New York cartoonist Asher Perlman explains how his work became a meme
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Years ago, Asher Perlman, writer, comedian, Emmy-nominated cartoonist and self-proclaimed “hyphen-multi-hyphenate hunter,” knew The New Yorker magazine as a respected source of in-depth stories. , fiction and humor. The iconic weekly zine dates back to 1925 and is still widely read online and in print. Usually drawn in black and white with a brief caption, cartoons are one of the most beloved facets of The New Yorker. Lee Lorenz, Francoise Mouly, Pete Holmes, William Steig, Helen E. Hokinson and James Thurber are among a long list of talented people who have contributed to New Yorker cartoons over the years.
Perlman grew up drawing, influenced by his father who is an artist. During the pandemic, he decided to pursue comics beyond just a hobby. But it took The New Yorker to dismiss Perlman for him to realize how he could improve. He zeroed in on something longtime New York cartoonist Jeremy Nguyen told him over a cup of coffee.
“The best advice was to draw the cartoon you want in The New Yorker, not what you think The New Yorker wants you to draw,” Perlman said during an interview on. “And that sounds like good advice for any kind of creative pursuit.”
Perlman, whose “day job” is as editor of The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, explained that many of his early submissions seemed predictable, which is likely why they were turned down. But he continued to draw and write and used his comic and writing skills to improve.
“If you break down the science of a joke into math, it’s all setups and punchlines,” Perlman said. “Sometimes the image is the setup and the caption is the punchline. Sometimes the caption is the setup and the image is the punchline. And sometimes the line is fuzzier than that, but it’s still basically the same idea.”
Over time, The New Yorker began publishing his work, and Perlman shared others on social media and his website. His cartoons often focus on the blunders and missteps of modern life. For example, one has two Godzilla-like monsters towering over a smoldering Chicago skyline. Both monsters have a hot dog and one adds ketchup on top of his. The caption reads, “You can’t do this Scott, it’s Chicago.”
Last year, one of his creations went viral. The cartoon shows a man in a Phish t-shirt holding cash as he walks towards a jukebox at a bar. The rest of the customers look worried with one of the bartenders jumping over the counter and another person diving towards him. The caption reads, “Oh my god, he’s going to get the jukebox!”
A friend of his saw the cartoon in a Facebook group for another group. Whoever posted it changed the band name on the guy’s T-shirt. And many others have done the same, turning Perlman’s work into a meme.
“It actually made its way to all these little niches on the internet where some of them were better known bands like Aphex Twin or the Grateful Dead,” Perlman said with a laugh. “There were bands that put their own logo on the guy’s shirt and ironically shared it. It was a crazy experience and I loved seeing it take on new life.”
You can listen to my entire conversation with Perlman in the podcast player above. He recounts the first time he entered the Ed Sullivan Theater working for Colbert, his nomination for an Emmy Award and the time he worked in an Apple Store at the “genius bar”.
Subscribe to I’m So Obsessed on your favorite podcast app. In each episode, Connie Guglielmo and I meet an artist, actor, or creator to learn more about their work, career, and current obsessions.
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