Joe Randazzo is the former editor of The Onion, the world's most popular satirical newspaper, as well as former creative director of adultswim.com. Randazzo also performs stand-up and has appeared on NPR's This American Life, PBS's Charlie Rose, and MSNBC's Morning Joe. Randazzo was awarded the Burke Medal for Outstanding Contribution to Public Discourse through the Arts by the College Historical Society of Trinity College Dublin in 2012. He is author of the book <i>Funny on Purpose.</i>
Question: Is humor writing or standup comedy harder?
Joe Randazzo: Standup comedy is definitely harder. I mean, I like being onstage. That’s always been fun for me. Better than a… It’s like people ask how do you go up on stage, I don’t think I could ever do it and my answer is like well I’m having trouble talking to you right now. You know it’s like for some reason some people just have it in their genetic makeup that it’s easier to go up and interact with a group of strangers than it is to have any kind of meaningful interaction with a person whose eyes you have to look into and I’m not saying that I’m a cold, heartless monster, but a little sick, but standup is harder because it’s just you on your own. The great thing about The Onion is it’s so collaborative. You know it’s you almost kind of take on this group mind there and people are really willing to sacrifice their own personal pet headlines or their own preference on a joke for the good of The Onion, for the good of the product. I don’t think either that standup informs my work at The Onion very much or vice versa because they’re pretty different in style. The standup tends to be a little more of a… a little more of a… I kind of do this kind of character who… that exaggerates all of my own nervousness and neurosis and they tend to be a little more conceptual like as an eight minute set than telling a joke and then telling an unrelated joke and then telling an unrelated joke. I can’t… I sort of can’t write jokes that way personally. I have to think about how do I want this eight minutes to feel so that it is as awkward for the audience as possible while also being funny and then sort of write to that as opposed to this is a good joke that I will expand on and then find a segue into something else. For me I just can’t… It’s really hard for me to do that.
So one thing The Onion has sort of taught me, though, is how to actually like write material and how to hit a joke as hard as you possible can relentlessly until it’s near to the point of being too much, so having that sense is something that I’ve really gotten from working at The Onion over four years, but the two are actually pretty unrelated. You know I do have website that I keep up as well. It’s called The Joe Randazzo Association, which is now that I’m saying it, it’s this sort of large, heartless corporation and it’s the kind of goings on at the office, messages from the HR representative and schedule of events for the seminar and what the lunch menu is going to be and it’s those kinds of things. So the writing for that has definitely been influenced a lot by my time at The Onion just in how to really write a joke, but it’s my own personal stuff because sometimes you just need to write your own personal stuff as well.
Question: Is comedy fun?
Joe Randazzo: It’s fun, but it’s also horrible. Anybody who has to… Well I don’t know if anybody, but when you have to sit down and write something it’s just the most dreadful feeling in the world for me anyway, but it’s also really fun. It’s just you forget. When you’re having the fun you forget how dreadful it is and when you’re in the dreadful you forget how fun it can be and you have to write something in order to be able to have material to perform and that’s when the fun is, so I guess I sort of actually force myself to do it and I’ve listened to other… There is this great podcast I listen to called The Creative Screenwriting Magazine where Jeff Goldsmith is his name, he is the senior editor at the magazine I think and he interviews different screenwriters every week and he always asks them if they… what do they do to… do they get writer’s block and do they… what do they do to get rid of it and every time I’m like how… I always have writer’s block. Writer’s block is the default position for me. It’s like such a struggle to get these ideas out, so they don’t want to come out even though they’re in there driving me crazy. But it’s also just incredible to be able to have a career out of making people laugh and or a job anyway. I don’t know if it’s going to… if it will be a career. Where you sit around in a room and make people laugh and then put together something that’s so great that you know I can be so proud of and you know when you see people on the street reading The Onion it’s a really… It’s a really wonderful feeling and I always want to tell them you know I’m…Look at the masthead, that’s me. I work there. So I’d say it’s got to be that the fun outweighs the dreadfulness for sure, yeah, but it’s work. It’s work.
Recorded on November 30, 2009
Interviewed by Austin Allen