Author Interviews
7:00 am
Sat September 24, 2011

'Book Of CIA Humor' Declassifies Top-Secret Jokes

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, host: A man named Ed Mickolus joins us now. Two spies walk into a bar. One spy says to the other...

ED MICKOLUS: I'm sorry, Scott. You're not cleared for that punchline.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Mr. Mickolus is a 33-year veteran of the CIA and a former stand-up comic. He's now written a new book called "The Secret Book of CIA Humor."

Thanks so much for being with us

MICKOLUS: Hey, just delighted to be here.

SIMON: Is that a smile face on your CIA I.D.?

MICKOLUS: Well, oddly enough it is a Family Day badge that we have. So...

SIMON: Is that like bring your children...

MICKOLUS: Bring Your Kids to Work Day, right. So we have people who will come in and show their kids all the cool spy stuff. And last year...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MICKOLUS: ...one of my friends came in with his eight-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter. And he was asked by his son, Jeez, this is so cool, dad. Did you actually use any of this stuff? And he comes up with the standard line, Well, son, if I told you I'd have to kill you.

SIMON: Oh.

MICKOLUS: The son says, tell my sister.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Now, do I have this right? You actually started a comedy club in the CIA?

MICKOLUS: I did. I wanted to try out some of the material that I was using for regular comedy clubs in the D.C. And eventually I learned that, you know, this is a lot tougher than it looks when the professionals are doing it. So, did it for a little while then decided, eh, let's keep thee day job.

SIMON: Yeah. Which I mean it's a little bit like being a spy, right? I mean that looks irresistible when you see it in "Casino Royale." But, on the other hand, as you know - now, you were undercover for a while, right?

MICKOLUS: I was, indeed. And your first day on the job, you walk in and you're hoping to be Jack Bauer. And you fill out little forms that say here's what your alias is going to be. So I was filling out: I want to be a Buck Steel; I want to be Rock Hardy; I want to be a cool-sounding spy. They hand me the material. Who am I going to be: Hiram Quentin Willoughby.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Yeah, not exactly the kind of game that people make movies about those characters, right?

MICKOLUS: He named it strikes terror in the hearts of the Taliban.

SIMON: Should American taxpayers, American citizens, be reassured or alarmed that CIA officers are telling jokes?

MICKOLUS: You should be delighted that we are. It's an indication of creativity, first of all. Second, you don't want a crowd that has bad morale working for you. Every study that you ever look at regarding humor, says that if you have humor in the workplace you've got high morale, you've got great productivity. So absolutely you want it.

We also are hired in part to recruit spies to steal secrets. And you want somebody that you can relate to. You want to have someone who's going to look to you as a friend that you're working with. So, absolutely we're recruiting the right kind of people.

SIMON: So sense of humor is important in defining that.

MICKOLUS: Absolutely, it is. You know, we don't take ourselves too seriously. But we certainly take the mission seriously.

SIMON: Tell us one of your favorites, if you could.

MICKOLUS: Why did the case officer cross the road? To make sure that surveillance was going to follow him.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIMON: You guys think that's really funny?

MICKOLUS: You know, that just kills in training.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MICKOLUS: Apparently I'm not going to be using that though at the next comedy club that I do.

SIMON: No, don't judge it by my reaction alone. Like, wouldn't an alternative punchline be, you know, something like: I'm sorry we can't confirm or deny that the operative has crossed the road?

MICKOLUS: Let me write that down, if you don't mind.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MICKOLUS: I'll use that one instead.

SIMON: Mr. Mickolus, thanks very much.

MICKOLUS: Hey, honored to be here. Thank you.

SIMON: Ed Mickolus is the author of "The Secret Book of CIA Humor," but he joined us very openly at our studios.

Psst, you're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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