Jokes Review editor Peter Clarke used to work as a reader for a different literary journal that published a great deal of highbrow content. “I really enjoyed it,” he says, “but we could never publish the pieces I was most interested in because they were just too weird – or maybe they weren’t even good, but they were completely original.”
Now, he looks for submissions that are unique and edgy and slightly off the deep end. “Maybe it falls short of some literary merit, but it’s got a strong voice that calls to me,” Clarke says. “That’s what I want to publish.”
No topic is off limits in this five-year-old digital and print publication, based in Northern California. On the website, editors list their preferences, including: “outsider art, urban legends, rants, rogue journalism, humor, manifestos, subversive imaginations, bizarro fiction, low brow/high brow [sic] mixtures, street art, dangerous ideas, jokes.”
“We award bonus points for humor, but we get people who literally send us jokes, one-liners. That’s completely what we’re not about,” Clarke says. “Instead, we publish a broad mix of literature.”
Tone, editorial content of Jokes Review
Clarke actively seeks out fiction in the high-energy style of French author Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s 1932 semi-autobiographical novel Journey to the End of the Night. “He’s so over-the-top,” he explains. “I mean, he uses exclamation points for basically every sentence, and it’s like he’s yelling at you passionately. He’s not a lightweight at all.”
The editors at Jokes Review look first and foremost for strong voices with personality. “If we read your writing, and we find that it’s safe and you’re not taking any chances, it’s just not going to impress us,” Clarke says. “I have a little bit of a pet peeve about modern American literature in that it’s so often understated and melodramatic. I really want to publish writers who are over-the-top passionate.”
One of these writers calls themselves Charis; Jokes Review published their story, “The Sunday School Children’s Pennies at Work: A Missions Update on Little Eduardo,” in the Summer 2020 issue. “It pokes fun at the idea of missionaries in the modern world and questions whether they do any good, in a culturally relevant way,” Clarke explains. “Anyone like myself, who comes from a religious background, can appreciate the irony of a story like this.”
Clarke is also interested in publishing literature that isn’t particularly polished or skillful. “That’s the thing that is very much missing from the literary scene: work that is raw, human, and totally entertaining,” he explains, “even though it might fall short of being a traditionally ‘good’ piece of writing.”
The Summer 2021 “Manifesto” issue of Jokes Review includes a piece called “Your Friend, by Default” by an author who calls herself Default Friend – a piece that Clarke explains captured what he notes is a rather archaic idea of a manifesto and put a modern spin on it for readers. It begins:
When I first moved to California, and long before the days of COVID-19, I would go to any part of the Bay Area, at any time, to do (almost!) anything with anyone.
The only stipulations were that we had to have some kind of rapport and I had to feel safe. But otherwise? Totally fair game.
The project was simple: become the person people call when no one else picks up.
“Her piece describes how she set out to be the type of person that always picks up the phone and agrees to meet up, no matter what – which is such a rare quality in a friend these days,” Clarke says.
He also points to Rachel Haywire’s “The Sacred Whore: The Sex Workers Collective of America in 2065” as the type of piece he likes to publish. “It’s this ironic take on the idea of sex work becoming so normalized that it’s radical in kind of a bizarro world way,” he explains. “The second you read it, you get how subversive it is in a very clever way that makes you think differently about a complicated topic.”
Clarke is excited to publish Zack Docter’s debut flash fiction, “A Report on Lasting Fame.” It’s about a computer program that selects someone and makes them famous. “It’s this really interesting commentary on the nature of fame and the nature of algorithms,” he says. “It’s a 700-word piece, but there’s a lot in there.”
Advice for potential contributors
Check Jokes Review’s website for upcoming themes. Editors have also lately started a blog titled “Journal” on which they publish book, art, and music reviews, jokes, and “literary curiosities,” such as Clarke’s photo essay “Old School Paperbacks Have the Best Cover Art” and Lane Chasek’s “AI-Generated Poetry: A Literary Curiosity That’s Here to Stay,” complete with examples from a poetry generator created by software designer Zack Scholl. “We’re actively looking for people to send us blog content,” Clarke says. “If anyone has book reviews or anything that’s kind of quirky, we’re happy to take a look.”
Editors at Jokes Review have a particular affinity for publishing emerging writers. “We like to publish people who are earlier in their writing careers or haven’t had a piece published before,” Clarke says. “That’s the best thing to give someone – their first publication. That, to me, is just so exciting.”
Jokes Review at a glance
“We seek to promote writers and artists whose work just took a wrong turn and went ever-so-gracefully off the deep end.”
Reading period: Year-round.
Genres: Fiction, nonfiction, poetry.
Submission format: Email manuscript and
third-person bio as attachment or in body of email.
Melissa Hart is the author, most recently, of Better with Books: 500 Diverse Books to Ignite Empathy and Encourage Self-Acceptance in Tweens and Teens (Sasquatch, 2019). Instagram: @writermelissahart.