Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked


March 24, 2009

Fuck Everything, We're Doing Comedy

Joe Garden, features editor of The Onion, sees many razorblades in America's future.

Max Lakin

For three and a half years*, Joe Garden has helmed the features-editor chair at The Onion, perhaps now America's most successful newspaper model. In that time, Garden has given life to the faux-paper’s classics, such as opinion-page characters Jim Anchower and Jackie Harvey, and augured the coming of this nation's important cultural advances (which include The Hulk sequel, the five-blade disposable razor, and a raft of other indispensable bric-a-brac). Not bad for an undeclared state-school dropout with no prior comedy experience.

Joe Garden. Courtesy
"Nothing's verboten. If it's funny, and we can come out on the right side of it, we'll do it."

Joe Garden. Courtesy

In the following interview, which has been edited for clarity, Gelf spoke with Garden about The Onion's backwards drafting process, the paper's overarching ontological joke, and unseating Jimmy Fallon. [Revel in Garden's presence and that of other local comedy luminaries at Gelf's free Non-Motivational Speakers Series, Thursday March 26 in New York's Lower East Side].

Gelf Magazine: What's the typical editorial calendar like at The Onion? How much new content is churned out on a daily basis?

Joe Garden: The typical process is like this: Monday—pitch headlines; Tuesday—assign and brainstorm stories; Wednesday—write stories; Thursday—read and discuss stories; Friday—write second draft.
Of course, the second drafts are usually written Sunday night-Monday morning. This is on top of other duties, like researching daily content and sorting through it and punching it up and so on.

Gelf Magazine: You guys don't bandy around bylines. I always assumed it was to protect yourselves from the humorless and the Mormons. Are things just highly collaborative, or have you achieved pure Marxist Communism in your newsroom?

Joe Garden: More than anything, it's kind of the meta-joke of the Onion. The Onion is the only news source worth reading, and the news comes from the Onion, not from its individual reporters.

Gelf Magazine: How closely do you try to adhere to current news as opposed to, say, completely fictitious trend-mocking—and which one is more fun to write?

Joe Garden: Our stories have a two-and-a-half-week turnaround, so we can't comment on specific things so much as we do Zeitgeist-y stuff. The closest we get to current events is in the American Voices and Infographic. Those have a two-to-seven-day turnaround.

Gelf Magazine: Is there anything verboten, anything you guys won't riff on?

Joe Garden: No. If it's funny, and we can come out on the right side of it, we'll do it.

Gelf Magazine: What would claim as your proudest achievement at The Onion from an editorial standpoint—Jim Anchower, Jackie Harvey, any single article?

Joe Garden: I'd say that my proudest achievement would be that I've been able to keep writing for 16 years and I can still improve. That said, my favorite articles are "Fuck Everything, We're Doing Five Blades," "I Have To Admit, I Love The Nuts," and "Why No One Want To Make Hulk 2." Unfortunately, two of those are now terribly out of date, since there IS a five-blade razor and there IS a Hulk 2. Recently, my favorite article is "Hercules Struggling to Complete 13th Labor," and it hasn't run yet.

Gelf Magazine: You've had a hand in two parodies of The Dangerous Book for Boys series, written by and for cats and dogs. What was the impetus? Are you just big-time animal people, or was your goal—like all good parodist—to tell the authors of the source material to knock it off?

Joe Garden: I don't know that any of us had the impulse to write a pet-book parody. The five of us assembled to write a Secret parody, and were told that no one was interested in it. We were then contacted by an agent to see if we were interested in writing The Dangerous Book for Dogs. Considering two [of us] were out of work and freelancing and another was in a dead-end job that was reducing him as a human being, I thought it would be a good idea. We set out to write the fastest, best dog-parody book we could, and I feel like we were successful.
I actually have some affection for The Dangerous Book for Boys, but somewhat less affection for other dog-humor books.

Gelf Magazine: You also recently mounted a campaign to become heir to the NBC Late Night throne. With Jimmy Fallon well on his magical journey, I assume NBC didn't see it your way.

Joe Garden: Well, I knew from the outset that there was no way it was going to happen. But my friends and I thought it would be funny if we treated an entertainment monolith like it was an actual democracy. We just wanted to have fun with the idea of campaigning and of the idea of the talk-show host in general. Since Fallon started, we've kicked around the idea of turning it into a revolutionary movement bent on seizing the Late Night chair, but that would cease being funny as soon as we’re interviewed by the police.

Gelf Magazine: What would you say the role of humor is in the Obama era? It's been kind of the question du jour, but do you guys ever worry you'll have less to lampoon now that competence has been re-legalized?

Joe Garden: When people ask that, it feels weird. It assumes absolute perfection. This is an historic presidency, yes, and it is definitely a shift from the past eight years, but Obama is human, and no administration is perfect. Especially right now, with so many challenges facing him, there will be missteps. This early, it's hard to say how his presidency will be defined, but we'll be writing jokes until we get it right.

*Gelf mistakenly reported that Joe Garden was features editor at The Onion for 16 years. He's been a contributing writer for 16 years and features editor for the last three and a half.

Related in Gelf

An interview with original Onion writer Todd Hanson.

Max Lakin

Max Lakin is a writer and journalist based in New York.

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- Comedy
- posted on Mar 25, 09
Joe Garden

I apologize for the brevity of these answers. Come to the Non-Motivational Speakers series Thursday and I will give better answers. Or at least longer ones.

- Comedy
- posted on Mar 25, 09
Joe Garden

Oh, and also, my other favorite achievement is Patrick Duffy Week, which wrapped up last Friday.

- Comedy
- posted on Apr 15, 09

This would have been a lot funnier and more enjoyable without the retarded Bush-bash at the end. ". . . now that competence has been re-leagalized?"

You wanna go to the mat with that one, eh? "Competence" means serially nominating folks who can't figure out not paying your taxes, a State department that can't even figure out what DVDs to buy when you snub a foreign head of state, etc., etc.? This was a dumb insertion of politics in what should have been an article focused on one of the brains behind the greatest mock news agency in the known universe.

Screw you, jerkface. You're an interviewer--focus on the subject and keep your personal compulsions out of it.

That said, Joe's answer was very mature. I like him more and Max much less.

- Comedy
- posted on Apr 19, 09
Jim Anchower

holla mi amigos. what's shaking. getting at you because joe has been kind enugh to have documented my life over the decades and i am forever indebted.

but he was not features editor for 16 years. more like 6-5 years at most, yo. before that just a guy who worked at the liquor store (go badgers!) and who handed in idea lists sporadically. he never had a full time position until he had distro route in chicago and was fired for not showing up. he was brought back on staff when some kind staffers pushed for him to be rehired as a writer. nd only then as a writer. fun-fact: rob siegel the righteous writer of that film "the wrestler" was 100% against rehiring joe for any reason because his idea lists and writing were getting weaker and weaker.

a then given he was the position of "features editor" back in 2003/2004 or so. so there you go. about the same time rob siegel left after getting sick of the personality stew of that onion soup.

never forget, folks! keep the fake history to the newsprint.

- Comedy
- posted on Apr 20, 09

Someone. is. a. Republican. yeesh.

- Comedy
- posted on Apr 20, 09
Joe Garden

Re. Jim Anchower:

True. I've been the editor for 3 1/2 years, a full time writer for eight, and a contributing writer for 16 years. Also true, I used to work at a liquor store. Further true, I was a distribution manager in Chicago, and I was rightfully fired by Peter Haise for not showing up. It was idiocy at its worst.

I can't speak to the rest, but it could well be true. Could be conjecture as well. I wasn't privy to these discussions, so I can't definitively say.

I apologize to the readers and to Max if I gave the impression that I had been in the position of Features Editor since the beginning.


- Comedy
- posted on Apr 20, 09
Joe Garden

Whoops. Should read "I've been the FEATURES editor for 3 1/2 years."

Article by Max Lakin

Max Lakin is a writer and journalist based in New York.

Learn more about this author


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