Humorist ends 40 years of columns

SPOKANE — Humor is the latest victim in the economic tsunami that’s sinking many outdoor industry markets.

Patrick F. McManus, Outdoor Life’s iconic back page humor writer, says the magazine has terminated his contract for budget reasons.

The Spokane writer has written the “Exit Laughing” column for 28 years in Outdoor Life and for 12 years before that in Field &Stream — the nation’s top two hunting and fishing magazines.

Asked if there was anything special or inspiring about writing for those outdoor giants for so many years, McManus deadpanned, “They paid me a lot of money — which I will miss.”

Being among the most highly paid contributors apparently factored into the editor’s decision to terminate McManus, a top name in outdoor humor across the country. The top- selling writer has more than 2 million of his 18 books in print.

“The magazines are just running out of cash,” he said recently. “We parted on good terms.”

He said his last Exit Laughing column for Outdoor Life is already written and will be published in April.

“I’m 75, and it feels kind of good to wake up in the morning and not have a deadline,” he said.

That doesn’t mean he’s retiring.

The former Eastern Washington University writing instructor has just finished his third mystery novel, due to be published in 2009 by Simon &Schuster. “It’s called ‘The Double-Jack Murders,”’ he said. “A double-jack is a two-man drilling operation from the old mining days. It’s where the dumb guy holds the drill while the other guy hits it with a sledge hammer.”

He plans to write for other publications, and he’s started an autobiography as well as a new one-man comedy stage play, adding to the repertoire local actor Tim Behrens has performed across the country.

But maybe the days are numbered for new adventures featuring McManus characters Rancid Crabtree and Crazy Eddie Muldoon and the ripe humor always in stock at Grogan’s War Surplus.

“My first magazine story was published in Sports Illustrated in 1968, and a couple of months later I sold my first humor piece to Field &Stream,” he said, noting that the contrast was a revelation.

“I worked two or three months on the SI story, but I wrote the humor story for Field &Stream in something like an hour or two, just off the top of my head, with no research, no facts to check, no photographs required. I wisely realized this is the way to go.”

At the peak of publishing collections of his outdoor magazine stories in books, McManus spent 100 nights one year in hotel rooms traveling across the country for readings.

“That was before the airlines deteriorated,” he said. “I don’t think I could do that again.”

The outdoors has been the most fertile ground for McManus-style humor.

“I grew up in Idaho where hunting, fishing, hiking and camping were central to my life,” he said, noting that insight is like a scalpel for reaching a person’s funny bone.

“I came to have this pretty deep understanding of what motivates outdoors people — and what scares the hell out of them.

“I remember getting a letter from a little kid who said he was thinking about sleeping out in his back yard and he asked if I had any advice — of course I did.”

McManus found laughing matter in the ageless angle of the outdoorsman’s quest for freedom and self-sufficiency.

“All outdoorsmen can relate to their first camping trip,” he said.

“There’s so much anticipation and excitement and then, ‘Oh, how could I be so stupid as to forget that it gets dark at night?’

“There might be a lot of things about life I don’t understand, but I understood that.”

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