By DAVID SARASOHN
Andy Borowitz insists that whatever you might think, this is not an easy time for people in his line of work.
“People say to me all the time, Trump is so good for comedy,” says the author of the satirical Borowitz Report, which revealed in December, “Cabinet warns Trump that shutting down government will make it harder to steal from.”
Admittedly, the President provides ample comedy material, concedes Borowitz, who offers his particular take on the news January 18 at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.
It’s the job that’s gotten completely warped. “The comedian’s job is to take the news and make it more absurd,” Borowitz explains. “That’s now impossible.”
When the regular news out of the White House resembles “a second-level Chris Farley movie,” he points out, “it’s hard to make that more absurd.” As a result, “My job is about the opposite of what it’s previously been.”
Of course, so is the President’s.
Even allowing for the difficulties, the Borowitz Report is an increasingly popular department on the New Yorker website, where he recently broke some startling news: “John Kelly departs from White House with nuclear codes hidden in pants.” In its first appearance on the site in 2012, the Borowitz Report became its most widely-read item, and is also widely syndicated to newspapers. Borowitz won the first National Press Club award for humor and edited “The 50 Funniest Writers,” the first best-seller in the history of Library of America.
(He also used to be a TV comedy writer, and created the Will Smith hit “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” before he decided he liked writing better without network executives making helpful suggestions.)
In his spare time, he does stand-up comedy.
It’s a different world, he notes, from his tightly written, carefully rewritten pieces on the New Yorker’s website and print magazine, to be standing in front of a huge live audience. Up on the stage, he says, he’s still basically a humor writer.
“I’ll never be a Chris Rock-level performer,” Borowitz explains. “I’m not an actor, I’m more of a talker.” He reads his audience and responds to it, and the evening includes a question period, so his Portland appearance will be entirely different from his Seattle performance.
Still, in either case, he’s always talking to the kind of audience that appreciates such Borowitz Report bulletins as “Iraq offers to help establish democracy in North Carolina; ‘We will be greeted as liberators,’ Iraqi president predicts.” That understanding leads to a certain selectivity about venues.
“I’m not going to do a show in North Dakota,” he says. “That would be a waste of everyone’s time,” and might produce only an unamused audience on the prairie.
In all his formats, Borowitz is clear about his own political leanings. “I have terrible news for CNN,” he confides. “There actually are not two sides to every story.” Still, he likes to maintain some kind of balance.
“Whenever Obama would screw something up, I would like it,” Borowitz says with what sounds like warm memories, “I would like it, because then I could make fun of him.” At least, he notes, he can usually count on Democrats being their own worst enemies, useful for him if not necessarily for the country.
Sure, politics is a tricky subject for humor at the moment. And then there are the people moaning that these days, it’s not a subject for humor at all, that politics has gotten too grim to laugh at.
“I hear that all the time,” agrees Borowitz, but he’s not about to leave the political humor business for body and fender work. “We need comedy as a tool for survival. People are so discouraged. Laughter can get them out of bed in the morning.”
And you work with what you’ve got.
“You might right now be talking to George Clooney, but you’re talking to me,” says Borowitz encouragingly.
“You have to make the best of it.”
And after all, every day does provide him a lot of material.
Andy Borowitz will appear at 7:30 pm Friday, January 18, at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway.