So, what do you think makes a great column?
A lot of newspaper columns used to be written in a rat-a-tat-tat, fast-paced style—and they tended to be funny. They were a little relief from the grimmer, grayer parts of the newspaper, and one of the best people at doing this was Will Rogers. He had a weekly newspaper column called “Illiterate’s Digest,” and it was just him riffing off the events of the day. Many of the things we remember Will Rogers saying—like “I don’t belong to an organized political party. I’m a Democrat.”—are right out of his column. And they didn’t need a lot of connective tissue because the connective tissue was really what had happened that last week and so there was no need for throat clearing at the beginning or summation at the end or bloviating in between.
Why did the humor column fall out of fashion?
Because Dave Barry retired.
Has the humor gone out of politics?
Oh, no. It’s better than ever. Well, not better than ever—we can’t possibly top certain portions of the Clinton years. But politics is always hilarious because everybody’s mad at each other. I mean, go back to the Civil War. A man named David Ross Locke wrote these columns that Lincoln was crazy about and they were supposedly by a fellow named Petroleum V. Nasby, who was the world’s stupidest southern sympathizer. He was an Ohio Copperhead type who sympathized with the southern states in a way that was so blatantly stupid—lest we think we invented irony—that it was just hilarious. And people don’t get any madder at each other than they were during the Civil War. People say, oh, politics is so polarized today, and I’m thinking…1861, that was polarized.
Your column will be called “Up to a Point.” Why did you choose that name?
The most famous book among all foreign correspondents is Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop. The newspaper in Scoop is, of course, The Daily Beast, which is owned by the moronic Lord Copper and run by the obsequious Mr. Salter. There’s a brief passage which I think all reporters know. “Whenever Lord Copper was right, Mr. Salter would say, ‘Definitely, Lord Copper,’ and whenever Lord Copper was wrong, Mr. Salter would way, ‘Up to a point, Lord Copper.’” Then follows a little snatch of dialogue where Lord Copper says, “Hong Kong—belongs to us, doesn’t it?” “Definitely, Lord Copper.” “Yokohama—capital of Japan, isn’t it?” “Up to a point, Lord Copper.”
Have you ever done a weekly column before?
No, I never have. I’ve worked for weekly newspapers, so I have some good idea of the rhythm that goes into it. And I write for The Weekly Standard, although I don’t do so weekly. But no, I’ve never tried to do this and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous about it.
Why did you decide to take the plunge with The Daily Beast?
My close friend, Chris Buckley, had a very good experience with The Daily Beast and so it’s always been on my mind. It’s one of the more successful Internet creations, and it seems to understand how to use the medium as well as or better than anybody else that’s out there. The other nice thing about The Daily Beast is that it doesn’t have a political taint. It’s not predictable in its politics. And even though I’m pretty politically conservative, the whole idea of having to be constantly predictable on your politics is just exhausting and stupid, because you’re leaving out half of the stupid things that people do—you know, the half you agree with.
P.J. O’Rourke’s first column will appear on The Daily Beast on New Year’s Day, and every Friday following. His new book is The Baby Boom: How It Got That Way...And It Wasn’t My Fault...And I’ll Never Do It Again.