Matthew Diffee (born 1970)

"Mom tells me I used to come home from kindergarten and I'd sit up on the kitchen counter and basically spend an hour telling her the story we heard from story time. ... I learned to tell stories and to, yeah, just enjoy that process of crafting a story for a person." (Matthew Diffee in a May 2015 NPR interview)


In his most 2015 book, “Hand Drawn Jokes for Smart Attractive People”, Diffee has this to say about what he primarily does for a living, "My work is known as 'cartoons', but is that really the best term for what a handsome genius like myself does?" He concludes that no, it's more complicated than that. He then goes on, "Now, you're gonna have a hard time believing this, but there are a few folks who don't love my work. I've met some of them, they come up to me and say things like 'I don't get it.' And when I explain the joke they'll say things like, 'Hm." Or maybe, 'Oh."  But Diffee is sure that this does not apply to you because "my work appeals only to people who are, like me, smart and attractive." Like you, obviously. 

He also says about his work, "I like my cartoons to be like me. A little bit dumb, a little bit smart, at the same time" (Talking about how he came up with the pigeon cartoon above, in the context of discussing creativity at TEDxRedding in 2013: "Great ideas and how to have them.")

Diffee working with HMA staff on setting up for his HMA show, including drawing himself on the gallery walls. (Photo  Jason Overb .)

Diffee working with HMA staff on setting up for his HMA show, including drawing himself on the gallery walls.
(Photo Jason Overb.)

So now, how could you possibly resist discovering why the HMA exhibit of Diffee's work (between March 3 and July 8, 2018) is called a One Man Group Show: it's not just cartoons. In fact, for the first time Diffee also shares some of his more traditional artistic works, such as watercolor landscapes and abstract collages. And then while you're here anyway, you won't be able to resist buying “Hand Drawn Jokes for Smart Attractive People” in shopHMA as a souvenir.

While Diffee is best known for his single-panel New Yorker cartoons that he has been contributing to the magazine since 1999, he also produces other artwork including illustrations for authors (Stephen King), microbrewers, and the bluegrass band The Punch Brothers; and he has given many talks on creativity and other subjects related to his art. In addition to “Hand Drawn Jokes for Smart Attractive People” he is the editor of three volumes of “The Rejection Collection: Cartoons You Never Saw and Never Will See in The New Yorker."

Diffee grew up in Texas and North Carolina, and went to college at the conservatively religious Bob Jones University. There, he was the co-founder of the comedy troupe The Leaping Pickles whose motto was "We put the fun in fundamentalism." (From some 2004 insights in cartooning at The New Yorker.) After graduating, he lived first in Boston and then for a number of years in New York City (Brooklyn actually). In 2013 Diffee won the prestigious National Cartoonist Society's Award for Excellence in the Field of Gag Cartoons.

And, Diffee plays banjo and fiddle, and once won a race in the sport of joggling (juggling while running). While still living in Brooklyn he hosted The Steam Powered Hour, a "smart and cozy night of bluegrass music, standup comedy, and cartoons" according to Facebook. He now lives with his family in Los Angeles "in a good way."

And, whatever else he does, he still creates cartoons.

Although the informative and entertaining March 2 visit by Diffee at HMA is now in the past, listen to Paul Foster's eight minute charming interview with Diffee about himself and his art on Charlotte's WNCW.

Note: Head shot (at top)of Diffee from the 2015 Texas Book Festival is used per licensing language on Wikipedia. Photographer: Larry D. Moore CC BY-SA 4.0.

Post by Karin Borei, HMA Project Coordinator, writer and editor as needed, and HMA blogger since March 2015.