Memo to Andy Borowitz: China has about 50 nuclear missiles capable of reaching the continental United States. Just something to keep in mind next time you’re writing a fake news story. Sometimes the humor gets lost in translation.
The latest evidence that Borowitz’s satire doesn’t travel well across the Pacific came this week, when the official Chinese news agency Xinhua reported as fact Borowitz’s joke that Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post by mistake while clicking around the Post‘s website. Apparently Xinhua’s editors regarded this as a perfectly plausible $250 million error.
Amazon.com’s founder buying the Post is not the kind of topic that would provoke the Chinese to go on high alert. Fortunately for world peace, Borowitz writes less about China than about its problem neighbor, North Korea, which is rich in unintentional humor, if nothing else. Borowitz did have this ha-ha piece that presumably mystified China’s security apparatus earlier this year.
Borowitz, now 55, has written for the New Yorker since 1998; he got his big break as creator of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, the television show that launched the acting career of Will Smith. He stopped by Bloomberg for lunch a few months ago and regaled us with stories of clueless people who took his column seriously. I e-mailed him three questions on Thursday. Here they are, with his replies:
What’s the funniest story about people mistaking your articles for reality?
Last month, I wrote a story about Berlusconi running for Public Advocate in New York City after he decided that New Yorkers were willing to give politicians like him a second chance. This story was picked up as real by an Italian publication—owned by Berlusconi.
Would it help to embed THIS IS A JOKE in five or six key foreign languages into your articles?
Yes, but probably you’d have to add English to the list. I’ve had stories of mine repeated as real by Sean Hannity.
Do you worry that you could set off an international incident involving, say, exchanges of nuclear warheads? And if so, would it be worth it?
Really depends on how many page-views that would get me.