A Stand-Up Guy | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

A Stand-Up Guy

I used to attend public events because I felt obligated. Now that I am of a certain age, I attend only those that interest me—and, sadly, not even all of those. When I heard that Clarion-Ledger editorial cartoonist Marshall Ramsey would be speaking during the Millsaps Arts and Lecture Series Nov. 7, I knew immediately I wanted to be there. I've been a fan of Ramsey's cartoons since he joined the paper six or so years ago. My expectations did not, however, prepare me for his performance.

My friend Harriet Kuykendall and I arrived a little early, and then watched the audience arrive. Most of the Arts and Lecture people have been regulars for a number of years. Politically, they range from staunchest Republican to yellowest-dog Democrat. This civic-minded bunch of mostly middle-aged Jacksonians have loyally supported this series and other arts events in Jackson for years.

Now, this audience can sometimes be just a tad reserved (myself included). But not this night. Our howling laughter and applause made the lecture/recital hall reverberate like a high school gym.

Ramsey is a standup comedian. For a solid hour he captivated the audience with a running commentary of his comical insights into recent local and state politics, illustrated by his cartoons projected behind him on a mammoth screen. His humor never let up, as he moved about the stage, voice booming through a lapel mike, and, even at one point, strolled Oprah-style into the audience. Ramsey, a Georgia native who came to Jackson by way of San Diego, Calif., is clearly in his element in Mississippi. And what editorial cartoonist wouldn't be happy in Mississippi where the ridiculous usually is the sublime—or should I say that the other way around? On Ramsey's very first day on the job, then Gov. Kirk Fordice had a mysterious car wreck. Fordice kept Ramsey busy for three or four more years. Remember Ramsey's cartoons of a gun-toting Fordice wearing an "I Love Paris" beret?

Ramsey says Fordice is very easy to capture in a cartoon: everything about Fordice's appearance, he said, projects his attitude and actions. Musgrove (the nose) and Trent Lott (the hair) are also easy marks. (The hardest, he said, is Dick Gephardt: "He has no distinguishing features.") Ramsey's cartoons of Harvey "Election Man" Johnson and Daryl "the Riddler" Neely so enlivened the mayor's race that even the candidates referred to themselves by Ramsey's labels.

These and other inimitable Ramsey characters are featured in his forthcoming book, "Marshall Ramsey's Greatest Hits," which The Clarion-Ledger is publishing. Pat Fordice, the governor's former wife, wrote the foreword. (You may order the book directly or get it at local bookstores. It's $12.95.)

During the Q & A, I asked Ramsey how much freedom he actually has in deciding what cartoons to draw and which ones are published each day in the newspaper. Quite a lot, he assured: Editors have nixed only four cartoons in six years. Wouldn't we just love to know what those four were?

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