Spy: The Funny Years

Edited by Kurt Andersen, Graydon Carter and George Kalogerakis. Melcher, $39.95.

Photograph: Cinzia Reale-Castello

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>0/5

Nostalgia trip, magazine publishing textbook, legacy-affirming Festschrift: You could use any of these phrases to describe this new Spy magazine scrapbook (bonus points if you use “air quotes”). The Funny Years congregates compendiums of most things Spy, the satirical r--New York monthly founded by Graydon Carter, he of the eternally tan forehead and editor of Vanity Fair, and Kurt Andersen, the baritoned novelist-critic and host of NPR’s Studio 360. Considering Carter and Andersen’s establishment gigs, it might seem weird that, from 1986 to 1991, they ran an often-trashy mag that made its name with schaudenfreude-charged coverage of celebrities and politicians. The Funny Years recaptures the notorious rag’s spirit by reprinting snarkilicious trend pieces (“The Irony Epidemic”), graphics and sidebars (“The Spy Celebrity Delusion Index”), and demented regular features (“Separated at Birth,” “The Critics’ Critics”). Satire has existed for millennia, but it’s safe to say media navel-gazing (Gawker, Drudge, McSweeney’s), exposs of political hypocrisies (The Daily Show, The Onion) and obsessive-compulsive culture riffing (which seems to be everywhere) wouldn’t be quite the same if Spy had never existed.

A more accurate subtitle might have been The Story of the Funny Years, since the heart of the book is a 15-chapter making-of monograph, exhaustively researched by former editor George Kalogerakis and footnoted by Carter-Andersen. A wide-eyed how did we get away with that? tone pervades the recollections of tracking down the initial investors, Puck Building debauchery and the unfunny later years. These chapters don’t have Spy’s energy, but what does? The old articles, on the other hand, will whet appetites for a whole enchilada. Why not The Complete Spy? It was that great. — Daniel Nester