Tarrytown’s Joe Queenan Turns His Sharp Wit Toward Office Politics

Joe Queenan of Tarrytown, humorist, columnist, and playwright. Contributed photo

In The Oracle, a new comedy by Wall Street Journal humorist and Tarrytown resident Joe Queenan and playwright T.J. Elliott, a CEO decides to make two executives compete for control. 

The Oracle tells a fictional story of a CEO pitting employees against each other in a kind of survival of the most fit for corporate America. The play will be staged at Theater for the New City in Manhattan from May 18-22.  

“Having two CEOs would be like having two suns in the same solar system, because the sun is the center of the universe,” the CEO says in the play. “Whereas two oracles is more like… having two hands.”  

“The play was always a black comedy, but it was more serious. I decided we should have these guys engaging in a duel that nobody else can understand,” said Queenan, who writes the Moving Targets humor column for the Journal. “They’re constantly trying to one up each other.”  

Here’s a Q&A with Joe Queenan: 

Question: Why write a play about business?  

Queenan: Let’s not forget. This play is not about business in a generic sense. This is about a duel between chief knowledge officers. Our next play will be a play about dueling certified public accountants. People don’t know what chief knowledge officers do, that chief knowledge officers exist.  

What do they do?  

Queenan: They know everything.  

Q: Where do you get ideas for your “Moving Targets” column in the Journal?  

Queenan: Thin air. That’s where you get ideas from. I’ve written 4,000 stories and 12 books and now 10 plays. The answer to that question is to be a successful humorist or satirist, just be responsive to what’s going on around you and it will come. One time when I needed a column, I said to my wife, “I’ll open The Wall Street Journal and the fourth page I look at will have the story I need.” That’s what happened. … Having written 4,000 columns, I’m still amazed that there’s a 4,001st idea. You’d think you’d eventually run out of ideas.  

Q: The Oracle in part is about a CEO. Can you tell me about any interviews you did with CEOs?  

Queenan: When I went to interview Ben and Jerry for Forbes, I got there. Only Ben showed up. Jerry had to take care of his kid. I thought, “That’s cute. That’s such manufactured Ben and Jerry, we’re not corporate guys.” Then you’re going to sell your company for $70 trillion.  

Q: Do you watch and what do you think of the TV shows about business?  

Queenan: I wrote a column for TV Guide, Average Joe. After two years, they ended it. I think they figured out I never watch television. I haven’t seen any of these shows.  

Q: While so many people have home offices, why do you have a separate office in Tarrytown?  

Queenan: The day I bought this house, I had little kids living at home. I had an office in my house. I worked for Movieline in the ‘90s; I would get calls at 7 or 8 at night. They were on the West Coast and my kids asked, “Are you here or not? Are you my dad, our dad, or working?” I got an office and I worked in the office after that. You go to work. And when you close the door, you’re done. I worked in the office 29 years. It’s great to have an office. If you have an office, you can play the Red Hot Chilli Peppers really loud, which you can’t do at home. Your wife will tell you to turn it down. 

The Oracle will be staged at Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave., in Manhattan, May 18-22. Tickets are $18 and $15 for seniors and students. For more information, go to www.knowledge workings.com. Tickets are available at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-oracle-a-new-comedy-by-tj-elliott-joe-queenan-tickets-310167026927 .

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