Andy Borowitz '80 (Writer, Comedian, & Reporter)
By Kim Bendheim '81
Andy Borowitz is a one-man show. You could write a newsletter about him called “Andywood” -- this Harvard grad (’80) produces his own comedy show once a month at Mo Pitkins, writes the award-winning politically satirical “Borowitz Report”, will soon be touring the country with The Moth, acts in films, and writes a “Shouts & Murmurs” column for “The New Yorker”. Oh, and his latest book, “The Republican Playbook”, is now available in bookstores and at Amazon.
How did he get “The Republican Playbook”? According to Borowitz, he went to the Oval Office and took it. “The place was totally empty and it was that easy.” Borowitz felt a little bad “because that’s the only book Bush had ever read, but it really does explain how to steal the election. Now that Democrats can go to B&N and buy it, it will level the playing field. They can finally figure out what Republicans have been doing.”
A self-styled, subversive iconoclast, Borowitz got his start in comedy at Harvard, where he was president of the Lampoon. The man who offered him his first job, Bud Yorkin, saw him perform in Cambridge. In those days, before generations of Harvard Lampoon-alums-cum-Simpsons-writers were established, there was nothing, Borowitz points out, “like the world domination there is today.
Nor did Borowitz have career models growing up. Neither of his parents was in the entertainment business, though his father, Albert, a corporate lawyer, is also an author and wrote many nonfiction books, true crime and mystery novels. After raising her children, his mother went back to school and became a curator at the Cleveland Museum of Art. His parents were both Harvard-Radcliffe alums, classes of ‘50 and ‘51. Though Borowitz followed his parents to Harvard, before college he didn’t know that you could have “a nice middle-class living doing comedy.” He says the comedy life is not nearly as “rockin as it sounds. I’m usually home in bed by ten.” Back when he was first starting out in college, the notion that you could work professionally in comedy wouldn’t have occurred to him if it hadn’t been for The Lampoon. The actor and writer Jim Downey ‘74 was an icon to Borowitz because he was the first guy to have a real TV job (at “Saturday Night Live”).
Borowitz got his own first job while he was in college. He was hired by Bud Yorkin, part of Norman Lear’s team, to write screenplays after Yorkin saw him host a Lampoon screening of Yorkin’s film, “Start The Revolution Without Me.” “I’m still hosting,” says Borowitz. “There’s been very little growth,” he adds wryly. Another fruitful work relationship came about indirectly through The Lampoon. Brandon Tartikoff was running NBC at the time. Borowitz and his wife Susan created “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” for the network. “He’d gone to Yale, and I got the feeling he liked having me around because it was like being on the Lampoon, as opposed to the ‘Yale Record’ [Yale’s humor magazine]. Who wouldn’t have wanted to go to Harvard?” asks Borowitz.
Although Borowitz’s notable stint at the Lampoon fueled his career in the real world, he cautions people against going to Harvard just for the connections, which he finds to some extent overrated. Borowitz counsels that it’s better to do the things you want to do at Harvard, the things you love. As he sees it, Harvard is a great laboratory to try things. “The stakes are so low you can’t get fired from Harvard, unless you’re Larry Summers,” deadpans Borowitz,. At Harvard, he acted, wrote, and “goofed,” exactly what he does today – but now he gets paid for it.
Borowitz counts his blessings because he found something in life he loves to do. He has two children, Alexandra (17) and Max (11). “I always tell my kids you spend so much of your life working, you should find what you like. I’m just a font of advice,” adds the endlessly self-deprecating Borowitz. How could it be otherwise with a former President of the Lampoon?
Asked how he sees his role in the upcoming elections, Borowitz laughs and says, “To sell as many books as possible. I hope we end up with better Congressmen,” he adds as an aside. He mentions that he just got cast in another film, “Absolutely Maybe,” directed by Adam Brooks. He was called in to audition for a sizeable part. Borowitz didn’t get the part he was auditioning for, he only got one line: “More than one line exposes the weaknesses in my technique.” He may only get one line in movies, but in his Mo Pitkins show, he does “about 40 minutes of me, my personal life – usually when you’re single, you have funny stories.”
Whether single or not, Borowitz has plenty of funny stories and seemingly inexhaustible ways of reaching an increasingly wider audience. This month, he tours the country both to promote his book, and with the Moth, the urban storytelling hybrid. He performs at UCLA’s Royce Hall on October 12th and is back in NYC with his show at Mo Pitkins on October 30th.