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Andy Borowitz's humor appears in the New Yorker, the New York Times and on his award-winning website, borowitzreport.com. Andy is often seen on TV sharing his perspective on politics, corporate life and popular culture. He is an essayist on NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday and a regular host for The Moth's urban storytelling events. Andy Borowitz's recent book, Who Moved My Soap? The CEO's Guide to Surviving in Prison, is a wickedly funny satire which takes on everything from corporate corruption to feng shui.
CreativeParents: What helped shape your sense of humor when you were growing up? Were you funny as a kid? How did your family and friends encourage (or try to stifle) your sense of humor?
Andy Borowitz: I'm told I was funny as a kid. Although I'm the first professional comedian in my family, my Dad has always been very funny, and my Mom has her moments, too. It was a funny dinner table with a lot of jokes flying back and forth. Plus, my Dad often took me to a movie theater (in Cleveland, where I grew up) that showed old movies, where I first saw the Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields, etc. It was a valuable education.
CreativeParents: As a kid, what did you think you'd do when you grew up? Were you ever in school or work situations where you couldn't express your humorous take on life? How did you survive?
Andy Borowitz: I always wanted to be a writer and a performer, and that's what I've done my entire professional life. I've been blessed in that I've never had a job where my sense of humor was stifled, unless you count the year that I wrote for the sitcom "The Facts of Life." I survived that by counting the days until my contract ran out.
CreativeParents: How are writing humor and being on stage different? How did one follow the other as you went from being in a more behind-the-scenes writer/producer role to having a more public persona? What's the story behind this evolution?
Andy Borowitz: While I was producing and writing TV shows and movies, I was also contributing humor to such magazines as Premiere and was performing as a comedian, as the warm-up guy for the sitcoms I produced. So I never totally got away from writing prose humor or being a performer -- I was keeping one foot in those worlds. What finally happened was that I reached a tipping point where being a Hollywood producer seemed repetitious and boring to me, while being a performer and humorist was more exciting. So it won out.
CreativeParents: How do you compare your experiences in different media? Radio; magazines; live performances?
Andy Borowitz: Every medium has its own challenges. Something that might work in print could bomb if you try to perform it, and vice-versa. You develop an instinct for what works best in each medium (and you're not always right, I hasten to add). On stage there's probably the least margin for error. In magazines there's an editor taking you through various drafts and in radio you can always do another take. Onstage if you bomb, you bomb. This week I performed at Yale for a bunch of high-end business leaders -- and Jack Valenti, the head of the motion picture association, was in the audience. The show went very well (thank God), and after I sat down, Jack turned to me and said, "You were up there without a net!" That says it all. That's what makes the comedian's job particularly scary to most normal people.
CreativeParents: Do you miss the collaboration of working on a TV series? Whom do you bounce ideas off of now?
Andy Borowitz: I don't miss the collaboration one little bit! What often passes for collaboration in TV is really just a kind of crushing group-think process, not altogether different from focus groups in advertising. I'm really a soloist at heart. I have my own little view of the world and I'm trying to take that as far as it can go, for better or worse. If I fail, I fail, but at least I know I'm doing it on my own terms, and not failing because I took the advice of a network executive whom I didn't agree with, but whom I was trying to mollify for political reasons.
Having said that, I have plenty of people in my life who are fun to bounce ideas off. I value the opinions of my editor at The New Yorker, Susan Morrison, immensely. The people who run the Moth (a New York storytelling group I frequently work with) are also tremendously helpful, particularly Lea Thau and Jen Hixson. These people are in my corner and I'll listen to anything they have to say. I also have a great producer at NPR, Stuart Seidel. I have no shortage of really smart people in my life whom I can listen to. I also find that my kids are a great audience, even if they're a little tough at times. I get great insights by bouncing things off them.
CreativeParents: Can you talk a little about how humor enables you to comment on the absurdity of certain situations in a way that's entertaining yet illuminating? How do you select worthy targets?
Andy Borowitz: At this point, a good target presents itself to me almost the way good grammar does -- you don't have to think about it, it just sounds right. The world is so full of people and institutions worthy of satire, I don't find myself searching very hard. It's hard to analyze the process by which reality becomes comedy, but often I find that stating the bald truth is inherently funny. If you have to exaggerate the truth at all to make it funny, I find that you have to exaggerate it much less than many people would think.
Jim Bouton, the former Yankee pitcher and a very funny guy, once told me that to write comedy you just had to exaggerate reality by about 1.3. That sounds like a good estimate.
CreativeParents: Do you think humor can be taught? If so, how?
Andy Borowitz: I teach humor writing, so I guess I SORT OF think it can be taught. But let me clarify that. I think people are either funny or not funny. You can teach a funny person how to write better and make his or her writing funnier. But I think it would be hard to teach an unfunny person to be funny. It's like teaching someone with no athletic ability to be an athlete, I think.
CreativeParents: Are you ever in situations where you felt people just didn't get what you were saying or writing? To what extent is humor an act of trust (in a seen or unseen audience)?
Andy Borowitz: As I mentioned before, my sense of humor was very unwelcome on "The Facts of Life"! I try to write or perform what I think is funny and hope that the audience will follow. So that is a leap of faith, of sorts. But if the audience isn't with you, it's a waste of time: for example, if I'm at a party with a bunch of people who I'm pretty sure won't get my jokes, I wont try to be funny and I'll just talk about sports instead. That's a good default conversational topic for an American male.
CreativeParents: What's some of the memorable feedback you've received from your work?
Andy Borowitz: I just got a wonderful review on Amazon from an ordinary guy who read my new book (Who Moved My Soap? The CEO's Guide to Surviving in Prison). He said that he read it while awaiting surgery, and it took his mind off the anxious situation he was staring down. Those are the reactions I love. When people say that my comedy has actually helped them forget about their worries, I'm so happy.
CreativeParents: Are there times when you want to be taken seriously and aren't?
Andy Borowitz: I don't have much of a desire to be taken "seriously" in a conventional sense of that word. I'll never play Hamlet, for example. But there's a serious thread that runs through most comedy, and the better the comedy, the stronger the thread tends to be. The most serious reaction I ever aspire to is a good strong belly-laugh. Then I know I've made my point.
CreativeParents: How did having kids change your life?
Andy Borowitz: It only made it better. I have two children and they're both lovely and extremely interesting (to me). The only bad thing about having kids is that they grow up way too quickly. Taking more videos of them, by the way, doesn't slow that process down, and only tends to annoy people at the time.
CreativeParents: Are your kids or other family members ever a source of material? How do they feel about this?
Andy Borowitz: I don't do jokes about my family very often. I tend not to have a very autobiographical act. I suppose I reveal myself in other ways, in my response to global events, etc. There are so many comedians who do wonderful material about their families, like Ray Romano, but I don't think I'm one of them.
CreativeParents: What would you like to do next?
Andy Borowitz: I just acted in a movie called "Marie and Bruce" starring Julianne Moore and Matthew Broderick. I got to act opposite Julianne Moore, which was a fantastic experience, as was doing the movie as a whole. I'd like to act more, playing other characters who aren't close to who I am. This is a whole new challenge for me, and I really look forward to seeing it play out.
To read the Borowitz Report go to www.borowitzreport.com
To learn more about The Moth go to TheMoth.org
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