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'Book Of CIA Humor' Declassifies Top-Secret Jokes


A man named Ed Mickolus joins us now. Two spies walk into a bar. One spy says to the other...

ED MICKOLUS: I'm sorry, Scott. You're not cleared for that punchline.


SIMON: Thanks so much for being with us

MICKOLUS: Hey, just delighted to be here.

SIMON: Is that a smile face on your CIA I.D.?

MICKOLUS: Well, oddly enough it is a Family Day badge that we have. So...

SIMON: Is that like bring your children...

MICKOLUS: Bring Your Kids to Work Day, right. So we have people who will come in and show their kids all the cool spy stuff. And last year...


MICKOLUS: ...one of my friends came in with his eight-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter. And he was asked by his son, Jeez, this is so cool, dad. Did you actually use any of this stuff? And he comes up with the standard line, Well, son, if I told you I'd have to kill you.


MICKOLUS: The son says, tell my sister.


SIMON: Now, do I have this right? You actually started a comedy club in the CIA?

MICKOLUS: I did. I wanted to try out some of the material that I was using for regular comedy clubs in the D.C. And eventually I learned that, you know, this is a lot tougher than it looks when the professionals are doing it. So, did it for a little while then decided, eh, let's keep thee day job.

SIMON: Yeah. Which I mean it's a little bit like being a spy, right? I mean that looks irresistible when you see it in "Casino Royale." But, on the other hand, as you know - now, you were undercover for a while, right?

MICKOLUS: I was, indeed. And your first day on the job, you walk in and you're hoping to be Jack Bauer. And you fill out little forms that say here's what your alias is going to be. So I was filling out: I want to be a Buck Steel; I want to be Rock Hardy; I want to be a cool-sounding spy. They hand me the material. Who am I going to be: Hiram Quentin Willoughby.


SIMON: Yeah, not exactly the kind of game that people make movies about those characters, right?

MICKOLUS: He named it strikes terror in the hearts of the Taliban.

SIMON: Should American taxpayers, American citizens, be reassured or alarmed that CIA officers are telling jokes?

MICKOLUS: We also are hired in part to recruit spies to steal secrets. And you want somebody that you can relate to. You want to have someone who's going to look to you as a friend that you're working with. So, absolutely we're recruiting the right kind of people.

SIMON: So sense of humor is important in defining that.

MICKOLUS: Absolutely, it is. You know, we don't take ourselves too seriously. But we certainly take the mission seriously.

SIMON: Tell us one of your favorites, if you could.

MICKOLUS: Why did the case officer cross the road? To make sure that surveillance was going to follow him.


SIMON: You guys think that's really funny?

MICKOLUS: You know, that just kills in training.


MICKOLUS: Apparently I'm not going to be using that though at the next comedy club that I do.

SIMON: No, don't judge it by my reaction alone. Like, wouldn't an alternative punchline be, you know, something like: I'm sorry we can't confirm or deny that the operative has crossed the road?

MICKOLUS: Let me write that down, if you don't mind.


MICKOLUS: I'll use that one instead.

SIMON: Mr. Mickolus, thanks very much.

MICKOLUS: Hey, honored to be here. Thank you.

SIMON: Psst, you're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.