Funny pages


Favoring floppy hair, Converse, and ironical T-shirts, a 100-plus hipster crowd gathered in the International House Monday night to take a peek inside the Onion, an irreverent newspaper spoof popular with the 18- to 35-year-old set. Firmly in the youth bracket themselves, Onion editor-in-chief Carol Kolb and associate editor Amie Barrodale spoke about the paper, joking and clicking rapidly through some of their favorite front-page stories (“Women: Why Don’t They Lose Some Weight?”, “Jesus Demands Creative Control Over His Next Movie”, and “Irrelevant Pop Stars Unite Against Bush”).

After launching into a phony history—in 1756 a man named Zweibel traded a sack of yams for a printing press—Kolb revealed that, in fact, the Onion was born in 1988 at UW–Madison and has clung to its Midwestern roots despite a recent move to New York City. To write for the paper, she joked, you have to have lived in Wisconsin in 1995—that and wait for one of the current staff (a Midwestern group of 10) to die.

Though the Onion creates fake news in the line of Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, sometimes, the editors admitted, it gets taken pretty seriously. Papers from Michigan to Beijing have picked up stories and spread them (including “Report: Al-Qaeda Allegedly Engaging in Telemarketing”). They also got a flood of e-mail thanking them for revealing that Harry Potter books do indeed incite Satanism in children.

And, while their fake news makes great fun of the powers that be (“Cheney Vows to Attack U.S. if Kerry Elected” headlines a recent edition), Kolb and Barrodale claimed that the paper is “not too lefty or too righty.” Their job, they argued, is to “point out stupidity wherever it happens,” a charge they fulfill even with the paper’s brief motto: You are dumb.


October 20, 2004