The original idea for the cartoon in this week’s New Yorker was this, captured roughly in my sketchbook some time last summer. I’ll be the first to admit: the idea is terrible. Or, at least it was terrible. I thought there was something funny about a guy riding a bike on a treadmill. And there is something funny about it, but it’s not a guy standing to the side saying “There are places for people like you.” I drew it up and assumed I’d figure out a better caption to go with it, but I didn’t.
I kept running across the image in my sketchbook, because that’s what happens with sketchbooks. And at some point I realized that it was probably funnier to have the biker sharing the treadmill with a runner. I still had this same unfunny caption in my head, though, even as I started laying this out. But I couldn’t shake it: I wanted the runner to be expressing his surprise at discovering that there was someone else there with him.
As I struggled to find something punchier, I realized that you could change the game, so to speak. Instead of trying to force something witty into the mouth of the runner, it was going to be the bicyclist talking. And it instead of it being a surprising situation, what was funnier was the idea that it would be perfectly normal for a biker and a runner to be sharing the exercise equipment. You make a silly scenario mundane. There eight even be a sign at the gym saying “Please Use Caution When Entering Someone Else’s Workout.” So here’s the sketch I submitted, and then the final image as published.