The New Yorker on The New Yorker

Rebecca Mead on Middlemarch

On a recent Friday evening, we headed all the way west on 37th Street to hear New Yorker writers recount stories about being that most exciting of things—a New Yorker writer. The event was the opening night of the blitz of panels, conversations and chances to see what writers look like that is the annual New Yorker Festival.

The hangar-like space was converted into a lounge with the addition of cafe tables and chairs. A cash bar offered wine, beer and snacks in serving bowls fashioned  to look like martini glasses. Snippets of conversation—overheard while we looked for a seat—sounded like, dare we say it, the premise of many a New Yorker cartoon.

“Did you buy a place?” we heard a woman sipping red wine ask.

“In the process,” her tablemate responded.

“How was Monterey?” someone squealed.

A woman seated alone waited for the show to start, clutching, appropriately enough, this week’s issue.

Andy Borowitz, the magazine’s humor writer, hosted. “When David Remnick asked me if I wanted to write for The New Yorker, I was so excited I said I would do that for free,” he said.

The editor, Mr. Borowitz said, apparently had the same idea.

Thus, the tone was set. Lauren Collins, in black ankle boots and a patterned dress, reminisced about throwing up on Donatella Versace while on assignment in Lake Como. When she confessed to Mr. Remnick, he made her include it in the story “as penance.” Nicholas Schmidle told a story about interviewing Russian arms dealer Victor Bout, who demanded a subscription in exchange for talking to the magazine. Mr. Schmidle no longer speaks to the inmate, but he does renew his gift subscription.

“The New Yorker makes a lovely gift and the holidays are just around the corner,” Mr. Borowitz said after Mr. Schmidle’s 10 minutes were up. “David Remnick will be selling subscriptions at intermission.” Mr. Remnick, who sat in the audience, stage right, looked amused.

“Did you know, David Remnick hasn’t read the magazine in the 14 years he has been the editor?” joked Mr. Borowitz. “He has them all in a pile on his bedside table, but he can’t seem to get to them.”

Rebecca Mead told a heartwarming story about finding herself while writing about Middlemarch. Film critic Anthony Lane held the mic and paced like a seasoned stand-up.

“When it happens, it’s like a dog that can dance,” Mr. Remnick told The Observer later. “Anthony Lane is a natural comedian.”

Will Mr. Remnick ever tell his story onstage?

“No one has asked me, and if drafted I will not run,” he said. “I swear to God. It’s mortifying enough to hear your name in someone’s story.”

Larry Wright, who closed the show, had the folksy charm of a storyteller at a campfire (he lives in Austin, Texas) as he talked about his 25,000-word story about Scientology. He described the fact-checking process with the notoriously touchy (and litigious) church. “I’ve come to think of the fact-checkers as very erudite and polite agents with the KGB,” he said.

Like everything else about the magazine on this evening, even the fact-checkers became the stuff of legend

<EM>The New Yorker</EM> on <EM>The New Yorker</EM>