Alexandra Petri has become the Post’s go-to writer for laughs. Photograph by Erik Uecke
When Oprah Winfrey ended her talk show, a nation genuflected—except for a 23-year-old writer for the Washington Post.
“There are two ways to love yourself, Oprah says,” Alexandra Petri wrote on her blog, ComPost. “Loving yourself, and loving Oprah, because Oprah is Just Like You, But Better.”
Compare Petri’s sendup with that of the Post’s Sally Quinn, who declared Winfrey to be “America’s high priestess.”
Quinn came off as fawning next to Petri, who wrote: “I do not mean this with any disrespect to Oprah. A friend of mine once meant disrespect to Oprah, and all his window treatments turned on him.”
Petri has been poking fun at the rich, famous, and political since editorial-page editor Fred Hiatt anointed her a year ago as his comic blogger and occasional editorialist. “If you want to understand Snooki or Weinergate,” he says, “she is the person to see.”
There aren’t a lot of laughs at the Post these days. Revenues are down, journalism is suffering, readers are leaving. Petri beckons them back, with jabs like this one about Mitt Romney: “Every time he tries to crack jokes or make hip references, I cringe. It’s like watching John Quincy Adams do the Macarena.”
How does a kinda geeky girl who grew up in Georgetown get to write editorials about Internet privacy as a college intern at the Post and then land a job writing humor for the paper? Maybe it helps being the daughter of a congressman, Wisconsin Republican Tom Petri, or being educated at the elite National Cathedral School, or graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard. But those don’t make one funny.
“I can be serious for an hour,” Petri says, “then I have to go lie down.”
An only child, Petri says she spent hours reading (“a lot of Thurber”) and writing. At age eight, she penned a Shakespeare comic book with cat characters: “Romeow and Mewliet—and the Catpulets.” At age 11, she attempted a play: Helen of Troy’s No Good, Very Bad Day.
Now she can feast on congressmen, such as New York’s Anthony Weiner and his crotch shot tweeted around the world.
“I know it’s the thought that counts,” she wrote. “But need you send a picture of what’s doing the thinking?” While cracking wise, she threw in references to Dante, Catherine the Great, and the Bard: “I guarantee William Shakespeare did not woo Anne Hathaway with pictures of his Willy.”
Does her father mind that she pokes fun at his colleagues? “He’s happy I’m not a stripper.”
This article appears in the July 2011 issue of The Washingtonian.