“Everybody has an idea for a cartoon.”
Mankoff joined Michael from his home in Briarcliff Manor outside of Ossining, NY. He describes how his notorious job has forced him to deny many people, including celebrities, their quest to publish a cartoon in the famous periodical.
Norman Mailer stopped by Mankoff’s offices, but apparently lacked a key ingredient.
“He comes in and I said, ‘Mr. Mailer you draw cartoons?’ He said, ‘not exactly’. He was right. He had little, sort of, squiggle faces with writing underneath. Later he published them in a book called “Modest Gifts” – which was aptly titled.”
Famous playwright David Mamet took his shot as well, but Mankoff politely declined.
“When I became cartoon editor, (Mamet) sent me a note saying ‘Congratulations, I’m sending you a batch of cartoons.’ I sent him back a note saying, ‘Thank you very much. I’ve taken the liberty of sending you a play.’”
Mankoff says that he himself only landed the job after years of hearing no.
“I did about 2000 cartoons before getting accepted to The New Yorker and suffered all that rejection.”
In addition to being accosted by amateur cartoonists, Mankoff sifts through the thousands of entries from people trying their hand at the weekly caption contest.
Michael admits that he’s given up on that cause after too many failed attempts. The last straw being when he failed to make the cut of this Gahan Wilson cartoon
with the caption, “There’s Goldwyn in them thar hills.”
Being the gatekeeper of the world’s most coveted platform for cartoons is not lost on Mankoff.
“You got to watch out that you don’t become such a connoisseur of humor that you don’t like anything. There’s a craftsman part of it and you now it’s a tough dirty job, but someone has to do it.”
“The imprimatur of The New Yorker cartoon means something. They think of humor enough not to isolate it on some page like ‘The Light Side’ or something like that. But, it’s right there, you know, within the context of the serious articles.”
Mankoff also settles the age old debate as to why people read The New Yorker – the writing or the cartoons – joking, “98% of the people say they read the cartoons first and the other 2% lie.”