Opinion: Picture this

Comedian Zach Galifianakis has never been able to do it. Nor has country singer Brad Paisley. Stephen Colbert hasn’t ever been a winner. In fact, the chances of success are about 5,000 to one. But Rachel Loveman of Indianapolis has taken the prize.

No, this wasn’t a drawing. Actually, it was a drawing—of a matador dancing with a bull in the arena. Rachel’s task: Write a funny caption for that New Yorker cartoon. What is the bull saying?

The weekly caption contest (which debuted in 1997) is now a regular feature of this iconic magazine whose single-panel cartoons have been making America laugh since 1925. Some of the captions have become part of our lexicon and no one knows that better than cartoon editor Robert Mankoff. His depiction of a businessman on the phone saying: “Thursday is no good. How about never? Does never work for you?” made it into the Yale Book of Quotations.

Which brings us back to Rachel. She and her husband, a physician in Indy, compete every week. Few people win after only a few tries, although Rachel scored the prize after only about a dozen attempts. She made a copy of the cartoon and carried it around, hoping for inspiration. The word “Olé!” stuck in her mind but even a bull saying Ole! isn’t funny. She knew that most New Yorker cartoon captions are familiar words and phrases placed in a different context or with a twist of the wording.

Rachel learned she was a finalist in an email from the magazine, and then had to deal with her excitement while assuring her envious husband that his caption, “We need a better agent,” was just as funny as hers (it wasn’t). The other two finalists had submitted: “What happened to your last partner?” and “Remember, at the dip, I gore you.”

The reward for her accomplishment was modest: a signed copy of the cartoon with Rachel’s entry beneath it. So what was that winning caption? Rachel explains that her final brainstorm was a spin on Renée Zellweger’s line in the movie Jerry Maguire, with Tom Cruise. After Cruise went on ad nauseam about his love for her, Zellweger says, “You had me at hello.”

And so, in Rachel’s caption, the bull says to the matador, as they hold each other in a dancing embrace:

“You had me at Olé.”