Check out an excerpt of Paul Ryan magazine here.
Here is one of the dumbest brilliant things you ever might see: Paul Ryan, a 192-page skewering of America’s biggest coward and tribute to just about every magazine in existence, from GQ to n+1. Created and edited by James Folta and Andrew Lipstein, the minds behind last year’s New Yorker parody Neu Jorker, Paul Ryan is a dense, gorgeous and increasingly rare thing—a big old slab of written humor you can completely lose yourself inside of.
Lipstein and Folta, who met on an improv team in New York City, conceived of Paul Ryan shortly after launching Neu Jorker last summer. Having successfully parodied one magazine, they figured the natural next step was to parody all magazines—“it just seemed like the perfect hell to sign up for,” said Lipstein. They wanted to strike a timbre of political humor distinct from the already tired Trump humor dominating the election cycle, and Paul Ryan presented an attractive target. “It’s hard to think back to it now, but all the talk right before November last year was, like, who’s going to remake the Republican party after what we all assume will be a disastrous loss for Trump,” said Folta. “Obviously that didn’t work out.” Ryan didn’t suffer the humiliating defeat they’d hoped, and though they had to retool their approach somewhat, it helped that their subject remained ripe for lampooning. “What’s remarkable about the project, before and after, is that Paul Ryan’s role hasn’t really changed substantially,” Lipstein said. “Basically it seems like his number one mission is to just sort of remain the anodyne golden child of the Republican party and be the straight man for whatever’s going on.”
As editors, Lipstein and Folta strive for authenticity in parody. “The thing we came up with for the Neu Jorker was the idea of aiming to pass,” Folta said. “We wanted to make sure that the style and the tone and the voice and the specifics of everything felt like it existed within the world of the New Yorker, and just sort of high-ish brow literature more generally. And for this one we tried to keep the same sort of vision, so each spread and each specific parody should feel like it exists within the world of that magazine.” He pointed to GQ (and, from time to time, Paste) writer Nicole Silverberg’s essay “My Weekend With Paul,” a faux-long form profile in the manner of GQ or Esquire, as one of his favorite pieces. “It just so perfectly gets that tone and the way they go after biography,” he said. “It was very important to us that each individual part stays and aims to pass for whatever it is that it’s parodying, so that altogether the juxtapositions are that much more heightened and insane.” Lipstein cites Patrick Landers’ piece “Painting George Washington,” a “step-by-step guide to painting a model of George Washington” from the fictional magazine Scale Paul Ryan, as one of his favorites. “It’s basically [a magazine] for modeling little replicas of men and painting them, which apparently is a magazine genre that exists,” he said. “It succeeds in that it’s so close to the magazine that having never read it, you really feel like you’re plunged into that world… you’re getting information about a whole genre that you never had the chance or never wanted to look at before.”
Paul Ryan’s delight is in its precision and idiosyncrasy, two things crucial to good comedy that are somehow missing from much of our contemporary political humor. Lipstein and Folta are well aware of the form’s pratfalls—the low hanging fruit, the easy tweets—and careful to avoid them in their own work, though that’s no easy feat. ”It’s so hard to find an absurd take on stuff that’s already so insane and surprising,” Folta said. “I think of it as manbun humor, where a manbun is a stand-in for a joke but I’m not clear what exactly is inherently funny about a manbun… It’s just this thing we’ve decided, that Trump having small hands will get clapter every time it’s brought up. But there’s not actually anything interesting or revealing or absurd about that.”
In Paul Ryan they seek that revelatory absurdity in a ruthless devotion to the source material, be it the New York Times crossword puzzle, Forbes’ 30 Under 30 or New York’s Approval Matrix. Lipstein and Folta encouraged their writers—whose credits include the New Yorker, The Onion, ClickHole, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and MAD Magazine—to satirize magazines they genuinely love, just as they love the New Yorker. It’s a directive that sings through every tenderly wrought page of the magazine, which truly is magnitudes funnier than anything this massive has any business being. But that’s what happens when you gather a bunch of funny people to write about what they love. “Our big editorial mission,” Lipstein concluded, “is to bring out the talent of the people who worked on it. Both this and the Neu Jorker were patently bad ideas made good by very talented people.”
You can buy a print or digital copy of Paul Ryan at wiscohunk.com.
Seth Simons is Paste’s assistant comedy editor. Follow him on Twitter.