The Martha’s Vineyard Summer Institute capped off its summer speaker series with a battle of Witz. Author/journalists Andy Borowitz and Tony Horwitz came together on the stage to take on everything from Jewish humor to why the Monica Lewinsky scandal seems like a visit to colonial Williamsburg.
The duo “sound like a haberdashery, but they are definitely a lot funnier,” Summer Institute chair Gerri Alpert said in her introduction.
“I don’t think we’ll have the pleasure of running on a political ticket together,” Mr. Horwitz said. “It’d be a truly awful bumper sticker but we could probably carry Boca.”
Mr. Horwitz, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and former foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, is the author of several books, most recently the acclaimed Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War. He and his family live in West Tisbury.
Mr. Borowitz attended Harvard, where he wrote for the Lampoon, and later worked in television — he was the co-creator of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. In 1998 he wrote a piece for the New Yorker titled “Emily Dickinson, Jerk of Amherst.” Today he writes The Borowitz Report for the magazine.
Mr. Horwitz called it a “wickedly funny compendium of fake news.”
Recent installments include “Amazon Founder Says He Clicked on Washington Post by Mistake” and “Christie Forced Out of G.O.P. Race by Empathy Scandal.” Mr. Borowitz lives in New York city.
Mr. Horwitz interviewed Mr. Borowitz on stage, an arrangement that caused some discomfort for the interviewee.
“I feel a little humbled because you are interviewing me. I actually did some research on you...you are really a person of substance,” Mr. Borowitz said to Mr. Horwitz. “I think the fact that you are interviewing me is what is wrong with America.”
“I’ve made up things. I’ve lied. I’ve turned lies into money. It’s a disgrace,” Mr. Borowitz added.
The large crowed at the Hebrew Center did not have a problem with the premise, though. Laughter was loud and frequent.
The Vineyard, and the crowd, was not immune from Mr. Borowitz’s stinging wit. “I really came to the Island for the same reason the president does, to get in touch with America. Because as Martha’s Vineyard goes, so goes the nation. Look at this tapestry,” he said, gesturing to the audience. “This Island looks like America; if you live in Scarsdale.”
Mr. Borowitz made light of the controversy over the Island’s “precious” South Road being partially closed for the president’s visit. “Just be grateful, count your blessings that President Obama left his drones at home,” he said. “Because you know he wanted to bring them, they’ve had a hard year and they deserve a vacation.”
Mr. Horwitz guided the conversation from Mr. Borowitz’ Cleveland upbringing — ”It would be weird to grow up there and not have a sense of humor,” Mr. Borowitz said — to his obsession with Napoleon, whom he portrays as a would-be novelist who wrote fake news bulletins from the war front.
When it comes to Mr. Borowitz’ popular fake news, he has some guiding principles. “I never make fun of the little guy, because I don’t think that’s funny,” he said.
Another pet peeve: “I find partisanship very unfunny. I love it when the Democrats screw up...there’s so much more material.”
The right side of the political perspective has been an easier target of late, he said, “with the Tea Party, Fox News and Donald Trump.”
President Obama, on the other hand, “has been very careful. As a president he’s so collected and very careful not to make himself a joke...he doesn’t make a great target.”
New York City mayoral contender Anthony Weiner and comptroller candidate Eliot Spitzer, on the other hand, have been good fodder for Mr. Borowitz. He took a poll of the crowd: which was worse, Mr. Weiner’s lewd texts with women or Mr. Spitzer’s prostitution scandal? A show of hands showed the crowd was mixed on the question.
Mr. Borowitz thought it might be nice to have a mayor who’s good with technology, but he had reservations about Mr. Spitzer’s run for comptroller. He spent $4,000 on a prostitute, he pointed out, and wants to be put in charge of New York City’s money.
From a comic point of view, Mr. Borowitz likes Rand Paul for the 2016 presidential race. “He’s considered the crazy member of the Paul family and I think that speaks for itself,” he said.
Rumored contender Hillary Clinton is tougher, he said. The jokes have been done.
In fact, Mr. Borowitz said, the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal is “like a prim kind of Jane Austen story. The Monica Lewinsky stuff is the stuff of American history...it brings us back to a simpler time.”
Mr. Horwitz asked if there’s such a thing as a Jewish sense of humor.
“Comedy always attracted outsiders,” Mr. Borowitz said. “Boxing and comedy are things that people who can’t get a job anywhere else try first.”
On the more serious side, Mr. Borowitz’ 2012 essay An Unexpected Twist recounts his 2008 battle with a twisted colon. Two botched surgeries almost killed him. Mr. Horwitz called the essay gutsy.
As opposed to his other writing, this work is 100 per cent true and autobiographical, Mr. Borowitz aid. It is in part a love story about Mr. Borowitz and his wife. “It made me value the things that actually matter in this life,” he said. “If you have your health and you are surrounded by loved ones you’ve got everything.”
This was Mr. Borowitz first visit to the Vineyard. “It’s unbelievably great,” he told the Gazette after the event. While he usually tries to be contrarian, he said, the Vineyard “is actually popular for a reason..I’ve loved every aspect.”
But he had no sympathy for the South Road detour. “These people would not last a day in New York city,” he said, pointing out that “GPS will actually solve this problem.”
“You know you’re in a great place when your biggest problem is part of one street is closed off.”