Jason Pargin believes there's more to humor than funny pictures of cats and people falling on their faces.
As senior editor at the leading national humor website cracked.com, Pargin has the opportunity to exercise his own creative skills and help others hone theirs, while simultaneously educating readers, even if they don't realize it.
"We set out purposefully to be smart and not to be mean-spirited," said Pargin, a Marion resident and 1997 graduate of Southern Illinois University Carbondale's radio-television program. "The whole idea is that it's meant to be thoughtful."
With topics ranging from history and science and literature to entertainment, the site's paid staff - including Pargin - and open source contributors tackle a vast array of subject matter with a humorous and often intentionally over-the-top approach.
One of Pargin's personal articles, which will be included in an upcoming compilation book of articles from the site, was titled "5 Scientific Reasons a Zombie Apocalypse Could Actually Happen" and details the real science behind various cultural phenomenons ranging from movies to the "Resident Evil" video game series.
And while many may doubt the ability of such a project to succeed, Pargin said cracked.com logs more than 120 million page views per month, earning it a spot in at least the top two sites of its kind. He compares the success of the site to that experienced by "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" on Comedy Central, which attempts to present news and politics in a similar "smart-humor" manner.
Serving as the senior editor of a Los Angeles-based website, however, can take its toll. Along with the benefit of working from home comes long hours, quick and busy trips to California and the difficulties of managing e-mails and instant messaging conversations, all the meanwhile coaching prospering writers on the site, editing posts and posting on message boards.
But it's a job that Pargin - who spent several years filing claims in an insurance office before landing an editor job - wouldn't trade for the world.
"It's the kind of job that when you're a kid if you told your parents that's what you wanted to do, they'd slap you because that's not a real job," he said.
And the site isn't Pargin's only foray into the humor arena. About the same time he began working for the site, he received an offer from independent publishing company Permuted Press to produce a novelization of a series of short web stories he'd created on his personal site, pointlesswasteoftime.com.
He wondered why anyone would pay money for a book that was already available for free online but agreed anyway. About 7,000 copies of the book sold - without being placed in major retailers or having a real advertising campaign - and "John Dies at the End" became successful enough that mainstream publisher St. Martin's Press secured the printing rights for a hardcover edition.
Filmmaker Don Coscarelli - known for the "Phantasm" series and 2002's cult classic "Bubba Ho-Tep" - has also acquired the film rights, and the movie is production in Los Angeles. Paul Giamatti, whose credits include "Sideways" and "Lady in the Water," will star in the movie, alongside lesser known actors Chase Williamson and Rob Mayes.
Through all the success he's found, especially considering a destiny where his college degree would mean nothing working in a day-to-day office job, Pargin has wondered how it's all happened, admitting most of his journey happened "by mistake."
"I was just doing odd jobs and writing on the Internet for no pay and just kind of got discovered that way," he said, adding he keeps waiting for someone to tell him the past several years of his life have been nothing more than an elaborate practical joke. "At every stage, I keep getting surprised at people's willingness to listen to what I have to say. ... There were so many people that helped me along the way that the only way I can repay them is by trying to believe in other people's work."
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