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First Person

Faking it

Joe Garden, features editor at the Onion, discusses the growing influence of satirical news at a Cambridge Forum on Wednesday.

(Photograph by Geordie Wood)
By James Sullivan
May 9, 2010

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What’s the Onion’s target, the absurdity of the world around us, or the news media that cover it? Both. A big part of it is satirizing the medium. Our motto is “You Are Dumb.” That sums it up right there. Fortunately, we haven’t run out of material. We need an umbrella to keep from getting buried by it.

Is your newsroom quieter than a real one? I personally am very loud. I’m given a lot of latitude to shout. I’m sort of like a 3-year-old with a wooden spoon and a pot. Sometimes we do have to spring into action. Like when Michael Jackson died, nobody saw it coming. We do on occasion behave like a normal news organization. But we’re not like The Daily Show or The Colbert Report. They’re reactive, commenting on news stories. We usually comment on news trends.

Comedy Central just announced it’s picking up Onion Sports Network. And IFC is doing an Onion News Network show. I won’t say this is what we’ve been working toward for 22 years. It’s more like this is one of many things we want to accomplish.

Are there gold standards of satire at the Onion? Some of us have a greater connection with the history than others. I’m a huge fan of [Voltaire’s] Candide. There’s some National Lampoon stuff we’re all familiar with, and Saturday Night Live. I’d say David Letterman is one of the most common threads. He was an anarchist, always biting the hand that fed him, making fun of TV conventions.

Ever shoot down story ideas because they’re too mean? We were going to do a feature called Mean Obituaries. If you call it that, you know exactly what you’re going to get.

Any Boston connections? My brother is a professor of religious studies at Tufts, and his wife teaches at BU. As a comedy writer, I’m kind of stuck in New York. As academics, they’re stuck in Boston. I spend my time there being crazy Uncle Joe, cooing over my nephew and niece. Those kids are awesome.

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