Jan 22, 2018
30 Under 30, Class of ’18: Emma Allen, The New Yorker’s Cartoon Editor
Neighborhood: Boerum Hill
Most Likely To: Get an anxiety-induced bloody nose while trying to play it cool
Favorite Quote: “Nobody can eat fifty eggs.”
As a kid, Emma would clip all the cartoons from the New Yorker and keep them in a folder. Now, she’s the first woman to run the Cartoon Department. (She also archived photos of Leonardo DiCaprio when she was younger, but that doesn’t relate to her job now as much.) Her Boerum Hill neighborhood and its rapid change often inspires a kind of New York comedy she takes to work. She’s proud of bringing both wider diversity into the humor section, while figuring out just how to deal with her “eyebrow situation.”
What is your earliest memory associated with what you do now?
When I was a kid, maybe in middle school, I started obsessively cutting out every single cartoon that appeared in The New Yorker and storing them all in a lime green folder. I have no idea what the grand plan was, but it seemed vitally important that I keep them safe and organized. (The only other thing I archived as devotedly at the time was photos of Leonardo DiCaprio, which I printed out from the old family desktop, in black and white. This was pre-Google, so I have no idea how I found them online. The sound of dial-up Internet still conjures Leo’s face, though.)
When did your occupation become real to you?
Honestly, it’s still pretty unreal. I remain relatively certain that I’m going to wake up from the dream at any moment in a bed surrounded by George Booth and Roz Chast and Patty Marx and Simon Rich all dressed like ranch hands and be like, “It wasn’t a dream!” You were there and you and you and you!
There was also the first time I watched someone on the subway flipping through an issue of The New Yorker for which I’d picked the cartoons. I think I held my breath for like two minutes, waiting for this guy to crack a smile at any of them. I don’t think he did even once. Obviously he was an idiot.
How does Brooklyn/your neighborhood particularly inform your work?
Living in Boerum Hill as it’s transformed from a place where couples got starter dogs to where even the toddlers carry tote bags, and every storefront sells $400 glasses frames, has helped hone my eye for a certain kind of New York comedy that’s also the preoccupation of many of my Daily Shouts and cartoon contributors. Also the best bread in the city comes from Bien Cuit, near me, and everyone knows that everything funny is fueled by carbs.
What do you feel is most challenging about being where you are now?
It feels great being a young woman doing a job that’s never been inhabited by anyone like me before. But there’s certainly a degree of anxiety about not being worthy of it, and about how I’m perceived by many of my contributors, who are older (and most often wiser) than me. I’ve had this type of anxiety about most endeavors in my life. Up until I received my diploma from Yale I was pretty sure I was being PUNK’d—and that at any moment someone was going to tap me on my shoulder and send me packing. I should maybe I should tell someone other than Brooklyn Magazine about this particular recurring neurosis…
What’s most rewarding?
Writing to accept a humor piece or a cartoon from someone who’s never been published by us; reaching out to a writer, or artist, I admire, and saying “The New Yorker thinks you’re funny and great”—that’s the best feeling ever! Then imagining the subsequent phone call between the writer/cartoonist and their mom.
5 spots in Brooklyn people should know about?
Desert Island Comics in Williamsburg is a rad comic book store.
Also opening soon is a new McNally Jackson bookstore in Williamsburg, which is destined to be great. I worked as a bookseller at the McNally Jackson in SoHo when I was a freelancer and it was a sublime place full of people who care so much about books and art. It’s nuts.
Union Hall in Park Slope is a comedy venue that just consistently puts on amazing shows by all the best comedy writers and performers.
Mala Yoga on Smith Street keeps my limbs from literally falling off my torso.
K&Y Fruit and Vegetable on Court Street is an insanely cheap produce shop with the freshest stuff that literally keeps me from dying of scurvy.
What’s your most significant accomplishment to date?
Bringing a greater diversity and breadth of voices into The New Yorker comedy fold, for sure. I also feel like I recently got a handle on my whole eyebrow situation, which is a close second.
Who/what inspires you?
All of the writers and artists I edit. I don’t have to put myself out there and send my jokes into the world to be judged by some jerky 29-year-old. I learned how hard a task that is when I took an improv class for a feature I was writing for The New Yorker about the rise of the Upright Citizens Brigade. It was pure hell stepping in front of people and trying to make jokes. I’m going to get a bloody nose just thinking about it.
Also, my mother griping for so many years at the dinner table about the discrepancy between the numbers of women and other minorities graduating from law school and the minuscule percentage of them making partner at law firms really inspired me to think long and hard about similar inequities in other fields, like comedy.
Thinking about the future, where do you see yourself in the next 30 years?
Editing a humor magazine from my bunker that will be distributed via pneumatic tubes to neighboring bunkers!
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