Even in the age of Facebook and Twitter, Maine storyteller John McDonald is trying to keep classic Maine humor alive.

McDonald reluctantly uses a computer (he still has his old portable Underwood typewriter), and has yet to send his first text message.

And smartphones? Forget about it.

“I ain’t going to have no phone that is smarter than I am,” he said.

Despite his lack of interest in the new technologies being used by writers these days, McDonald, 67, is still producing fun, readable takes on Mainers and life in Maine. He showcases Maine humor once again in his newest book, “John McDonald’s Maine Trivia: A Useful Guide to Useless Information,” which is being published this month by Islandport Press.

The book is chock-full of facts about Maine, including its history and politics, nature and wildlife, sports and other topics. While some of the tidbits are ho-hum — it’s not easy to make a joke about, say, the state’s population — there’s lots of fun and quirky information as well, some of it punctuated by jovial commentary from McDonald.


For example, did you know that the state of Maine was almost named Columbus? Or that the main doors on L.L. Bean’s flagship store really don’t have any locks?

Riffing on the ultra-serious Maine state motto, Dirigo, McDonald points out that humorist Dave Barry once suggested that the state change its official self-description to “Cold, But Damp!”

McDonald lives with his wife in Otisfield. His previous books include “The Maine Dictionary,” “Down the Road a Piece,” “Nothin’ But Puffins” and the ever-popular “A Moose and a Lobster Walk Into a Bar.”

Q: Are all of these trivia tidbits just things you’ve picked up over the years, or did you do a lot of research to track them down?

A: The late John Cole, one of the Maine Times owners, he wrote a book called the “Maine Trivia” book. I went through that; I used some of the questions. I reworded them. He had a question, “How many lakes are there in Maine?” and his answer was about 6,000. I had to add at the end of that, “If you want an exact answer, count them yourself. We have better things to do.” I mean, who needs to know that number?

Q: I’d always heard it was 5,000.


A: That works for you, I’m sure. I don’t know who you’d challenge. I could have said 7,000. I said, “Well, look, Minnesota’s got 10,000, and we’re not as big as Minnesota.” But then, who counted their 10,000 lakes? Who does these things?

Q: Was it hard to spice things up in this book and make it funny? Were you trying to make it funny?

A: I was trying to make it funny, and it is always hard to try and make it funny. Some of it is just matter of fact. Just the facts, ma’am. I like to say I picture this book being used at a camp, with the whole family sitting around and playing sort of a trivia game and asking each other questions.

More people have told me over the years that my books are bathroom books, which I think is great. Some of my best reading is done in the bathroom.

Q: What are some of your favorite pieces of useless information from the book?

A: Have you ever heard of Charles Farrar Browne — Artemus Ward? Artemus Ward was brilliant. They call him America’s first stand-up comic because he was not only a humorous writer, but he would get up and perform his writing. He would read his writing. It is acknowledged that he taught Mark Twain how to do it. Artemus Ward died when he was 33. If he had lived as old as Mark Twain, who knows what would have happened?


But Artemus Ward …was Lincoln’s favorite humorist, and Lincoln read him every day. He had a column in the newspaper. And on the morning that Lincoln unveiled his Emancipation Proclamation for his Cabinet, before they got down to business, he read Artemus Ward’s column “Outrage in Utiky,” and some of his cabinet members were outraged that on such a serious, somber occasion, he would yuk it up with this stupid column.

And yet Lincoln never apologized. He said, “If I couldn’t laugh, I would go insane.” And so he used Artemus Ward. He enjoyed his humor as a sort of a medication, I guess.

(Ward) was born in Waterford, Maine. He wrote for a paper here, and then he died in London. The Brits loved him as just a very funny American. He wrote for Punch magazine.

Q: What’s the state of Maine humor today? Do you see any younger folks coming along to pick up the torch, or are people just too cynical and sarcastic?

A: That is another good question. I saw Tim Sample — I didn’t see him perform, he came on my show the other day. I guess the last time I saw him was at the 50th anniversary of Bert and I. They had a nice ceremony at L.L. Bean, I guess it was back in ’07.

Kendall Morse now has throat cancer, and he was both a folksinger and a storyteller. Joe Perham is ill now, and he no longer performs. So we’re all sort of doing our independent stuff. I enjoy writing as much as ever, and so I’ll continue to do that as long as I can get people to publish it.


Q: So is this form of humor going to become extinct at some point?

A: It will probably evolve in some way into something else. I’m not a big social media (fan). To me, it would be like taking on another full-time job. You hear people, all the time they spend on their Facebook and their twitters and tweets and everything else. It’s like, c’mon. I’m lucky if I can keep up with my email, let alone all that other stuff. And you wonder with all that, I mean, how funny can you be? I know people have said they can be very funny on tweets and by text, but do you think it will ever produce a book? I don’t think so.

Q: Do you think that Mainers generally have a good sense of humor, or do we take ourselves too seriously?

A: Oh no, they have a very good sense of humor. Dry humor. That might be the other thing. People coming up on humor that is so loud and raucous and vulgar — that isn’t Maine at all.

There are still funny guys in Maine — the lobstermen, the fishermen and people like that. Their observations are dry, their observations about tourists. When I go on stage, I try and re-create some of those things I’ve heard and seen over the years.

There are some audiences, they’re just too absorbed in the present high-tech and tweets and twitters and Facebook and things. You know, the humor, they don’t see it. They’ll turn around and see all the older people laughing and wonder.


It’s like the old Maine story when (a guy) says, “Well, every morning I go out and I work in the field.” It was an old-timer, he was in his 70s. And he said, “Usually my father helps me.”

And (another guy) says, “Your father? How old’s he?”

“Well, he’s 87. And Gramps usually helps us too, and he’s 105.”

“A hundred and five? Really? Was he out there today?”

“Oh no, he couldn’t make it today. He’s on his honeymoon.”

And the guy says, “Honeymoon? Why would a man that old want to run off and get married in the first place?”


And he said, “Well, there’s the problem. Didn’t want to, had to.”

Kids today, they say, “What? What do you mean, ‘had to?’ Who has to?” That concept isn’t around anymore.

Q: So you think storytelling is as popular as ever, it’s just the way stories are told that is going to change?

A: Yes, I think that is true. Our fascination with ourselves as humans will never go out of style. We’re always fascinated. We think we’re the most fascinating thing ever, and we love thinking about ourselves and writing about ourselves. That will never change.

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at: mgoad@pressherald.com

Twitter: MeredithGoad

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