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: How has the move from Wisconsin to New York affected the Onion?
Joe Randazzo: I think it’s been beneficial. You know it’s sort of the thing about The Onion is it’s despite kind of how popular it continues to become we still sort of think of ourselves as outsiders. It was kind of founded on that idea, a very rooted in a very Gen-X perspective on the world of these slackers kind of sitting around poking fun at everything that was going on and because of that I think there is an inherent Gen-X slash slacker mentality at the core of what The Onion is, so it’s good that we came to New York because it sort of allowed us more exposure and we’re more in the heart of where the media is happening and can just bring more sort of interesting **** people into The Onion sphere than you would have been able to find perhaps in just Madison, Wisconsin, which is a great town, but you know a little bit smaller than New York. So yeah, I mean and it’s a strange kind of almost paradox in a way because we’re satirizing… The Onion’s character is this huge mega corporation that is cold, callous and uncaring and unconcerned about anything but profit, like actively dislikes its readers, will sell itself out for anything, but the integrity that we have with The Onion, in the actual operation The Onion is exactly the opposite of that. We try really hard to be a little more conservative with the kinds of ads that we’ll allow on our site, on our website and in our paper. I think we have the standards that are as high as like The Guardian in the UK I think is the only one that when you look at the kinds of ad models that we work with and that we won’t, the only people with standards as high as ours is The Guardian. I’ve seen stuff on The New Yorker and or New York Magazine and New York Times and you know that ads that will like blow you away. You know they take over content, and I don’t want to promise something that we can’t deliver on.
Question: Has the recession affected you more as a comedy outlet or a newspaper?
Joe Randazzo: I think it’s the same kind of stuff. We rely on advertising and advertising dollars have just really dried up. I mean there is definitely companies that we would love to take money from, but who are a little bit afraid of the content. You know we’re not afraid to put a big top story about a pedophile on our front page and you know a large corporation with an image and a brand to protect might be a little bit hesitant to have itself be associated with that in any way. So that I think is the thing that’s specific to comedy that we face is our content is very R rated and I think it frightens off some advertisers, but at the same time I don’t think that we’ve faired as badly as lots of other places. We certainly haven’t had to close down. Lots of print organizations have been just closing up shop. Ad dollars are down, but they’re down everywhere and I think if you look at… compare us to a lot of other organization we’re doing pretty well because we have I think a solid brand that people… that readers have a good association with and a lot of companies want to be associated with that and we have a lot of loyal readers and we put out pretty funny stuff every week, so we haven’t seen them totally dry up, but people aren’t shooting themselves in any offices yet, but we’ll see.
Question: Does the Onion aspire to more, or is it comfortable where it is?
Joe Randazzo: I think we’re pretty comfortable. I mean I would like for everybody to… you know a million more people to buy our books and know about us, but I think there is a sort of you know I never want to be standing in my corner office one stormy night with a glass of brandy looking at my reflection and asking what I’ve become due to The Onion growing too large, so I think there is somewhat of a finitude. I mean we can never be Disney, and we don’t reach the number of people that Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert can reach because we’re not broadcast in that way. We’re not on TV. So maybe some of these things can change. I mean I think it would be a terrible paradoxical shame if The Onion actually became a huge heartless corporation that distained its readers, but I guess the nature of capitalism and the free market is that a company wants to become as big as it can, so we’ll just have to see what happens. Maybe The Onion will turn into a monster. I don’t know.
Recorded on November 30, 2009
Interviewed by Austin Allen