When you see the headline “Courageous Senators Stand Up to American People” or “Facebook Unveils New Waste of Time,” you know you’re reading Andy Borowitz.
He’s the best-selling author and comedian who created “The Borowitz Report” in 2001. It found a home at the New Yorker last July.
We spoke at Bloomberg world headquarters in New York.
Lundborg: As a writer of political satire, do you find that people mistake your pieces for actual news?
Borowitz: All the time! I regard that as a successful column because it means that you are not doing something so ridiculous that it is far afield from what is really going on in the world.
Lundborg: Give me an example.
Borowitz: I did a piece right after the inauguration. The headline was “Obama Urged to Resign Over Beyonce Scandal.” Probably hundreds of thousands of people thought it was true and it became very viral.
Sometimes I will write a column that clearly couldn’t possibly have happened, and somebody will put a gotcha comment on Facebook. They’ll write sarcastically, “Source?”
Lundborg: Tell me about the New Yorker deal. I know that the only thing you’re not allowed to do is make fun of Malcolm Gladwell.
Borowitz: It has been great for me because I really haven’t had to change anything. The blog was just something that I did to entertain myself and then it turned out that other people came along for the ride.
Lundborg: Is there anything left that is taboo?
Borowitz: My only rule is I won’t write anything that makes fun of innocent victims or of the underdog.
I see satire as the means by which you take down a worthy target -- generally speaking, anybody in the government or big business or anybody who has power over anyone else’s life is worthy automatically.
Lundborg: Is it getting harder?
Borowitz: The world is getting so surreal: When Kim Jong-un invited Dennis Rodman to North Korea, I couldn’t write a thing about that. Wayne LaPierre’s views are so insane -- every newborn child should immediately be fitted for a handgun -- it becomes very hard to improve upon that.
I’m not just competing with other comedians, but with real people who are funnier than comedians.
Lundborg: Where do you get your ideas?
Borowitz: I go to the gym a lot and watch cable news on mute: They will only cover one story a day. I think this guy Jon Klein who used to run CNN came up with the idea that the American people have the attention span or brain capacity to follow one story at a time: “Same-Sex Showdown.”
So I can generally figure out what is the only thing that Americans know about right now because they are not being told about anything else.
Lundborg: Hence your piece: “Scalia Says Marriage Views Not Affected by Lifelong Fear of Gays.” Have the responses to your columns surprised you?
Borowitz: I was quite taken aback by the huge response to that Beyonce piece. Mark Twain had this theory that there was nothing funnier than just stating the truth really baldly.
“Republicans Accuse Obama of Using Position as President to Lead Country” got a good response. People also liked the one about an unsuccessful pope candidate blaming the media.
Lundborg: Being funny has become so important, that the worst thing you can say now is that someone has no sense of humor.
Borowitz: In other cultures, being funny is not the gold standard that it is here. Everybody is trying to crack each other up all the time. I don’t think it’s true in Myanmar; I think it is an American thing.
Lundborg: Is the major cultural influence all that web snarkiness?
Borowitz: I think it really started with David Letterman, who made a mainstream thing out of his Midwestern skepticism.
But we are judging our politicians based on the wrong performances, like how they were on TV. How funny were they?
How did Obama do on “The Daily Show?” Well, how did he do in Afghanistan? Isn’t that more important?
Lundborg: Why don’t you do more pieces about Wall Street?
Borowitz: I would like to write more about the business world, but I think the business world needs better coverage. People know what Apple is, what AIG is and maybe a handful of other companies.
They kind of know that Wall Street has these hedge fund guys who are criminals.
Lundborg: You wrote that letter from AIG explaining why after the $182 billion bailout, the company is going to sue taxpayers.
Borowitz: They explain that they are establishing a very important legal precedent, so that if you were pulled from a burning building and the fireman actually tore your Armani suit, you’d be compensated for that.
Lundborg: You’ve also done some pieces on Goldman chief Lloyd Blankfein.
Borowitz: He has a great name and he looks so evil -- he looks like Lex Luthor.
He also says he is doing God’s work and I did a story about Satan objecting to that. He said he found it hurtful.
For more information: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/borowitzreport.
(Zinta Lundborg is an editor for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own. This interview was adapted from a longer conversation.)
Muse highlights include Lewis Lapham’s podcast and Jeremy Gerard on theater.