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 does the Onion try to avoid partisan satire?
Joe Randazzo: It’s hard to be impartial, and it’s hard to know sometimes where the line is, but I think while we are a comedy outlet that’s first and foremost is designed to entertain it does really aid with the verisimilar attitude of being a news organization. If you can appear to be as impartial as a real news organization tries to appear to be. The main I think is that nobody on the staff has a political axe to grind or ideological axes to grind. I think people get more upset about you know somebody having finished the mayonnaise than they do about genocides and Darfur unfortunately. But I try to be really aware of it we’re talking politically how many times we do jokes about Republicans and how many times we do jokes about Democrats and sort of making sure that we’re…we are walking down the middle. A lot of that work is done for us just by the sheer stupidity of politicians in general. You know we are really just trying to mock things that are stupid and people acting in stupid or hypocritical ways, and that happens on both sides of the aisle enough, more than enough, but we always get complaints from conservative readers saying that we’re not hitting Obama specifically enough or enough, but there the problem is that people get upset that we don’t criticize policy initiatives on the part of whoever is the current president based upon what their own perspective on that policy issue is. Like we’re not a left-wing organization who is trying to propagate a left-wing way of thinking, and we’re not a right-wing organization who is trying to do that either, so we can’t pick apart policy moves. We just, we’re not politicians. We’re not political, but when Republicans, for instance, you know try to portray Obama as a socialist who wants to kill your grandmother, that’s just absurd. That needs to be pointed out and ridiculed because it’s absurd and on the other hand, you know when Obama says he is going to do one thing and then sort of backs down and does another that also is… needs to be satirized. So I try to be very careful about it, mainly because I want both sides to read us and enjoy us and we do have lots of conservative readers who like us as well.
Question: Do you ever get bored with the day-to-day side of politics?
Joe Randazzo: I think the much more interesting thing for us to cover and which is what we do well is to kind of comment on what’s going on in the country rather than what specific politicians are doing. These things change from day-to-day and if you look on a historical scale politicians have been doing the same stupid things over and over again since the time of togas, so our job, and what we’re interested in as consumers in America in 2009 as individuals, and then translated into what we do in The Onion, is mocking the media, mocking Republicans, mocking Democrats. I personally went through a period a few years ago where I was intensely consuming political news and it wore me out and sort of depressed me. I read a lot less of it. I read it a lot less closely nowadays than I was say four or five years ago when every new story would throw me into a rage. You know it was a lot of energy for trying to go up against something that’s an immoveable force that’s been in motion since the dawn of man, man’s stupidity and hubris.
Recorded on November 30, 2009
Interviewed by Austin Allen