The New Yorker announced this week that it’s cutting ties with resident humorist Andy Borowitz. Where will we go now to find side-splitting skewering like “Trump is a liar” and “Republicans are dumb”?
Celeste Headlee and Andy Borowitz on a TV show panel in Los Angeles on July 30, 2019. (David Buchan / Variety / Penske Media via Getty Images)
On November 16, the New Yorker published an article by resident humorist Andy Borowitz accompanied by the headline “George Santos to Spend More Time with Imaginary Family.” This, it seems, will tragically be the last entry of the venerable Borowitz Report, which has reportedly been dropped by the magazine amid a wave of cutbacks at its parent company.
It’s never easy to say goodbye but, as far as parting words go, the roughly one hundred–word salvo is about as fitting a finale for Borowitz’s legacy as it’s possible to imagine. For more than two decades, the man has reliably churned out crystalline nuggets of what is ostensibly satire in exactly this vein — ever afflicting the powerful with Swiftian interventions like “Trump accuses media of not listening to the voices he hears in his head” (actual Borowitz headline); “Matt Gaetz accuses Kevin McCarthy of behaving like an adult” (actual Borowitz headline); and “Sean Hannity informs January 6th panel that swearing to tell the truth would violate his contract with Fox” (I swear to God…).
A towering monument to liberal smugness without peer, the Borowitz Report has by now generated literally thousands of articles built on the same template with only minimal variation. Even at only a hundred words a pop or so, let us pause for a moment and consider just how vast that actually makes the Borowitz cannon. Having founded the blog in 2001 and initially published five posts every week, that would make for some 260 a year or 2,600 in the first decade of its existence alone. Conservatively assuming an average of a hundred words per week and granting for holidays or other interruptions, it can reasonably be surmised that Borowitz had already penned an entire Russian epic’s worth of tediously unfunny dad jokes before his 2012 move to the New Yorker.
Since then, his very special brand of comedy has come with the added distinction of running in a magazine that once published the likes of Truman Capote and Hannah Arendt — a singular achievement for a guy whose schtick has rarely, if ever, ventured beyond absurdly lazy mashups of news and popular culture. As Alex Pareene wrote over a decade ago, the Borowitz method has always been more formula than craft and something so easily replicable it’s a wonder he’s been able to maintain his dominance in the market:
Here’s the patented Andy Borowitz Joke-Generation Formula: Step 1: Take the single most obvious and most commonly remarked-upon trait of a public figure. Step 2: Lightly tweak figure for said trait. Take, for example, this vintage Borowitz Report laffer from 2004: “Flip-flopping may have injured Kerry’s shoulder.” Haha, get it? Oh, sometimes there is a Step 3: Mash up the news figure story with a popular culture reference, for added hilarity. Like, what if Saddam Hussein had a brother named Jermaine who defended him on “The Larry King Show”?
Then again, sites like ClickHole and the Onion have regularly produced parody news content that not only lands as actual satire but is also incredibly funny. The “jokes” found in the average Borowitz Report column in contrast read as if their author has taken the basic form of comedy, strained out all the humor, then run whatever desiccated husk remains through the rusted blades of a wood chipper.
Borowitz has nevertheless elicited plenty of hearty guffaws over the years by lampooning the news for such an august publication. Indeed, one gets the distinct impression that those who do find him funny — and there are admittedly many — probably know what a “pince-nez” is, use the word “trenchant” in casual conversation, went to Brandeis, or some combination of all three.
Borowitz’s great gift, such as it is, has always been to serve a certain kind of liberal with content that affirms their priors and assures them that everything and everyone they disagree with or dislike is just a cretinous dunce. In the political cosmology of the Borowitz Report, dumb people have always been very dumb and smart people — like those who read the Borowitz Report — have always been very smart. The categories of left and right certainly exist, but they are less shorthands that describe competing ideologies than cultural poles synonymous with education, enlightenment, and virtue on the one hand and cornfed provincialist hillbillyism on the other. As a classic Borowitz salvo like “Trump Comes Out Strongly Against Intelligence” suggests, conservative politicians are detestable mostly because they are dimwitted rubes, not malignant agents of privilege or power.
In this spirit, his most recent book, Profiles in Ignorance: How America’s Politicians Got Dumb and Dumber (2022), lays out a trajectory of American decline about as elitist as they come — its thesis being that the mass media age has given rise to an epoch of stupidity. Dubbed “a wittily alarming polemic that tracks the evolution of American politics from grounds for gravitas to festival of idiocy” by none other than the New York Times, Profiles in Ignorance offers an account of social ills scant on references to tax cuts, welfare reform, or deindustrialization and thick with arguments about how the likes of social media and twenty-four-hour news have made politicians dumber. It’s bad analysis that, among other things, substitutes material realities like the distribution of wealth and power for a self-satisfied fable about anti-intellectualism run amok.
The Borowitz Report, of course, has always been totally harmless. No one can seriously make the case that parody articles about Mitt Romney picking the Monopoly guy as his running mate (’cause Romney’s a rich guy, get it?) or the president of Ukraine offering to broker peace between competing factions of the GOP caucus are anything more than limp attempts at satire. Still, it’s hard to think of anything as emblematic of the smug sensibility that has come to dominate coastal liberalism — or, more importantly, anything to the left of the Babylon Bee as consistently and reliably unfunny.Original post