was the most influential person in your life that started your love for gadgets?

Dick: Bill Gaines, the founder and publisher of MAD magazine, made my love of gadgets soar! He loved gadgets too, but HATED to read instruction books. So listen to this deal he made with me. He told me to buy ANY gadget I liked that I felt he might also like. He would pay for it. I could use it for as long as I liked and when I was through with it, all I had to do was bring it to him and explain to him in easy terms how to use it! That was a dream come true. I bought tons of stuff and we had a heck of time playing with watches, cameras, VCRs, etc.

DR: What makes MAD so special and timeless?

Dick: MAD reflects what's going on in the world. So as the world changes, so does the magazine. We keep track of the latest movies, music, trends, people, politics, etc. and just fun make of them. These days it's a bit harder because the world itself seems a bit MAD.

DR: If you could have rewritten one article from the past, would you? And if so, which one?

Dick: Naw, I think spending time in the past isn't very productive. I try to keep looking forward. And sometimes I look down so I don't fall over things.

DR: Where do you see MAD in the next few years? Will it still be the most dominant comedy magazine in the world?

Dick: Wow! The most dominant comedy magazine in the world? So that's how you sucker people into answering these questions. With extreme flattery! Well, it worked. But to answer your question, yes I expect MAD to keep on going and to keep on being an American icon. So far, our editor John Ficarra, has not looked to outsourcing the Usual Gangs of Idiots.

DR: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Dick: Yes, my American Express bill. It's about $5,500 this month, so that comes to about $300 a person. Just deposit your share in my Pay Pal account. And thanks!

Dick discusses a gadget everyday on the Daily GizWiz, appears regularly on World News Now, the overnight news on the ABC Network and is seen in every issue of MAD Magazine. Visit Dick's site

Check out the MAD MySpace Page too.