Andy Borowitz recalls his comedy roots
Andy Borowitz will bring his satire and political insight to the Stamford Palace Theatre on Friday, May 18. He was the creator of the hit TV sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air in the 1990s.
He began The Borowitz Report in 2001, featuring his humorous commentaries daily, and continues in that role after selling the platform to The New Yorker magazine and website. Here’s a headline to one of his recent articles: “Mexico Agrees to Pay for Trump’s Psychiatric Care.”
He’s been an NPR and CNN commentator, best-selling author, syndicated columnist, television show producer and writer, movie producer, comedian, and actor, and has hosted The Moth storytelling group. He won the National Press Club award for humor. The 60-year-old Ohio native now lives in New York City with his family. Brad Durrell recently interacted with Borowitz on his upcoming show.
Brad Durrell: Growing up in Ohio, were your parents or any other family members particularly funny? Have any role models?
Andy Borowitz: I did not come from a funny family. Everyone else in my family was a lawyer, and while it’s possible for a family of lawyers to be funny, it’s against the odds. When I was little, my role model was comedian George Carlin, who, to my knowledge, did not have a law degree.
BD: What did you think you’d do when you grew up?
AB: I thought I would be a lawyer, but only because I didn’t know that I had any other choice. My parents told me that if I went to law school they would pay for it, but if I pursued writing I was on my own. Apparently they were concerned that there was a dire lawyer shortage that needed to be addressed.
BD: How did college (1980 Harvard graduate) change you? Did you discover new interests there?
AB: Being an editor of the Harvard Lampoon introduced me to Lampoon graduates who were working as professional comedy writers. That really opened my eyes to the notion that you could do something with your life that you actually wanted to do.
BD: How did you come up with the concept for The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air? Based on any of your experiences?
AB: Well, I was not born and raised in West Philadelphia and I did not devote much of my time to maxing, relaxing, or shooting b-ball outside the school. I was under contract to NBC and they introduced me to Will Smith. Quincy Jones, who was the other executive producer on the show, told me hilarious stories about raising his privileged kids in Bel-Air. That was the main inspiration.
BD: You must read a lot and watch a lot of TV news programs to keep up with current events. Have any favorites?
AB: I like the BBC because they play it straight, and also because they remind us that there are several other continents on Earth besides North America. However, on a day when special counsel Robert Mueller arrests people, I binge-watch CNN to bask in the glory of it all.
BD: Is your job as a satirist and comedian made easier because Donald Trump is president?
AB: People assume that, but actually the opposite is true. Our reality is so absurd right now, it defies satire. I can come up with an insane scenario and within hours Trump will actually make it real. Right now it feels like my news isn’t fake, it’s just early.
BD: Do the country’s political divisions worry you?
AB: Thank God we’re divided. If the entire country thought it was a good idea to give the nuclear codes to a bankrupt game show host with a glaring personality disorder, I’d move to Finland.
BD: What won’t you joke about? Any lines you won’t cross with your humor?
AB: Any topic is fair game. I’ve written about war, natural disasters, and all manner of tragedies. The important thing for me is to choose the right target: the people who are responsible for the tragedies, not the victims.
BD: Describe one of your live shows. Do you have a regular routine or do you change things up a lot?
AB: It’s wall-to-wall comedy. I do some stand-up, have a conversation — I’ll be interviewed by WNYC’s Brian Lehrer in Stamford — and then do a Q&A with the audience. It’s very spontaneous and improvised — no two shows are alike.
BD: Why is it important to keep the art of storytelling going, such as with The Moth? Do you worry about its future due to Twitter, texting, short attention spans, etc.?
AB: Without getting too pretentious about it, storytelling is one of the things that makes us human. I’m actually very bullish on the prospects for storytelling. In spite of our shrinking attention spans, people are listening to stories on podcasts in astounding numbers. I’m grateful to have been part of The Moth when it was just beginning.
BD: You’ve been called “one of the funniest people in America.” Is that hard to live up to every day?
AB: Yikes! The way you put that, it does sound kind of daunting. I wish you hadn’t mentioned that.