Friday, March 16, 2012

Five notable comic novels

Andy Borowitz is a writer and a comedian whose work appears in The New Yorker and at his satirical website,, which has millions of readers around the world. The author of six books, he is the first-ever winner of the National Press Club's humor award, a two-time finalist for the Thurber Prize for American Humor, and a two-time host of the National Book Awards. He has been called a "Swiftian satirist" (The Wall Street Journal), "America's satire king" (The Daily Beast) and "one of the funniest people in America" (CBS News Sunday Morning).

With Eve Gerber at The Browser, Borowitz discussed five of his favorite comic novels.  One title on the list:
Lucky Jim
by Kingsley Amis

The British bourgeoisie are in the crosshairs of Kingsley Amis’s first novel. Give us a sketch of 1954’s Lucky Jim and a sense of why you selected it.

This is also Kingsley Amis’s best novel, and maybe the best novel ever written about university life. The main character, Jim Dixon, is one of the great scoundrels in literature, but you love him.

Scholars seem to think Lucky Jim was covertly co-written by the poet Philip Larkin, to whom it is dedicated. Who are your greatest collaborators and inspirations, hidden or otherwise?

I didn’t know that about Larkin, which I guess means I’m not a scholar. My greatest collaborator was Henry Beard, who founded [the American humour magazine] National Lampoon. I worked with Henry Beard in the early 1980s when I was right out of college. We wrote a screenplay together for Warner Brothers, which probably should have been made but wasn’t. The story department called the first draft the best they had ever read, and so the executives proceeded to make us write seven or eight more drafts, each one weaker than the last. After that, I think Henry decided that was enough Hollywood for him. We’ve remained good friends over the years. There’s no one funnier or quicker.

Lucky Jim, set in a British university, is identified as one of the forerunners of the campus novel. You began writing comedy on campus and eventually became the president of The Harvard Lampoon. Can you share some of the secrets of comedy that are passed down in the Lampoon’s castle?

I learned no comedy secrets at The Harvard Lampoon except this: It is possible to make a living as a comedian rather than as a lawyer, which had been my Plan A before I joined the Lampoon. So I owe the Lampoon that much, which is considerable.
Read about another novel Borowitz tagged at The Browser.

Lucky Jim also appears on Sean O'Hagan's list of the ten best fictional hangovers, Roger Rosenblatt's list of the five best satires of academic life, and John Mullan's lists of ten of the best lectures in literature, ten of the best professors in literature, and ten of the best beards in literature.

--Marshal Zeringue