What is New Yorker humor?

Bob Mankoff is the long-time cartoon editor of the New Yorker magazine, notorious for the quirky and sometime inscrutable nature of its humor. In this TED talk, he tries to explain what kind of cartoon he thinks fits within the framework of that magazine. Analyzing humor and what makes people laugh is a decidedly difficult proposition but it is a little easier to do with cartoons and Mankoff gives a highly entertaining effort.

At the 6:55 mark, Mankoff discusses a cartoon involving three fish. I think that cartoon captures our current society perfectly but it is a very old one. I recall remembering it about thirty years ago but did not know where I had seen it, so I drew it again on a computer and stuck it on my wall. I was glad to finally discover the source.

At the 7:20 mark, Mankoff discusses his own view about religion and says that “all the fights between religion is about who has the best imaginary friend.” So true.

The TV show Seinfeld had a funny bit about the inscrutability of some New Yorker cartoons.

Cartoonist Ted Rall thinks that the cult of the New Yorker cartoons as being some kind of humor pinnacle is actually harmful to the genre.


  1. Trebuchet says

    You’ve just reminded me that a few years ago I bought an enormous book of New Yorker cartoons, which included a CD of basically all of them up to that point, at a Borders Books going-out-of-business sale. Which I haven’t read yet. Must decide whether to watch the videos before or after!

  2. Holms says

    Am I the only one here to think that political cartoons are always utter bilge? I’ve yet to see one that was clever or well drawn, they’ve always been some unsubtle crap along the lines of ‘caricature of the Prime Minister reclining at his desk, lighting a cigar; the cigar is labelled THE ECONOMY’.

    I can just imaging the artist turning out to be a 15 year old in the process of earning a D in high school art, cackling in glee at the fancied wit of his latest ham-fisted effort.

  3. moarscienceplz says

    @#3 Holms
    The difficulty political cartoons face is that they are trying to serve two masters – making a political point, and being funny. I think I agree with Cuttlefish that Ted Rall is usually not fun to read because he is so intent on making his political point that he just ignores any attempt a humor.
    Also, if you don’t agree with the artist’s politics, I think that makes it much harder to join in the joke. I rarely find right-wing cartoons funny, and I tell myself that it is because conservatives just don’t have the mental acuity and subtlety that good humor requires, but if I am going to be honest, the fact that I disagree with their position probably prevents me from being receptive to the joke.

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