Skip to comments.Onion staff off to Aspen comedy fest
Posted on 03/03/2004 4:27:35 PM PST by mylife
Onion staff off to Aspen comedy fest
By Ed Will Denver Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 03, 2004 -
How Joe Garden landed a writing gig with the Onion newspaper sounds like a good story for America's favorite source of irreverent news.
"I was actually working at a liquor store, of all things," Garden says. "I started writing signs just to write signs, and there was a little bit of product information at the bottom. They all had a funny slant to them."
The store sat on the main student drag in Madison, Wis., where two University of Wisconsin undergraduates started the Onion in 1988. Writers and editors from the Onion shopped at the store, saw his signs and eventually asked him to put his humor to work for the newspaper.
Garden is unsure which sign finally prompted the job offer but recalls that one of his favorites featured an unsophisticated diagram of the brain.
"It had arrows pointing to different parts of it," he says. "One was frontal lobe. One was 'backal' lobe and then there was 'Michelob,' which was for the product we were selling at the time."
Garden and fellow Onion staffers discuss political satire - and their decidedly irreverent paper - at 2 p.m. Friday in Aspen as part of the 10th U.S. Comedy Arts Festival. The festival, running Wednesday though Sunday in the ritzy ski resort, includes film screenings, panel discussions and theatrical and standup performances.
The role of comedy in politics is a main theme of the 2004 event.
"This is an election year, and politics is a big part of our lives, perhaps more so now than ever, and we need to deal with it in some sort of comedic way and look at it," says Stuart Smiley, the festival's executive director and co-founder.
Eight members of the Onion's 10-person creative staff plan to participate in the festival. The parody newspaper has earned a major following through its dead-perfect knockoffs of mainstream headlines and news coverage. (Some of its biggest fans are in newsrooms.)
"We're just all a big group of friends who get up there and talk about what the Onion is and fight with each other and embarrass ourselves on stage," editor-in-chief Carol Kolb says.
"People are interested in how we do what we do, why we do it and who is behind it," Kolb says. "The whole paper is so faceless, and we do that for a reason. We don't want people reading through our paper and even be thinking about the people behind it all. We want it to be this big monolithic news voice."
Writers of some of the paper's recurring features will come out of the closet at the festival, including the voice behind "Jim Anchower," a small-town slacker who pens a column called The Cruise.
"That is Joe Garden," Kolb said. "That is a great example of one of the regular columnists. When you meet Joe, you just realize that he is just pulling his experiences of his small-town upbringing in the Midwest into the (column)."
Aspen visitors and residents also may get a chance to someday appear in the paper. The staff looks at everyone everywhere as potential photograph subjects to run with their "local" stories. For photographs of the famous, the paper relies on wire-service images - though a cheeky photo-manipulation is often the order of the day.
"Every single of one of us, all our friends, family members and relatives, the guy we met at the bar and neighbors and the person across the street, all those people have been in the Onion," Kolb says. "We are always looking for someone to be the guy who broke up with his girlfriend."
She cites a recent photograph that ran with a story about a couple that broke up in a drunken fight but forgot about it by morning. "That was the guy who lives above Chad Nackers, our photographer," Kolb says. "I don't know if (the pictured woman) was the guy's girlfriend or just a friend."
Some photos are culled from people attending Onion book signings.
The Onion has published four compilations of its headlines and stories. It also released a book of interviews from its Onion A.V. Club, a section featuring real Q&As with entertainment figures.
Its first film, a series of comedic sketches, is in production.
The Onion's award-winning website www.theonion.com , claims 2 million weekly readers. And it produces "The Onion Radio News," a daily feature of news briefs syndicated to more than 100 stations nationwide. The paper prints 300,000 copies weekly for distribution in five cities: Madison, Chicago, New York, Milwaukee and Denver. There are plans for Onion franchises in every major U.S. city.
The paper's accomplishments are a real success story for a publication started in 1988 by two students. Pete Haises and Scott Dikkers bought the paper soon after its founding and made it into what it is today. Four years ago New York investor Dave Schaffer bought the paper; the Onion moved to New York City in 2001.
Its new home base has not changed its humorous take on how to report the news, Kolb says.
"We all worked together for so many years in Madison and really solidly formed the Onion style and the Onion voice," she says. "Then we all (moved) here, but we're just doing the same thing."
One can imagine the Onion headline: "New York City Can't Sophisticate Hick Writers."
Lots of laughs
What:10th U.S. Comedy Arts Festival
When:Wednesday-Sunday; times vary
Where:Jerome Hotel, St. Regis Aspen, Wheeler Opera House, Isis Theater and other Aspen venues
Admission:Call 800-778-4633 or visit www.hbocomedyfestival.com for prices and events schedule.