Kurt Andersen created Spy in 1986 with Graydon Carter, who was his co-editor, and Tom Phillips, their publisher. The magazine covered culture and politics and the media and the rich and powerful and unaccountable in New York and Hollywood and Washington in a way no one else was doing at the time. Happily, Spy is now online, thanks to our Google overlords.
According to Jack Shafer, writing in 2009 in the New York Times Book Review, Spy was one of “a handful of 20th-century American magazines…whose glory days continue to influence editors,” and “not only grabbed the zeitgeist but shaped it.” Christopher Buckley wrote, also in the NYTBR, that “Spy didn’t capture the zeitgeist — it was the zeitgeist,” the we were “deliciously vicious” and “really were that good…beloved by the people who worked for them and despised by all the right people, primus inter pares, Donald Trump.” “It’s pretty safe to say,” according to Dave Eggers, “that Spywas the most influential magazine of the 1980s. It might have remade New York’s cultural landscape; it definitely changed the whole tone of magazine journalism. It was cruel, brilliant, beautifully written and perfectly designed, and feared by all. There’s no magazine I know of that’s so continually referenced, held up as a benchmark; and whose demise is so lamented.” Here’s a younger guy, writing a splendid appreciation in 2011, who thinks it was “the funniest magazine ever.”
Among other things, Spy declared and deconstructed the Irony Epidemic of which the magazine was a part; embarrassed George H.W. Bush’s horrid chief of staff; distributed a hoax-cum-parody issue of the New York Times on the floor of the Democratic convention; established important First Amendment law (Cliffs Notes, Inc. v. Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc., 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals) with their parody of Cliff’s Notes; produced bestselling books (Separated At Birth?) and prime-time NBC shows; and started breaking even financially after three years.
Although Graydon and Tom were Kurt's official co-founders, Spy simply wouldn’t have flourished the way it did (or, quite possibly, survived its first year) without its remarkable founding team of colleagues, including Stephen Doyle, Joanne Gruber, Bruce Handy, Alex Isley, George Kalogerakis, Anne Kreamer, Jamie Malanowski, Susan Morrison, and Steven Schragis. Here’s a Time piece and a goofy MTV show about Spy. Kurt and co. sold the magazine in 1991, he left in early 1993, and it continued publishing until 1998. In 2016 Forbes called the magazine's motto—Smart. Fun. Funny. Fearless.—the fourth best marketing tagline ever.
In 2006, on Spy's 20th anniversary, Miramax Books published Spy: The Funny Years, a quite beautiful coffee table book containing a history of the magazine (by George Kalogerakis).
At the beginning of 1994, Kurt became editor of the weekly magazine New York. After presiding for two-and-a-half years over increases in circulation and advertising and profits and verve, Kurt was fired, evidently because the magazine had gotten too interesting, or at least too annoying in its coverage of the then-owner’s business and social and political associates.
In 1999, exactly a year after Kurt called the “digital revolution” a “bubble” in The New Yorker, he teamed up with Michael Hirschorn and Deanna Brown to create Inside.com, which was an online news service and an associated biweekly magazine employing a couple of dozen extraordinary reporters and writers covering the entertainment and media businesses. They sold Inside to Brill Media Holdings in 2001, which in turn sold it to Primedia. Primedia, alas, does not maintain an archive of Inside articles on the web.
During 2004 and 2005, Kurt was the editorial director of four issues of Colors magazine