Two years ago, "The Onion" set out to undertake a daunting task: To compile all the world's knowledge in one book. Today, the result of that mission hits bookshelves, and within its elegant, gold foil blocking-adorned cover lies one of the best works that "The Onion" has ever produced.
Following their previous books Our Dumb Century and Our Dumb World, published in 1999 and 2007, respectively, The Onion Book of Known Knowledge (Little, Brown & Co., 29.99) dryly parodies an encyclopedia in the most comprehensive manner imaginable. But this reference book includes facts unknown to most, the kind that could only come from "The Onion." For instance, did you know that Lewis & Clark were actually human bodies controlled by dozens of prairie dogs? Or that sultry cartoon character Jessica Rabbit perished in the World Trade Center attacks? (Other excerpts can be found on "The Onion's" website.)
HuffPost Comedy had a chance to talk to current "Onion" head writer Seth Reiss, who edited the book alongside John Harris, Jason Roeder, Will Tracy and Joe Randazzo, who served as editor-in-chief of the book as well as formerly of "The Onion." We asked Seth about writing the book, his favorite entries and why they chose to give a full-page spread to an unknown band in Nebraska.
HuffPost Comedy: There are so many different types of jokes in this book. There’s straight-up satire, there’s absurdist stuff, there are callbacks and even character through lines. How close is the final product to what you originally envisioned?
Seth Reiss: You know what? The final product turned out to be pretty damn close to exactly what we wanted it to be.
HPC: How so?
SR: From the very beginning, we had ideas for a through line of a girl named Caroline, and we knew we wanted to include some ominous war. One thing that’s really cool about this book that we as writers really like was the opportunity to make almost every type of joke that you could possibly make. The book that you see is pretty much exactly the book that we set out to write.
HPC: Did you go straight from working on the last book into this one?
SR: No. Some people on staff were like, "No way we’re doing another book. Absolutely not."
HPC: So then why did you guys decide to do another one?
SR: I think ultimately there was resistance and then not resistance. I think people were very exhausted from the last one, but then there were also a number of people on the staff at the time who were pretty hungry to write an original book. We’ve only put out three original books, and they’re usually something pretty special.
HPC: This thing is incredibly dense. Were there things you didn't even remember going in until you proofed it?
SR: Absolutely, totally. There are things when I look at it now that I don’t remember. But we knew the style and the voice pretty well when we started this book. There wasn’t a lot of, "Oh, we’ll write a lot and later we’ll throw it all away." There was a good amount that lasted from day one of the book. The "William Shakespeare" entry was day one, the "God" entry was day one.
HPC: The "sex" entry is just brilliant. Do you have any other personal favorite entries?
SR: The entry for "kitchen" is one of my favorites. "If another room contains more knives than this room, get out of that house." The letter entry for the letter L is one of my favorites. It’s just the word "lonely" over and over and over.
HPC: Whose idea was it to come up with an entire new letter and made-up entries for that letter?
SR: That was that was from the beginning, too. And then the question was, how intense do we want to make it? So we really just push the concept as far as we can and you know, I think we did it.
HPC: Which is your favorite of the president entries? Those are pretty great.
SR: You know what? I’m a sucker for James Madison.
HPC: Can you tell me about the entry for Faded Black?
SR: That was just another idea we had early on, to take a local band that nobody had ever heard about and treat them like The Beatles. Do a full page spread on an unknown band and write about them with gusto. And that’s the same thing we do with the entry for napkin. It’s just an entire full-page spread on nothing.
HPC: At this point, some of the writers and editors of the book still work for "The Onion" and some of them left the company when the editorial staff relocated to Chicago. Was there a point when you knew that was going to happen? How did that affect the writing process?
SR: Yeah, there was a point that we knew that was going to happen, but I don’t think it affected the writing process. I think all of us knew that this book was a perfect embodiment of the staff in that current form. And I think we all had such pride in the book that we didn’t let it hurt the writing process. We wanted people to open it up and be blown away.
HPC: You think that’s the feeling that everyone had at the time?
SR: Yeah, I do. I think everyone had the idea that yes, we have this impending move, but we have a responsibility to see it all the way through and let it be the timepiece of that particular incarnation of "The Onion" staff.
HPC: Do you think there will be any more books in the horizon?
SR: Oh, yeah. Definitely. Although our goal was to make it seem like there should never be another book ever written.
HPC: Anything else about the book that you think our readers should know about?
SR: There’s nothing else I want your readers to know about it. Only that they have to buy it or "The Onion" will murder them.
Ross Luippold can be contacted on Twitter at @rossluippold.