If you haven’t heard of the highly acclaimed satirical newspaper The Onion, you’ve probably been living under a rock. The Onion, founded in 1988 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison by juniors Tim Keck and Christopher Johnson, is one of the most entertaining news sources that will both make you laugh and really put worldly matters in perspective.
Features editor Joe Garden and senior writer Chad Nackers came to Drexel Wednesday, May 11, to speak at the Bossone Center auditorium. Garden and Nackers gave a hilariously witty multi-media presentation, covering issues pertaining to pop culture, politics and anything else that was newsworthy.
The Onion was Keck and Johnson’s chance to add a comical twist to demure newspapers that flooded the University of Wisconsin. “It was kind of a reaction against the self-serious publications at Madison at the time,” Garden explained.
“Madison, at the time, was full of other papers … but everything kind of took itself a little seriously,” Garden continued. “So, The Onion came along, and it didn’t take itself at all seriously.”
Keck and Johnson did not expect The Onion’s success, and sold the paper a year later to Editor-in-Chief Scott Dikkers and Advertising Sales Manager Peter Haise. In 1996, The Onion’s website was launched, helping the newspaper spread to larger cities, including New York City, N.Y. The Onion News Network was later launched in 2007.
Garden began writing at The Onion in 1993, and later became the features editor. Nackers joined the Onion in 1997 at Appleton, Wis., and transferred to The Onion’s headquarters in New York in 2001.
One thing that Garden and Nackers were very good at was making the audience feel comfortable right away. There was no boring introduction; they just plunged straight into the comedy, leaving no time to waste. Sometimes it was hard to tell when this comedic duo was joking or telling the truth. At times though, it was quite obvious, such as when they claimed that The Onion was launched in 1763. They displayed a colonial-themed newspaper on the screen, with headlines announcing “Mule deaths of late,” and featured a list of Ben Franklin’s “inventions.” Did you know he invented math? I certainly didn’t!
The presentation was split into multiple sections, mainly based on different topics that The Onion concentrates on heavily, including “Politics,” “Obama’s White House” (yes, President Barack Obama gets his own section), “Sports,” “Gay Rights,” “Reader Response,” “Economy,” “Opinion,” “Entertainment,” “Education,” “Local,” “Photo Journalism” and “The Onion Taken Seriously.”
Interestingly enough, the “Politics” section mainly focused on vice president Joe Biden. The headlines about Biden ranged from “Joe Biden shows up to inauguration with pony tail” – featuring a picture of a smiling Biden sporting a long, grey ponytail – to “Shirtless Biden washing Trans Am in the Whitehouse driveway.” You could just imagine the picture featured with that headline. Eek! Garden and Nackers later presented a “Reader’s Response” section where Biden responded that he did not own a Trans Am, but in fact owned a ’67 Corvette. Joe, this is a satirical paper, calm down.
Other headlines ranged from “Man with rare purple and yellow skin is tired of being mistaken as a Vikings fan” to “Obama’s home teleprompter malfunctions during dinner.” Following this headline, they played a news clip displaying a picture of Obama and his family sitting at the dinner table, looking at a teleprompter saying “Mmmm” and “This is delicious.” Garden and Nackers presented headline after headline, leaving every person in the auditorium laughing hysterically. There were jokes to please everybody.
An issue that The Onion sometimes faces is that people don’t seem to understand that it is satirical. Many people read the paper’s outrageous headlines, and take them seriously! Garden explained that a woman once called The Onion angrily after reading the 1998 headline “Clinton Denies Lewinsky Allegations ‘We did not have sex, we made love’”.
“She was like ‘You don’t know what happened! Nobody knows what happened!’ and I was like ‘Well, this is a satirical paper,’” Garden said. The woman continued on arguing that there was nothing that said that The Onion was satirical.
Garden responded, “Well, that story is right next to another story that says “’86 Chicago Bears Return to Studio to re-record the Super Bowl Shuffle.” Garden – 1, ignorant woman – 0.
While it may seem easy to write ridiculous headlines like “Lady Gaga kidnaps Commissioner Gordon,” it actually takes a lot of work.
“Deadlines are a pretty good inspiration,” Nackers said when asked what inspires him to come up with ideas.
The Onion writers also need to make sure to always have pen and paper with them, because sometimes ideas come to Garden and Nackers at the most inconvenient times.
“I’ve actually had some [instances] where I’ve forgotten and then remembered, and then [my idea] became a full story, and I’m like ‘Oh God, I came that close to just losing it forever,’” Nackers said.
It would be an understatement to say that Garden and Nackers put on an incredibly funny presentation. It was unforgettable, leaving everybody in the audience wanting to run back home to hungrily scan The Onion’s website. Garden’s high-spirited charisma and Nackers’ chill demeanor gave the audience the chance to see the faces behind the witty articles of The Onion.