Humorist Andy Borowitz at The Wolfsonian
Andy Borowitz is a comedian and satirist best known for the popular fake news blog “The Borowitz Report.” He is the author of numerous books, such as Who Moved My Soap?—The CEO’s Guide to Surviving in Prison, and editor of the top-selling humor anthology The 50 Funniest American Writers. He also performs as a stand-up comedian. Borowitz will deliver a talk titled “Making it Funny” at the Power of Design festival on March 22, during which he’ll discuss how humor can help get your complaints heard. We dispatched our Power of Design blogger, Shawn Clybor, to ask Borowitz a few questions about satire, humor, and complaints.
Shawn Clybor: Has your own writing always been satirical, or did that approach develop over time?
Andy Borowitz: I’ve never been good at writing serious things. If I could write like Alice Munro, I would.
Clybor: Do you consider yourself a “complainer”?
Borowitz: I don’t complain. I misinform people, and then they complain about me.
Clybor: The satirist complains by pretending not to complain. Does this form of complaining have an impact on society?
Borowitz: I don’t have any practical impact on society that I know of. That’s a good thing, too—if I thought I had a productive role to play, that would be too much pressure for me.
Clybor: Why do we complain so much? And why do we keep doing it no matter how good (or bad) life is?
Borowitz: There is a very powerful syndrome human beings suffer from called “hedonic adaptation.” It means that no matter how good we have it, we want something better. Apple has based its entire business model on this.
Clybor: One popular view of complaining is that no one likes hearing it. Do you agree with this? And if no one likes a complainer, why do we love Seinfeld?
Borowitz: When people are preached to or complained to, they tend to tune out. Laughter is an involuntary response—it sneaks past our defenses.
Clybor: “The Borowitz Report” emerged in 2001, around the same time as other popular “fake news” outlets (The Onion, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report). There are many historical precedents for satirical news, but do you think there is something particular about the past fifteen years that is making the genre so popular?
Borowitz: As you point out, fake news has been around for centuries—in fact, Mark Twain wrote fake headlines when he was working for a real newspaper. I think the one thing that’s a little different now is that the real news outlets—I’m thinking especially of cable news—are in such disrepute. There’s a sense among some news consumers that people like Jon Stewart do a better job than CNN. It’s a compelling argument.
Clybor: Do you know what you’re going to address in your talk at the Power of Design festival?
Borowitz: I never know what I’m going to say until I open my mouth.
Clybor: Is there anything else you’d like to say about complaints? Maybe there’s something you’d like to complain about?
Borowitz: Any New Yorker who is spending March in Miami has nothing to complain about.
Power of Design 2014 is conceived, curated, and presented by The Wolfsonian–Florida International University, in partnership with WLRN and The Miami Herald Media Company. It is generously sponsored by John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, an anonymous donor, Northern Trust, and Terra Group and its president and CEO, David Martin.
—Shawn Clybor is a cultural historian of East-Central Europe, a former Fulbright-Hays Scholar, and a former research fellow at The Wolfsonian. He is currently cataloguing a private collection of Czech avant-garde books and teaching at the Ross School. He earned a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern University in 2010.