I would describe The Borowitz Report as very gentle satire. While The Onion and its imitators have pushed satire toward surrealism with farfetched premises, Andy Borowitz has staked out territory closer to real life. His satire is dry. Often, his premises are not exaggerations of popular values but expressions of them, as in Stephen Hawking Angers Trump Supporters With Baffling Array of Long Words. Where The Onion’s premises are audacious, Borowitz’s are so plausible that they were routinely mistaken for actual news, before The New Yorker began labeling them “satire from Andy Borowitz.” But today’s report takes dry to a new level. With Americans Overwhelmingly Say Lives Have Improved Since Kellyanne Conway Went Away, the hygrometer is bottoming out. My throat may become too parched to laugh.
Whenever someone declares a superlative—the best joke, the worst president, the most boneheaded play of the game—you should ask what the second-most was. Superlatives are dumb. The question of the second-funniest Holocaust joke calls attention to the problems of the genre. The Holocaust was many things, but inherently funny it wasn’t. It was inherently shocking, and most Holocaust jokes focus on audacity—either the audacity in the mere act of telling them or some put-on insensitivity to their subject. That’s cheating. Anyone can find shock humor in history’s worst genocide, but it takes a deft hand to make a Holocaust joke genuinely funny. Enter Norm Macdonald:
That’s the funniest Holocaust joke I’ve ever heard. Dissection after the jump.
I strongly oppose Donald Trump as a candidate for President of the United States and probably also as a person, but I kind of like him. I don’t think he is good. I wouldn’t want to hang out with him. But I like reading about him in a magazine or watching him on video, the way I like watching Eric Cartman.
He’s not quite a rascal. A rascal doesn’t pander. For a while I thought he was some sort of dickens, deepening our affection by continually testing its limits. He sure works the same cute audacity. But a dickens is a fundamentally submissive character, challenging us to make even his rebellion an expression of our love. Trump doesn’t want to be loved. He wants to be envied, maybe, or finally respected. He wants people to believe he would make a great president, even as his boasting implies he’s not so sure himself. He’s winking, but he still thinks we might believe him.
Ever since Stephen Colbert used his time at the podium to point out that George Bush was kind of a bad president, the choice of headlining comedian at the White House Correspondents Dinner has been a symbolic act. Bush—who in retrospect was not the kind of guy who has a great sense of humor about himself—chose as Colbert’s 2007 successor Rich Little. In addition to his spot-on impression of what awaits us all at the end of our lives, Little brought to the event what could only be described as maximum safety. The sheer tactical deliberateness of his selection—no one walked into that meeting saying, “You know who’s funny? Rich Little”—elevated the choice to the level of discourse. Like your favorite NBA player,* your Correspondents Dinner headlining comedian says something about you. Last year, President Obama chose Wanda Sykes, who was hilarious and repeatedly threatened to say the n-word. This year, he went with Jay Leno. It wasn’t the biggest mistake of his presidency, but it was the one that sums up all the others.