The New Yorker cartoon editor Bob Mankoff discusses his new memoir, How About Never—Is Never Good for You?, April 9 at the Brattle Theatre.
Well, one of the words I would define it by is its very own eclecticism. You see satire, you see whimsy, you see, really, all types of humor. I think what all [the cartoons] demanded was in one way an openness to humor. An openness maybe not to the exact type of jokes that you like, but to see that it’s an alternate, experimental approach to it.
You don’t intend to offend, but it’s very difficult if you don’t understand that cartoons are a fantasy. Humor deals with bad things that happen to people by giving us perspective on it. I think that’s one of the essential coping functions of humor, that we actually joke about the things that scare us. There’s a cartoon in which there’s a funeral, and a casket is being carried away, and the woman is saying to another, “I had that, but much worse.” We identify with that. We’re not making fun of death. We’re making fun of our foibles and vanities through exaggeration.
You have to be in it to win it. Most people don’t enter, so it’s no big surprise they haven’t won it. If you’re looking at the drawing, Plan A, the best plan, is to get a very funny caption right away. It just strikes you. That’s not going to happen too often. Plan B is to not just keep staring.… If there are characters in the cartoon, put yourself in that character and—I don’t care what you say—just start saying something. Humor is a social phenomenon. Secondly, creativity, like anything else, gets better through practice.… And, of course, buy my book. Then you’ll get in the mood, and you’ve got to be in a good mood to be funny.