Andy Borowitz's Hollywood Escape

Andy Borowitz is a stand-up comedian who seems plenty thankful he walked out on a successful Hollywood comedy career. He talks with "Early Show" anchor Harry Smith as part of our series on "Wit and Wisdom":


Andy Borowitz seemed destined to become one of the biggest names in Hollywood. But he walked away from that glitz and glamour. And is now merely one of the funniest people in America.

He does a little bit of stand-up. He writes humor books.

But mostly, he is the author of the Borowitz Report.

"It is basically a news site. I do one fake news story a day," he said.

As years go, 2010 has been target-rich for Borowitz's sharp satire.

"China to stop spying on its people … will use Facebook instead" was one such story.

"Hillary to become vice president; Biden named President of Afghanistan; Karzai traded to Minnesota Vikings."

"Christine O'Donnell favors separation of speech and thought."

"Somali pirates say they are a subsidiary of Goldman Sachs," another says. "We were functioning as investment bankers, only every day was casual Friday."

Andy also writes for The New Yorker. For example, a drunk Emily Dickinson using her keys to scratch Ralph Waldo Emerson's car door with the words "Waldo Sucks." He's written about 40 pieces.

David Remnick is editor of The New Yorker.

"I just know that if something absurd happens in the world, I can reliably wake up the next morning, if not sooner, and Andy Borowitz will have hit it on the head," Remnick said. "So when Sarah Palin signs a contract with Fox, the next morning I can read Andy Borowitz writing about how Sarah Palin will be simulcast in English. And it will be a great piece."

Fifty-two-year old Andy Borowitz has always loved making people laugh, beginning at Shaker Heights High School in Cleveland.

"I was kind of tall and awkward and gawky. I had a big nose. It's hard to imagine that now, if they can just picture it. It doesn't lend itself to becoming the, you know, star of the football team. You wind up doing things like drama," Borowitz said. "I was popular within the group of unpopular kids. I would say I was in the upper 10 percent of the unpopular kids in school."

He was editor of the school newspaper, but he said, "The only thing that was interesting to me was the idea of making up the news."

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He went on to Harvard where he was, predictably, president of The Lampoon, the renowned college humor magazine. And then, in 1980, only two weeks after graduating, Andy drove across the country to Hollywood, and said he never really looked back: "It was a career in comedy from that moment."

(Left: "The Borowitz Report.")

One year later he was writing for the sitcom "Archie Bunker's Place" and its lead, Carroll O'Connor.

"Carroll O'Connor, who played him, was so powerful at CBS, he actually had the number-one parking spot on the CBS television studio lot. The president of the network had the number-two spot.

"So, that was my introduction to Hollywood," he said.

Soon Borowitz's lines were popping up on all kinds of shows, including "The Facts of Life."

Borowitz has a special affection for this series, and probably not why you think.

"'The Facts of Life' was the worst show ever on TV," he said. "No one was a worse writer on 'The Facts of Life' than me. I was worst writer on the worst show on TV.

"The worst thing about being a whore is being a whore and totally sucking at it," he said.

So, naturally, in 1990, when NBC wanted to turn stand-up comic Will Smith into a star, it turned to Andy Borowitz.

"And what's hilarious is, I was 32 years old at the time, and a white kid from Shaker Heights, Ohio. But in the universe of NBC, I probably had the most in common with Will Smith."

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What Borowitz created and produced was "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air." It ran for six years.

"That was a big, big moment of change in my life, because suddenly I went from a guy who was kind of toiling in the world of sitcoms and working as a writer, to somebody who'd created a show that was a big hit," he recalled.

The hits continued, co-producing the movie "Pleasantville" starring Reese Witherspoon.

Andy's star was ascending, rapidly. But in 1995, Borowitz did the utterly unthinkable: He quit Hollywood and moved to a New York City suburb.

"I later found out that psychologists have a term to describe this, and there's this concept called the Hedonic Treadmill. And what that means is that if you go and you do a hit TV show, then the treadmill suggests that to be happier, you then have to do another hit and it's got to be bigger," Borowitz said.

"And then you have to do another hit and it's got to be bigger than that. And then you have to get a bigger house and, you know, a better dog," he said. "I looked at my life in the '90s - I was enormously successful, but not terribly happy, not really enjoying life, not really connecting with anything but this sort of treadmill."

Today, he is content. He lives in Manhattan with his second wife, writer Olivia Gentile. They had a baby in January. When he feels like it, he writes or performs.

It sounds like a Hollywood ending only Borowitz would write. And funny - there's no punch line.

"I think that's everyone's worst fear in Hollywood is that they're going to become a forgotten person, and my feeling was, you know what? I'd like to kind of disappear for a couple of years. I'd like to do nothing and maybe just read and sort of think about things and then see where I am at the end of that. And so, that's exactly what I did. And maybe that was crazy," Borowitz said. "I don't know."


For more info:
Borowitz Report
Borowitz Report on Twitter
Borowitz in The New Yorker
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