Andy Borowitz will discuss his new book of political satire, "Profiles in Ignorance," in San Francisco, Sept. 17, 2022. (Photo/Howard Schatz)
Andy Borowitz will discuss his new book of political satire, "Profiles in Ignorance," in San Francisco, Sept. 17, 2022. (Photo/Howard Schatz)

Political satirist Andy Borowitz heads to San Francisco to preach to the choir

Though he’d look silly in a three-cornered hat, with his latest book, satirist Andy Borowitz might be compared to a latter-day Paul Revere. In “Profiles in Ignorance,” Borowitz sounds the alarm: ”The stupid are coming, the stupid are coming.”

More to his point: Don’t bother, they’re here.

The book chronicles the steady dumbing down of political discourse since the rise of Ronald Reagan. Starting with Reagan’s reputation for intellectual laziness, Borowitz does a deep dive into the careers and public utterances of former vice president Dan “Potatoe” Quayle; former president George W. Bush (“Is our children learning?”); former Alaska Gov. Sarah “Refudiate” Palin; and finally Mr. Four Pinnochios himself, Donald Trump.

The book traces the arc of vacuity and lies that have, in Borowitz’s view, infected the American conservative movement. In the process, he exhumes example after example of stunningly vapid, incomprehensible and factually challenged statements from these politicians.

It’s a kind of “greatest twits” collection for political junkies.

“It’s not a matter of opinion,” Borowitz said of his case against today’s GOP. “It’s a very forensic approach. I’m documenting everything. In this day and age, people can say these are all fake facts, but no, they’re all true, all documented and on tape.”

Borowitz, 64, will be in the Bay Area to discuss his book on Sept. 17 at the Sydney Goldstein Theater in San Francisco. The event is part of the City Arts & Lectures series.

For a staunch liberal like Borowitz, revisiting a half-century of mendacity and incoherence could have mired him in mental anguish. But he has coping mechanisms.

“When you’re a comedian, your immediate impulse is how can I make that into a joke,” Borowitz told J. in an interview from his Hanover, New Hampshire, home. “You leapfrog over the emotional torment and go right to entertainment.”

In his book, Borowitz makes the case that the rise in political ignorance has come in three stages. First, a period of ridicule, when inanities, such as Reagan’s claim that apartheid South Africa was a “bastion of racial equality,” were met with derision. By the time of George W. Bush, who would joke about being uninformed, ignorance on the part of leaders had become more acceptable, or at least castigated less, according to the author. What seemed to matter most was whether voters would want to have a beer with a given candidate.

By the time Trump came along, Borowitz argues, ignorance was celebrated, and certainly no hindrance to electoral success. Witness Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Georgia, and her claim about Jewish space lasers.

I got so excited when I found out we had control of space lasers. When I was a kid the space program seemed like a very gentile enterprise, and now we have extraterrestrial lasers to set things on fire.

Borowitz has some thoughts about that.

Growing up, he had “a tremendous sense of Jewish identity and Jewish pride,” he said. “That’s why I got so excited when I found out we had control of space lasers. When I was a kid the space program seemed like a very gentile enterprise, and now we have extraterrestrial lasers to set things on fire.”

Though the author paints a depressing portrait, he keeps the book light by, as he put it, “sprinkling sugar on every paragraph.” In one passage detailing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ history of dismissing Covid mitigation measures, Borowitz writes that the likely GOP presidential candidate “has already locked up the endorsements of several variants.”

But the funniest figures to him are Quayle and Palin, “not because they said or did stupider things, but because neither got into a position where they could cause a lot of damage. We can now look at them as ridiculous. But they had their own malign impact. Dan Quayle really made George W. Bush seem more acceptable. And Palin was the gateway idiot who led to Trump. She really lowered the bar, and made ignorance seem like a tribal position to take.”

The result, he says, is a world of ”alternative facts,” as former Trump aide Kellyanne Conway once unabashedly described it.

“Ignorance trickles down,” he said. “We assume leaders know stuff. If we see a person of authority saying Clorox bleach will knock out Covid, well, it’s beneath contempt when leaders spew information they know to be stupid and false.”

Why single out Republicans for opprobrium? In the book, Borowitz notes that there’s no shortage of malfeasance among Democrats (he cites John Edwards, Anthony Weiner, Elliot Spitzer and Andrew Cuomo as examples, calling them in his book the “The Four Horndogs of the Apocalypse”), but he writes, “While Democratic dopes have wreaked their share of destruction, the scale of their destruction doesn’t equal that of their Republican counterparts,” citing Bush’s Iraq War, Reagan’s negligence toward the AIDS epidemic and Trump’s insurrection as examples.

Borowitz’s reputation for incisive wit was honed over the years, thanks to his New Yorker column, “The Borowitz Report,” which makes comic mincemeat of the political inanities of the day. One recent headline: “Trump Demands Recount After Biden Has More Positive COVID Tests Than He Did.”

Before all that, Borowitz grew up in a Reform household in Cleveland, though he said his family didn’t do much in terms of Jewish observance or celebrations. “My parents practiced a form of Judaism that today would be practiced with an app,” he said.

Borowitz had early success in Hollywood when he co-created the eternally popular TV  sitcom “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” but after a few years, he walked away. “I felt the odds were stacked against me,” he said of Hollywood. “I thought this is not a town [where] you want to get older. Because they’re looking for that next 25-year-old. It’s amazing how quickly you feel old in L.A. For me, when ‘Fresh Prince’ wrapped, I felt very burned out, took a couple of years off and did absolutely nothing.”

That fallow period led to Borowitz’s rebirth as a political satirist and stand-up comic. He has written seven books, and for liberals barely hanging on during the Trump years, his column provided much-needed comic relief.

Borowitz’s new book ends with a plea to readers to be more politically active. The only way to fight the tsunami of political stupidity, he writes, is for more citizen participation to elect smarter and more-qualified candidates. And by the way, he doesn’t care that his derisive, highly partisan humor will likely not persuade any Trump voters to ditch the MAGA hat.

“The book isn’t really intended to change Trump voters’ minds,” he told J. “I believe in liberal democracy, knowledge and science. I would like to motivate the people who agree with me, get them off the couch and be active. It’s sometimes called preaching to the choir. But if you don’t preach to the choir, the music stops.”

“Profiles in Ignorance” by Andy Borowitz (Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster, 307 pages). Borowitz will speak at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 17, at the Sydney Goldstein Theater, 275 Hayes St., San Francisco. $36. Order tickets here.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.