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The Off-Topic Interview: Joe Randazzo, Editor of the Onion

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Joe Randazzo is editor of the Onion, the world's best-known news satire organization. From humble beginnings in the late 1980s, it has developed into a mega industry that includes extensive web content (www.theonion.com), bestselling books, and two hit news-based television shows. I recently caught up with Joe to discuss his writing and stand-up comedy, the future of print media, and the Onion Review, his site's new weekly video segment. Then things got a bit off topic. My bad.

Steven Shehori: What was the impetus for creating the Onion Review?

Joe Randazzo: Money was the impetus. (laughs) The Onion Review is essentially a minute and forty-five second weekly video recap of the site's top news stories. We satirize the news industry, but we're also part of that industry, so it's an interesting recursive loop we find ourselves in sometimes, trying to strike a balance between what's a business imperative and what's a satirical imperative. Hopefully the Onion Review kind of hits the mark with that.

SS: The Onion web site suggests the Review is a positive idea because now people can be completely caught up on the news without even learning how to read.

JR: Exactly true.

SS: Speaking of reading, have you ever read The Celestine Prophecy? I was just thinking the other day about what a shitty book that was.

JR: Yeah, I was pretty young when I read it, like eleven or twelve. I thought it was real.

SS: Understandable, because with the author being the main character, it tries to pass itself off as a memoir, which is kind of a dick move. At first it's relatively plausible, and then crazy shit happens where you're like, "Hey, waiiiiiiit a second..." By the end, the author becomes so spiritually advanced that he can escape the bad guys by vibrating his cells and disappearing. Pissed me off, to be honest.

JR: That kind of literary frustration calls to mind an author my ex-girlfriend used to love named Richard Brautigan. He has this poem called The Pill and the Springhill Mining Disaster. And its basic message is that that the prevention of human life from a woman going on the pill is no different than this mine disaster that killed a bunch of people.

SS: Nice. Real subtle.

JR: Yeah, so I was like, "Are you serious?" I don't know much about the guy, but in his photos he's always surrounded by beautiful half-naked women. So I don't think he was exactly abstaining.

SS: So dude's either a hypocrite or he has like, 75 kids now.

JR: Right. And because he was a vegetarian too, the other half of his poems were things like, "If Baudelaire had a hamburger stand, he'd put flowers between two buns and sell it to you on a rainbow." Horrible shit like that.

SS: Poems and faux memoirs are one thing, but even so-called 'classic literature' has pissed me off with its crappiness.

JR: Definitely. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is regarded as this sort of action classic that defined a genre, but when you read it, all the characters do is sit around eating endangered species.

SS: I guess that kind of thing passed for nail-biting action back in the 1800s.

JR: Apparently. Every chapter has the crew awestruck by their surroundings, saying things like, "Ah, manatees! Look at them gracefully jumping through the ocean!" And then a few pages later they're feasting on manatee-dolphin sandwiches or whatever.

SS: I always assumed that book was more about the epic battle of man versus nature.

JR: In a sense I suppose it does showcase man's supremacy, because they're literally eating their way to the bottom of the ocean.

SS: And this is why I don't read novels.

JR: I think Jules Verne was seriously hungry when he wrote that book.

The Onion Review appears weekly at www.theonion.com.

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