New Yorker cartoon editor to give talk at URI for annual Honors Colloquium

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Bob Mankoff: “Taking Humor Seriously”

KINGSTON, R.I. – Sept. 3, 2015 – Bob Mankoff is a funny guy. Usually, people who make a living amusing others are dull as dishwater off camera. Not Mankoff, longtime cartoon editor of The New Yorker and star of The Cartoon Lounge, a charming video series about the magazine’s gags.

He’ll bring his wit to the University of Rhode Island Sept. 29 for the annual Honors Colloquium. This year’s topic is something Mankoff knows a little about: The Power of Humor. His talk, “Taking Humor Seriously,” will begin at 7 p.m. in Edwards Auditorium, 64 Upper College Road on the Kingston campus.

Those unable to attend the lecture can watch it live online at URI Live!

A wiry guy with a mane of wavy gray hair, Mankoff is a legend among cartoonists. He started drawing cartoons as a kid growing up in Queens and sold his first cartoon to The New Yorker in 1977, soon becoming a regular contributor. In 1997, he was named cartoon editor.

More than 900 of his cartoons have been published in The New Yorker. He is also the author of “How About Never – Is Never Good for You?: My Life in Cartoons,” whose title is based on a cartoon so recognizable its caption has become a popular put-down phrase in American culture.

From his videos we learn that Mankoff takes brief staycations on a grassy patch near his office, eats sad-sack mac and cheese for lunch, plays a mean game of ping pong, is ambidextrous and has a loyal assistant with a soft Scottish burr named Colin, who is also a poet. In an early episode, Colin fears that his boss is “awash in melancholy.” (He is, but rebounds in Season 2.)

URI chatted with him recently about what’s funny (and isn’t) and more.

Let’s get the tough question out of the way first. What do you plan to talk about at URI?

Each day most people participate in humorous exchanges. We seek out movies, television programs and books that make us laugh. Cross-culturally societies appreciate a good “sense of humor.” Few would argue that humor is not highly valued. The presentation will focus on theoretical and empirical approaches to understanding humor. It will cover traditional and contemporary theories of humor, along with social, psychological, developmental and cognitive perspectives on humor. Despite E.B. White’s admonition that, “analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog: nobody’s much interested and the frog dies”, the talk will leave the frog unscathed.

Are you going to draw some cartoons for us on an overhead projector?

Overhead projectors are so 20th century, so no. I will be creating holograms of cartons straight from my laptop. Actually, I will be showing lots of cartoons but will only draw ones after the talk for people who have bought my memoir “How About Never–Is Never Good For You?: My Life in Cartoons.”

What advice would you give to a college graduate trying to make a living as a cartoonist?

Be funny. Be Talented. Be persistent. Have rich parents.

You must get thousands of submissions. How do you choose? What do you look for? In other words, define funny – please.

All will be revealed at the talk. Really, not all. I want to keep my job.

Any topics off limits for The New Yorker, especially after the Charlie Hebdo shootings?

As long as the country still has The First Amendment nothing is off limits legally, but in practice every publication will have lots of restriction on what it thinks is OK to publish. At The New Yorker our stock in trade is making fun of ourselves, the upper middle class readers who subscribe to the magazine. So we usually stick with that.

What’s the role of humor in these turbulent times?

Humor has so many roles. It works to stimulate thought, cope with stress, and broach subjects that otherwise remain hidden. It’s not only an antidote to seriousness but seriousness can be understood except in relation to its opposite and vice-versa. But now I’m getting too serious.

Are cartoons dying out in the digital age?

I think a Google search for “cartoon” would show that it isn’t.

Here’s a softball: Would you rather have dinner with Groucho Marx or Hillary Clinton?

I’d go for Hillary Marx.

The music in your videos is great. The strings! The strings! Who wrote the musical score?

There’s music?

Last question: Are those Rick Perry glasses you’re wearing? Say it ain’t so.

Not only that. I’m wearing his underwear.

The major sponsor of this year’s Honors Colloquium is the URI Honors Program.

Other URI sponsors are Office of the President; Office of the Provost; The Mark and Donna Ross Honors Colloquium Humanities Endowment; The Thomas Silvia and Shannon Chandley Honors Colloquium Endowment; College of Arts and Sciences; College of Pharmacy; The Harrington School of Communication and Media; John Hazen White, Sr. Center for Ethics and Public Service; Gender and Women Studies Program; Theatre Department; Talent Development Program; College of Engineering; College of the Environment and Life Sciences; College of Human Science and Services; College of Business Administration; College of Nursing; Division of Student Affairs; Department of Marketing and Communications; Department of Publications and Creative Service; Instructional Technology and Media Services; ASF College of Continuing Education, URI Providence; and URI Family Weekend 2015.

This year’s organizers of the colloquium are Rachel DiCiccio, professor of communication studies, and Brian Quilliam, associate dean and professor of pharmacy. For more information on colloquium events contact Deborah Gardiner at 401-874-2381 or

For information about ways to support the Honors Colloquium, contact Lynne Derbyshire, URI professor of communication studies and Honors Program director, at 401-874-4732. If you have a disability and need an accommodation, please call 401-874-2303 at least three business days in advance.

For TTY assistance, please call the R.I. Relay Service at 800-745-5555.

For more details about the events, visit

Photo above: Robert Mankoff, cartoon editor for The New Yorker who will speak at the University of Rhode Island Sept. 29 for the annual Honors Colloquium. The talk will start at 7 p.m. in Edwards Auditorium.

Photo courtesy of Robert Mankoff