What Makes it Funny?
David Sipress, a longtime cartoonist with The New Yorker, says focusing on and trying to make sense of current events sometimes leave him feeling dazed, confused, and muddled, but that the reward is being able to connect with what his readers are thinking and feeling. Cartoon provided by David Sipress )
So when you look at a cartoon in The New Yorker, do you ever wonder how the magic—that alchemy of art, writing, and, often, political awareness seasoned with humor—happens?
David Sipress, who’s first cartoon appeared in The New Yorker in 1998, will shed some light on his process during a talk entitled “What’s So Funny” on Friday Oct. 26 at 1:30 p.m. at the Yale University Art Gallery, 1111 Chapel Street, New Haven, at an event being held in conjunction with the exhibit Seriously Funny: Caricature through the Centuries on display through Sunday, Jan. 27.
Sipress will be showing his work and some of his fellow cartoonists at The New Yorker, while discussing his creative process.
Coming Up with Ideas
“The most crucial part of it is coming up with the ideas,” he says. “Every cartoonist struggles with that, week in and week out. I need to have 10 to 15 ideas a week to submit to my editor. There’s a certain kind of meditation, where I let the ideas happen. And sometimes I get the ideas by starting with a drawing. And sometimes, something I hear on the news inspires me.”
Then There is the Drawing
“The drawing part happens pretty quickly. If you look through The New Yorker, you will see many, many different styles. So I have my own style,” he says. “Finally, there’s the writing part. Writing the captions. That is a bit of an art in and of itself. You want to write it in a way that will lead the reader to the punch line, without giving them anything to trip over or without getting in their way.”
Sipress says the cartoons can help people make sense of current events, and history as it is happening.
“But the key thing is that it has to be funny. And if it’s funny, it’s going to get under the skin of the reader and into the brain like nothing else can. I don’t go at it as directly as some cartoonists. I try to point out things that maybe everyone can agree upon, something that might be ridiculous or troublesome,” he says. “All I do is I get up in the morning and read the newspapers. And if something inspires me, or bothers me, I do my point of view. And my point of view tends to be, look at the whole thing from a distance, rather than a direct attack on anything. Although, I sometimes do that as well.”
‘People Like to Laugh’
Focusing on current events and news can sometimes be exhausting, he says, and he was quoted following the most recent presidential election as saying he was left feeling “dazed and confused, muddled about the best target for my outrage.”
Even several years later, he says, “events in recent times have been somewhat overwhelming and extremely confusing.” He says he moves forward by simply setting out to put down on paper his response and feelings.
“And that generally tends to connect with what my readers are thinking and feeling,” he says.
As for what makes it funny? He pauses to consider the question.
“What creates humor is a connection,” he says. “People like to laugh when they see themselves reflected in a cartoon.”
He says cartooning is an art form that combines writing, and drawing, and ideas “in a way that nothing else does.”
“It’s a very particular skill and I feel lucky I’m able to do it.”