If you are looking to increase your knowledge of current events, perusing past issues of The Onion probably won’t garner you a spot on the quiz bowl team or an A in your history class.
A random sampling of headlines may leave you with jewels, such as ‘Christ kills 2, injures 7 in abortion clinic attack,” ‘Man somehow getting worse at sex,” ‘Report: Drug use down among un-cool kids” and ‘Asian Teen Has Sweaty Midddle-Aged-Man Fetish.”
Dig even further back into their historical archives collected in the book ‘Our Dumb Century,” and your recollection of American history may be altered to include: ‘FDR’s fireside chat last night just a stream of cuss-words” or ‘Martin Luther King: “I had a really weird dream last night.'”
It may not be accurate, but ‘America’s finest news source” offers a humorous, clever and pointed view of history, current events and American society.
Their ability to capture the absurdity of the world rivals that of popular figures on television such as Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert, and it is usually displayed in a much more outrageous, and uncensored manner.
This evening, Campus Activities Board is bringing The Onion to UR, with a special presentation entitled ‘A Hundred Years of Headlines: American History According to the Onion.”
We caught up with Staff Writer Seth Reiss and Features Editor Joe Garden for a preview of the hilarity that is bound to ensue.
Explain what The Onion is and what you do.
Joe: The best way I can explain is it’s like USA Today with fart jokes. We’re a satirical newspaper.
Seth: It’s a fake newspaper all made up. We are like a print ‘Daily Show” except we make up news stories. We have been around since 1988, so we are older than ‘The Daily Show” by about 10 years.
How did the Onion get its start?
JG: The Onion started in 1988, by two gentlemen named Tim Keck and Chris Johnson, and they had been working for other student papers at the time. There was a good economy for supporting free newspapers and there were a lot of weeklies. So they thought it was a good time to have a funny weekly.
SR: Originally, it was a lot like a fake tabloid. It was basically a parody of weekly world news. And then they sold it after about a year and a half and they in turn sold it about five or six years ago.
How did you get your jobs at The Onion and what else have you guys done?
JG: I started 15 years ago when it was still very small. I did writing for some music reviews for the student daily and my own journal entries, stuff like that.
SR: I started when Onion Sports first launched about three years ago. I freelanced for Onion Sports for about six months, and then I started contributing to the regular paper as well. After about a year contributing to both sections, I got hired as a staff writer.
What’s the workplace environment like? Does a deadline make everyone serious?
SR: It really depends. Sometimes the environment is really casual and laid back and fun. Although we are a comedy paper, we are still a paper and a business, and we have deadlines to adhere to. It’s not like every workplace though.
JG: For example, for three different days I was photographed for a story in which I was holding on to a big sign and blown by the wind and had cocoa powder thrown at me, and I was photo-shopped so it looked like a lion was chasing me.
SR: That happens a lot at The Onion and a lot of Manhattan law firms.
You have made fun of everything from the Holocaust to the Make-A-Wish foundation. Is there anywhere you draw the line?
JG: We will not make fun of University of Rochester.
SR: No, I’ll totally make fun of University of Rochester….No, we don’t really draw the line anywhere. Most often we try to be on the right side of things and make fun of the people who deserved to be made fun of, and sometimes that can be seen as being in poor taste. But we don’t feel guilty, because we know where our heart is.
JG: The line is if it’s funny or if it’s not funny.
Do you ever read real newspapers and think that the real thing is funnier than any spoof?
SR: A lot of times, yeah.
JG: I think our funniest headlines are ones that mirror real headlines. I think when you copy that style of real headlines they’re funny. We had a story once about ‘smokable nicotine sticks” as cigarette replacements. But somebody actually came out with those after that. We tried to make a joke and people ran with it. We made a joke once about a story about ‘Harry Potter” turning kids to Satanism. And that wound up being picked up by conservative religious groups and people spread that around.
SR: One of the last examples was when we ran a story called ‘Fuck everything, we’re doing five blades” about inventing a five-blade razor. And then two years later they come out with a five-blade razor. And we are like, well that just sucks “cause now our joke doesn’t mean anything.
JG: The news will never fail to outdo The Onion. These things will always happen that make us irrelevant.
What should people expect at the presentation? Why should people go?
SR: We’ll probably do a lot of headlines and stories from our election coverage this year. Basically we’ll be going through the history of The Onion. There is a fictional story behind it. People should expect to have a pretty good timepeople will come, and they’ll laugh, and it will be great.
JG: We make fun of the current events, we make fun of the media who cover the current events and we make fun of the people who are part of the media. It is amusing, but it will make you think.
‘A Hundred Years of Headlines: American History According to The Onion” will be tonight at 8 p.m. in Strong Auditorium. Get your tickets at the Common Market in Wilson Commons.
Healy is a member of
the class of 2011.
Clark is a member of
the class of 2012.