“You can’t pick your descendants,” Kurt Andersen says.
To the New York media scene of the 1980s, Spy magazine was designed to be a blast of fresh air.
“We thought it was going to be a journalistically based funny magazine that would do things the other magazines weren’t doing,” Spy co-founder Kurt Andersen said on the latest episode of Recode Media with Peter Kafka. “Other magazines do reviews? We’ll do ‘Reviews of Reviews!’”
The magazine’s wit and cutting attitude was, in many ways, a harbinger of the internet in print. Gawker.com’s founding editor Elizabeth Spiers proudly called it one of her chief influences and sometimes carried back issues around with her.
So, Kafka asked on the new podcast, is Andersen happy that he spawned Gawker?
“Uh, I’m, you know, I mean,” Andersen said. “Happy? There are many ‘spawned.’ Spy’s DNA went to Gawker. Spy’s DNA, in some way, is in John Oliver. You’re right, Elizabeth Spiers literally studied Spy magazine, and she was the first editor of Gawker, so there’s some direct ancestry there. You know, it’s all fine.”
“I wouldn’t do Gawker, but you can’t pick your descendants,” he added.
Andersen said Gawker took Spy’s mean streak farther, and explained that its daily publication cycle made it substantially different from his monthly magazine.
“If you’ve gotta post 10 or 20 or however many stories a day, it’s not just gonna be the Donald Trumps of the world or the whomevers of the world,” he said. “You start punching down.”
“I remember when we started Spy, people said to me, ‘What? Every month? No, that’s too much of this kind of satirical bile!’ Which sounds ridiculous now. But I say, as a person of a certain era, a certain taste or tolerance for that, like, 10 times a day, mmmm. I don’t need that.”