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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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The latest on the crisis in Ukraine, plus why a 700-page book on economic theory is a best seller.

The latest on the crisis in Ukraine, plus why a 700-page book on economic theory is a best seller.

October 29th, 2013
06:03 PM ET

'Inside Mad' Magazine

For 61 years Mad Magazine has sewn subversive seeds of distrust. CNN's Jake Tapper bought his first issue at age 7 for $0.50 at an ice cream shop and read it until the cover came off.

The current issue is #523, costs nearly $6, and sports a cover mocking President Barack Obama for the NSA scandal.

CNN neglected to mention on-air that Mad Magazine is owned by Time Warner, the parent company of CNN.

"One of Mad's core reasons to exist is to question authority, because as you get older you'll realize that basically everybody has an agenda and everybody is lying to you," said longtime editor John Ficarra. "Mad really doesn't make up anything, we just sort of look at what's going on in society and say, 'Isn't this kind of weird, or stupid, or dumb?'"

Now, Ficarra has tapped the "usual gang of idiots" for "Inside Mad," a new book that highlights the magazine's far-reaching influence with contributions from readers and staff.

"Mad has affected people who are now affecting our culture," said Ficarra. "People who were very eager to write for the magazine, and tell about what it was like growing up, and see themselves parodied in the magazine."

As Art Spiegelman explained in a 1993 New Yorker comic, Mad Magazine was more important than pot and LSD in shaping the generation that protested the Vietnam War. The message: Everyone is lying to you! A radical one for a child to learn.

Even if you've never read an issue, you've likely heard of those who use Mad as a muse.

Filmmaker Judd Apatow was actually upset that none of his celebrated characters from movies like "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" or "Anchorman" had ever been parodied by Mad. So the editors obliged.

Filmmaker Ken Burns is known for his heavy documentaries, but credits the publication for teaching him how to spot fraud.

Even "Guns N' Roses" guitarist Slash wrote in just to say he's been a fan for decades.

But to keep new generations of fans laughing – and subscribing – the ageless Mad Max has had to grow with them.

"What do you have to do to piss somebody off these days? I think politicians have gotten very smart at trying to co-op satirist. So they'll go on "Saturday Night Live" or they'll do things that make them part of the joke," said Ficarra. "It's gotten much, much harder to spoof people as a result of that,"

For its part, Mad Magazine has dabbled in television not once, but twice, and attempted an ill-fated film called 'Up the Academy' in 1980.

More recently, it has found that it's not only harder to spoof people, but also to hold the attention of an increasingly distracted audience.

"Now Mad is much more visually driven, with shorter texts and more bullet-pointed jokes than a long elaborate parody that could be brilliant but we'd probably lose a lot of the readers early on," said Ficarra.

They decided to keep it short, and start a blog.

"Now this really makes us comedy first responders, and we can get there very quickly and make fun of people, which is our basic mission in life," said Ficarra.

The hope is that jokes aren't just funny, but formative.

"We feed to a counterculture, we feed to that 'question authority, they're lying to you,'" said Ficarra. "It's amazing that almost every generation has to relearn that, and Mad is there to teach it to them in some way."

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