RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And now for some headlines that could only come from The Onion.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Obama's Home Teleprompter Malfunctions During Family Dinner.

MONTAGNE: NASCAR Coach Reveals Winning Strategy: Drive Fast.

INSKEEP: Nation's Gentrified Neighborhoods Threatened By Aristocratization.

MONTAGNE: Postmaster General Says Letter Carrier Surge Is Working.

INSKEEP: And now the satirical newspaper that modestly calls itself America's finest news source is out with a new book.

MONTAGNE: And two of The Onion editors joined us from New York. Joe Randazzo and Joe Garden, welcome.

Mr. JOE RANDAZZO (The Onion): It's good to be here, Renee.

Mr. JOE GARDEN (The Onion): Yes, thank you.

MONTAGNE: There are several books at The Onion, right? But this is�

Mr. RANDAZZO: Yes.

MONTAGNE: ��Our Front Pages.� And those front pages really, it hinges on the headline.

Mr. GARDEN: Absolutely. There's a lot of people who have cornered us at parties, have informed us, well, I only read the headlines anyway. We're pandering to the lowest common denominator with this one. And on the other end of the spectrum, I think it's a book for the die-hard fans, who would never get to see a lot of these older covers as well. So we've got the erudite obsessive people, and then the dumb, the dumb people.

Mr. RANDAZZO: Right.

MONTAGNE: I think it would be fair to say one of the classic headlines was, New Starbucks Opens In Rest Room Of Existing Starbucks.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RANDAZZO: Right.

MONTAGNE: I can't even read it without laughing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONTAGNE: Do you write the headlines first?

Mr. GARDEN: Yeah, everything really extends from the headline. You've got to be able to have a joke that gets its point across, but it all starts with five to 800 headlines that we get every week, and then we kind of cull those down and pick out the best of the best.

MONTAGNE: And then where do the headlines come from? That is, your�

Mr. GARDEN: The headlines come from long periods of desperation, boredom and a fleeting panic that we have to get our assignment done in time for the Monday meeting.

Mr. RANDAZZO: Right. There's also (unintelligible) angry, bitter observations of other people in life who you think have it better than you. There's the things that annoy you. And then a lot of sitting around watching TV. We live very rich lives. We're all perfectly satisfied.

MONTAGNE: And you wonder, you know, if everything is sort of fodder or if you - when you see a headline like Guests Forced to Pretend Wedding a Good Thing, I'm thinking: who was at the wedding and that's all they could think?

Mr. RANDAZZO: Yeah. I've even talked to writers who have told me that it's an obsession, that nearly everything that they see, think, or do gets instantly kind of reframed into this headline. So I think it is. It runs the gamut from big national absurdist events to, you know, your roommate eating the rest of your Hot Pockets or something.

MONTAGNE: Yes. It does have this huge swing, and there's ones in the middle like Gay Couple to Add Exciting Big City Feel to Small Town. It is sort of a little bit about your roommate or the guy down the street, but it's also sort of about big issues.

Mr. RANDAZZO: It's also sort of about 0 some of us came, like grew up in small towns. I grew up in a town of 5,000 in rural Wisconsin and we channel that small town newspaper voice, and sometimes it is sort of like couching bigger issues in like a very sort of banal way.

MONTAGNE: Well, one headline that, you know, people talk about, and I'm actually curious, you know, how it came about - several headlines that you had in The Onion that came out after September 11th.

Mr. RANDAZZO: Right, there's a Terrorists Surprised to Find Cells in Hell. That was always - that was actually one that I was against because I thought it was just too pandering, but it turned out to be a very cathartic one that people liked a lot.

Mr. GARDEN: We did kind of run the gamut of hugging up 10,000 percent.

Mr. RANDAZZO: Sure. And: Not Knowing What Else To Do, Woman Bakes American Flag Cake, which is a personal favorite.

Mr. GARDEN: God Clarifies No Killing Rule.

Mr. RANDAZZO: Angrily clarifies.

Mr. GARDEN: Angrily clarifies.

Mr. RANDAZZO: Sorry.

MONTAGNE: And I mean, I mean, U.S. Vows to Defeat Whoever It Is We're at War With.

Mr. GARDEN: Sure, sure, right.

MONTAGNE: But I'm wondering, do you have limits to your taste or your willingness to do tasteless things?

Mr. RANDAZZO: No, there's no topic that ever has come up that has been, oh no, we can't touch that topic, but we are just as conscious of making sure that if we do try to tackle a topic that is a little more sensitive, that we're targeting the right people or the right entity and that we're not just making jokes about horrible things with no context or no point or no heart.

MONTAGNE: You know, when you talk about the right side, I mean the right side suggests some sort of political position or even a moral position - and what does that mean?

Mr. RANDAZZO: I think it's more about common sense to us.

Mr. GARDEN: Right.

Mr. RANDAZZO: Or kind of pointing out hypocrisy or stupidity, and of course we get to do it, you know, unanimously, so we don't have to share any of our own hypocrisies or stupidities with the world. But I don't think that anybody ever has a political ax to grind on the staff. I would not say that we are a group of Republicans, but I don't think that we are a group of really left-wing liberals either. You know, if we see something that you can look at and say, well, that's kind of stupid, they're acting kind of stupidly here, we should make a joke about that.

MONTAGNE: Well, in this last presidential election, you were pretty equal opportunity and found humor actually at a time - at that point when people were a little leery of trying to make jokes about Barack Obama.

Mr. RANDAZZO: Oh, are you talking about Black Man Given Nation's Worst Job? (Unintelligible) paraphrasing(ph), I believe, and then the other - one of the other smaller stories was National Finally (Bleep) Enough to Make Social Progress, which was another really good one. Of course we also had an issue prepared in case John McCain won, which had Nation Elects First Ever 44th White President, and Maverick Put in Charge of World's Largest Nuclear Arsenal. So that's actually - and that's actually in the book.

MONTAGNE: You do have one headline that says Factual Error Found on Internet. Error, singular, just to make sure people know. But I've heard that with the Internet some people see your fake stories and actually think they're real.

Mr. RANDAZZO: That happens a lot. Unfortunately if you present something in a very real fashion, some people will just sort of accept it at face value. When you have a story like Congress Threatens to Relocate Unless New Capitol Building is Built (unintelligible)�

Mr. GARDEN: (Unintelligible)

Mr. RANDAZZO: Retractable dome for daylight legislation and so on, and that was actually picked up by a Chinese newspaper and run - they translated it and ran it as actual fact, including the graphic that our graphics guys worked so hard on.

MONTAGNE: Now, that actually I could see you being pretty gleeful about. I mean you almost can't blame the Chinese. It's a little off, but they're another culture.

Mr. GARDEN: This is true.

Mr. RANDAZZO: You know, they positioned it as you see the debaucherous nature of even the American leaders, you know. And then when they finally learned that it was a satirical newspaper, I think they printed a response that was like, so you see in America they have newspapers that make money off of lies. So it was quite an honor, actually.

MONTAGNE: Joe Randazzo and Joe Garden are editors at The Onion. They two of the many editors of the new book "Our Front Pages: 21 Years of Greatest, Virtue, and Moral Rectitude From America's Finest News Source." Thank you both very much.

Mr. RANDAZZO: Oh, were we recording that whole time? I thought this was a pre-interview.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: And we have more headlines at npr.org, including a few at our expense.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.