As a society, we’ve accepted there is such a thing as a universal New Yorker cartoon caption — a gag line that can work with any New Yorker cartoon. It’s an elusive thing. I’d be willing to wager the dream of discovering a new universal New Yorker caption is kicking around somewhere in the brain-pan of anyone who frequently submits to the magazine’s weekly Caption Contest.
Up to now-ish, we as a society have also accepted four New Yorker captions as “universal.” The first was unlocked by Chris Lavoie, back in 2006: “Christ, what an asshole!” The pace of discovery really ramped up within the last decade. Cory Arcangel unlocked “What a misunderstanding!” in 2011, and Frank Chimero has unlocked two: “Everyone was apparently very bored at work that day” (2015) and “Hi, I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn” (2016). What are you gonna do, argue that any of these can’t serve the purpose every New Yorker caption is supposed to serve? Popular sentiment is right. All four work, every time.
I’ve been submitting to the caption contest on and off since 2016, and in 2019 I unlocked a fifth universal New Yorker caption: “Almost positive you’re in the wrong panel, my guy.”